Yesterday we kicked off our Gen Con 2015 recap by talking about the reason we were all there, the games. If you missed it, you can view it here. We discussed our favorite games, our most surprising ones and even the games that let us down.
Today, we are going to finish up our 2015 Gen Con recap by talking about our overall Gen Con experience. From interacting with publishers to events to the convention at large, here is our final thoughts on this year’s “Best 4 Days in Gaming”.
My Favorite Part of Gen Con:
Tony: Chatting with publishers and designers. It’s great to meet the people I only ever see on forums or Twitter. It was fantastic to put some name to faces with these people, and most were about as nice as can be!
Alex: Playing and trying new games. Sure, I am down with a game of 7 Wonders or Lords of Waterdeep on Wednesday night, but when the convention starts, all I want to be doing is playing new games. In the dealer hall? New games. During evening gaming? New games. At events? New games. The more the better. I think I may have gotten 20 unique plays of games in, along with all the titles I demoed.
Steph: Seeing friends I’ve made over the years. Back in 2008, Alex and I randomly met Tony and Jeff over a pick-up game of Battlestar Galactica. Then in 2009, we ran into them again and haven’t let go since. Our small adventuring party has grown over the years as both the New Jersey and Chicago factions bring more and more friends to Gen Con. We’ve traveled to Chicago to visit (and game) and now we have a bimonthly Google Hangout gaming session. I love seeing friends I may see only once a year but keep in touch with through Facebook. Although Alex and I tend to like the same kinds of games, sometimes we want to split up and play something different. My Gen Con adventuring party ensures that there’s always a friend up for something.
Andrew: I have to agree with everything being said here. Gaming – I played at least 25 full games and dozens of demos. And interacting with the board game community. As we played Discoveries in the hall, we were randomly asked how the game was. Turns out, the group who was asking included the designer and publisher of the game. I played in the first ever tournament for Ashes: Rise of the Pheonixborn and was able to talk to Isaac, the designer, and Fernanda, who created the amazing art for the game. It’s an experience you can’t get at your kitchen table.
Brian W: The Best Four Days of Gaming. I love demos and gaming with friends which is what I looked forward to the most and I was not disappointed this year. I may have overplayed Abyss (just ask anyone who knows me) but had a blast nonetheless. I would like to reiterate Steph’s point. It was awesome to see our Jersey boys and girl again this year and getting to know them better this year made leaving that much harder. Plus, finally got to meet Andrew face-to-face and find out he’s not just top-notch in print, but also in person.
Walt: Our (ever-expanding) gaming group all together for four days of buying, playing, eating, more playing, a little sleeping, more playing, Tony misplacing his backpack, more playing, bickering over rules, pushing through the crowds (“I WILL NOT RUN!”), and more playing. This was my first four-day Gen Con, and it won’t be my last. Plus, I got to meet Summer Glau. Just sayin’.
Brian B: Being able to play and demo and buy games. For four days. With NO kids. See you between August 4th and August 7th, 2016! Again, with NO kids.
Sarah B: Ruth’s Chris. I told you I got my husband to buy me whatever I wanted… but also going back to the Embassy Suites hotel to game with these guys (and girl) every night. It was a blast. Plus, I got to eat Walt’s homemade oatmeal cookies.
My Biggest Surprise at Gen Con:
Tony: As I mentioned briefly yesterday, the fact that there was no must-have game release. This year really stuck me as an odd year compared to previous Gen Cons. There were games I was looking forward to trying and buying, but not that “IT” game that I had to make a mad dash to get.
Alex: The lack of cosplay traffic snarls. I may have been lucky and avoided them, but kudos to the convention organizers and community for making the expectations for cosplayers and photography clear. In previous years, there have been back-ups in the aisles of the dealer hall and in the main convention hall because people were stopping to snap photos. With the exception of the cosplay woman at Cool Mini or Not, there was little to no issues with that this year. Let’s keep this going into next year.
Steph: See above. The cosplayers and Gen Con organizers have worked out a great system for ensuring that cosplayers get the attention they need/deserve/want while not detracting from people’s experience in the dealer hall.
