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Gen Con Behind the Stand

Gen Con is amazing, and a place every gamer should try to get to see if they can at least once. A glorious and heaving mass of games and gaming all (only just) packed into Indianapolis. It has grown each year recently, now spreading beyond the vast convention hall into at least five other hotels and the huge Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts, so I'm told). It's an incredible con to visit, but a mammoth undertaking for the games companies that trade there every year.

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I usually go with Cubicle 7, but a couple of times I've slipped out to work on a couple of other stands to promote other work I've been doing. Few freelancers end up working for just one company, and with so many amazing projects in the industry it is easy to see why. So this year I thought I'd try and break my record for working stands, and hang out with a few of the other gaming crews and see how they do things. My rule was that I had to know enough about at least some of the products to be useful at the stand, and spend at least an hour there. I managed eight in total and this is their story.

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The Home Team - Cubicle 7
My guys are the Cubicle 7 team, so apologies to them I wasn’t on hand all the time to help out. But we have an amazing team now and even with a few illnesses we all know the drill well enough to keep things going. As they were the home team, I was with them for set up on Wednesday. Few attendees know how much work goes on during set up. The hall always looks amazing, but when we come in on Wednesday we have a marked out space on a concrete floor, and if we are lucky the tables we’ve ordered and pallets of product are sitting next to it. We have to turn this into a stand by Thursday morning. We begin with putting down the flooring tiles, then we can arrange the tables and start putting books on them. As you’ll know from your own purchases, books can be pretty heavy, and we have a lot to set out and organize. All this is done in very hot conditions as the loading doors are usually open to allow truck access, so no air conditioning. No one likes to stay any longer than they have to, so everything goes up quite quickly, but it is not the most fun part of the con.

However, once everything is up, it’s great to see the new books ready to go, safe in the knowledge you won’t be packing away quite so many at the end. This year we sold out of several products, even though we plan stock levels based on what we sold the previous year (and add more). The new Warhammer Starter set and Corebook were the obvious best sellers, but One Ring and Adventures in Middle Earth also did exceptionally well, especially with the release of the Lonely Mountain Region Guide.

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The Review of the Year - ENnies Awards
My next stop was the ENnies Awards booth, and you may wonder why they need one. I was surprised how many people didn’t know about the ENnies, given they are one of the two main awards in gaming. Plenty of people didn’t know the awards ceremony was open to everyone too, and featured a silent auction for some of the nominated products. So for the most part the ENnies booth is there to spread awareness about who they are and what they do.

The ENnies crew is a great team and their work celebrates the best in gaming. I love looking down the awards list to see what I missed in gaming that year. At the booth you can take a look at the actual products. They even list the booth numbers where you can find them. I spend a certain amount of my time on the booth reading the products.

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Celebrity Staff - Pelgrane Press
One of the great things about the gaming industry is that all the designers and creators are gamers too. At most stands you can meet some of those creators, and this is nowhere more evident than at the Pelgrane Press stand. There you will usually see Kenneth Hite and Robin D Laws talking about their latest products and working the stand. It is a great way to find out the story behind the products and get some insight into the talent behind them, and just chat to several cool and interesting people!
Pelgrane is possibly best known for Trail of Cthulhu, but they also produce the fantasy game 13th Age, Night’s Dark Agents and a host of novels and small ‘indie style’ games like #Feminism. The undoubted lead product this year was Hideous Creatures by Ken Hite (and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Becky Annison, Helen Gould and Ruth Tilman). This book details a host of Cthulhu monsters in amazing detail, including the gruesome evidence they might leave of their victims. It’s an essentially guide for a more forensic investigation campaign and covers a lot of ways to change any creatures your players think they know.

I’d also want to offer a shout out to Pelgrane’s one on one games Cthulhu Confidential and Solo Ops (for Nights Dark Agents). These offer an adventure for one player and one Gamemaster, an intense head to head game that takes you deep into the story of the character. It’s a whole new way to play and made with the quality and detail we have come to expect from Pelgrane.

Bargains Galore - Modiphius
When I got to Modiphius I was annoyingly too busy to take a photo! Usually I’d find one of the staff to say hi to and check if there was anything I needed to know about the booth. But this time their stand was so packed I just started talking to customers and worked my way gradually in. Modiphius is one of those companies that has exploded over the last few years to become a major player in the industry. With the Star Trek, Conan and Fallout licenses they have certainly made a mark. Recently they have also taken over the development of Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition since White Wolf took a step back, with many new products on the way from the Modiphius team.

With a smaller chain between producer and customer at a convention, some companies are able to offer some amazing bargains and Modiphius was no exception. There were several deals on collections of books like the Star Trek department guides and especially for anyone looking to hit the ground running with the Fallout miniatures game. The huge pile of figures and Fallout boxed sets quickly vanished due to its popularity and the exceptional starter deal on offer.

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Play at the Stand - Monte Cook
My experience with Monte Cook Games is limited to the incredible Invisible Sun, so working their booth was something of a learning curve for me. I’ve not had much of a chance to dive into Numenera or The Strange, so I’m not as familiar with the Cypher system as I’d like. But I was very taken with their triptych of Cypher system games, which is also available as a collection: Masks, Gods of the Fall and Predation. In Masks you play superheroes in the 1980s, and Gods of the Fall lets you play as deities trying to rebuild a shattered pantheon from the ruins of a war. But Shanna Germain’s Predation is easily my favorite. Human time travelers return to the cretaceous period, but discover their time machines refuse to take them home. Three generations later their community has flourished, assisted by dinosaur companions and great lizards enhanced with biotech and machinery. Techo-dinosaurs! What’s not to like?

