Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Event - Gen Con, July 30th - August 2nd, 2015

The booty we returned with from Gen Con 2015
As we have for the previous two years, the redhead and I made the pilgrimage to Indianapolis in the middle of summer to attend Gen Con, also known as the best four days in gaming. As I've said before, Gen Con isn't really one convention. Rather, it is dozens of conventions, many of them only very loosely connected to one another, all happening at the same time. I've been to the convention three years running now, and I am still finding all kinds of new things out about the event, and haven't been to many of the rooms in the convention hall. I didn't even go into at least two of the hotels where Con events were held. Consequently, it is impossible to describe a "typical" Gen Con experience. One can only outline one's own Gen Con experience. With that said, what follows is the account of my Gen Con:

Five Year Mission
Wednesday: The redhead and I arrived in Indianapolis mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Though the convention doesn't technically begin until Thursday, the festivities start up a day early on Georgia Street right outside of the convention hall. Sun King Brewery has taken it upon themselves to sponsor performances the day before Gen Con gets started, to coincide with their unveiling of their new genre themed beer for the event. This year, Sun King brought in (among others) The Doubleclicks and Sarah Donner to perform. Unfortunately, our favorite Gen Con band - Five Year Mission - was not playing on Georgia Street, and was instead booked at Scotty's, a nearby bar that also gets into the spirit of Gen Con every year, where the band performed on the outside patio. Despite the sweltering heat typical of late July in central Indiana, Five Year Mission turned out a great set of music that included several selections from their new album Spock's Brain as well as a number of the crowd-pleasing favorites such as The Cage, I, Mudd, and The Naked Time.

The other benefit of arriving on Wednesday is that we were able to go to will-call and pick up our convention badges and tickets without consuming valuable time during Gen Con proper. The con organizers open up registration in the afternoon on Wednesday, and based upon my experiences over the last couple of years, I highly recommend picking up your convention materials before Thursday. On later days of the con, I always end up walking past the registration line on my way to or from some function or another, and the people standing in it always look so forlorn as the fun goes on around them. Fortunately, the line seems to always move reasonably quickly, so even if it looks really long, it probably isn't an onerous task to wait through it. Still, it is better to wait in line for fifteen minutes on Wednesday afternoon rather than for half an hour on Thursday morning.

Thursday: The redhead and I went for a light schedule for this Gen Con, a radical shift from our previous strategy of filling our days with as many events as possible. As a result, on Thursday we had nothing specific to do and nowhere specific to go. We started the day by heading to the dealer hall to make a beeline for the Gale Force Games booth in order to acquire the latest expansions for the Firefly game: The Jetwash and Esmerelda ships, and the as yet unreleased Kalidasa expansion. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Gale Force has come out with a play mat one can purchase, it was not the excellent style of play mat that they had for use with demo games at the 2014 Gen Con, and was instead a very disappointing mat that had nothing on it but what was already in the based game and expansion sets. While there, we set about collecting the giveaways that were listed in the coupon book given to all Gen Con attendees - the Gen Con 2015 die and a miniature from GreenBrier Games. We also acquired a leather utility belt from Crimson Chain Leather Works to go with my Star Trek themed kilt that I was planning on wearing on Saturday.

After wandering the dealer hall for a bit, we found ourselves at the Asmodee pavilion, where we sat down to demo their game Five Tribes. Because Asmodee was rolling it out, we played the game using the expansion The Artisans of Naqala, but this didn't seem to make the game substantially more complicated than it would have been without it. I had seen the game played on the Tabletop show, and had felt somewhat lukewarm towards it, but the redhead was very interested in trying it, so we sat down with a couple of other people (both of whom had played the game before) and gave it a try. The game turned out to be considerably more enjoyable than I had thought it would be, and when the scores were tallied, the redhead had won and I came in second. Five Tribes is definitely on our "to buy" list now, so we'll be paying a visit to our local game store soon to pick up a copy.

