As is always the case with huge conventions like this one, even though a 4 day long weekend sounds like a lot, it always leaves you wanting more.  Gen Con 2016 was no exception.  A quick warning for any of you planning to attend in the future:  plan your events ahead of time!  Many events you want to participate in are planned out with the day and time listed months before.  Use this to your advantage!

Unfortunately, as great as the exhibitor was for the Universal Fighting System, I had an NPE (Negative Play Experience) with another fighting game board game (that’s a really weird phrase)…  Level 99 Games, makers of the awesome Pixel Tactics, really need to work on their presentation skills.  I’m hesitant to slam the game, Exceed, at this point, because I genuinely am not sure as to the quality and fun factor of the game.  What I am sure of is that the host did an extremely poor job explaining the game.  The Power Trip and I played through one entire game, but we were basically thrown to the wolves, with little to no explanation of the game.  It was only when we (read:  I) made illegal moves that we learned what we were even allowed to do.  I was utterly slaughtered…  Don’t get me wrong.  I can take a loss, but when that loss comes from not being properly made aware of the mechanics of the game, I get a little miffed.  Again, it’s no commentary on the game itself.  It may be great, but after that debacle, it’s unlikely I’ll ever try it again.

Actually, I need to back up for a sec and address the “we.”  Not all of us were able to go, but 2 of your loyal contributors made the trip.  If you pay close attention, I bet you can figure out which ones.  Spoiler alert:  I’m one of them.  I normally cover video games, but it’s certainly not a stretch to cover tabletop gaming.  I’ve even done it before, in fact!

This is subtle for these chicks.  Trust me.

Looks like we finally got that sequel to Klono Trigger we've been waiting for!

Then something awesome happened.  A member of the coolest fandom on all of the Internet recognized us and wanted to hang out!  Just one of the many perks of being a loyal reader/viewer…  Wish granted!  This particular fan happened to be a huge fan of Star Trek, so we made sure to indulge a bit.  We worked in a run of Star Trek Panic, which, if you haven’t played it, is a ton of fun!  It’s one of those games like Arkham Horror where all the players win or lose as a team.  You have to answer distress calls, fight off enemy ships, disable the Doomsday Machine, and fun things like that.  Each player assumes the role of a named member of the Enterprise crew.  I’ve been called “Captain Curt” all my life, so my decision was easy, though I do think I broke one of the game rules because I wore my shirt the entire game despite playing as Captain Kirk.  A successful completion of the game even netted players special ribbons to affix to their badges based on their characters.  Poor Bones…  I don’t know if he’s unpopular or just not a good character, but Fireside Games had a huge stack of “Medical Officer” ribbons left over.

Weird Al's vegetarian diet works wonders!

So how did our trip, in particular go?  Well, I’ll tell you more about mine.  The Power Trip spent much of his time playing in the nationals for a certain CCG.  Maybe he’ll tell you about it some day.  I made it a point to visit as many dealer booths as possible, as well as some of the private rooms on the periphery.  Of course, video games are my primary passion, so I also had to visit the 3, count ‘em, 3 arcades in the vicinity.  One was in the mall, another was in a hallway connecting the convention center to…  something I don’t remember.  

As I said before, be sure to plan out what you want to do well in advance.  We encountered a game called Star Trek Ascendency, that, try as we might, we were unable to so much as demo.  It was always booked solid.  I think you may have had to sign up before Christmas 2014 to guarantee a spot at Gen Con 2016 or something.  Oh well.  Live and learn.

The third was my favorite.  For 4 bucks an hour, you could play all you wanted, as all the machines were set to free play!  I probably spent more time here than I should have, but I don’t regret it one bit.  A single credit run of Black Tiger?  Check!  A single credit run of Double Dragon?  Check!  Gotta love that elbow smash!  I also made it a point to claim the top scores on Gyruss, Strider, Trojan, and, of course, the above mentioned games.  If you happened to see “ZSG” on any machines, that was me!  The Power Trip and I also had a great trip down memory lane playing WWF Superstars and WWF Wrestlefest.

