GenCon '96

Article by Andy Ravenscroft (

Went to GenCon last weekend and thought I'd drop you a note with some of the noteable features. Lean pickings in terms of non-FRP/card games, but a couple of interesting bits and pieces. It's a local event for me here in Madison WI, so it's usually worth a look. I spent a disproportionate amount of time in the auction, as usual, mainly to pick up cheap SPI/Avalon Hill board wargames, but also to watch the outrageous prices for individual Magic cards (often $150 and up).

GenCon is getting progressively more expensive to attend - pre-registration this year was $12 and a bidder s card at the auction was $2 - but the bargains available in the auction still make it a good deal if you re not travelling too far to be there. Every now and then a game oddity turns up that's worth waiting for - I got a copy of Chaosium's Lords of the Middle Sea in mint condition - but mainly it's a nostalgia trip. Lots of games from when I was a spotty FRP/SPI gaming youth in high school and GenCon was a distant dream.

To give you some idea of the bargain end, I bought a copy of Squad Leader for $2.50, Air War for $4, Magic Realm (unpunched) for $5 and October War for $2. These prices were fairly typical for board/wargames, with the exceptions being the larger/rarer games such as Highway to the Reich ($40). You could fill out a wargames collection very cheaply at GenCon.

Of course, it s caveat emptor with the items in the auction. That said, I ve only bought one game which turned out to be incomplete which is (somewhat ironically as it s the game where you most need the rulebook) the above mentioned Air War. Generally speaking, people are reasonable about how they describe the game condition and the minimum bid price.

The atmosphere is fun, and I found myself carried away a couple of times; why else would I buy a copy of Air War, however cheap? I know I m never going to play it. The bidding can start low and get quite lively. I saw a copy of SPI's War of the Ring trio start at a reserve of $5 and quickly bid its way up to $55. Still cheap for a good condition copy when you consider that Crazy Egor's or other dealers will charge $80 or more for the same game.

Lots of FRP material up for bid too. AD&D handbooks of various vintages went for anywhere from $5 to $20 depending on condition and edition number. FRP game modules are especially good value, often going for cents on the dollar. No item is too small or obscure to make it into the auction, and people put in things like assorted dice and game parts. You can also use the auction as a barometer of what has not been successful as failed card games show up still in their shrink-wrapped boxes. As I pointed out earlier, the Magic bidding is slightly mad, going up into the $200 range, but if you really need that one card to complete your collection, chances are you ll get it at GenCon.

GenCon is usually known for it's special price deals on new games, but not much in evidence this year. Rumour has it that TSR hates discounting anything (how unlike them) and put pressure on the exhibitors not to show them up by offering too much free/discounted stuff. Like many people who played D&D in the late 70's and were involved in the then-flourishing gaming fanzines in England, I have a residual dislike of TSR because of their avaricious approach to the hobby as a cash cow, and their tendency to bash anything that is not an official TSR product, so I'm inclined to believe rumours like this anyway (my judgement is probably impaired on this one). But if that s the case, what am I doing attending GenCon...?

On to other things: West End Games cheerfully ignored any pricing edicts, and were selling off books in their Bloodshadows, Torg, and Paranoia game systems for $1 each (normal retail $12-$18). Watch for revised editions of those puppies.

Wizards of the Coast had probably the fanciest stand, and one of the largest, pushing Netrunner and the usual bewildering range of Magic stuff. The computer game of Magic was on show, and looked quite impressive; didn t have a chance to play it, but I bet the opportunity to play with all the available card combinations, and for solitaire play, will make it a good seller. Computer games had a fair look in all over, with one of the highlights being an alpha version of a networked, high definition graphics, MechWarrior game. I don't play many computer games, but I'll give that a go when it's out. Look for release of the final version later this year.

The main noteworthy item was the Mayfair Games stand where they launched their "European Invasion" with six titles which I know you're aware of - Settlers of Cataan, Modern Art, Manhattan, etc. Lots of demo games being run, especially of Settlers. No real price breaks here though - everything was list price, except for a $2 discount if you played a demo. Looks like the European games may start to make a dent in the games market here, but they will probably need another more useful vehicle than GenCon where, I suspect, the average gamer is more focused on collectable card games and FRP.

The Convention is padded out by special guests, seminars and exhibitions. Many people show up in fancy dress - mostly wild ideas of medieval costume - and there is a fancy dress competition on the Saturday evening. Trekkies are always treated to a special guest on Saturday - last year Scottie was there, and this year we had Chekov and Worf. Steven Donaldson was this year s guest author. I didn t spot any of the celebs this year, but got a good enough look at Mark Hammill (Luke Skywalker) last year to marvel at how the screen really does make people look larger than life. If screen science fiction is your particular anorak, you can wear it all day on Science Fiction Saturday.

Finally, rumour at the Convention had it that Avalon Hill have gone/are going out of business. Could lead to some good prices on the current inventory. No further info on that one, but I'll keep digging.

All round, GenCon is goodish value if you fall into one of the following categories: you don t live too far away; you want to buy cheap copies of SPI/TSR/Avalon Hill/other (US) board games; you play Magic a lot; you play FRP games, especially D&D; you like to dress up as a rather sad imitation of a D&D character. Otherwise I d save your money for an air ticket to Essen or Frankfurt.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell