Tuesday, August 09, 2011

GenCon Recap

As promised in the last post, with GenCon unfortunately over it's time to recap the convention. While I always enjoy this event and cannot recall having a truly bad experience (though those years when I had to cut the trip short due to other commitments were less than ideal), GenCon 2011 seems to stand out as a singularly great experience. Perhaps it was the newly renovated and expanded convention center, perhaps it was hanging out with seldom seen friends, perhaps it was the positive personal experience I'll talk about shortly, or perhaps it was a little bit of all of these things and some, but I know I wasn't alone in this perspective as many of my acquaintances also in attendance noted this to be one of the best GenCons they'd attended. There seemed to be a buzz throughout the convention center, most companies were putting on strong showings, and there were lots of great products to anticipate over the next year.

One of these products, and one which I've talked about several times in the past, was Catalyst Games' "Leviathans." Despite being in development for a maddeningly long time, it looked like the game had been green-lighted for at least a teaser roll-out at GenCon, with a scant 200 copies planned to be on hand and available for sale. Unfortunately even this plan was derailed, as Catalyst informed us shortly before the convention, by the logistical nightmare of working with a foreign printer.

Despite this hiccup they made the best of things, and the large inventory of destroyers, cruisers, and battleships that they had on hand were given away to those who participated in a Leviathans demo, ensuring that the crowds around these demos were deep and actually getting into a game was a difficult task. Sure, the excitement around the demos was no doubt fueled in part by the gamer inclination to gravitate towards free swag, but in doing so Catalyst exposed a large number of people to what I consider to be one of the most solid new game systems out there, thereby maintaining the buzz for the short few weeks until their publisher woes are remedied. As for the ships themselves, the giveaways were of the exact same quality as those that will be found in the final games and, as you can see from the pictures here, are absolutely splendid pieces. Those who criticized the decision to go pre-painted plastic have little room for complaint in my opinion as these will both look great on the table as-is, and re-paint with little difficulty. I can't wait for this one to hit the stores.

With Leviathans not available for sale at the convention, I was able to instead focus my Thursday morning exhibitor hall rush on getting to the Wyrd games booth before they sold out of any of their limited edition releases. It turned out that I had little to fear (though stocks of the Nightmare models and the new book were rather low, if not out completely, by the end of the con) and my mad dash netted me all of the releases I was after for myself and a friend back home. Unfortunately I didn't think to take any pictures while passing the Wyrd miniatures display booth so can't share the awesomeness that will be the next several release waves for Malifaux - my Ramos-playing buddy in particular should be very happy.

One interesting observation was the apparent shift that occurred this year in buyer activity between Wyrd and Privateer Press. Whereas you could always count on the Privateer booth generating a massive line of gamers picking up the latest Warmachine or Hordes product as soon as the exhibitor hall opened each morning, this year it seemed that Wyrd had usurped that mantle. Of course this was likely due to the lack of they kind of big release they've had at most previous GenCons, and I am in no no way claiming that this represents Privateer losing market share. They still had an impressive booth and their turnout in the miniatures gaming hall was as impressive as ever, but overall they felt to have a slightly more subdued presence than they have had in recent years.

One company that did have a big splash release, or at least announcement, was Fantasy Flight. Throughout the convention they were running demos of their soon to be released Star Wars licensed card game and X-Wing/Tie Fighter miniatures combat game. I'm obviously a bit more interested in the latter, and if it's at all derived from the Wings of War mechanics (which I love) as has been rumored, this will be something that will likely become a must buy. As you can see from the pic here, the fighter miniatures are pretty sharp too.

While FFG had a number of other releases and previews of greater interest to the gamer community (Blood Bowl card game, Black Crusade RPG, Gears of War boardgame, etc.), the item I was most interested in were the recently announced "Dust Warfare" rules. Intended to expand upon the system developed for the "Dust Tactics" game, using the same miniatures and stat cards, Warfare will provide rules for playing Dust as a more traditional tabletop miniatures game rather than the hybrid board/miniatures game that it is now. This appealed to me as I've always loved the imagery of the Dust universe and the design of the models released in the line so far, but find Dust Tactics to be a stale and uninspiring system. Unfortunately, from the abbreviated demo of the Warfare rules that I tried, I'm not sure that this new game is going to build enough upon Tactics to make it a system I'm interested in. It's still a very simple system and the one innovative mechanic that I noticed, a sort of reaction fire, was built in really more as a balance to the dated you go/I go order of play the game uses.
Alternating unit activation wouldn't disallow the inclusion of this "first fire" mechanic, so why they are adhering to a play procedure style that forces one player to sit idle while their opponent conducts the actions of their entire army is beyond me. But given their track record for miniatures games designed in-house (Mutant Chronicles), I'm not particularly surprised.

