GenCon Diaries: Stories

GenCon is a place to buy games, play games, pitch games, or sell games, depending on your role in this nerd ecosystem. But, as I quickly found, and hoped, it's really the site for great stories. GenCon attracts a mass of people dressed as 10 foot wookiees, the skinniest Spider-Man I've ever seen, lads with incredible beards, little steam punk children, and normal Tom and Sallys. It's as if the largest dive bar in history were opened and great people from everywhere showed up to have a beer (or three) and pass the time masterfully.

Okay, four beers.

If you go with the right crew, GenCon is a great four days. I traveled with a fine posse of guys whom I've never met in person, but have built a friendship with via the magic known as the internet. I met and hung out with many fine folk, but most of my time was spent with AJ Porfirio, Matt Worden, Chevee Dodd, Cyrus Kirby, and Eric Leath. I mean this in the best way when I say we're a pretty great group of assholes.

Matt brought me a hot dog at the booth, my first meal of the day at 4 pm. AJ repeatedly gave me a chance to run to the bathroom. He also woke up earlier than he wanted every day to drive me into the Con to work my booth. Eric and Chevee frequently hung out with me to play demos with potential customers and the former instigated one of the most awkward scenes I've witnessed in my life. I'll just say our fiend of a waitress pulled off a hilarious Machiavellian maneuver. Chevee made sure to express his displeasure with Empire's turn order mechanic and was on hand when a tester made precisely the same suggestion (details, execution, everything) an hour later. I wish that fedora wearing fool had taken a minute to go to the bathroom at that moment.

We played Seasons, Empire Reborn, Dicey Curves, Gyre, made fun of Cyrus, and acted like we'd known each other for years. It was really awesome. Especially making fun of Cyrus. The dude ordered a beer called Osiris purely because it sounded like his name.

I met Colby Dauch of Plaid Hat Games, Brent Povis of Two Lanterns Games, Christopher Badell of Greater than Games, and Uwe Eickert of Academy Games. I consider these people celebrities, mostly because I value cool gamers over C-List actors. Christopher in particular is this shrewd fiend of an upstart publisher. He makes me want to figure out co-op games. It's amazing when you can bump into significant players who talk to you and treat you so well. It's a small industry and I love the camaraderie.

I met so many others, but for the sake of brevity I'm cutting it off here.

Not all the people are so fresh. GenCon is packed with hilariously bad smells from people who clearly refuse to bathe. I'd like to think Gandalf the Grey was standing in these people's shower screeching "you shall not pass," and they were like "gotcha bearded dude." It's one of the oldest geek stereotypes that we are not a bathing people. I took my daily shower, but it appears not everyone got the memo.

GenCon is about violence, though more often than not the plastic sword variety. But, not always. Two young siblings literally broke into fisticuffs when the older brother played a steal card on his younger sister. At one point, she was flat on her belly on the table flailing at him to get the card back. It was a heaping mess of hilarity.

On one hand I was bothered she was scaring away potential demoers, but on the other hand I felt like I'd created the best game of all time. I mean, she was furious because of a card I designed. That's passion!

One aspiring designer boldly told me his friend designed a game with 28 perfectly balanced factions in only a month. I bet he thought I was stupid when I told him it had taken me 6 months to develop  Empire to its current point. I'm so inefficient! Speaking of which, I'm adding orcs and turret turtles to Empire. No I'm not. I'm adding anthropomorphic donuts.

I played 42 games of Farmageddon from Thursday to Friday. It seems like 9 out of the 10 people who played with me went to purchase a copy, which is the ultimate compliment. I love showing my games, always have, and my time demoing for a large corporation has served me well in this regard.

Many people who played with me on Thursday came back on Friday to tell me the combos they pulled off the previous evening, or took the time to wave when passing by on Saturday. I learned, once again, that little kids love a good high-five and that once and for all trying to make a pun out of the German word würst is, well, you know...

You can't blame me for trying. A guy said "Oh that's the worst!" To which I responded, "No, it'd be the würst if you were farming sausages." He stared at me blankly. When I threw my hand up and shouted "Up top!" to receive his celebratory high five, he shook his head and said "no, I'm not high fiving that."

I playtested Empire Reborn for 14 total hours. I had three groups of testers return for second tests because they enjoyed the game. They spent four hours with my prototype instead of something else. One double tester paid me the ultimate compliment when he said the game was exactly the game he'd been looking for. I sent him home with one of the two prototypes (Worden took home  the other containing my "hand crafted" fort tokens) and can't wait to show him the revised rules. I also played it with a publisher and one of his designers. Excellent feedback was received and the next iteration is really going to take a big step forward (read about it later this week).

Perhaps most exciting was that I finally met Phil, the publisher of Farmageddon. Phil's been busting his butt to promote and distribute my game and it seems to be working quite well. He's also a nice guy and at the end of the day, that counts for quite a bit. Slowly but surely we're going to carve out a name and I'm glad my silly crops are steaming ahead with him.

I told several people before GenCon that I was excited to promote Farmageddon and test Empire, but I really wasn't sure about the Con. I'm just not a huge con goer. From where I stand right now, I'm not sure I'll miss another. I'll need to plan the birth of my children such that I don't miss it, such is my dedication.

Embrace this great community as a designer, a tester, a player, and a publisher. I'm pretty sure I'd be ripe for a mid-life crisis any day now if it weren't the joy of designing games and sharing them with great guys like Matt Worden. Or joking about square rondels with Patrick Nickell. Or designing a game around a Twitter hash tag. GenCon 2012 was, for me, an outstanding story and I'm delighted to see where it goes from here.

Fingers crossed it's something akin to The Fast and the Furious. Not 2 Fast 2 Furious, Kirkman.


For the record, the beer tasted awesome with a high concentration of kick-ass and a profound aftertaste of excellence.

Grant, it was awesome to share laughs together and all, but COME ON, that turn-order idea was BRILLIANT! I mean it's, elegant, over-complicated, balanced, and adds yet ANOTHER thing to AP about! Just what this game needs! ;-)

I can't bag on folks too much! I've updated the design to reduce the ability to AP too much, plus, I learned quite a bit watching them. They did play quite a long time :)

Speaking of AP, you failed to mention that one of your Empire tests was with the most AP group of guys in the history of the world!

Hilarious story about the wurst high five ever. I would have paid large sums of money to have seen that.

We'll bump into each other again. How did your testing go?

The testing went very well. Players really liked the game in general, and the setting in particular -- and the biggest problems they had with the system were things I'd already earmarked as needing work. In short, nothing caught fire and no one lost an eye, so I count it as a win.

I'll be posting my own GenCon report on Wednesday morning with a few more details.

I hereby dub this blog post 2 Long 2 Read.

And you're so totally wrong, it's not even funny. The only thing that movie is lacking is Diesel, but it makes up for it in Luda and T. I'M HUNGRY.

Grant, I'm glad your first GenCon was such a success! Sorry I didn't get a chance to actually talk with you in the First Exposure room, but you were running two playtests at once, so I figured you had your hands full.