Saturday, August 10, 2019

Gen Con 2019 Wrap-Up

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So last week was Gen Con, the biggest board gaming convention in the USA (and maybe the world depending on how you figure size).  Only Essen Spiel in Germany can compare.  Gen Con is kind of like Disney World.  You can't really imagine what it's like until you experience it, and it's impossible to experience it all in the time that you're there.  For five days (or more), downtown Indianapolis is turned into a 24 hours-a-day gaming Mecca.  The Indiana Convention Center is the hub of the activities, but for about a half mile in all directions there are hotels, restaurants, pubs, shops, and more, all with people packed in doing various activities related to gaming, or sometimes not.  Indianapolis also has a number of bike paths, walking paths, museums, parks, and other activities to partake in, too.  And a bit further outside downtown there are more recreational opportunities, too.  There's no way you can possibly see and do everything there is to do and it's an experience you'll never forget.

Keith and Claire Matejka, our fearless leaders for the weekend!
For my part, I spent most of the five days between the convention center and the adjacent Marriott hotel complex.  I was part of the awesome Thunderworks Crew, so I spent part of each day running game demos or manning the booth for Thunderworks Games.  I ran eight games of the new Lockup: A Roll Player Tale and one game of Roll Player.  I also helped show off those, Monsters & Minions, Dual Powers, Roll Player Adventures, and the convention hit Cartographers at the demo tables and at the booth.  I also helped out with the booth setup and takedown, as well as spent some time helping out at the booth during open convention hall hours.  In exchange I got an exhibitor badge and got to share a hotel room that was attached to the convention hall via a long skywalk and then navigating hallways through two connected hotels.  It was great to have everything attached and not have to rely on someone else's car for transportation this year.

During the day, when I wasn't running demos, I was either pitching games or walking the exhibition hall passing out business cards and sell sheets.  I had four pitch meetings scheduled, however one had to be canceled and I was already busy during the only available time slot for rescheduling.  From those, two publishers took home three of my games to try out, so I'm pretty happy with how those went!  I dropped off a ton of business cards, promoting my People Behind the Meeples designer interviews, reviews, Kickstarter previews, and everything else I do on this blog, and a handful of sell sheets (mostly my sell sheet of sell sheets, which I got several compliments on).
The weather was beautiful all weekend for those that ventured outside!
This year my evenings were mostly open.  Last year I had two publisher speed dating events and a hotel offsite, so I didn't have the opportunity to participate in any of the afterhours events.  This year there was only one publisher speed dating event on Thursday, so my other evenings were free.

Heading to Indy with Stephan Esser.
Wednesday, was spent mostly driving to Indy and then setting up the Thunderworks Games booth.  Stephan Esser picked me up in Rochelle on his way down from Madison and we spent the next 4 hours getting to know each other.  After setting up the Thunderworks booth we all went to dinner at Buca Di Beppo, my first time there.  The food was great, although a bit difficult to coordinate since everything was served family style.  Afterwards Keith Matejka (the owner of Thunderworks Games, designer of Roll Player and other games, and a great friend) and I headed over to the Claddagh, where we caught the tail end of a media/publisher/designer meetup.  I got a quick peek at the new Mint Cooperative from Five24 Labs (I thought I took a picture, but can't find it), and it looks pretty cool.  After that I went back to the hotel and met up with Stephan to play a game of Lockup since I had to demo it the next day and hadn't played in almost a year.  By the time we were done it was about 1am local time (midnight for us), so I headed back to my room to get some sleep.  My roommates, Luis and Lucas (the graphic designer and artist for most Thunderworks games, and both from Brazil, though currently living elsewhere) were already asleep, so I quietly got to bed, excited for Thursday.
Entering the ICC.
It's pretty empty on Wednesday.
It took a while, but eventually we found where to
pick up badges.
Badges acquired, now off to set up the
Thunderworks booth in the exhibition hall!
We had a ton of inventory to unload and hide in a
tiny 10x10 booth.
Dinner at Boca di Beppo.
Wrapping up the night with a game of Lockup!
The entrance to the ICC, where some of the fun is!
Thursday morning I got to the exhibition hall about 30 minutes before it opened to the public and was ushered right in with my exhibitor badge.  The exhibition hall is really cool in the morning when the aisles aren't packed with people.  I only had a while to walk the floor before my first pitch meeting at 10am.  That pitch didn't go too well and the publisher decided they weren't interested in either game I showed them.  Then I had another hour and a half to walk around before my noon pitch.  So I went to the First Exposure Playtest Hall and met a few friends.  I chatted with Tavis from The Game Crafter, got a selfie taken with Daniel Zayas of Longpack Games, and saw Jason Brooks of Brookspun Games demoing his game Legacies (on Kickstarter this fall) and Rob Huber and Brendan Riley of Rattlebox Games demoing several of their titles.  I also picked up several designer packs from some of the manufacturers there.  I'm planning on writing up a review of all the designer packs (or manufacturer's sample packs) that I picked up, plus a few I have from previous events.  Finally it was time for my noon pitch, where I showed four games to someone who represented three publishers.  That went over very well and he took home two of my games to play!  By then it was almost time to start my demos, so I headed over to the demo hall and set up Lockup and had a snack and a bit of relaxation.
Our demos were technically in Hall A, although our tables said Hall B.