Andrew: Sold out games. Tides of Time. Mysterium. Blood Rage. Champions of Midgard. Codenames. Ashes. Discoveries. New York 1901. There were several games that sold out during the convention. Most we knew were going to be short supply going in. Others just got really hot and sold out throughout the week. I don’t pretend to know the economics that go into deciding how many copies to bring, but there sure were more than a handful of disappointed gamers.
Brian W: There’s no doubt for me, it was the patience and tolerance of Jon LaCarrubba. He’s part of our Jersey Contingent and deserves an honorable mention for trying to teach Cthulhu Realms to some difficult people. I’m starting a petition tomorrow for his sainthood.
Walt: I was really pleasantly surprised to see how many young kids were at the con, and actually having such a great time playing games and engaging with each other, instead of having their faces buried in a mobile device. I witnessed this not only in the children’s area, but even at the demo tables of more advanced games. I don’t know if I would have understood how to play Catan at 7 or 8 years old (or even if I would have wanted to), but it was really cool to see all the little ones working out their strategies. It gives me hope for the future of our hobby!
Brian B: The crowds. I have heard most people complain that it was crowded. It is Gen Con, and it is crowded. But with 10%+ growth from the prior year, I actually thought it was not so bad. In fact, Saturday was less crowded than last year, at least to me.
Sarah B: With 61,000 people, outside of the Thursday opening rush, I did not think the crowds were horrible. Definitely not bad enough to make me not want to come back next year.
My Gen Con Disappointment:
Tony: Lack of new releases. To go along with my disappointment, I feel like Gen Con is somewhat turning into the Kickstarter preview event. Many games were only on demo for their upcoming Kickstarter campaign. I get it, Kickstarter is here to stay and that’s fine. But I feel like Gen Con has lost a bit of its new release excitement vs previous years.
Alex: Asmadi Games. They will not be receiving my business anymore.
Steph: The non-release of Paizo’s Pathfinder ACG app. Come on, Paizo! I love the Pathfinder ACG and last year, you showcased the app game. It’s still not ready? What are you doing to me? Maybe Alex is in on it. He knows that as soon as that game is available on the iPad, he won’t see me for weeks.
Andrew: The Ram. Everyone always says how good the Ram restaurant is and their Gen Con themed menu. I couldn’t have had a worse experience. Even going very late to avoid the rush, we arrived at 9:15, were seated by 9:30 and didn’t eat until after 11. Guess I’ll keep going to the food trucks in future years.
Brian W: VIGs and limited game releases. If a VIG pays to get into the exhibit hall early, then I have zero issue with that. You paid to get in early – no problem. What I don’t care for is how a majority of the vendors count VIG purchases against the daily limited releases. That ain’t right! So, I wait outside Thursday and rush (not run) to be greeted by a vendor telling me that they were sold out before the hall opened. Really?! I reminded all vendors that would listen that VIGs are not the majority of whom will be purchasing their games. Totally not cool.
Walt: The frustrating lack of knowledge of the staffs at many (but not all) of the exhibitors’ booths. There was more than one time when I sat down to try out a game that I had already bought and read the rules for, but hadn’t gotten to play yet, and I would have to (politely) correct the person demoing the game. I understand that many of these people are volunteers and they are dealing with a horde of humanity, noise, and stress when working the booths all day, but if you want to entice me to buy your game, you should be able to at least explain the rules fairly well. Second to the lack of knowledge on rules would be the lack of knowledge of the publishers’ products in general. I got an “I don’t know” answer to more questions than I can count, when asking about upcoming games, prices, release dates, etc.
Brian B: Nothing new. Limited games release/not enough vendor space.
Suggestion for Gen Con 2016:
Tony: Make the exhibit hall bigger. I heard rumblings from some publishers that there won’t be any booth size increases next year and many aren’t even sure they will get approved for a booth. That’s unacceptable. The exhibit hall is one of (if not the) main draw of Gen Con. Move the gaming tables (the ones in Hall F being used for Magic: The Gathering) that were on the other side of the removable wall and expand into that hall. The Magic tables (or whatever it will be used for in future years) can easily be relocated elsewhere. Gen Con has the space, use it!