What made the Monte Cook stand different is that you can actually play the games there. They have several tables where you can get a quick taster of anything they make, see the rules and see how the game plays. If you like it you can pick up the game right there. It is the best way to really show customers what your game can do and adds to the community feel of their stand.

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We have a sofa! - Green Ronin
For Green Ronin the AGE system has really taken off, and they also produce novels and fiction as Nisaba Press. For the Green Ronin crew, this is not their first rodeo and while I love their games, after hours on my feet I looked longingly at the sofa they had at the booth. Sadly, I didn’t get to sit on it as it was in constant use as an interview space, adding a rock festival touch to the con.

The Ronin Army is quite a large one. I was covering one of the slower spots where a crewmember had been forced to drop out, but there were plenty of us on the stand. It gave me time to chat to Steve Kenson about The Expanse, and to Joseph Carriker, the author of the new Blue Rose novel ‘Shadowtide’. I also got to talk to Snake Plissken about the problems she was having with her eyepatch.

The main releases on the Green Ronin stand this year were The Expanse and the new setting book for Modern Age ‘Threefold’ by Malcolm Sheppard and his team. This really shows the advantage of finding a system like AGE that works so well. The Threefold book is free from needing to explain the system and gives you nearly 200 pages of setting and detail. In The Expanse it has adapted exceptionally well, and the Quickstart offered a great way to dip a toe in the water and see for yourself.

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Buckets of Awards - Free League (Fria Ligen)
While Chaosium did exceptionally well at the Ennie Awards this year, the far smaller Swedish company Free League (Fria Ligen) hoovered up plenty as well (six in total), with their Forbidden Lands game stealing first place for Production Values and pushing the stunning Invisible Sun into second place. Unfortunately, this goes to prove that Ennies can sometimes be a problem as they simply hadn’t been able to bring enough product to cope with the increased demand after Friday! I was going to pick up some of their games but was sadly too late.

Free League hit the scene a couple of years ago with ‘Tales from the Loop’ a game of playing children in the 80s that came out just at the right moment to catch the wave of enthusiasm for Stranger Things. But calling it the ‘Stranger Things rpg’ is something of a disservice as its mystery and style, encapsulated in the art of Simon Stalenhag gives the game its own distinct flavor. From there they have built an exceptional catalogue of games, and are all amazingly nice people. Seriously, they so lovely I’m making Sweden my Brexit escape plan!

What blew me away this year was their new licensed Alien game. The art alone was enough to make me preorder it, but the 164 page quickstart guide I got made me want to run it. I had a blast running a demo for them, and the system draws the most out of the setting. My players have thoroughly enjoyed screaming and dying at the hands of xenomorphs and I’m looking forward to finally getting the full game in my hands.

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Independent Companies - Why Not Games
Gen Con is not all about the big companies, although it is very hard for smaller ones to find space in the crowded trade hall. There is a long waiting list! However, I managed to join Ken Spencer and Why Not Games at their pitch on the huge Studio 2 stand. You’d be forgiven for thinking the stand was actually more of a boulevard, as it took up quite a long corridor on the trade hall. Rather than work as a creator, Studio 2 publishes the work of smaller companies and helps them grow into the industry. So creators are able to join the stand and push their games, with Studio 2 handling all the financial issues and organizing the stock.

Ken had a huge crew running games of Rocket Age, a game he developed with Cubicle 7 and then took on himself as the premier product of his new company. He’s recently kickstarted a new edition that takes the game into 5E, but continues to produce it in the Cortex system as well as moving into fiction with ‘Tales of the Rocket Age’. It is great to see his company thriving, and see how Studio 2 is helping support and develop him.

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So, that’s my round up of a con spend running between games stands. I noticed there were a few more I might have managed to add, so maybe one year I’ll break the 8 stands record. But for now it’s good to be home! Hopefully, I’ll see all of you there next con, but if you can’t get there, remember, Pikachu still loves you!

This article was contributed by Andrew Peregrine (Corone) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Comments

Skywalker

Explorer
Fria Ligan have been around a few years prior to the Tales from the Loop, having released both Mutant Year Zero and Coriolis (and arguably Symbaroum which has subsequently come under their umbrella).
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Fria Ligan have been around a few years prior to the Tales from the Loop, having released both Mutant Year Zero and Coriolis (and arguably Symbaroum which has subsequently come under their umbrella).
Fria Ligan started out as fans of Järnringen (version 1). And now Järnringen (version 2) has merged into FL.

Coriolis and Symbaroum are the two FL properties originally conceived and published by Järnringen (v1 and v2 respectively).

Mutant is different: yes, Järnringen (v1) did hold the Mutant license for a good while, publishing a beloved edition of the game (Swedish only). And yes, this was the game that made FL fans of Järnringen in the first place. But Year Zero is a completely new and considerably different iteration of the Mutant property (which has seen no less than five major imaginings, all remarkably different). Symbaroum, on the other hand, is the exact same game, and Coriolis is arguably more of a "faithful port" of the original Järnringen game (also a Swedish-language only game), only using Fria Ligan's in-house game engine instead.
 
Last edited:

Skywalker

Explorer
Yep, they go back some years prior to Tales from the Loop having released both Mutant Year Zero and Coriolis (with the existing RPG Symbaroum having since come under their umbrella).
 

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