Musings from The Ox Pen (2024)

OK. I've officially been home for a week now, and I'd like to point out that Gen Con is about 2405982405 times more exciting than domesticity. I love my family and all, but man oh man was Gen Con an amazing time. In my Gen Con Recap(ish) video above, I ramble on for 20 minutes about Gen Con. I recorded it Tuesday night when I got home. Now that I've had a week to reflect on my sins, I've decided to do a post as well.

A Quick Word about Gen Con

In case you aren't familiar with Gen Con, it's a four-day gaming convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana. It has companies from all over and games of all types. There are approximately a million (give or take a few) events and/or seminars for you to attend. Want to spend all your time LARPing? Cool. You can do it. Want to demo all the latest and greatest board games? Cool. You can do that too.

How I Spent Most of my Days

As you might have heard, I demoed Istanbul and Pagoda for AEG. Istanbul is a two-four player pick-up and deliver game designed by Rudiger Dorn. Each player takes on the role of a merchant and his band of assistants that he sends out into the city to do things and earn rubies. Pagoda is a two-player hand management, tower-building game designed by Arve Fuhler. Each player manages their hand of cards and tries to strategically build towers to win the game.

I worked three shifts a day, in addition to AEG Big Game Night, and taught the assigned game to a single group of players. The feedback I received from all my groups was that the sit-down, dedicated time was a great way to experience the game as opposed to a five-minute demo in the exhibit hall. I would have to agree with them on principal. A lot of people walked up and asked questions as well. I was happy to talk about games all day.

I will give a word of warning to anyone considering teaching games in this way: you never know who will turn up at your table. Sometimes they can be designers of other games, like Ed Marriot who designed Scoville. My point is they let just anyone play. ;-)

What did I get for my efforts? Well, AEG has a very generous volunteer policy. What I did was considered full-time, so it is based on that. They cover your hotel, which includes roommates. They give you a meal stipend. You earn a figure that equates to a dollar amount and are able to choose from a list of games until that amount is spent. You also get the swag box from Big Game Night. So, it's a pretty sweet deal. I would only do it if you love the games though. All the free stuff is nice, but people can tell if you're not "there" because you're into what you're supposed to be doing. I'd also say it's important to remember you're there representing the company if only in a volunteer capacity. If you like AEG and what they do and the games they make, you'd be doing them a huge disservice if you were grumpy and uninformed about the company/game. Just sayin'.

How I Spent Most of my Nights


Just kidding. I had a really good time going out. I saw Spiderman get beat up by Lizard at a strip club; that was, um, interesting. I guess this would be a good of time as any to point out that the entire area around the convention center is geek-themed. Gen Con is a big money generator for city and the businesses respond as such. I heard there is a drunk-RPG place under the train station. There were geek-themed menus. Con-specific beers, menus, etc. Bee Coffee had custom dice for people who bought three coffees over the duration of the con; it was delicious coffee by the way. I ate at my first White Castle, so that was exciting. Little burgers, you say? Little bundles of happiness (as long as there's cheese), I say.

What I Played

Short answer: not near enough. Long answer: see below.

Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition)

I played this Tuesday night. Twice. It was my first game in Indy. I won the first game by a lot. I did not win the second. I had a really great time. I played it with a group of eight. A great group of eight I might add. Ca$h 'n Guns is basically a bluffing game designed by Ludovic Maublanc and plays four to eight people. You're given some cards that are either blanks or bangs; bangs hurt people. You decide what to play. Simultaneously, all players point their guns at their intended targets. Then, each player decides to stay in or not. People still in it get to draft money, goods, or the godfather table from the center. As I understand it, the drafting mechanic is different from the original game. I really liked the drafting mechanic; it added another level of screwage to the game. Feedback from folks who played the original game was that the drafting mechanic is significantly better than the "hey let's figure up how to split the pot" thing that existed in the original game. Anyway, I had a fantastic time playing this game. It was unfortunate that I played it with eight because now I will only ever play it with eight, and it isn't easy for me to get eight to the table often. I may still get it anyway for that rare occasion or for bringing to cons.

Dead of Winter

The second game I played was Dead of Winter, which is a co-opish game designed by Jon Gilmour and Isaac Vega. Yes, it has zombies. Yes, it is co-opish. If you know anything at all about me, it should be that I hate two things: zombies and co-ops. This game would be exception that proves the rule (a phrase I never fully understood but am using anyway). I played it with four and was last. Matt from Cardboard Jungle was second. He lost both of his people on the second turn. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game. Keith ended up being the betrayer. He tanked the morale (winning for the betrayer) but lost all of his guys on the turn he planned on winning as the betrayer. There is a a "team" goal (winning for the team) and an individual goal (winning as a member of the team). The team can win and you can still lose as was the case with Keith. Anyway, I like this game because it's more about surviving an end-of-the-world situation than fighting zombies. The Crossroads cards provide some really dark choices. Do you save the crying baby or leave it in the wilds? Hey, I won't judge if you decide to leave it for the zombies. It's rough world out there.

