Sunday, August 16, 2015

A GenCon Tale Part 3: The Vendor Hall Strikes Back

Friday Friday Friday!  Today I woke early, ate a hearty breakfast, slung my pack over my shoulders, and resolved that this would be the day I tackled the vendor hall in earnest.  There would be dangers (Cthulhu chief amongst them), there would be adventure, and at the end of it all I would attempt to escape the 240,000 square foot dungeon with as much booty and plunder as I could manage to carry and with my life intact, sanity as well, if I were truly lucky.

60,000+ attendees flocked to this year's convention, and though there is plenty to see and do inside the rest of the convention center and in the eight surrounding satellite hotels which host everything from indie films to symposiums, and open gaming; a huge number of the con's total attendance pack the vendor hall for all four days it is open.

Merely navigating the hall is not enough to pass the trials that await, however.  No no, my friend.  To achieve greatness and secure some of the most sought after first releases and exclusives, one must approach the austere guardians who safehold the integrity of the lines they guard.

These relentless custodians are where the trial of waiting truly begins.  And after witnessing the legendary length of the lines, many retreat in horror right then and there, not possessing the fortitude of patience it takes to wait for up to an hour.  Just thinking of it makes my stomach turn... 

Fantasy Flight had not one warden guarding their hallowed waiting line...

But two!  ...all the better to devour the souls of the unworthy faster! Muhahahaha!

Paizo's line was so epic that it started outside even the vendor hall (as seen here in the main entry to the convention center).  It appears that many a wary adventurer chose to conserve their energy, deciding to sit down while attempting to pas their patience checks.  Wise choice indeed.

The line wardens were not restricted only to the vendor hall.  No, sir.  The convention itself had its own host of gatekeepers patrolling the registration lines, keeping a watchful gaze and ensuring swift flow of movement.  This one yelled, "follow me quickly... quickly!  STOP!"

All silliness aside, this really did make getting badges, tickets, and coupon books a much more stress-free and smooth experience.  So, good job GenCon!!

Even so, this is a post about the vendor hall and its 1,001 delights, not organizational excellent.  Back to the vendor hall and the miniature goodness that awaits!

Walking the aisles booth upon booth of beautifully painted miniatures pull your attention this way and that.  It really is a challenge not to be overwhelmed by the vast array of awesomeness on display!  
Check out these gorgeous Dark Age minis..

Never a disappointment are the minis at the Dark Sword booth.  Look at all that breathtaking blending and fine detail work!

Privateer Press has long since taken their own painting competition in-house and has a ton of expertly painted minis on display from independent hobbyists.

If you love chipped paint and battle scarring across metal plating, Warmachine is the game for you!

Games Workshop even showed up with their new fantasy miniature line on display.  They are continuing to do some truly fantastic work with their new multi-part plastics.

Unfortunately, I can't credit this pic as I'm unsure which line these miniatures belong to, but sweet boats nonetheless!

I spent a good deal of time at the Bushido booth, but sadly did not take many pictures (none actually, as all the miniature pics come courtesy of Donovan).  Their line hosts a bevy of fantastic traditional Japanese mythological creatures and martial arts masters!

Next stop was artist's alley, where you can find everyone from the legends behind many of the iconic pieces of fantasy illustration you love like: Steve Argyle, Steve Prescott, Tony DiTerlizzi, and Peter Mohrbacher, and Jason Engle and also exciting up and coming talent!

I did a good deal of sketch illustration when I was in high school and even though I ultimately moved towards sculpture and miniature painting, I have maintained a love for 2-D art, a passion that ensures my walls are always covered in fantastical beasts, beautiful babes, and heroes of renown (and a landscape or two).

A booth that really caught both Donovan and my eye was Nen's.  Sticking to a traditional watercolor technique, her pieces have the ephemeral quality that other methods struggle to imitatate.  She was also hilarious and a true pleasure to talk to and had some very interesting insights into fantasy depictions of women.

Donovan picked up a Harley Quinn and Daenerys by Nen.  He got to the Daenerys print before I did, and yes, because I am special and unique I couldn't get the same piece...  there can only be one highlander and there can only be one dragon mother amongst friends!


Sneaking into the frame, but near and dear to my art buying experience was Kathryn Lee Steele's work.  Her female characters are absolutely gorgeous and I found myself having to actively restrain myself from taking out a second mortgage to purchase each piece of art from her booth.  There was a particularly lovely Persephone print done on a canvas mounting which you can see on the far left of the frame below and then again on the right side of the art book at the bottom of the frame.  Exceptional work, and I will definitely be keeping her bookmarked for future art purchases!