The Thursday demos of Lockup went great.  They were supposed to be full , with five players each, but ended up having a few empty seats.  The first game was three players and the second was four.  Everyone loved the game, and the other Thunderworks titles being demoed were getting great receptions, too (Roll Player with various combinations of the base game, Monsters & Minions, and Fiends & Familiars, Dual Powers, Cartographers, and the upcoming Roll Player Adventures).  The demos wrapped up just as the exhibition hall was closing to the public, so it was back to the Thunderworks booth to help reset for the next day.  Then I set out for the Slippery Noodle Inn for the Publisher Speed Dating event organized by the Indie Game Alliance.  Unfortunately this event wasn't as well attended as last year.  There were 28 designer slots for two 2-hour sessions, about the same as last year.  We beat out about 130 other applicants, so these were pretty good games and I'm honored to be among them.  Unfortunately for the first session there were only four publishers in attendance.  Last year there were about 20.  However, out of the four publishers I saw, two were interested in Beard Snacks and one was also interested in 8 Seconds (they had looked at it last year, but were interested in checking out the changes I made).  Both said they'd reach out after recovering from the convention, so I'm hoping to hear from them soon.  Even though the event wasn't as great as last year, I did have fun chatting with a few Protospiel friends (Randy Ekl and Scott Starkey), so the evening wasn't a complete bust.  Afterward I went to another impromptu designer/publisher meetup, but without any publishers.  I had fun playing a few games with a few other designers (Randy and Maxine Ekl, Royce Banuelos, Molly Zeff, Matthew Duahn, and Alex and Bobo Wolf).  That was fun, but since I hadn't eaten anything but a few snacks since dinner the night before, I headed out after a while to find the rest of the Thunderworks crew playing games in a ballroom at the JW Marriott along with several hundred other gamers.  I ordered a pizza at 11:50pm and it wasn't delivered until 1:20am.  I scarfed it down and then headed to bed around 1:45.  It was a long, but awesome day, and I was excited for the rest of the weekend.
The Demo Hall was packed all weekend long!
Deep Sea Adventure always makes for a good time.
Hanging out at Publisher Speed Dating
with Randy Ekl and Scott Starkey
Friday started out pretty much the same.  It started with a quick stroll through the exhibition hall and then a pitch meeting at 11am.  That went well, with the publisher taking home one of my games to test out!  Then I headed back to the hotel to have leftover cold pizza for lunch, but at least I ate lunch.  Around 1:30 I headed back to the demo hall for my Lockup demos, which again went great.  During one of the games I looked over and saw some guys that I thought might be cosplaying rock band GWAR, but one of the players said it was actually the band!  So I excused myself and got a picture with Beefcake the Mighty and JiZMak da Gusha (with SawBorg Destructo in the background).  Bucket list item, checked.  GWAR was there to promote their new game, GWAR vs Time, which is currently on Kickstarter.
Lockup demo going strong!
You can see a few of the other Thunderworks demos
in the background.
GWAR vs. Time deck-building game!
The board and some cards from the new GWAR game.
The second demo of Lockup was a super close game!
Tim Virnig was a big proponent of the selfie stick!
After returning to the Thunderworks booth and prepping it for Saturday, the entire Thunderworks crew (all 14 of us) went to Rockbottom Brewery for an awesome dinner.  After leaving there we headed back to the JW Marriott ballroom for more games.  I creamed everyone at Everdell and then we played a four player game of my 8 Seconds, using the speed variant, which everyone really enjoyed.  I also ran into Jeremy Davis (the Game Geek Ninja) who just finished up a Kickstarter for his Bag of Spiders game system as well as Mike and Brent from Elf Creek Games who have a Kickstarter for Honey Buzz launching soon.  Then it was time to head back to the hotel for some sleep.

