From Thursday through Sunday, fantasy creatures of all sorts will be roaming through thousands of imaginations at GenCon 2009. You may have read about the upcoming convention in the news already, but let me expound upon the artistic and creative aspects of this annual game convention.
Art is quite pervasive at GenCon, from the richly illustrated manuals of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons to the decorated cards of collectable card games such as Magic: The Gathering. Even the war games that sprawl over multiple tables feature sculpted miniatures, some of which are painted in painstaking detail by the players. And of course, we can’t leave out the creative fashions put together by live action role players (also known as LARPers) and cosplayers. For those interested, the costume contest is on Saturday, though you will undoubtedly see people in costume downtown throughout the event.
There is even an art gallery at GenCon that features paintings and sketches mainly in the genre of fantasy, many of quite high quality (at least compared to my skill) and most available for purchase. And speaking of purchasing, one of the best reasons to visit GenCon is to check out the dealer hall, where hundreds of shops sell dice, games, t-shirts, videos, comics, costume garb… pretty much anything a game enthusiast might desire. Video game companies even have a presence that has been expanding annually.
All of this is fascinating of course, but board games are the reason that I go to GenCon. Board games have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. Those available today comprise a spectrum from games based on simple rules that bear out complex competitive strategy like the games of Go or Chess to games like Arkham Horror, where the complex rules define interesting game mechanics that pit players in a collaborative challenge against the game itself.
As with other types of games, there are a number of aspects of a board game where design is important. The physical materials that make up a game can be elegantly simple, like stones on a wooden board, or made up of intricately carved wooden pieces placed on a board printed with gorgeous artwork. The concept of a game can be based on history, on novels or movies, or be completely original or abstract. Then there is the most important aspect of a game… the mechanics.
A game’s mechanics can be defined by simple or complex rules, and their design can simulate real-world experiences such as trading, resource management, and evolving systems, or fictional elements such as magic and time travel. The best games, in my opinion, have balanced mechanics that allow for a variety of strategies. And lately I’ve become more interested in well-designed cooperative games.
Hopefully I can find a great new game to add to my collection this year.