Yes, we can tell you didn't shower for 4 days...

Ok, I’ll try to control myself and get back to tabletop gaming.  That is the primary focus of Gen Con, after all…  I managed to cover the entire vendor hall and most of Artists’ Alley, demoing as many games as possible and perusing the aesthetic wares.  One of the first standouts was God Hates Charades.  If Taboo and Cards Against Humanity got drunk and made a very funny mistake, it would be this game.  You have to get people to guess the person and action cards you drew for the turn.  Let’s just say these aren’t exactly G-Rated actions…  But honestly, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to act out Shredder having to take a dump in a litter box?  Yep!  I left Gen Con with this in my luggage with me!

Unfortunately, with so much going on, it’s practically inevitable that you’ll want to play (at least) two different games that are scheduled for the same time, so that’s where the real advantage of the schedule shines.  Let’s say you want to play Werewolf and Raw Deal.  Raw Deal only has one event on the docket per day, while Werewolf has many scheduled, even into the wee hours of the morning.  Play Raw Deal when you can, and hold off to play Werewolf after midnight.  That game is best played during late hours anyway.

Dynamite with a laser beam.

From where we are, it’s mostly I-75, though your results may vary.  Rest assured that it’s nothing like the Road to Morocco.  Gen Con is the world’s largest tabletop gaming convention and it’s in Indianapolis.  But you don’t want to hear about how we got there, you’d much rather hear about what we did when we got there.

The convention hall itself has a large part of the floor open for gaming 24/4, and this is where you’ll likely spend most of your time.  It’s a gaming convention.  You are here to game, after all.  Many tables are reserved by specific companies so they can run their tournaments, but you can usually find an area for open gaming with ease.  In fact, unless a company was directly hosting an event at that moment, I didn’t encounter anyone who was stingy about sharing space.

At this point, I think Looney Labs has release enough Fluxx promo cards that you can conceivably play using a deck comprised only of promos.

Another perk to your planning involves your meals.  It’s important to know not only when (and what) you’ll be gaming, but also when you won’t be.  You’re in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, so you may as well make the most of it!  In a pinch, you can eat the overpriced, so-so-at-best food available at the con, but with some foresight, you’ll come out ahead by dining at any of the actual restaurants located in walking distance already.  There are plenty of sit down establishments able to accommodate budgets ranging from Applebees (“Applebees was our place!”) to Ruth’s Chris.  Or if you prefer fast food, there’s a plethora of places for that as well.  There’s even a shopping mall, complete with food court, directly connected to the convention center, so you’re sure to find something you like.  Some enterprising (foreshadowing!) establishments even offer special perks to gamers, such as a certain pub we visited that has a Steve Jackson sanctioned extra rule for Munchkin!  If you show a receipt from the place along with a menu when you start the game, you get to begin at Level 2.  And don’t think for one second that I haven’t been using it!

During business hours, the dealer hall is also open.  It’s the perfect place to check out the current and upcoming products from all your favorite gaming companies, both indie and mainstream.  And be sure to drop by as many booths as possible for any games you do play.  You’ll usually score a promo.  Who doesn’t want some Ice Cream for their Fluxx game or a Klonos for Boss Monster?  Another fun perk to this area is that the companies are more than happy to demo games with you.  Try before you buy!  It’s super effective!  We ended up buying quite a few of the games we got to take for a test play!