Each of these wonderful people played a big role
in the success of the week for Thunderworks Games!
I won my first ever game of Everdell,
The speed variant of 8 Seconds was a hit!
It took 15 minutes and ended in a tie!
These awesome people didn't intend on playing Roll Player,
but they obliged and really enjoyed it!
Saturday was more of the same, except I ran a demo of Roll Player at 10am.  Unfortunately no one showed up for it, despite it being a sold out demo (I heard that there was a hotel fire near the airport, so that may have contributed).  Fortunately I was able to find four people in the demo hall that were looking for a game to play, so we had a full game anyway!  Afterward I had about an hour and a half to wander the exhibition hall before my Lockup demos.  I spent quite a while at the Devir Games booth checking out a few of their titles and visiting with Nicole Brady of SAHM Reviews.  I picked up a copy of the upcoming La Viña and also got a preview of Paris, and The Color Monster.  All three look really awesome!
The Color Monster is an adorable cooperative
game for ages 4+ where kids learn about colors,
emotions, teamwork, logic, and memory!
La Viña is all about collecting grapes from the
vineyards so that you can sell them to the
winemakers for points.  I received a
review copy, so look for that soon!
Paris is a great looking puzzle game.  It's for
two players and plays in about a half hour.
Tile drafting, special actions, and a strong puzzle
 aspect make Paris look really interesting.
Paris features some gorgeous artwork on the
postcards in the game.
My buddy Tony (back left) got the first player token in Lockup
because it's supposed to go to the biggest troublemaker! 😆
My Saturday Lockup demos went well.  Each of them had one no-show, but the open seat was filled by someone else, so I had two full, five-player games.  In one game the open seat was taken by my friend Tony, from my local game group, so it was great to chat and trash talk with a friend for a while.  After the demos were over and the booth was prepared for Sunday I went to mass at the St. John the Evangelist church across the street from the convention center.  This is an absolutely gorgeous church and I recommend popping your head in for a look, even if you're not Catholic.  After church I called my friend Tony and we headed out for dinner.  We ended up at O'Reilly's Pub at The Game Crafter's Community Social.  I got to introduce Tony to some of my game design friends as well as Tavis and JT from The Game Crafter.  Tony is just starting out on the game design journey, so the opportunity to mingle with real game designers (and have dinner with Randy and Maxine Ekl) was an awesome experience for him.  He was beaming all the way back to the hotel afterwards!  We also chatted with Ben Moy, Eric Engstrom, the Hylands, and more for a while in the evening before heading back the the JW Marriott ballroom again for a few games with the Thunderworks Crew again.  After we all split I went back to my hotel and looked for a quiet place to call home.  Everywhere was filled with rambunctious gamers, so I ended up in the hotel's exercise room, which was silent and empty!  Exhausted, I went back to the room to get some sleep.
A full five-player game of Lockup! The Gnolls sent their entire crew to the Library!

Technically, I both won and lost this game!  A father and son
had to leave a little early, so I played the last round for
both of them.  One of them won and the other lost!
St. John the Evangelist church across the street from the convention
center is an absolutely gorgeous church.  Mass was
given by a priest that was in town for games!
The Game Crafter Community Social was a great opportunity to visit with some good friends, old and new! 
Thanks for the great evening!
Gamers everywhere!  Except the hotel gym!
I finally got a chance to join a game of Lockup!
Sunday was an early morning.  We had to be checked out before we left for the convention center since we didn't have the room that night.  That meant getting up at 6:30 and meeting to load up the car at 7:15 since Stephan wanted breakfast before heading to the convention center.  The other mornings I preferred the extra sleep to breakfast, but on Sunday I joined a few of the guys for breakfast at a great little diner.  We got to see Tom Vasel walk by, and Eric Lang popped in for a bite.  Then it was off to the convention hall.  I had a Lockup demo at 10am that only had two show up, so I got to play (and lose) along with Nathan, one of the other Thunderworks crew guys (he won).  Then I had two hours to explore the exhibition hall again.  I made the most of those two hours, meeting a ton of publishers, talking about designer interviews, and picking up a few more review games.  Smirk and Dagger were very generous and I now have Before There Were Stars, Wooly Whammoth, and Shobu to review for them.  I also swung by the Golden Bell Studios booth to see if there was anything happening after all the online drama, but their booth was unoccupied.  Everything was covered in sheets and someone at a neighboring booth said the GBS people were only at their booth occasionally.  They came late, left early, and just weren't around much.  No big drama, but weird that an expensive booth like theirs wouldn't be occupied.

