Gen Con 2019: My Favorite Things
On August 1-4, 2019, I attended the 52nd annual Gen Con convention in Indianapolis, IN. The ever-growing convention has spread across the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium, and surrounding downtown hotels. It is the largest and longest-running tabletop gaming convention in North America.
Continuing my annual tradition, I was able to shop, demo, and play plenty of games throughout the weekend, as well as attending events, meeting with publishers, and overall “conning the con”.
Here are a few of my favorite scores…
Horrified: Universal Monsters
When I first heard about this game, I was super excited because… Universal Monsters! Ravensburger is the producer of some of my favorite games, so why would this be any exception? In Horrified: Universal Monsters, classic Universal Studios monsters (think Dracula, The Invisible Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon) descend upon a village to wreak havoc, hunt heroes, and terrorize villagers. In this cooperative board game, players work together to defeat the monsters before they destroy the town for good.
I immediately signed up myself and my friends for an event to learn to play this game. The best thing about attending Gen Con is you can try just about any new game to see if you like it before investing in it. And that is what I planned to do with Horrified.
Spoiler alert: I loved the game.
I’m generally not a huge fan of cooperative games, but this one is super fun. There is a lot of communication and player engagement as players work together to defeat the monsters. It is an easy-to-learn game as far as player turns and mechanics. The only tricky part (that isn’t really that tricky) is that each unique monster has its own winning condition. Therefore, each one requires different strategies and tactics to be defeated. But the benefit to this is the replayability of the game, and the varying levels of difficulty achieved by selecting different monsters each time you play.
It is also a beautiful game. The board is bright colors with cool artwork. Very “classic monsters” in look and feel. Furthermore, it includes high-quality sculpted miniatures that represent each of the monsters. Right now the game includes Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Could there be a possible expansion with even more classic monsters in the future??? I certainly hope so!
Horrified hits the shelves on August 1, and will be sold in Target, Barnes and Noble, and other stores for $34.99 MSRP.
Fun fact: This game sold like hotcakes at Gen Con. The limited stock on hand sold out early every day. When I heard this, I logged on to Target.com and placed an order, which delivered to my house the day after I got home from Gen Con. So I didn’t have FOMO for not grabbing this one at the convention.
Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein
Continuing with the monster theme, I was very intrigued by Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein from Plaid Hat Games. I heard only a few things about this game in the days before the con. I didn’t know much about it, so it may be considered my spontaneous purchase based on the buzz alone. But I was not disappointed!
Description from the publisher:
Taking place 20 years after the events in Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein is a game of competitive monster creation for 2-4 players. Each player takes on the role of a scientist racing to construct a viable living being to satisfy the mad obsession of their mysterious benefactor. Strategic placement of assistants across the city of Paris allows you to research scientific findings, charge your Leyden jars and scavenge the local cemeteries and morgues for materials needed to perfect your craft. Once a player succeeds in bringing their creature to life, or after twelve rounds have elapsed, the game ends and the player with the most victory points fulfills Frankenstein’s dark legacy, for good or ill…
Doesn’t that sound amazing?!? I haven’t gotten it to the table yet. But when I do, I will tell you all about it!
This is a hefty game. Expect a session to last upwards of two hours. The complexity and theme suggest for players 12 and up. Artwork by Palamarchuk Mikhail and Tony Sart is both beautiful and graphic, filling out the incredible theme and design by Dan Blanchett. The price tag is also hefty, with an MSRP of $59.95.
With its incredible table presence, I witnessed several people stopping by to check out the incredible display and learn more about the game. When everything is set up on the table, including the new Everdell: Pearlbrook Expansion, the worker meeples, the wooden Ever Tree, the 3D Wonders… it really is quite a sight. The volume of beautiful and quality-made components is impressive individually, or as a whole.
I was happy to get my hands on the wooden Ever Tree and the redesigned twigs, which I forgot to add to my pledge manager for Pearlbrook. There was a small allotment sold each day, and there were people lined up first thing in the morning to get them before they sold out.