Eggs and Empires

Eggs and Empires is a trick-takingish game by Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle. I remember playing this game at The Tilted Kilt, so you can take what you will as the reasons as to why this a hazy memory. I'm fairly certain we played with six people (the game plays 2-6). I remember laughing a lot (probably at how poorly I was doing). I remember there being hands of cards with numbers and powers. There was some simultaneous revealing stuff going on. I lost a lot of cards. It seemed like a good time. I would play (and learn) this game again, so that's a pretty good sign.


As is always the case, I had a great time playing Luchador! by Mark Rivera. If you're trying to play this game for "real", it will suck. You need to just lose yourself to ridiculousness of the luchador wrestling madness. It's a press your luck, dice rolling game in case you didn't know. Tiffany and I challenged Mark (the designer) and Michael Fox (of Little Metal Dog fame) to a showdown over on the Spooning Meeples channel. It was epic unlike the smack down I took from Keith. One heart left. All I had to do was not get pinned, and he would've been mine on my next turn. That did not happen though. I was unable to get up from a pinning. It was some truly abysmal dice rolling on my part. I shall never talk of this again.

oddball Aeronauts

Keith and I then took the skies and played a game of oddball Aeronauts designed by Nigel Pyne. Now, I'm not just saying this because I think Nigel is a standup guy (which he is) or because I'm the reigning US Champ (as evidenced here), but I really love this game. It's light [enter bad joke about being airships here]. It's engaging. I always have a good time play it. It's a two-player hand management game that doesn't require a table. You're either captain a Pirate or Pendragon crew. There are tricks and magic and events. The Kickstarter cards add some pretty intense crewmates to your ship, which I was unaware of before having only ever played the PnP version. I've played it in many a line (or queues as those zany Brits would call them) with people of all ages. I even happened upon fellow reviewers playing it in the Press Badge line in the wee hours of the morning on the first day of Gen Con. Did I mention I really enjoy this game? Oh, in case you were wondering I won (but of course I did).


Scoville is a two-six player game of peppery awesomeness designed by Ed Marriott. There's some auctioning at the beginning to determine player order, but player order switches between rounds, so there might a reason to choose last instead of first. You grow peppers by placing them on a grid (sort of like tile placement but more awesome because they're peppers). Then, you harvest/crossbreed peppers by walking a farmer dude through the crops. There are different goals on different cards that award different things. There's a cool pepper grid to guide your cross-breeding efforts in your quest to make the spiciest pepper - peppah if I'm adopting the Bahston accent because it's more fun to say it that way. Peppah! Anyway, I really liked this game a lot. I'll have to buy it because my husband unbacked it. He's now sleeping on the couch. Hey, it's tough being married to me - err - a gamer.

Wilderness of Mirrors (I think)

I played my first RPG while at Gen Con, Wilderness of Mirrors (I think). Basically, everyone is a spy with whatever kind of speciality they want based on the abilities/skills/powers? (I know nothing about RPGs, so please forgive my butchering of terms, mechanics, etc.) You are rewarded by the DM when you betray the group or character in some way; compromising the mission's integrity is a good thing in this game. So, it's my first RPG, and some idiot who I'll call Apollo made me the leader. But of course he did because I've never played an RPG before. Let's make the bumbling noob tank the mission. Fine. Whatever. My first act as mission leader was to use sex to get out of a sticky gunpoint (there's really no way to not make this full of innuendo), suffice it say a group of orphaned militant kids were pointing guns at myself and my companion. It went down hill from there. I'm pretty sure we all died. Wait. No. There may have been one survivor at the end. In any event, it wasn't pretty.

What I Bought


Dude with a clipboard in front of a huge cargo ship? I'm in. I have been excited about Panamax since I first heard tell of it in Essen of 2013. I've probably said that elsewhere, but it's true. When I heard they were going to be releasing it at Gen Con I nearly flipped my lid. In fact, it may have been what drove me to get my happy little self to Gen Con to begin with. I'm not a psychologist though, so I won't presume to understand my inner motivations. Anyway, Panamax is a game about shipping cargo through the Panama Canal. Gil d'Orey, Nune Bizarro Sentieiro, and Paulo Soledade designed it. It plays two-four players. I've only played it with two so far and it was great, but I bet it is truly amazing with four. I will be doing that on Labor Day at the latest. On your turn, you can do one of three things: select contracts/load cargo, move ships, or invest in companies. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. It's not that it's hard; it's thinky. There are a lot of cool things you can do (push ships thereby expending less movement points while maximizing movement of the ships) that make this game neato-beneato. Wow. I need to come up with better ways to express fondness of a game.