After lunch, we wandered over to the Games on Demand area looking for an RPG session to play. Games on Demand is an organization that, as the name suggests, runs RPG sessions with whoever shows up on a first-come first-served basis. We got ourselves into a game of Dungeon World set in the Eberron campaign setting. I found myself playing a warforged cleric, while the redhead took on the role of a human barbarian with a very large greatsword. Neither of us had played a game using the Dungeon World system, but the system was intuitive enough that we both picked up on it fairly quickly. The adventure itself involved an airship attack on the adventuring group as we rode the lightning rail, after which we were more or less consensually abducted and taken to the villains' headquarters, where we made our escape at the last minute. The highlights of the adventure included accidentally wrecking the lightning rail, destroying three airships in two different encounters, and flooding the entire city where the villains made their home. Oh, and the wizard in the party had magic missiles that looked like bees. Overall it was good, silly fun, and I can recommend Games on Demand as a good option for anyone who doesn't have prescheduled events at Gen Con.

Friday: We arrived bright and early on Friday morning for one of the few scheduled events that we had on our calendar: A huge game of Werewolf with a couple dozen players. Our friend Savannah tagged along, hoping to use some generic tickets to get into the game. Unfortunately, the game moderator never showed up, and after waiting for forty-five minutes, we gave up and went to find other things to do. While this was not the first time we had had a disappointing RPG session at Gen Con, it was the first time we had had one go entirely bust. Once in three years seems like a pretty good track record, and since it is pretty easy to find other game options at the convention, this was at most a minor setback.

Once again the redhead and I headed to the dealer hall, this time with Savannah in tow, and soon found ourselves playing a demo of the game Kingdom Builder. This was a game that I wanted to try out, and everyone had a great time playing a slightly truncated version of it. By the end of our session of Kingdom Builder, this was another game that we definitely put on our "to buy" list, and will be visiting our friendly local game shop to pick up once our finances have recovered from our trip.

After the demo, we wandered over to the free Games Library to play some more board games. The Games Library is a great service run by the convention where, for a handful of generic tickets, you can check out and play one of the hundreds of games they have available for use. We also discovered that we could use the tickets we had not used for the Werewolf game to get access to the games library, which made the day just that much better. I introduced the redhead and Savannah to Kill Doctor Lucky, a game in which the redhead proved to be remarkably adept at murder, and then the redhead and Savannah faced off in a game of Da Vinci's Challenge, with Savannah pulling out the victory. We started up a game of Puerto Rico, but ran out of time before we were able to finish it. Since I was in the lead in victory points when we cut off the game, I claim that as a win.

Aubrey, Sarah, and Angela
Gen Con has, oddly, turned into a musical event for us, and with three concerts on Friday and three more on Saturday, this year was no exception. First up was Sarah Donner, who is an adorably brilliant performer with an absolutely angelic voice. She played a set that included several songs from her new CD about cats (including a hilarious song about hairballs), her song about Settlers of Catan in which she reveals that she is obsessed with getting the Longest Road achievement (and with two sheep in the background to get annoyed with her when she sang that she didn't want any "fucking sheep" in the game), and her scandalously amazing song The Motherfucking Pterodactyl. Sarah's performance was followed up by The Doubleclicks, a nerd folk sister duo that the redhead and I have been in love with since the band's very earliest days. Angela and Aubrey mixed in some of their classic material with songs from their soon-to-be released CD President Snakes, performing Nothing to Prove, Cats and Netflix, A Lullaby for Mr. Bear, This Is My Jam, Cats at Parties, Wonder, Ennui (On We Go), and Will They or Won't They. As usual, they absolutely owned the stage with wit, humor, and their undeniable talent. Most amusing was Aubrey telling an "original" story about a farmer boy living in the desert who was befriended by a pair of robots before they ran off and got attacked by the hill people who were then driven off by an elderly man. At the end of their set, they brought Sarah Donner on stage to play the keyboard cat and help out on Love You Like a Burrito. As long as Gen Con keeps bringing performers like Sarah Donner and The Doubleclicks back, we will keep attending and going to their shows every year.

