Monday, August 22, 2016

Gen Con 2016 AAR

After Action Report

This year was the third year that the Dean family team attended Gen Con, and we are beginning to feel like we have a handle on the planning.  We were ready for the opening of the hotel room registration back in January, and, with four of us in the room lottery we drew a good position and were able to secure a room in the J.W. Mariott, at the northwest corner of the convention center complex.

With the room in hand, my brother was confirmed in his decision to try his hand at gamemastering this year, and, accordingly, he signed us up for four miniatures games (three Chaos Wars demos and a session of the 1975 Lord of the Rings game Ringbearer), as well as a classic board game night (Cosmic Encounter) that he did solo.

As the travel plans were finalized, I decided to arrive in Indiana on Tuesday, so that my brother and I could be there for the semi-official pre-convention events on Wednesday.  I was tasked with bringing some of the miniatures for Ringbearer, but Norman had the majority of the prep work in hand.  The kids would arrive on Wednesday night, and they also booked a somewhat early departure, around 2:00 on Sunday.

Arriving on Tuesday, I found that the literal welcome mat from previous years had not been rolled out at the airport, but the street signs were all up.

My brother and I arrived in good time on Wednesday morning after spending the night at his place in Bloomington, and we started right off with a board game demo, of a space-themed game called Destination Neptune.  It was a bit of a time-management game, reminding me of Puerto Rico, and I am still considering picking up a copy eventually.  I was also signed up for a (Classic) Traveller game in the evening, which was a bit of a bust.  The GM thought that it would be fun to try a combat scenario, which ultimately reminded me of why I try to avoid combat in Traveller.  Most of our party was wiped out in short order.  (My son was in one of the GM’s other Traveller games the next day, and came away speaking highly of the experience, so I’ll write this one off as a good idea that didn’t quite pan out.)

The convention proper started on Thursday.  We were signed up to run one of our Chaos Wars games first thing, with the idea that we didn’t want to be part of the crush in the exhibit hall opening.  Gen Con is an interesting environment for miniatures games.

  As can be seen from the pictures, there are seemingly endless rows of 5 x 16 foot table set ups, each representing two 5x8 games, so it would be helpful for planning purposes to consider that you only have access to three sides of the table.

The background noise could be described as “thunderous”, so it’s a little hard on the voice.  On the other hand, despite the limitations, we noted that there were over 950 miniatures games in the program, so splitting the miniatures off would make a respectable miniatures convention.  They just feel a little lost in the 17,000 other events.  We had six players for the first game, a battle to evict a trio of wizards from a stronghold under construction.  The players were three younger and three older, and that demographic distribution was the pattern for the rest of our minis games.  I’m not really concerned about the graying of the hobby overall; miniatures has always skewed a little more toward the older and more established players.

I scurried off to an art workshop (on using Copic markers for mapping) after our game, which was in one of the distant outlying hotels.  Upping my game on map making remains on my to-do list…

After that it was time to set up Ringbearer.  This game was printed in 1975, and involves a compressed War of the Ring on a single wargames table.  We ended up with four players (of a possible five), so that worked out pretty well, with players for Mordor, Isengard, Gondor and Rohan, and with the Fellowship split between the “good” players.

  We thought this went pretty well, with the Fellowship taking a long detour through Rohan on their way to the Cracks of Doom.

We didn’t quite finish, though, so that part still needs some work.  The Ringbearer game was the tough one to transport and set up, so we were glad that the kids arrived in time to give us a hand in the tear down.  I’ve been using my sons as a support crew for years at the historical miniatures conventions, but that’s going to be more difficult going forward, so I’m going to need to think about my gamemastering strategy with respecting transporting stuff.

I set Friday up to be my play day in the schedule.  I was in a Fate Accelerated role-playing game in the morning, involving unicorns mediating between humans and spirits in a magical forest,  then did the majority of my Gen Con shopping.  I signed up for two speed painting sessions, back to back, in the afternoon, and was pleased to find that one of them, for painting Reaper figures,  qualified me for a final round on Sunday afternoon.

 I was fairly happy with how the other figure, an Iron Wind Metals (aka Ral Partha) elf warlord, turned out, but it didn’t get a prize.

Everybody had a schedule gap on Friday, so we set that up as our team dinner, after which I headed over to Games on Demand to see what was on offer.  I ended up in a session of The Fall of Magic, a GM-less storytelling improvisational game with some interesting potential.  Two hours was just scratching the surface, though, so I put a copy on my wish list for later.

Saturday was booked solid.  I started off in the morning in a game with my older son, a scenario using the original 1823 Prussian Kriegsspiel rules, played on a topographical map with scaled counters.

There were a few issues with the scenario design on this one, but it was as interesting experiment in hobby history.  My brother and I then ran two more Chaos Wars games (with the same scenario) back to back, with five and four players respectively.

My throat was about shot by the time that I was done, and we were again glad to accept some help from the kids on the clean up.

I hadn’t started the convention with anything scheduled for Sunday, but ended up with the final round of speed painting at 2:00.  We looks at the kids’ departure time and concluded that we could probably manage a two session at Games on Demand at 10:00.  My older son and I ended up in a session of The Quiet Year, a game of post-apocalyptic community building, which we had tried and liked last year.

After that, the kids scurried off to the airport and I did a little final shopping prior to my Reaper speed painting final.

I didn’t place in the final either, but I did end up with two brushes, three miniatures, and a fourth miniature as a prize for my combined entry fee of $4, so I had a great time with it overall.

I got to ease out of the convention slowly; the majority of the plane was filled with other Gen Con attendees headed home, so we got to talk about games all the way back to Baltimore, and I prudently took Monday off to recover.

Now that we have tried GMing, we are already discussing plans for next year’s games…

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