Gen Con as a consumer, designer, and publisher.
Gen Con is a massive board game trade show that flaunts all the hot new releases and big industry names. It’s so massive that it’s easy to get lost in all the things. You’ll find a lot of advice on “How to do Gen Con” right. Instead of rehashing that, I figured I could add some value by reflecting about Gen Con as a consumer, designer, and exhibitor.
2014 (My 1st Gen Con)
Consumer / Designer and participant in Season 2 of the Table Top deathmatch.
A hail mary was thrown and caught in the form of a Brewin’ USA prototype selected as a game finalist in the Cards Against Humanity Tabletop Deathmatch season 2. There was an insane amount of prep work to get ready for Gen Con, and I showed up doing little research or pre-networking to the show. The CAH team was fun to be around and it would be neat to see something like this pop up in the future. This year, I was only able to start to understand the magnitude of the Gen Con walking through the exhibitor hall for just a few hours. Finding where I needed to be was half of the battle. I also was able to attend some seminars on Kickstarter and game design that helped plant valuable seeds and would eventually lead to self-publishing Brewin’ USA and starting my publishing company Adam’s Apple Games. I met some great industry folks and spent most of the convention in the First Exposure Playtest Hall and prepping for filming sessions. Meeting another group of like designers was also invigorating and a few of them I still keep in touch with to this day.
Biggest takeaway – Go to a big con as a consumer first to check it out and figure out what you’ll need to navigate it.
2015 (2nd Gen Con)
Designer building buzz post successful Kickstarter.
Prepping for the show, I didn’t truly understand the orchestrated chaos that comes with running events at Gen Con. I was equipped with two final edition prototypes of Brewin’ USA. I created a measly 5 scheduled events for the show and they quickly filled up with players. Not knowing I could add more events, I created a Google Sheet and started sending out tweets for game sign-ups. This was the first year that I started using Twitter to connect with people at the show. I think I ended up running 14-15 total games that year with the additional effort. Now, this was one person bouncing back and forth from brewery to hotel to convention hall and starting to recognize familiar faces. A lot of buzz was built doing this guerrilla-style game marketing and I would totally recommend grinding without a booth. You can probably get more bang for your buck if you grind with 2 demos at a time in the event catalog though.
Biggest takeaway – Events are really important at Gen Con. It’s a players con as much as a buyers con. It’s also a great chance to network and meet your biggest fans. You probably don’t even think they exist, but they do.
2016-2018 (3rd / 4th / 5th year at Gen Con)
Exhibiting is a whole new level of madness at a large convention. Our first year we lucked into a marketing sponsorship with a 20ft booth. Our first game was available for sale called Brewin’ USA. We hauled 250+ games to Indy with a Uhaul trailer. We had 16 demos scheduled and fully booked on our calendar and 5 people to split between booth duty and demos. Holy crap we worked like dogs but the convention was still a smashing success.
Biggest takeaway – You need more people than you think you need.
Year 2, we returned with more people but we were downgraded into the standard 10ft x 10ft booth. Having a grandiose expectation from our first year, we found that a small booth meant it was twice as hard for people to find your booth and your game. Our 2nd game was available for sale called Truck Off: The Food Truck Frenzy. Still hauling our games to the convention, we had more people so making key connections (PSI, Dice Tower) were the big wins that came out of the convention. We also signed two localization deals for Truck Off. We did the publisher speed dating as a publisher and really enjoyed meeting new designers and seeing new games. We even took one back with us to playtest and consider publishing.
Biggest takeaway: – Booth optimization is key so people can find you. In relation to this, a lower price point game ($25) takes twice as many copies sold to pay for your expenses than a $50 game.
