GenCon 2007

By Brant Guillory 22 Aug 2007 5

To say GenCon is "big" is sort of like saying Southeastern Conference college football fans are "passionate." While technically true, it doesn't quite convey full impression. The exhibit hall alone is over 219,000 square feet. Last year there were 26,000 attendees, and this year looked even bigger. The exhibit hall had 313 different booths, and at least a dozen of those were multi-company booths. To compare: Origins has 14,000 attendees and about half as many booths. While the wargamers—Matrix Games, GMT, MMP, Armchair General magazine, Columbia, L2, Clash of Arms, BayonetGames, Lock'n'Load Publishing, and Avalanche Press—make Origins a key destination, GenCon is overrun with RPGs, CCGs, and collectible miniatures. Fantasy Flight, WizKids, Wizards of the Coast, Catalyst Game Labs, Dark City Games, and Fiery Dragon Press were all at GenCon in force; they weren't at Origins at all. Adding to the glut of booths were a huge number of after-market card companies. Where Origins has five to eight after-market card companies, GenCon has about 20. It's a direct reflection of the importance of CCGs in the GenCon events hierarchy. There are major tournaments at GenCon, since it's partnered up with the major CCG company—Wizards of the Coast.

There are other factors contributing to the hugeness of the GenCon exhibit hall. The art show is inside the exhibit hall, which several of the artists said dramatically increases the amount of casual foot traffic they see compared to other shows. GenCon also has a decent roster of special guests in town to sign autographs and mug for pictures, and there were at least two areas designated for these VIPs—one for authors and another for "special" guests like the winners of Sci-Fi Network's "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" All of these serve to fill up an already-large hall of exhibitors.

I was able to attend GenCon for all of one day this year. I wish I'd been able to do more, but one would have to suffice. I left Columbus about 10 minutes before 6 with one of my professors in the car; he would be playing in a few Star Wars minis tournaments. We arrived at the convention center in Indianapolis about 8:30 and got one of the last parking spots in the convenient (and therefore obscenely expensive) garage right across the street from the convention center.

Before the hall opened up, I picked up my badge, made a few phone calls to confirm some appointments, and found a spot near the door for the inevitable mad dash into the exhibit hall. You've seen the footage of the store in Boston that has a wedding dress sale every year where young women tackle each other in the pursuit of cut-price gowns? Now double the number of people, double (or triple) the weight of at least half of them, give them 50-60 yards to get a head of steam going, and promise a limited number of HeroScape Master Set 2 boxes to the first people at the booth, and you get an idea of what the staff at Wizards of the Coast had to deal with when the doors opened.

During the day, I had long conversations with Catalyst Game Labs (about their Classic BattleTech line), Wizards of the Coast (covering the upcoming D&D 4th Edition), and Fantasy Flight Games (talking a variety of products). My intention is to cover each of them in their own article. For this overview of the exhibit hall, I intend to concentrate on the other gems I unearthed.

Troll Lord Games aren't one of the 'big' publishers that come to mind when you bring up role-playing games. However, they have one thing none of the others do: Gary Gygax. Actually, they have two things, since they also have Bob Bledsaw, founder of Judges' Guild. Troll Lord's Castles & Crusades (C&C) game is their base RPG line, and it is remarkably evocative of the old first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), with some of the edges smoothed off. There are over two dozen products in the C&C line, and their adventures are much more robust than the old AD&D adventures of the mid-1980s. Gary Gygax has designed two product lines for Troll Lords: Castle Zagyg is a campaign world using the C&C rules; Lejendary Adventure is Gygax's new set of skill-based rules that revisit many RPG concepts.

Bob Bledsaw's old Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting is being revived by James Mishler's Adventure Games Publishing using the C&C rules, and AGP were working out of Troll Lords' booth at GenCon. Mishler noted a long-time love of the Wilderlands - "It was the first fantasy setting I just loved, instead of merely playing" he said. When the opportunity came to start his own company, the first call he made was to Bledsaw about the Wilderlands.

Later in the day, WizKids has some sort of chantfest going on, so I walked over there to see what's up. The guy emceeing the Star Wars Pocket Models CSG demo is getting the crowd surrounding the demo game whipped into a frenzy by throwing card packs to whichever side is chanting louder for the player on their side of the table. Or they were sacrificing Princess Leia—not really sure which. I tried several times to get a look at the new WizKids clix game based on the Halo franchise, but any time I got close to the booth, a few hundred thousand other people would materialize out of nowhere and block my progress. I felt like I was caught in some weird 'flash mob' phenomenon: "whenever Brant gets close, you guys all swarm the booth!"

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