Once a year, my hometown of Indianapolis plays host to GenCon, “The Best Four Days in Gaming.” Thousands of tabletop gaming fans invade the city to preview upcoming games, play with friends, meet new people, and revel in their fandom.
Even though I'm a native, I have never been to GenCon. At the eleventh hour, the day the con started, I got an email that said I was going. So I scrambled to get everything ready to explore this foreign world for the first time. Here are some of the games that stood out to me.
The developer described this game to me as a “Mario Kart board game.” Players lay out a race course consisting of checkpoints that each player must pass through in order to complete a lap. The layout of the checkpoints is completely up to the player, but the game comes with some suggested layouts.
Each player has a distinct car with different characteristics, armor, and offensive weapons. Travel distance per turn is determined by a dice roll, and the number of dice the player rolls is determined by what gear their car is in. I really liked how the game integrated the car’s mechanics. The dev also explained to me that if you approach a turn in too high a gear, that can cause you to roll too high a number, essentially understeering through the corner and missing it.
What immediately stood out to me was the game’s art style. The entire game is saturated in this hand-drawn, Cyberpunk/Mad-Max aesthetic, and it’s beautiful. Joyride is currently set to launch on Kickstarter. The dev told me two weeks, but their site says “Coming Soon.”
Woe unto my wallet for I did not know this was a thing. Star Trek has a tabletop RPG, and there are expansions for different time periods, factions, and scenarios?
Modiphius Entertainment’s booth was one of the more popular ones at GenCon. They featured the aforementioned Star Trek as well as Fallout and Skyrim tabletop RPGs.
In addition to these popular franchises, they had a beautiful recreation of Bleak Falls Barrow set up for their Skyrim Game. Star Trek, Fallout, Skyrim, and Dune all in one place? I did not know such a place existed!
Bleak Falls Barrow from the Skyrim Table Top Game
I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get to try out Star Trek Adventures. Star Trek games can be a gamble. For every Star Trek Online that provides a well crafted world steeped in the lore of source material, there seems to be a mobile game ready to eat up your wallet and your joy.
I was immediately drawn to this game. The box art looked like a mix between Top Gun and Eliminator Boat Duel for the NES. You and an opponent build out your deck and compete in aerial dog fights.
The style is a wonderful mix of retro anime and synthwave.
You might have started to notice a pattern here. This game very nearly came home with me. In Snap Ship tactics, you physically build your spaceship using their Snap Ships connection system. The number of parts you use help determine the ship’s armor, and the specific pieces help determine its firepower and maneuverability. You and an opponent then battle it out to see who is the superior pilot and engineer.
At their booth, they had a bucket of loose pieces where you could build your own ship. I was immediately transported back in time to playing with all of my Lego space collections.
GenCon is absolutely huge. The event spreads outside the confines of the convention center and takes over the entire city. You can’t even walk through Circle Center Mall without seeing groups of friends playing games together. Every public place in the city has makeshift game tables set up for people to relax and enjoy.
GenCon is best enjoyed with friends. Since I found out I was going at the last minute, I wasn’t able to successfully coordinate with anyone I knew who was going, and I definitely missed out on a big part of the experience. The area for people to rent out and play games is as large, if not larger, than the vendor booth area.
Playing games together, enjoying the block party, and testing new games is the core of the GenCon experience.
Another core aspect to the experience seems to be standing in line. The two biggest attractions at GenCon this year were Disney’s tabletop game Lorcana, and also Bloodhaven. The Lorcana line wrapped around the convention center, while tickets to preview Bloodhaven were sold out.
Even though there’s an app for the event, you have to buy physical tickets to events and game previews. This also means you have to stand in Will Call to pick up these tickets, so make sure you have your entire trip planned out beforehand. On the last day, the Will Call line stretched the length of the convention center and was leaking outside. The mood on the last day was much more sour as it seemed a lot of people missed out on seeing things because of the lines.