Year 3, we again returned with even more people to our crew. We had 60+ demos registered but had a harder time filling seats. There was a record showing of 17000 events listed in the event catalog. We had a hot game for sale and sold out of our inventory by early Saturday with Swordcrafters. A larger demo staff meant more time to focus on networking. The combination of time and an excellent table presence sellout game allowed us to connect with over 10 publishers interested in localization which was a real win. We hit a lot of new marketing channels as well like Gen Con Streaming Studio, BGG preview videos, and we technically had 3 of our games (Swordcrafters, Swordcrafters Expanded Edition, and upcoming Brewin’ USA: Taproom Takeover) in the top 100 buzz of the con. Not too bad for 3 games jam-packed inside a 10ft booth.
Biggest takeaway: Even when you think you have it down, there are always things you can do better. We managed to gain a lot of hype going into the Con, have a great show, but still have bigger things in mind every year.
Leave a comment below and tell me what your biggest takeaways are from Gen Con or other massive gaming conventions?
We’re launching a new podcast called Print It and Ship It to document the journey of Adam’s Apple Games as board game designers, self-publishers, and publishers. Our content focuses on three things.
Print It and Ship It Content Focus:
- Real-time decisions leading to Printing and Shipping our line of games.
- Connect with other industry self-publishers, publishers, and especially designers! We aim to connect with more designers to help us find cool new games to publish, but also give brave designers air time to pitch a publisher.
- What we’re playing!
Learn from our experiences, successes, and mistakes along our journey!
Want your chance to call something your own? Cast your vote or submit a write in up to 10 times to vote on Sword Magic Flavor Text.
What Sword Magic is:
- A noun or a noun + adjective
- light and possibly humorous
- clever but still inclusive
Sword Magic is not:
- A verb
- dark or evil
- profane or excluding
- Dance of a Thousand Cuts 5%, 11 votes11 votes 5%11 votes - 5% of all votes
- Glitter Bomb 4%, 9 votes9 votes 4%9 votes - 4% of all votes
- SWAMP-dragon slayer* 4%, 8 votes8 votes 4%8 votes - 4% of all votes
- Frostbite 3%, 7 votes7 votes 3%7 votes - 3% of all votes
- Snake Charmer 3%, 7 votes7 votes 3%7 votes - 3% of all votes
- Edgelord 3%, 7 votes7 votes 3%7 votes - 3% of all votes
- Starshot 3%, 6 votes6 votes 3%6 votes - 3% of all votes
- Phantom Strike 3%, 6 votes6 votes 3%6 votes - 3% of all votes
- Healing Touch 3%, 6 votes6 votes 3%6 votes - 3% of all votes
- Blossom Burst 3%, 6 votes6 votes 3%6 votes - 3% of all votes
- Vicious Mockery 2%, 5 votes5 votes 2%5 votes - 2% of all votes
- Skyward Strike 2%, 5 votes5 votes 2%5 votes - 2% of all votes
- Tidal Surge 2%, 5 votes5 votes 2%5 votes - 2% of all votes
- Judgement Day 2%, 5 votes5 votes 2%5 votes - 2% of all votes
- Gigaslash 2%, 5 votes5 votes 2%5 votes - 2% of all votes
- Flaming Tip 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Pernicious Poison 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Widowmaker 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Whirling Blades 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Starburst 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Look, no hands! 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Earthshaker 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Scouring Wind 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Moon Beam 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Blade Flurry 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Head Splitter 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Invisiblade 2%, 4 votes4 votes 2%4 votes - 2% of all votes
- Dealer of Flesh Wounds* 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Arcane Anomaly* 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Lucky Strike 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Omen Blast 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Ludicrous speed* 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Swift Swipe Right 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Thunderbolt 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Divine Origin 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Dragons Breath 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- High Octane 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Zero Maintenance 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Cold Mysticism* 1%, 3 votes3 votes 1%3 votes - 1% of all votes
- Summon Dogs 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Wombo Combo 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Perpetual Motion 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Edge of Extinction 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- The Unsteady Bris* 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Bedazzlement 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Bloody Mountain* 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Untrue Strike 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Disarm This Arm 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Critical Strike 1%, 2 votes2 votes 1%2 votes - 1% of all votes
- Fission Force 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Dissector 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Complimentary 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Hot Melt 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Acidic Spray 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Petrify 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Shattered Matter 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Beserk 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Cleave 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Flesh Wounder 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Naysayer 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Inner Thrust 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Spin Attack 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Gangrenous Gorge 0%, 1 vote1 vote1 vote - 0% of all votes
- Vaporizer 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- The Witching Hour 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Gigantic 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Quadra Slam 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Animorph: Toad 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Animorph: Goat 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Fantasmal 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Dispatch 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Animorph: Skunk 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
- Shiny Strike 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
Thanks again for voting!