I cannot say enough good things about this game, as apparent in my in-depth review. I am anxious to get Pearlbrook to the table, and sing its praises as well. Because what is not to love about this charming game?
Everdell: Pearlbrook Expansion is coming to retail this fall, with an MSRP of $50.00.
It wasn’t too terribly long ago that we were excited about the next game from Disney Villainous series, Wicked to the Core. So it was a nice surprise to have another expansion debut at Gen Con… Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared.
In the Disney Villainous games, players take on the role of a Disney Villain and strive to achieve their devious objective. This is a fun twist, where you would normally expect to play the good guy in a Disney game. But who doesn’t love a good villain?
In Evil Comes Prepared, each player takes control of one of three Disney characters, each one a villain in a different Disney movie, specifically Scar from The Lion King, Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove, and Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective. As with all of the Villainous games, Evil Comes Prepared is playable on its own, and its characters can also face off against those from the other two games.
Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared is currently available for purchase from Target, Amazon, and other retailers for $24.99 MSRP.
The Year of The Roll (or Flip) and Write
Let’s face it—2019 is the year of the Roll and Write (or Flip and Write) game. This isn’t a new mechanism. Everyone knows what a roll and write is, and has played one at some point. (I mean, who hasn’t played Yahtzee?) What is new is how game designers and publishers are incorporating new and innovative ways to play with dice, cards, and scorepads, yet maintaining the simplicity and portability that these games provide. Almost every major publisher has a new roll and write game for sale, and these games push and stretch the idea of what we know this game mechanic to be.
A few of these games were able to stand out in the very crowded Gen Con arena this year. There are several that are scaled-down, roll and write versions of previously released games, while others are brand new games.
Here are a few standouts:
While Welcome To… is not a new title, Deep Water Games did release a new expansion at Gen Con, the Spring Thematic Neighborhood. Players can earn extra points by finding eggs and circling them with a number. Race to collect the most eggs and score some extra points.
All of the Welcome To expansions and accessories were available for purchase. I was excited to pick up a 4 pack of the Double Sided Dry Erase Player Sheets. These dry erase coated score sheets use the original rules for both sides. Original artwork is on one side, thematic alternate art on the other side. This is a trend that I hope all roll and write games—or any game that might use a scorepad, for that matter—will migrate to. I hate seeing paper being used up and wasted in games when a dry-erase surface can be recycled over and over.
I also picked up the Welcome To… Halloween expansion. Because… Halloween, duh. In Welcome To… Halloween when players build houses they get to choose a trick or a treat, circling either a ghost or a candy.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Several game publishers offered the option to pre-order certain games and pick them up at Gen Con, saving shipping costs in the process. I took advantage of this by pre-ordering Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale from Thunderworks Games. Not only did I get the game early and save on shipping, but also all pre-orders included the 8-card Skills Mini Expansion. (The mini-expansion will be sold separately in the BGG store in the future.)
In Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale, players compete to get the highest reputation at the end of four seasons. Each season, players draw on their map sheet and score against unique conditions at the end of the season. The player with the highest reputation at the end of the year is declared the winner.
I had a chance to attend and event to learn the game from Thunderworks, which was a valuable experience. Even though the Thunderworks rep that played with us beat us. Badly. But it was a lot of fun, and I can see playing this game a lot in the near future. It’s not an overly complex game, but it was beneficial to have someone who really knew the ins and outs of the game show us how it’s done.
Cartographers is currently available for pre-order here for $24.95.
I hate to use the term “filler game”, but one of our favorites is Sushi Go! Now there is a dice version of this shelf staple—Sushi Roll. Designer Phil Walker-Harding came up with a fun twist on his best-selling card game that strikes a balance between strategy and probability.
Sushi Roll is the dice version of the Sushi Go! card game. There is no better way to describe it. The same popular Sushi Go! characters are present, and pretty much the same actions and scoring combinations are also there. Grab a menu to re-roll your dice or use chopsticks to swap with an opponent. Earn points for winning combos like two tempura or a set of sashimi. Collect pudding for more points at the end of the game. If you already know these rules, picking up this game is easy.