And speaking of Blue Magic, that brings me to my next game, Pixel Glory.  As a massive gamer who never left the 80s, let me just say that I totally LOVE (To the Max!) this current fad of 8 bit video game art you see everywhere right now!  Like Boss Monster, Pixel Glory is a great example of this.  The three players are wizards out to slay vile monsters.  The game is played in two phases.  First, you have to bid in order to build your deck.  You choose which spells to “learn,” but each spell must be accompanied by near useless filler spells.  The strategy of this part is to craft the best possible deck with practical spells.  The second phase is to venture forth and slay monsters.  You get points for each scalp in your pile.  Note that you MUST play all the spells in your hand each turn, so now the strategy becomes either killing monsters for points or doing your best to NOT set up the next player for an easy kill.  The game isn’t bad, but it’s a bit on the simple side and you seem to draw filler spells way too often to keep the game exciting.  I like deck building games, but I think I’ll stick to the Cryptozoic ones.  They make a Street Fighter game already, so I can still get my video game fix.

If you’ve ever enjoyed tabletop gaming in any capacity, you should make the pilgrimage to gaming Mecca at least once.  There’s literally something for everyone.  If it can be played, rest assured that someone there is playing it.  I actually saw sign-ups for a Follow the Leader tournament.  Still playing a now defunct CCG like Raw Deal?  Yep, they had events for it.  Want to stay on the cutting edge with the newest games in your circle of friends?  You can even get your hands on some upcoming product if you play your cards right (pun definitely intended).

I also got to play the glorious, 10 player game, Killer Queen.  As someone who grew up in arcades, I had already played literally every title in there except this one.  For starters, I’m just glad to see a new arcade game with a 2013 copyright date…  The game is great fun and it gobbled up a ton of time!  The basic gameplay is similar to Joust.  Each team of 5 has a queen.  If you manage to kill the other team’s queen 4 times, you win!  There are various chambers you can power up your character with if you enter them with berries or you can bring those berries back to your base.  If you manage to secure 12 of them, you win!  Finally, there’s a snail at the bottom of the screen.  He’s slow, but if you ride him all the way to your team’s side, you win!  The simple gameplay of Joust is so easy to pick up that literally anybody can play the game, but there really is a deep and complex strategy to the visibly simple mechanics.  I’m grateful I can now say I’ve played this game on an arcade cabinet as intended!

The gaming floor had a section devoted to giant size versions of some games.  There were many iterations of Settlers of Catan in this form.  I think you see where this is going…  Our faithful follower hadn’t yet gotten his fix of Star Trek, so a game of Star Trek Catan was in order.  The Catan games are great examples of mostly skill based gameplay with just a hint of luck involved to keep the outcome interesting.  The game is akin to an argureement.  One singular player will win, but in order to do so, he’ll have to cooperate with the other players.  Catan is all about resource management and trading, which, apparently, The Power Trip was better at than the rest of us.  Still, we had a blast going where no man has gone before!

Star Trek Panic was a blast to play!  Sometimes literally…  One of your many jobs is to defend the U.S.S. Enterprise.  At the start of the game, the ship is pristine and the shields are intact, but if you fail to eliminate the threats in a timely fashion, your shields visibly take damage.  After 2 hits, they’re destroyed, exposing the ship to danger.  Similarly, each piece of the ship can take two hits.  Damaged shields and ship sections can be repaired, but it’s best to avoid that hassle altogether.  Still, it’s very cool how the game supplies pieces to visually indicate various damage levels.  Our Star Trek fanboy friend was playing as Scotty and did an excellent job keeping our ship in tiptop shape, even delaying our win briefly in order to bring in our bird undamaged.  It was hilarious, but fit the character well.  This game offers some light strategy and role playing elements wrapped in an enjoyable game.  I hadn’t played any of the Panic games before, but I certainly will play them again!

We're not worthy!  We're not worthy!

I’ve long been a fan of CCGs (Collectible Card Games).  They offer an excellent skill-based battleground where players have to not only have the ability to build powerful decks (netdecking not withstanding), but also the skill to play them.  Of course, the downside is the functional pay-to-play aspect.  In order to get the most out of the games, you have to pony up some serious cash.  Full disclosure:  at this time, I have no plans to start hardcore playing another CCG.  But if I did, it would be another fun game I demoed.  The Universal Fighting System allows gamers like me to pit their favorite digital avatars against each other in cardstock form!  I won’t lie.  It was absolutely the fact that I saw a Protoman versus Mega Man match going on beside a Terry Bogard versus Ryu match that drew me to this game.  The guy at the booth did an excellent job walking me through a game where, as Protoman, I deftly destroyed my weaker brother, Mega Man.  I’m still learning about this game, but apparently the Ryu promo I snagged is very powerful as well.