After a mad dash to get dinner and pick up Savannah's husband P.J., we went to the one non-Gen Con event of the weekend: The Concert Against Humanity, hosted by the team behind the game Cards Against Humanity and Paul & Storm. While this was not officially an event put on by Gen Con, the vast majority of the attendees were congoers, and several of the acts who appeared as part of the show also appeared on the convention schedule in one capacity or another. First up was the Cards Against Humanity team, who answered e-mail on stage, responding to inane messages with responses loaded with snark and sass. Molly Lewis then took the stage and sang what she said was her performance about "beards, vaginas, and dicks" singing The Year of the Beard, a song about the Hawaiian goddess Kapo's flying vagina, and An Open Letter to Stephen Fry. She was followed up by The Doubleclicks, who performed their usual brilliant set, including another performance of their geek girl anthem Nothing to Prove, which got all of the nerdy girls (and most of the nerdy guys) in the audience singing along. The first half of the show was closed out by Kumail Nanjani, who got slightly derailed by the signs from the ASL interpreter who was making some very interesting hand gestures while Kumail talked about urinals, masturbation, and zipping his penis into his fly.

After intermission, Cameron Esposito took the stage and delivered a monologue about growing up both Catholic and a lesbian that was remarkably funny. I went into the show knowing nothing about either of the scheduled comedians, and they both exceeded my expectations by a considerable amount. Following Esposito, Patrick Rothfuss and John Scalzi did a duo act in which they read some scripts they had written and put into mothballs - Rothfuss' script was about a children's science show gone somewhat awry, while Scalzi's offering was an interview with a insurance risk analyst specializing in assessing the threats posed by supervillain activity. Both plays were quite enjoyable. Finally, Paul & Storm came on as the closing act, which made their performance of the song Opening Band somewhat ironic. They also performed a few of their Randy Newman theme songs, Write Like the Wind, their encouragement to George R.R. Martin to write faster, and Nun Fight, which nearly caused Savannah to fall out of her seat laughing. After showing the audience the funniest video on the internet (which involved animals, music, and falling down), they ended the night, not with The Captain's Wife's Lament as they usually do, but rather with a version of American Pie in which all of the lyrics were about how every character in Westeros is going to die. The show was a rousing success, and in addition to the great collection of performances, everyone walked away with a swag bag filled with goodies and a poster which the redhead and I are likely to proudly display in our home once we can find some wall space to accommodate it.

Saturday: The third day of Gen Con was a day dominated by authors and music. The first order of the day was to get to Wesley Chu's signing event in Author Alley. We almost missed his appearance, but while looking for one of his books at the Indie Reads Books pavilion, Wes walked up to sign some of their stock, whereupon I immediately bought a copy of Time Salvager and had it signed and was able to have a nice conversation with the author to boot.

After wandering the dealer hall for a bit during which we found and acquired the Mouse Guard themed game Swords & Strongholds and spent far more money than we should have at the GreenBrier Games booth when we acquired Heavy Steam and a collection of very attractive miniatures, it was time to head back to Author Alley, as I wanted to say hello to Kameron Hurley and get a book signed by Elizabeth Bear. I didn't have anything for Kameron to sign, as her next book - Empire Ascendant - isn't due out until October 6th of this year, and I already have signed copies of all of her previously published books. However, Hurley is a great person who is always worth going out of one's way to talk to. Despite the fact that she has no new books currently available, she is set to have several published in the next year, so there is that to look forward to.

While I was at the Angry Robot booth talking to Kameron, I picked up copies of Wesley Chu's other three novels The Lives of Tao, The Death of Tao, and The Rebirths of Tao, and he was kind enough to sign them for me. I also got Elizabeth Bear to sign my copy of Karen Memory, and just for good measure I got copies of Jay Posey's Legends of the Duskwalker trilogy and had him sign them as well. The only problem is that while I was getting all of these books signed, I forgot to get pictures taken with the authors. I suppose this means that I will just have to find all of them again at another convention in the future and remedy this oversight.

Just like had happened on Friday, Saturday afternoon turned into a parade of excellent nerdy music. Leading off was Molly Lewis, fresh from the previous night's performance as part of the Concert Against Humanity, who came on stage and performed all of her best songs. Actually, she had a set list that was too short for the time allotted and ended up taking requests from the audience, which pretty much ensured that she played all of the crowd favorites, capping off the hour with an even funnier than normal rendition of An Open Letter to Stephen Fry.