Dead of Winter

I had to purchase Dead of Winter despite returning from PAX East and telling my husband it was the star of the show. Ladies, a word of advice if I may, if you're husband hears you loved a game then adamantly insists you not pre-order it, he's not going to pre-order it; he doesn't want it in the house. Jokes on him though because I bought it anyway. Boo-yah!

Rhino Hero

I've said it once, and I'll say it 1000 times more: Haba games are the best. They're great for little kids: they have incredible educational properties; they come with amazing components; they have unique themes. They're also great for imbibing adults. I wasn't going to say that second bit there, but it's true. Especially for the dexterity games. Moving on. Rhino Hero was designed by Scott Frisco and Steven Strumpf. It plays two-five people and takes about 10 minutes. Hey! Look at that. It was recommended for the 2012 SdJ Kinderspiel. I can see why. It all starts with a rhino who believes in himself. He has dreams. Dreams of climbing a building. And, the players believe in this dream and build this building by building walls and roofs. Each roof shows how the walls of that floor must be played. Some roof cards have special actions that mix things up a bit and move our heroic rhino friend. Much silly. Much fun.

What was Amazingest

Meeting people. I say this in my video, and I mean it with all my heart. It was great meeting all the people I did at Gen Con. It blows my mind how many people came up to me and were excited about meeting me. Seriously. I'm just a girl, sitting at a table, asking people to play board games with her. And, let's be honest, I'm kind of forthright with my opinions on games and related things, a bitch some may say. So, whether you're a designer or publisher or gamer or food truck guy, know that I appreciated meeting you.

Spending time with awesome people. I met a lot of people like I said, and I enjoyed it. There were some people though that I met who I ended up spending a lot (okay way too much time with), and they were great and fun and genuine and so much more. I won't call them out, but they know who they are.

The way Indianapolis embraces Gen Con. For the amount of stuff there is to do outside of the convention center - restaurants, malls, bars, coffee houses, it is amazing how much each one of these places adopts a theme or hangs signs or whatever. Like I mentioned earlier, there are con-specific beers, menus, and events outside of the convention center and/or hotels. I don't know if the homeless population there is always cheeky, but they had some pretty funny signs too. The town goes all in.

Not getting con crud! Apparently this is a real feat as most everyone else I know got it. What's my secret? Drinking 'til five in the morning. Please note: I don't recommend this as an actual way to avoid con crud. I'm not a scientist, so I have no way of proving the alcohol in my system in any way prevented the catching of said crud.

What was Amazworst

The amount of people. Dear Lord in heaven there were a lot of people. A lot. I had a few conversations about capacity limits being met and the need for a Gen Con South or something. I'd have to agree. And not just as it relates to crowded convention halls. Lines to "normal" places were always out the door (the Panera app saved me several times - I ordered when I left my room and it was ready by the time I arrived). Some of that is to be expected, but it is right downtown, so all of the other people who have to work and/or live around there were also trying to eat or shop or get a coffee.

Smoking right outside the GD doors to the food trucks. I don't know if this was the main entrance or not, but ugh the smokers that huddled right outside of the doors that lead to the food trucks. Like right there. Like they have to move so you can even open the door right there. I don't care about smoking. You want to do that to yourself, cool. I do, however, detest the way cigarette smoke smells. I tried to avoid that as an entry/exit point because I got tried of stepping in smokersville right outside the doors.

Not enough time. I loved doing what I did and who I was with, but there was a lot of stuff I didn't do and people I missed hanging out with. You'll never be able to do it all. The con is too expansive. I could theme my years out I suppose. This will be the year of board games. This will be the year of RPGs. This will be the year of whatever. There should probably be a focus or you'll drift and possibly pulled into who knows what kind of trouble.

My roommate situation. I'll be honest (and cautious here). I loved AEG. They really provide for their volunteers as I discussed. However, I had an abominable roommate situation because of people who decided to take it upon themselves to cheat/abuse the system. I sucked it up like a champ while I was there to not cause a stir, but I have since informed the volunteer coordinator of not so kosher practices. That being said, they were aces in responding to my feedback after the fact. I wouldn't tell you not to volunteer for them or any company for that matter. I would simply suggest being comfortable with all of their policies beforehand and not being afraid to speak up if something is out of sorts.

The Real Question

Would I go again? sh*t yeah I would! I've already been told I'm coming to all Gen Cons ever until the end of time. When someone makes a demand like that, you can't turn them down. Plus, I figure if I attend voluntarily, so I'm not kidnapped and brought there. Although, if this covered travel expenses... Just kidding! Don't get any crazy ideas! Overall, I loved every second of Gen Con. I didn't experience nearly as much of the con as I thought I was going to though I stand by what I say in my video 100%: you won't get to do everything you want, but you'll love everything you do.

Musings from The Ox Pen (2024)
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