Of course, unless this is your first article, you know that we love indie games here at The Culture Cache.  At Gen Con, we found a new favorite.  You may already be familiar with it, but we weren’t.  It’s called We Didn’t Playtest This At All.  And it certainly lives up to the name!  This game features a 54 card deck, though it’s unlikely you’ll see more than 10 of them in any given game.  You win my not losing.  Simple enough.  This game is hilariously broken and it actively revels in it!  There’s a card in this game called “You Lose.”  And, yes, that’s all it does.  There’s another card called “Spite.”  When you lose, if you play it, you also force another player to lose.  You still don’t win, but at least you bring another poor bastard down with you.  This is one instance where you SHOULD be a Paul!  We had every intention of buying this game before we left, but, sadly, it was sold out.  Oh well!  That’s what Amazon is for!

Totally the same as the Road to Gen Con.

What’s that?  You want to hear about how we got there?  Ok…  We listened to a lot of Weird Al, Alice Cooper, and video game soundtracks, while enjoying some great conversation…

Lodging is another thing you’ll have to contend with.  There are quite a few hotels directly connected to the convention center.  Though pricy, these are a perfect option for all your cosplayers out there!  If you want to change costumes (or even, dare I say it, change into plain clothes.  *Audible gasp*), these are always close at hand.  The fact that you’re always indoors also means you never have to worry about inclement weather affecting your awesome image.  If you want to save some money, you can always stay at one of the other locations nearby.  For this trip, we stayed at a joint 3 blocks away.  It was still close enough to walk, and the cost savings versus an adjoined hotel were worth it to us.  In years past, I’ve also stayed at motels on the outskirts of Indianapolis.  These are way, way cheaper, but you have to factor in your drive time and parking fees.  You still come out ahead on the money front, but it’s up to you whether the savings are worth it.  If you plan to do some very heavy gaming and you literally only need a room to shower and sleep, they’re perfect, but if you like to chill in your room during the day, you might want to skip it.  I like this option, but I know it’s not for everybody.  Finally, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU GET A ROOM!  Don’t be that guy who literally doesn’t bathe for 4 days and sleeps in a folding chair in the hallway.  In addition to the unhygienic and discourteous “essence” you’ll be emitting, it’s also unsafe.  Don’t be that guy.  Don’t be a Paul.

Make it so!  Oh, wait...

The Road to Gen Con.

And what con would be complete without a trip to Artists’ Alley?  Not this one!  In the back of the dealer hall, a large portion of the floor space was devoted to all manner of artists.  Many were selling prints of their work.  You may be able to find your favorite web comic artists there, many of whom are for hire!  And, because I just KNOW you’re thinking it, for all of you readers out there who prefer a more “adult” flavor to your cosplay, yes, the Cosplay Deviants were also in Artists’ Alley.  Is it still considered cosplay when they’re not actually wearing anything?  The world may never know…  Just so you know, they’re very NSFW if you decide to look them up.  They even hosted a rousing game of “Dub That Hentai!”

Well, after weeks of my friends and coworkers suggesting I play Ticket to Ride, Gen Con offered me the perfect opportunity to finally fulfill those pleas.  I’m happy to say that it absolutely does live up to the hype!  Admittedly, the title alone, which recalls a Beatles song, was enough to generate interest.  Basically, each player in this game runs a railroad company and you have to secure various routes for your customers.  The gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of rummy in how you acquire cards, which you need to build your routes.  It was great fun and this was another we came home with.  I won my very first game by actively seeking to block the other players from making progress.  What can I say?  Old habits die hard.  Once a Blue Magic player, always a Blue Magic player…