After Molly's show, it was time to set up for The Shake-Ups, a My Little Pony themed band that has, among its members, our friends P.J. and Savannah. Neither the redhead nor I are actually My Little Pony fans. I have never even seen an episode of any version the show, but the Shake-Ups have a lot of very catchy and fun songs, and seeing all of the pony fans (both young and old) with all of their enthusiasm and joy makes going to see the band in concert incredibly enjoyable. Gen Con is fundamentally a love fest for games, genre fiction, anime, and pretty much anything else nerdy, and no one gets into their fandom and shows their love more than My Little Pony fans at a Shake-Ups concert. It is beautiful to see.

The last stop of the night for the redhead and me was the Five Year Mission concert. If we do nothing else at Gen Con, we both make a point to see Five Year Mission play, because they are simply the best Star Trek themed band I have ever heard. The quintet took the stage, and turned in a fantastic performance loaded with songs from their just-released CD Spock's Brain. In addition to older songs like I, Mudd, and The Naked Time, the band played For His Head Is Hollow (and I Have Touched Spock's Brain), Remote Control Spock, Hey Kara, and Spock's Dog. As something of a bonus, Sarah Donner attended the concert, and it was quite a bit of fun to watch her happily dance to songs about Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and unicorn dogs (although it was pretty clear that the lyrics to Spock's Dog mystified her). As usual, Five Year Mission provided loads of nerdy rock music, and were, along with the other musical acts that performed on Friday and Saturday, a highlight of the convention.

Sunday: The final day of Gen Con is always something of an anticlimax. But it is also a day that I never want to end, because that means that there will be no more Gen Con for another year, and the redhead and I will have to pack up the car and make the long and sad drive home. As we did last year, the redhead and I started the day volunteering at the ENnies booth for most of the morning. For those who do not know, the ENnies are awards given out every year at Gen Con to honor excellence in game design and related efforts such as game-related writing. The organization that put on the ENnies hosts a booth to raise awareness about the award, and by Sunday, hand out lists of that year's winners (the awards had been bestowed on the previous Friday). We always try to volunteer on Sunday morning, because that ensures that we will get up and get moving. Otherwise, the temptation to sleep most of the day away after three days of running around Gen Con would probably be too strong to resist.

The redhead as Chell
The redhead has long been a practitioner of what she calls "lazy cosplay", in which she makes and wears nerdy themed clothing such as dresses covered with dinosaurs or monsters, or skirts with a TARDIS pattern. She even made me a red kilt with an Star Trek engineering insignia to go with her blue skirt with a science insignia that she wore to the Five Year Mission concert with a pair of Spock ears. On Sunday she took things a step further and did her first full cosplay, dressing up as Chell from the games Portal and Portal 2. She did a really fantastic job, with orange coveralls, a hand-lettered Aperture Science shirt, and, most impressively, a home made portal gun that looked incredible. She completed the ensemble with her companion cube lunch box, and drew lots of compliments from the other con-goers. She had put a lot of hard work into the ensemble, and it was great to see it all come together and see it get appreciated by the other attendees.

Unless one is looking for something specific, Sunday is a a great time to go through the dealer hall looking for deals. Most of the exhibitors have stock left over that they simply don't want to have to pack up or pay to ship home. So many of them discount their remaining stock, meaning that one can get some really good deals on games, miniatures, and books. We found a heavily discounted copy of the game Puerto Rico, and I picked up three RPG books for half price, taking home Champions of Ruin, Serpent Kingdoms, and the Eberron Explorer's Handbook. We did make one full-price purchase on Sunday, stopping by Exile Game Studios to get their recently released Barsoom-like Revelations of Mars setting book for their Hollow Earth Expeditions game.

Sadly, after combing through the exhibitors hall, our Gen Con came to an end. To be honest, the redhead and I were both exhausted, and probably could not have continued any longer. The end of a convention like Gen Con is still always a sorrowful event. But we left with happy memories, a pile of new games, and the knowledge that we'll be going back in 2016.

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