That being said, it looks like FFG will still be producing the absolute coolest looking Weird World War II vehicles on the market. They had been hinting that new and impressive walkers would be unveiled at GenCon, and boy were they right, with the models surpassing my already high expectations. The pictures you see here are of the four new walkers shown off at the convention, consisting of two Allied and two German heavy walkers. It looks like both sides will each be getting an anti-tank walker with the Allies also getting one with a massive flamethrower and the Germans an AA walker. There's no question that I'll be getting at least one of these for each side of my budding WWWII forces.

Another company with a surprisingly large presence was Cool Mini or Not, which over the last few years has grown dramatically from primarily a free picture-hosting gallery for miniatures painters to the premier US destination for all sorts of boutique miniatures lines. This year they also had several miniatures games being presented as well. In addition to their long-running Dark Age game (which I finally bought into as its obvious mechanics-homage to my beloved Warzone was too much to resist) and the Soda Pop offerings (i.e. Super Dungeon Explorer), demos of Sedition Wars were being run by Mike McVey himself. I only snapped one picture but, as you can see here, this is going to be a great looking line.

Finally, on a more personal note, I'm happy to report that the Kirai miniature I painted for the GenCon painting competition took first place in the Wyrd miniatures, single figure, manufacturer's category. The range of entries in the competition were spectacular as usual, as demonstrated by this best in show diorama of a halfling fleeing his home as it's destroyed by a surfacing burrowing monster, so I was completely humbled and honored that my figure was chosen. As my friends have already pointed out though, this means I've got to have an even better for entry for next year in order to try and defend the crown.

And to close, a few random shots taken over the course of the convention:

Some late night, pick-up Malifaux amongst friends.

A couple really nice Flames of War boards. The Polish train was particularly cool.

The picture doesn't quite capture the magnitude, but this was a massive game of Flames of War being played on what must have been at least 20 feet of table space.

A nice looking medieval/fantasy village.

A really impressive looking, though perhaps unrealistically cluttered, pirate game.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Kirai Finished & GenCon

With the countdown clock ticking down to mere hours before my departure for GenCon, I appear to have set a new personal "best" by having my GenCon painting competition entry finished with enough time to spare that I can snap some pictures and present it here.

For those of you unfamiliar, this is Kirai, one of the masters of the Resurrectionist faction in the game Malifaux, which is the game that has been monopolizing nearly all of my time in the miniatures genre for some time now. I had substantially more grandiose plans for an entry in the Privateer Press painting competition, but I ran into a snafu that caused me to scramble to find a replacement. Since I actually play Malifaux, meaning Kirai here will be a model that does more than just sit in my miniatures cabinet, and Wyrd is supporting the overall GenCon painting competition with a manufacturer prize, I figured I'd take a shot at that competition. I'm pleased with how she turned out, but between my work here and on my aborted PP entry I've come to realize that I've more or less reached my peak of painting skill using my current skill set. So I've already committed to, upon returning from GenCon, broadening that skill set.

Not that I'm already looking forward to returning from GenCon already, of course. Despite being my 19th consecutive GenCon, I've still been looking forward to these four days with an enthusiasm that even a convergence of Christmas, my birthday, and an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet could hardly muster. I'll see friends I only get to hang out with once a year, I've got a lengthy list of Malifaux new and limited releases to grab as soon as I can fight my way through the Wyrd crowd Thursday morning, and, my greatest of hopes, I'll be able to bring home a copy of Catalyst's Leviathans game. No doubt my purchases won't be constrained to this scanty list, much to the chagrin of our "Saving to buy a house" savings account, and I'll be supporting the hobby industry widely.

I won't have my computer with me, so the blog will be silent during my trip (not that it's ever been particularly lively), but expect a full report, with pictures, when I return - I've already been instructed that such a report is expected by a few people.