This is what the Golden Bell Studios booth looked
like well after the hall opened on Sunday.
With gorgeous artwork and interesting mechanics,
Nouvelle France should be a huge hit
when it comes to Kickstarter soon!
On Sunday I also finally had a little more time to check out some upcoming games that look pretty interesting.  I think the one that caught my attention most is Nouvelle France from Jackbro Games.  It's an intriguing Euro style game that has a very puzzly element to it with three-dimensional blocks (like Tetris blocks) that have to be placed in specific ways to score points.  Different heights will score different points as snow piles up and surrounds buildings.  It looks really cool and should be hitting Kickstarter in September.  I also saw Colab, a really cool looking game coming to Kickstarter next year from John Mietling and Portal Dragon GamesVadoran Gardens (available now) and Isle of Cats (Kickstarter recently finished) from City of Games also looked great.  Derek and Lizzy Funkhouser from The Boardgame Spotlight were there being social and also promoting their new game, The Walking Dead: Something to Fear from Skybound Games.  Also, across the aisle from the Thunderworks booth was Red Raven Games and their demos of Sleeping Gods, which looks incredible and is on Kickstarter right now (see more about it in my Eye on Kickstarter post).  Feudum from Odd Bird Games was also on display across the aisle and that looked as gorgeous as ever - I'm still trying to find time to learn and play it for a review.
Nouvelle France has some awesome table presence.
The Isle of Cats looked very interesting.  If you
backed the Kickstarter you have a great game to
look forward to!
Vadoran Gardens looked simple, but fascinating.
Colab is coming up from Portal Dragon
and looks incredible!
Within minutes of the convention closing to the public,
the exhibition hall looks like a completely different
world.  The booths are taken down, remaining
inventory boxed up, and the aisle carpets rolled up.
I spent the last hour of the convention demoing games at the Thunderworks booth.  It was a very successful convention for Thunderworks Games.  We sold out of Cartographers and sold a ton of the other games, too: Lockup, Dual Powers, Roll Player, RP: Monsters and Minions, Bullfrogs, and even Blend Off.  Playmats, metal coins, and promo items were also big sellers.  Teardown on Sunday was pretty quick and we were out of there in about an hour.  Then came the ride home.  There were four of us in the car for the ride home (one of the guys had to leave early because his wife got sick, so we had extras in our car).  We had a blast riding home, sending silly pictures back and forth, being happy we survived our brief pit stop at Midwest Gas Station and Lucky's Diner in Remington, IN and our detour through Hobart, IN.  We saw some amazing skies and then stopped for dinner at Portillo's (a rare treat for the Wisconsin guys).  Before long I was home and ready to hug my family and crash.

Cleaning up at the ICC.
Gen Con 2019 is over!  Time to start planning 2020!
A beautiful sky over Indiana corn fields.
The sunset was fabulous as we got closer to home.
My road trip crew for the return home!
See how happy I was!
Lots of these types of pictures got
sent back and forth.

I look forward to demoing TWG games again!
It was an amazing whirlwind for five days, and it took me this full week to recover, but it was an absolute blast.  I'm very happy that we had the convenience of a nearby hotel and that almost all of the Thunderworks crew was in the same complex so that we could hang out and play games in the evenings.  That's part of the experience I didn't really get last year.  It was amazing to walk through the hotels at all hours of the night and see room after room of people playing games.  At night it was mostly open gaming (although there were scheduled events going on even late at night).  During the day all those rooms were filled with various events, like RPG sessions, talks, and more.  Everywhere you looked, and plenty I didn't have a chance to see (like the Lucas Oil Stadium or dozens of other hotels and restaurants) were filled with gamers and special events.  It's unlike anything you'll ever experience anywhere else in the world.  If you're into gaming Gen Con is something you have to experience for yourself, even just once.  The cosplay, oversized versions of games, huge tables filled with miniature cities and terrains, and tables upon tables upon tables as far as you can imagine, are really something special.  I'm already looking forward to next year and hope it works out for me to attend again.

So until then, thanks to Keith and Claire of Thunderworks Games, thanks to the entire Thunderworks Crew, thanks to The Game Crafter for a great time Saturday night, and thanks to everyone else I saw that helped make the week a very memorable one.  And to those that I missed, we'll cross paths soon!

Lockup: A Roll Player Tale demos at Gen Con.
Dual Powers demos at Gen Con.
Roll Player Adventures demos at Gen Con. (Look for it next spring!)
Roll Player demos at Gen Con. 
(We were also demoing Monsters & Minions and Fiends & Familiars.)
Cartographers demos at Gen Con.
More Lockup demos at Gen Con.

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