In our first Buttonmashing Chat Chief Buttonmasher Tony and Board Game Frugalist Jason talk over a recent trip to GenCon, a Board Game Convention in Indianapolis Indiana. We chat about board games, digital games, and some of the experiences at the convention, good and bad.
Jason (Boardsmasher): A few weeks ago I attended GenCon, the self proclaimed four greatest days in gaming. I spent loads of time at that convention learning about new board games, playing some of the classics with friends, and meeting hordes (and I mean hordes) of interesting people. I wanted to sit down with Chief Buttonmasher Tony to decompress from the experience and share with him the good, the bad, and the boardgames.
I know you were interested in hearing more about my experience Tony, what’s the first thing you want to know?
Tony (Chief Buttonmasher): How was the smell? (I’m sorry, I had to do that).
What were the top games you went to see?
Jason: Hah, to answer your first question. The smells were fine as long as you stayed within arms length of the person next to you, even the people you came with. But we did go with a list of things that we really wanted to make sure we looked at. The internet is full of “Things we’re looking forward to at GenCon” lists and we used them to find a few games like Via Nebula, Last Friday, and a game called Arcane Academy.
Do any of those games intrigue you by title alone?
Tony: All of them, but Via Nebula especially.
Jason: You’d think it was a space game knowing nothing more, but it’s actually a pretty unique building and route management game set in a fog enshrouded valley.
Tony: Can you elaborate on what you mean by route management?
Jason: Yeah, that alone doesn’t sound super exciting I suppose, but in this game it means that you have to clear a path through the fog to get resources. Those resources help you build and win the game, but the trick is that you can use the paths the other players blazed. You have to spend time thinking about what actions you want to take and what actions you think others may take that you can benefit from.
Tony: Is the map random? How is the setup?
Jason: The map and board are the same every game but the resources get placed randomly at the start of the game so there are different paths you have to follow every game. Its unique enough that it seems like it could be immensely replayable. We only got one game in of it in the BGG Hot Games room but it was enough to make me want to come back for more.
Tony: Did you end up picking it up?
Jason: We didn’t end up buying it because I’m a frugal fellow and I know after the post convention hype dies down I should be able to get a it a little cheaper than MSRP. If there’s one thing you know about me is that I can’t usually stomach paying full price for something when I can avoid it. That’s what makes going to these cons so great, you get a lot of value for the price you pay for a four day pass.
Tony: Ok, so Via Nebula sounds like a keeper. What’s Last Friday? Do you play Chris Tucker or Ice Cube? Do you crack jokes about weed?
Jason: HAH, close? It’s actually a one vs many 80’s horror themed game where one player plays a vicious serial killer and the rest of the players play teenaged campers at an old campground. I didn’t play the killer because the moment I saw that one of the campers in the game was named Jason, I had to claim that pimply weirdo on a matter of pride.
Tony: So what is the object? survive? outlast the killer? trap him?
Jason: The game is split up into several chapters. In each chapter there is a different objective for the killer and the kids. It’s classified a hidden movement game because the moves the killer makes on the board are hidden to the rest of the players. It makes it pretty tense!
In the first chapter the kids had to find the keys to the cabins on the map and make it safely inside before being murdalized by the killer.
The killers job was to kill, but in the next scenario he was the guy on the run and we were trying to trap him. It was cool that there was enough variance so that it didn’t feel too samey.
Tony: So who won the game you played? The pimply kids?
Jason: We did, yes! Although I do have to say that the job of the killer is best played by someone who has experience with the game. The complexities of the hidden movement were definitely challenging for our killer.
Tony: That makes sense. Familiarity of how it would be played on the other side of the table would give the killer an insight into how he could avoid it.
Sounds like it would be satisfying to win as the killer.
So, what about Arcane Academy?
Jason: One of my regrets about the con. We actually never ended up playing it! There was so much to do and see that we just couldn’t find the extra hours to get back into the hot games room to play it.
It’s coming out in a few weeks, I’m eager to watch some actual play videos to see how it plays, but it seems like something right up my alley. Magic spells and board games? Yes please.
Tony: Was there anything that surprised you? Something you didn’t expect to see but got you interested?
Jason: I think my biggest surprise was how much my wife enjoyed everything at the convention. This was the second time I’ve been to GenCon but the first time I brought her along. Both her and I were expecting her to be bored of gaming by Saturday but as we were leaving we both were thinking of all the things we could’ve done if we stayed just a little bit longer.
Tony: Nice! What was her favorite?
Jason: I don’t know that she had a particular favorite but I know that she enjoyed almost everything we played. We both generally enjoy light, moderately strategic, and not lengthy games so most of the ones we got to play we enjoyed.
It was a great time and I’m eager to go again next year, though I’m not sure how realistic that’ll be. Maybe I’ll crash at your place and go to Origins 2017 next year?
Tony: Yeah seeing your pics definitely had me intrigued to do a con like that.
Especially the giant size King of Tokyo.
Jason: Oh man, my monster face was epic.
I played 2 games of Giant King of Tokyo, which is exactly what it sounds like.
I got runner up in both of them which was a bummer since the winner got a convention exclusive King of Tokyo monster. However, one of the winners already had a Space Penguin so she yielded it to me. Convention win!
Tony: Well it sounds amazing, if that what it was…
So you mentioned if you could have stayed longer you would have seen more — what would you go back and see if you could?
Jason: I think just demoing more games and spending more time in the Hot Games room. Being able to play the latest and greatest was a big draw for us and gave us something to look forward acquiring in the coming year.
Tony: Anything you were excited to see that disappointed or didn’t deliver?
Jason: One of the events we bought in to was an event called “Big Game Night” which was hosted by a company called AEG. The draw is that you get to take part in playing their games, seeing the new stuff they’ve got coming, and leave with a cool box of swag.
It was a good concept but a few things kept it from being awesome. One is that being so late on a Friday night we were pretty tuckered out so it was hard to learn new things.
Two is that the box of swag was essentially 75% empty boxes and 25% microgames.
From what I’ve heard those swag boxes have been getting less and less worth the price of admission ($32) to that event, so I probably won’t attend it next time I go to GenCon.
Tony: So this is obstensibly a video game blog — I know you saw HEX there. We’re there other video games/apps on demo?
Jason: Hah, good point. It is a “Gaming” convention so it wouldn’t be right if there weren’t at least a little bit of a digital presence there.
A lot of companies were demoing the mobile app version of their games. I even saw at the ascension booth that they were demoing a VR version of Ascension!
Tony: Did you try VR Ascension? I would probably never leave.
Jason: Chalk it up as one of those things I wish I’d done. Something else shiny likely caught my eye and I moved past it without thinking how awesome it would’ve been to experience.
It’s available now on Steam now with relatively positive reviews. Worth checking out if you’ve got the kit.
Tony: Well it sounds like a roaring success. Anything else you want to mention in wrapping up?
Jason: It was definitely a great time. If you’re on the fence about conventions in general this one, while being overwhelming, has such a tremendous positive vibe going on throughout the halls.
Everyone was walking around with smiles on their faces. It was fun to be a part of something so wonderfully geeky and fun, nerding out with 60,000 people and not even noticing the crowd.