So what is different? I find that Sushi Roll is easier to set up, easier to teach, and easier to understand for those not familiar with Sushi Go! I can take Sushi Roll anywhere, and teach it to pretty much any gamer at any level in a matter of minutes. And for that reason, it has a place on my shelf.
Sushi Roll is available for pre-order for $23.99 MSRP.
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game is my favorite from the line, and there is always a new expansion that drops at Gen Con. This year we had two: Dimensions and Revelations, which both had a limited release at Gen Con, and a retail release later in the year. The Marvel version is not the only franchise that gets the Legendary treatment. We have seen Legendary games for Aliens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Big Trouble in Little China, to name a few.
This year, Upper Deck released Legendary: 007, a James Bond Deck Building Game, where players can relive their favorite movie moments from four classic Bond movies: Goldfinger, The Man With The Golden Gun, GoldenEye, or Casino Royale. In celebration of this new title, Upper Deck had a fully 007-themed booth with photo ops. On display was an Aston Martin Volante fiberglass shell on loan from The Ian Fleming Foundation that was used in the production of The Living Daylights. It was hand-down the coolest booth in the entire exhibit hall.
Attendees were able to pick up a copy of Legendary: 007, a James Bond Deck Building Game in the Upper Deck booth and get a glimpse at Legendary DXP:007, the digital version of the game that is scheduled to release later this Summer.
Food Truck Alley and Street Party
We were fortunate to have food trucks set up all convention long on Georgia, Capitol, and South Streets. Coffee and breakfast foods, with service starting 8:00 am. Additional trucks served up until 11:00 pm on Thursday—Saturday, and until 5:00 pm on Sunday. There was never a shortage of sustenance available to the thousands of attendees. Furthermore, there was a variety to choose from, with a plethora of food, drinks, and even desserts. (I still regret not trying the Mountain Dew ice cream topped with orange syrup and pop rocks at the ice cream truck!) And the lines didn’t seem that outrageous. Yes, a few were long (it just means the offerings were good), but they always moved pretty quickly.
Overall Organization and Execution
I brought two new attendees with me to Gen Con this year. These are convention veterans, with San Diego Comic-Con and Dragon Con on their resumes. But both were impressed by the convention as a whole. There was never any confusion as to where to go, what line to stand in, anything like that. The volunteers and convention center staff were knowledgeable, helpful, and polite. It is a standard that many other conventions could learn from.
Registration and Ticketing
The Will Call line to pick up badges and tickets is always long. That’s a fact that we have to live with. But, Gen Con offers two things I’ve not experienced at other cons. First, Will Call is open 24 hours a day. Second, you can have your badge mailed to your home for a $10 shipping cost. I have not done this yet, but I plan to try this next year. For sure.
There were 19,600 individually ticketed events in the Gen Con 2019 event schedule. Tickets are distributed with badges in the registration packets. Some events are moving towards electronic ticketing, where badges are scanned at the event instead of surrendering a paper ticket. I hope that the convention moves towards all-electronic ticketing in future shows. It’s quicker, easier, and more sustainable.
In an effort to produce a greener and more sustainable convention, Gen Con took several measures to cut down on waste and reduce the ecological impact. 100% of show signage is printed on recycled materials. Gen Con’s partnership with r.Cup, a reusable cup service, replaced disposable cups in all concession stands with durable reusable cups, resulting in the prevention of 24,000 cups ending up in a landfill this year. Additionally, 27,000 sq. ft. of vinyl table coverings were replaced by linens and recyclable paper.
Gen Con 2019 attendees helped to raise over $35,000 for the convention’s 2019 Charity Partners, Game To Grow and Special Olympics Indiana. In a first partnership with Make-A-Wish®, Gen Con brought 13-year-old Drake Kiderlen of Troy, MO, who is battling a pineal parenchymal tumor, on an all-expenses-paid trip with members of his family to Gen Con 2019, where his wish of attending the convention, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and learning about new board games was granted.
What’s To Come…
Gen Con returns to Indianapolis July 30-August 2, 2020.
I plan to be there. And I’ll be back again next year to tell you all about it.