One of the things that will be racing through my mind as I attend this year’s Gen Con is how much has changed. My last time attending was in 2006, and I don’t think I fully appreciated the board game revolution that was accelerating then. I stopped attending for a variety of reasons, but this year I’m back with the gaggle of Board Game Quest weirdos. This is a year that will have me thinking deeply about the hobby, what’s next, and what I’m looking forward to seeing.
For starters, the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of Gen Con is not at the forefront of most board game companies minds. Storytelling is the thing, and if you’ve got some 1980s IP, all the more hoopla for you. The nostalgia is strong with this year with titles like Big Trouble in Little China, The Goonies, Top Gun, The Thing, Rambo: The Board Game, and The Terminator all making appearances. I’m still waiting for the Out of Africa and Amadeus IPs to deliver some games.
But in another sense, this is a year of transition and change because the board gaming world is adapting to new demands in the market. Big waves of Euro titles with old dudes on the covers have been pushed to the corners of the gaming world while their mechanisms still hang around in the rules of more themey titles. Rising Sun, Photosynthesis, Downforce, and Dinosaur Island (also Dinogenics) all bear testimony to the success of Euro formulas over the long run.
But that doesn’t mean you have to go scouring the back alleys of the Exhibition Hall to get your dungeon on. This tried and true theme can still pump out some new titles. Massive Darkness, Sword and Sorcery, Dungeon Hustle, and Delve can foot the bill here.
The real challenge with the omnipresence of Euro mechanisms is the worry that the saturation will make every game feel the same or that each game isn’t different enough compared to a previous game. This is the theme of my exploration of Gen Con. I’d really like to see if new themes can persuade new mechanisms from designers or if the glut of old-Europe titles will lure pasted on American themes and the result is more “meh”. I hope that’s not the case.
Beyond that, I’m also looking to see what the future is going to be for apps and games. The last couple years were heralded as the beginning of a new wave of coupling mobile apps and games, but I was never a strong believer in that. I think it’s a formula that can help some aspects of in-game management and provides a good avenue for updating some content, but I think people really like leaving their devices behind, even if they always seem to be on them during other people’s turns.
Finally, one of the most interesting things to observe will be how the convention as a whole has grown. When I last attended, Peter Adkinson still owned Gen Con. It seems with the change in management and changing angle of the con as a whole (maybe due to what people are interested in), the focus on D&D as a backbone of the convention is gone. Wizards of the Coast isn’t attending either. This new Gen Con, I hope, will be something different and welcome.
As I write this, I’m still trying to come to grips with the list of games I want to see. How I’m going to fit them all in a two and one-half day schedule is beyond me, but I’ll do my best. Really, the penultimate event for me at the con is likely to be just geeking out with the Board Game Quest crew, complaining about Tony within his earshot, and losing, repeatedly, to the best damn board game team there is.