Alex: Moving the Artists’ Alley is probably not in the future, but that area takes up a lot of real estate. I would like to see them condense it a bit to open up more room for movement and space in the rest of the dealer hall.
Steph: I’m probably repeating myself from previous years’ recaps: move the Artists Alley. Look, they are talented and deserve a chance to sell their wares. But they take up so much real estate space. I want wider aisles and more game vendors.
Andrew: There isn’t much I can complain about; everything seemed to run incredibly smoothly. The biggest hiccup we had was not being able to find the Gen Con programs on Thursday morning and having to look up the map on our phones. The mass of people waiting to get into the doors each morning was cumbersome, but unless they expand the exhibit hall into other halls, I’m not sure there is much to be done about that. It’s good to see the Con continue to grow.
Brian W: Echoing all. Move the artists out and/or expand out the hall. MORE VENDORS WANTED.
Walt: Publishers have GOT to figure out a better, fairer way to distribute the hot items in limited quantities. I don’t have a solution myself, but surely there’s a way to prevent what I saw at several booths where an item was in short supply but huge demand.
Brian B: See all above.
Tony: I was too busy running around the convention to play many events, but the one I was able to do was Two Rooms and a Boom. While the space was less than ideal (it was a hallway by an exit), the organizers did a great job of running the actual game. I had an absolute blast and we played 3 games over an hour that went by quickly.
Alex: Orc Stomp 5K. Second year in a row doing this 5K fun run, and well worth it. The organization was even better than last year, and I am glad that it is getting more popular each and every year. Runners who are burners, those who are running a 5K for the first time, and everyone in-between had a great time. I also like that this gives me some physical activity in the midst of being way off my normal eating habits. I will definitely be back next year.
Steph: Two Rooms and a Boom. Most of our ticketed events run for hours and that cuts into valuable gaming time. This isn’t an issue when the event is a blast (Dread) but when it drags on and on, I regret trying something new. 2R&AB did not disappoint at all. It was fast-paced, incredibly entertaining, and it lasted less than an hour. Even better, most of our adventuring party (10 of us!) were able to play.
Andrew: Cash N Guns tournament. Because I won. Yep, I’m like the Cash N Guns 2nd Edition World Champion. I wish I would have got a championship belt of something. But I did get a trophy and a gift certificate for Asmodee that I used to purchase Discoveries!
Brian W: Slasher Flick: Camp Blood 3. I can say without over exaggeration that my friend Collin Doud played the best RPG character and he played him perfectly. He was given a “blacksploitation” character (who had an Afro listed in his possessions) like Shaft or Black Dynamite and used the catchphrase: “You best believe it” and created his own “Fear the Fro” to make the game and experience unforgettably awesome. It’s worth noting that he did die; but he did so spectacularly by being completely vaporized by a robot on self-destruct. Only his pick survived. Best event ever for me.
Walt: Didn’t do any events. I’m a loser. Wait, I did do one. Did I mention that I met Summer Glau? (Editor’s Note: Walt is a liar; he participated in the Two Rooms and a Boom with all of us.)
Brian B: I neither did any events nor did I meet Summer Glau. But I did get to see Tom Cleaver again this year. And that is a win in my book!
Sarah B: I did not participate in any events. I hope to do the Orc Stomp 5k next year.
Best Publisher Innovation:
Tony: Pre-ordering games. I was able to pre-order games from at least two publishers on my list (Portal Games and CGE) and I heard a couple of others allowed that. I don’t understand why more publishers don’t go that route. They can better gauge how many games to bring and gamers don’t have to rush to a booth in a mad stampede. It’s win-win.
Alex: Scheduled demos for hot games. I love that more companies (shout out to Asmodee and Red Raven) are running scheduled demos in the dealer hall. Instead of hanging around or circling back to booths in the hopes of sitting for a demo, you can give them your names, they give you a time, and you are free to explore the rest of the hall and enjoy your day. With good demo planning (see my entry below), companies would be able to offer more opportunities to try out the hot games. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Andrew: Pre-orders without a doubt. Backing what Tony said above, more publishers need to pick up on this. I can’t imagine the overhead is very high. Especially with something like the pre-order system CGE used for Codenames. Just a Google Form. Didn’t have to pay in advance, but you could go to the booth at your leisure and pick up a copy. Or publishers can start bringing more copies of games to the convention. Anything to mitigate the rush of people to booths each morning.