Another great conversation was one had with Tommy Arnold, who discussed with me at length about perspective theory and color resolution at his booth.  The talk that I had with him and all the other artists were the highlights of my weekend.  It's one thing to see the talent and craft of a great piece of artwork, but to then have the opportunity to discuss the composition with the artist, their methods and inspiration, for me is a dream come true.  When I'm having those conversations, in my mind this is where I am.  

Tommy had only a limited amount of his work with him, and I was psyched to see that he's done book covers and work for card games, so be sure to check out the rest at this link!!

Here is the haul of artwork that I took in at the end of one day (more was purchased later...), I want to highlight two more artists that I failed to get up close pics of their work.

Jessi J is the first, and the piece she created was a surreal dragon seen bottom left below, along with two elegant bookmarks that I and my girlfriend will be using in our future reads!  Be sure to check out more of her work at her site, I'm definitely going to be picking up the "Herald of the Queen" piece sometime in the future; I love her take on merfolk as part fish, part jellyfish!

Last is Sam Greenwell, who you might know in connection with the new Ghostbusters board game (he did the digital sculpts of the minis) and the 20+ years he's spent in the comic book industry.  Sam does Z-brush digital sculpts and then ports them into Photoshop, adding color and texture to create his illustrations.  You can see his print on the far right hiding behind Kathryn's gray-tone female elf.  I hadn't seen 2-D work done this way and was pretty blown away.  Thanks, Sam for opening my eyes to a new way to do illustrations!  Sam also has a funding drive going, so if you like his work, donate!

There's tons of demo games to be had in the vendor hall from established companies like Fantasy Flight and Plaid Hat Games, debuting their much anticipated new releases, but what I find most exciting are the diamonds in the rough, the new kids on block, the start-ups who are just getting off the ground with a brand new product for the first time.

I was lucky enough to run into just one such company called Punch-It Entertainment, who is launching a brand new expandable card game called Battle for Sularia.  Being a competitive Magic: the Gathering player, a new card game has to wow me to get me to invest my hobby dollars in it and find a place on my shelf.  It also should inhabit a different space than Magic, which already occupies the collectible card game hole in my life.  

Co-founder Jesse B. grabbed my attention when he was making his pitch, explaining that, "what we wanted to do was create a game that had the feel of a classic real time strategy computer game.  You construct a base, build an army, and attack your opponent."  I spent hours playing Warcraft 3 and Starcraft as a kid, and the chance to incorporate that experience into a cared game format had me wanting to see more.

Intrigued I eagerly sat down and played a demo game, commanding the Jotune faction, which employs an aggressive quality threat strategy against the resource-efficient Synthien, who create stealthy threats and throw huge amounts of damage at your face!

Just check out the stunning artwork they already have for their first wave of cards!

The game plays super smooth, with no chunky rules to slow you down as you pass through phases, and no oppressive mechanics that "lock" one player out of the game.  Due to the nature of site combat (attacking an enemy's base) which does blast damage to the controlling player when a building is destroyedr, the board stalls very rarely and the pace of action stays hot.

I would say the average game lasts 10-20 minutes and the amount of strategy that a great "Battle Commander" can employ makes each game an action packed puzzle.  I looked dead to rights in one of my games, but the right combination of timely card draws and deployment of evasive effects allowed me to sneak through enemy lines and take down my opponent's base just in time to secure victory.  It's nice that games can be swingy like this, and keep both players on the edge of their seats.

Jesse and the rest of the crew were on hand to teach demo games, here he is pitting the Jotune against their arch-rivals the Synthien. 

Below are the godfathers of the game Jesse B. (left) and John K. (right).

Jesse and John are doing great with their first game and are two really great guys (we met up later and got a beer at Scotty's later in the weekend, which is one of the coolest parts of GenCon, not just playing the games, but hanging with their creators as well).  

I'm excited to get my copy of the game, as I had the good fortune to be one of the initial Kickstarter backers before it successfully funded.  The Sularia guys are looking forward to a release around December and are getting geared up to hit the ground running by then, so be sure to follow their press releases on Facebook to learn about how you can order your copy of the game (they will be doing pre-sales from their site) and I will definitely be posting updates here on the lab blog as well!

Whew, what a day Friday was!  And that wasn't even mentioning the giant pigs I encountered...

The Magic: the Gathering Legacy tournament I placed top four in...

The Plastic Fork of DOOM that attempted to slay me at 3am...

Or the infamous hallway of muralized butts...

But we made it and survived another amazing day at GenCon, and still have an epic Saturday to share with you where: the painting competition results are announced, Donovan dukes it out in the Wyrd speed painting competition, we gain masterclass instruction from none other than painting goddess Marieke Reimer, the GenCon halls are overrun with hundreds of cosplayers, and we revisit what has become a GenCon tradition!  Come back next time for Part 4: A Game of Tones!

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