Thanks for voting! Voting ends 4/23.
Swordcrafters – Sharpening the Design – Live on Kickstarter now!
See Swordcrafters Designer Diary Part 2 if you want to read about the Ideation and Iteration process.
The first time we played Swordcrafters, it was already a magical experience and I knew I had something special. It also had its problems. For starters, the score was completely lopsided and scoring took too long. There was a 3rd phase beyond slicing and selecting that helped people see opponents motivations, but the thematic explanation was weak and others at the table weren’t convinced about this phase. There was a problem that a weak player sitting next to a strong player greatly benefited the strong player. I had a game that definitely found the fun instantly, but was cluttered with too many ideas.
Where to start, where to begin? When a first play test feels magical, it makes it psychologically difficult to make changes at risk of losing the fun. But it’s a necessary part of the process. So change we did.
Change #1: Issues with Scoring (attempt #1)
The simplest thing to try to fix was the scoring. A lopsided score is never all that fun! Players that score well should deserve it, and there should not be a dominant strategy. Okay so let’s play with how the scoring works. Aaaaaand that was absolutely a trap, but it was so tempting to fall into. Changing scoring did not significantly improve the game. There were bigger problems. Maybe if I fix them, the scoring fix will come more naturally.
Change #2: Issues #1 with Splitting
A strong player benefited sitting next to a weak player. That was a problem! The issue was that the player who started selecting a group of sword tiles was variable. This variability was not a predictable outcome, but rather was at the mercy of the players decisions at the table. If a player didn’t understand the implications of the system, then they might king make the entire game. Okay so if everybody gets to make one separation, that means the first player to select tiles is predictable. This helps people understand the game! It also means that the player selecting first likely does not have a giant group since everybody has made one split. The first time we played this way we never went back. But there was still another issue with splitting.
Change #3: Issue #2 with Splitting
When players made splits, the grid became confusing. I was instructing players to make their split lines across all the tiles regardless if they had been previously split into separate groups. Confusing! With the great feedback from another designer, Ryan Lambert, I changed this to only allow a split line to affect one group at a time. Again, the first time we played this way we never went back. Splitting complete. What else needs fixing?
Change #4: Issues with unfairness of turns as the first player.
If the first player is going to be an advantage, then each player should have an equal chance at this. Figuring out a mathematical equation comparing components and players was near impossible. So time to make a tweak. Again to the rescue comes a suggestion from Ryan Lambert, about the first player responsibility being a tile in the grid. Once I heard this, I tried it and again never went back. First player fairness complete.
Change #5: Issues with a somewhat clunky player experience.
Setting up the grid each round was clunky mainly because tiles one-sided and players had to check each side of each tile to see if there was a gem. It was a great fix to change tiles to two-sided. What is next?
We tried a variable shape setup to the grid. This was fun, but became a point of AP where players were trying to group things together intentionally. Too much power to the player setting things up means we move to a standard grid. Great fix.
We tried passing a box containing the sword tiles to the player setting up the grid each round. This was slightly clunky, but the other options we tried were worse. Preset stacks of tiles had a clunky long setup time. Stacks of tiles like carcassonne performed okay but two-sided tiles now give players a good amount of visible info when setting up.
Change #6: Revisiting the scoring.