Brian W: I’m with Alex- scheduled demos should become mandatory. I want to give props to Fireside Games as well for doing this with Village Crone especially given the demo ran 45 minutes. Excellent way to plan and not waste your time standing next to the throngs waiting for an open chair.
Walt: Jumping on the pre-order bandwagon, such a good idea.
Brian B: I will create a second bandwagon, and name it “More Pre-orders Please”
Suggestion for Publishers to Improve:
Tony: Run your demos better; bad demos cost you sales. I had more bad demos than I should have at Gen Con. Make sure your demoers know how to play and teach your game. Also, have enough people demoing. There were times I was ready to learn and buy, but no one was available to teach the game. Another lost sale. Finally, I don’t need to play the whole game (unless it’s really short). Some publishers (Fantasy Flight Games comes to mind), do a great job by setting up the board in pre-set game states and running you for a few rounds. Give me a feel for the game and let me move on. If I want to play the whole 30-60 minute game, I’ll buy it or get a ticket for your event.
Alex: Better demo planning. Fantasy Flight Games does a great job with preset game states and a “script” for their demos, giving players a taste of how gameplay works through rules explanation, a few rounds of gameplay, and some goal resolution. Game publishers, please adopt this type of model! With a scripted demo, you can effectively set a time limit on your demo – great if you are scheduling demos and trying to increase the number of people who want to try your game. It also allows more demoers to potentially run that game. There were plenty of times that I would go to a company looking to demo a game, only to be told that no one knew the rules, or to get a demo that focused on nitpicky rules interactions as opposed to an overarching view. All this led to was lost sales. Note to publishing companies: I am available as a consultant to teach your demoers how to teach games. Resume and references available upon request.
Steph: I’ve said this year after year. Listen closely, people-in-charge-of-game-booths. You need to improve upon two elements. One: make sure that your booth staff knows how to teach the games. Notice I’m not saying how to play the games. Knowing how to play is very different from knowing how to teach the game to others. Send your workers to Asmodee and Fantasy Flight demos. That’s how it should be done. Two: don’t tell potential buyers that you can’t demo your game. Alex and I tried to demo a few games but were told that no one there knew how to play the game. When this happens, we shut down and will not come back to demo, but more importantly, not buy your game. Gen Con is not a surprise. You have time to plan and prepare. Get your act together.
Andrew: As everyone is saying, demos are the key. I had my fair share of bad demo games. I would also like to see a better system for getting into a demo. Some people scheduled times, which was interesting. But I left one publisher with a bad taste in my mouth after waiting patiently for an overly long demo to end, probably 20-25 minutes. Just a couple of minutes before the game ended, a few more groups of people walked up. When it was time for the next demo there were 10 people standing around the table. Knowing who was there when and making sure people who stand around patiently actually get the next available seat is a really important piece of customer service. I didn’t get a seat at the table and didn’t wait around for the next one or come back. It almost certainly cost them a sale.
Brian W: Said it last year and will likely keep saying it. More promo and/or Gen Con exclusive swag. We paid to play, so throw in some promo cards, dice, figs, resources, or whatever when we purchase your games. Some publishers do this and do it well while others need lessons. I’m not looking for anything over the top but small add-ons that are Con-only promos make me very happy. Even better, my friends who didn’t get them are usually jealous. I made the time and financial effort to go to Gen Con and I’m buying your stuff; show me the love and swag!
Walt: I already covered this topic in the “biggest disappointment” category, but it’s worth repeating: publishers need to have better trained staff. Many of them already do, and they should be a lesson to the others.
That sums up the highlights of our Gen Con 2015 experience. Overall we had a great time gaming, demoing and hanging out with friends. We had the opportunity to meet some great game designers and publishers. The BGQ staff is looking forward to next year. In the meantime we will be working on playing through the new games in our collections! Tell us what your favorite part, most surprising aspect or suggestions for improvement at Gen Con were in the comments below.