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Gen Con 2011 bigger and better

By John Kaufeld
Published: August 19, 2011
Gen Con exhibit floor 1GenCon
More than 36,000 people attended Gen Con 2011, with most of them returning for all four days, putting total turnstile attendance near 120,000.
Photo by John Kaufeld
Catalyst demo Leviathan minis gameGenCon
In a demonstration of "Leviathans" from Catalyst Game Labs, players command fleets of flying battleships just after the turn of the last century.
Photo by John Kaufeld
Sandstorm Cambria Hibernia demo by designerGenCon
Designer Eric Vogel demonstrates his games, "Hibernia" and "Cambria," from Closet Nerd.
Photo by John Kaufeld
Blue Orange display sampleGenCon
Blue Orange Games offers free display units and demo packages with the orders for a number of games.
Photo by John Kaufeld
Record-breaking attendance and a huge wave of both preview and freshly-released products in the exhibit hall made Gen Con 2011 this year's "must-attend" summer event for both game lovers and retailers.

On the attendee side, 36,733 unique attendees attended the show's four-day run, more than a 20% increase from last year. Equally interesting for retailers, Sunday's expanded family program drew several thousand attendees to the show by itself. This looks promising for the continued growth of family gaming as a trend and family-oriented games as a market segment.

For retailers, Gen Con started on Wednesday with Trade Day. This annual pre-show event featured seminars by game retailers, industry experts, and publishers. This year's topics included tips on increasing profits through building community, making board games work in your store, tricks for successfully demoing games from Mayfair, and previews of new in-store programs from Wizards of the Coast.

Hundreds of exhibitors demonstrated and previewed games for the enthusiastic attendees. The games covered the gamut of the industry's offerings, with everything from board games and card games to miniatures, terrain, and role-playing.

Wizards of the Coast had a huge corner of the exhibit hall to promote the return to the Neverwinter campaign setting. A long-time part of the Forgotten Realms world, Neverwinter comes back as part of the Dungeons and Dragons Encounters in-store gaming program. The new Encounters season starts in August. In September, Wizards launches a second in-store play program, titled Dungeons and Dragons Lair Assault. These adventures focus on combat, emphasizing party dynamics and showing players how various character types can work together. To add these programs to your store, contact the Wizards Play Network.

Wizards also showed off the Dungeons and Dragons Neverwinter Fortune Card packs ($3.95 MSRP), and announced a new "Fury of the Feywild" set of packs coming in November. Customers can use the Fortune Cards with both Encounters and Lair Assaults, as well as in their home games.

Spinmaster showed off the gorgeous Stratego 50th Anniversary Edition ($40 MSRP), as well as a new family strategy game called Stomple ($29.95 MSRP). Stomple uses an innovative board design and a fun "stomping" mechanic where players try to strand each other by stomping marbles through rubberized holes in the board. The game will be available in a deluxe version for specialty stores in November.

Family game company Calliope demonstrated three upcoming releases, all coming in time for the Christmas season. Set-collecting card game Ugh! ($9.95 MSPR) features fast, easy play and hilarious artwork by popular comic and game artist John Kovalic. Double Double Dominoes ($29.95 MSRP) combines classic dominoes with a Scrabble-like board to create an entertaining game that's perfect for families and grandparents. Finally, their light strategy game Got 'Em ($27.95 MSRP) offers two levels of complexity thanks to a double-sided board.

Sandstorm Productions demonstrated two new "backpack" games from the Closet Nerd design studio. In Cambria ($19.95 MSRP), players attempt to control Roman castles in Wales. The game uses an interesting die rolling and placement mechanic, with a good mix of strategy and luck. Hibernia ($19.95 MSRP) is a simple twist on a classic war game model, but in a nod to the Eurogame design vision, no player is ever completely eliminated. Both games come in very sturdy boxes, making them easy to throw into a backpack for transportation anywhere.

Blue Orange Games showed a number of new games aimed at family play. Dragon Face ($30.00 MSRP) plays like a cross betwee chess and checkers, with some very interesting results. Both Tell Tale ($12.99 MSRP) and Trigger ($12.99 MSRP) join best-seller Spot It ($12.99 MSRP) in Blue Orange's growing line of small family games. Stores ordering these games directly from Blue Orange can also get free display units and discounted demonstration sets.

Look for reviews of these games and others in the coming months. Check with your distributors for product availability and updated release dates.