Now that the game is a well-oiled machine, it’s much easier to revisit scoring. Two scoring metrics that became very apparent during play testing were comparing swords for length, and building sets of gems calling this sword quality.
The third metric was about keeping people interested if they were not in the quality or length game. But it was a challenge to find something simple and intuitive. Enter Sword Magic. I called this a whole host of things in the past, but a Magic Sword is something people seemed to understand. During one play test at Protospiel Madison, the answer to the scoring riddle surfaced. I was playing with a designer named Francois, and after our game, was inquiring about feedback. We got to the scoring section and I was simply not satisfied with the resolution. After swirling the topic trying to find the right answer, Francois said a word that instantly made things click. MOST. It was amazing how one word immediately simplified the scoring. The player with the most gets 1st, 2nd most gets 2nd, etc. There is no particular condition that needs to be met, light end-game counting, and no record keeping. It’s elegant and effective! Lock it up.
Change #7: Gutting the 3rd phase
The third phase was intended as a balancing mechanism so that the last player to select a grouping was the first player to do another thing. However, I also saw that the intentional balancing mechanism was confusing people. It wasn’t clear how things were interconnected. First, let’s strip out the 3rd phase for now and streamline things into two phases and that should help players understand inter-connectivity better. The 3rd phase never came back to the table after this.
And that’s how I arrived at the version I plan to publish. Stay tuned for Part 4 to learn how I prepared the blade for manufacturing readiness (the forge).
Swordcrafters Designer Diary part 2 – Ideation and Iteration – Live on Kickstarter now!
In the Designer Diary Part 1, I gave an overview of the final Swordcrafters game design. In the next 4 posts, I chart out the path we took to get to the final game including insights into ideation, mechanics, manufacturing, and marketing.
The Beginning: A Game called Dungeon Greed
Swordcrafters started out as a game called Dungeon Greed created by my good friend Chris Neuman. He prototyped and playtested a grid of cards exploring a dungeon. There was dice rolling and push your luck and the game had promise. Chris created at least 8-9 versions of the prototype and played it often. However, this game was eventually tucked away with a forgotten passion after a rough Protospiel experience. It happens. You need to have the gumption to get a design published in this industry. We chatted about the game from time to time.
Changing the Name and the Game
One day, Chris and I took a crack at revitalizing the game and adding a resource mechanic, reducing setup time, and tweaking the press your luck decisions. As you explore the dungeon, you now had the challenge to collect resources and purchase a sword. You could upgrade your sword via splendor style purchases. There would be multiple tiers of swords available to each player. You would start with a common and dull blade and end with a badass blade. Each blade would include a different set of abilities or dice to be used to fight monsters in the dungeon. We made the dungeon ever expanding so players did not have to suffer through multiple setups, and refocused the push your luck mechanics into the sword and how the sword is used. This is where the name Swordcrafters originated.
When I type it out, that game also sounds compelling to me. But it was a twist on a different vision. I wasn’t particularly passionate about playtesting and didn’t pursue it. Gumption! We had about 2-3 iterations built into it designing the mechanics, playtesting on Tabletop Simulator, creating the placeholder artwork, and prototyping through The Gamecrafter. This was a classic mistake of too much asset creation and not enough playtesting.
Arriving at the final vision for Swordcrafters
And that brings me to the current and final design of Swordcrafters. We were sitting in our booth at Gen Con 2017 during the closing minutes after a very successful show. Chris and I started reminiscing about Dungeon Greed and Swordcrafters, happily exhausted from the weekend. Then it clicked. What if we were actually building a sword … and holding it as we play. OMG that’s it! And Swordcrafters was reborn. The cutting mechanics came together so quickly once the new vision was alive. I was able to hack together a rough prototype within two weeks of returning to Minneapolis, and have only improved it since.
I often find that creativity comes in surges, and this was one very special surge of it. Stay tuned for the next designer diary to see how I was able to sharpen the game design and bring to life the vision of crafting a sword.