SPIEL in Essen Germany was cancelled only a few days back and then the inevitable fell. Gen Con 2020 was cancelled as well. In my mind, this wasn’t really an “if” but “when” situation. With San Diego ComicCon cancelling earlier this month, it would seem short-sighted to keep an international convention of 70k+ attendees and thousands of exhibitors going while things are still in such a state of flux.
The “whys” and “wherefores” can be debated but ultimately it doesn’t matter. It is another blow to the collective gaming network we all enjoy and just another data point of how much these world events change things.
Instead of seeing this as a warning of dark times, I’d rather see this as an opportunity. In short term, I’ve been upping my solo game with that Dropzone Commander variant I keep yammering about. But also there are some excellent solo miniatures games already out there that I enjoy such as Mantic’s Walking Dead and Here’s Negan options.
In an almost clairvoyant bout of serendipity, Joe McCullough has tapped into a fantastic run of solo miniature game options. First with his release of the solo-emphasized Perilous Dark supplement to Frostgrave and then earlier with the release of the deluxe Rangers of of Shadow Deep ruleset. Lastly, his Last Train series seems almost directly on point with its meta concept of rescuing people in dire need and donating real money to a worthy cause.
Of course, solo gaming will only get us so far. I think this is a turning point in physical gaming that needs to embrace technology more. No, I don’t want to play an all virtual game- there are amazing video games out there for that (so I’m told). But with Zoom meetings taking over our social world and applications like Tabletop Simulator or Roll20, I think we can do better. There is no time like the present circumstance to have publishers engaging in ways to not only develop compelling solo options like McCullough or Mantic has done but also look at ways to enjoy their favorite minis game from hundreds of miles apart.
I don’t think this should replace in-person gaming but there are a lot of talented designers out there and I’m sure they could come up with some type of variant ruleset for playing together through a shared virtual application. I’m working up a quick variant for Frostgrave for my friends to test out and will post the results soon.
BoardGameGeek has a great resource they’ve put together discussing a variety of gaming options to play virtually (not just app versions of the game). This resource is the gold standard to me on how publishers can put together virtual options for their physical games. In fact, if you check out that link, you’ll see several publishers have already made the first steps to helping gamers out. If you like puzzles and deductive games, I highly recommend Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. The publisher has made the ancillary material available for all players and only one player needs the full game.
Moving beyond the ‘now’, and looking into the rest of the summer, specifically conventions, a lot are now experimenting with virtual conventions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out since most convention companies have not invested the appropriate tech to really capture the nature of their product in a virtual way. Usually they are free programs to stay relevant, offering seminars with lead designers and artists or canned videos of announcements of new products. None of these really seem different enough from the regular media blitz a company undertakes for new product launches so I’m hoping to see one of these conventions really break the mold and open the virtual experience up in a way that captures some essence of what it is like to go to one of these premium events.
What I’m looking forward to seeing is a particular “convention” built around those that can’t go to conventions. This is GenCant, a gathering of those who couldn’t attend the big event. I assume it will be pretty popular this year. And their logo is a thousand times better than mine too.
Finally, Gen Con is down but definitely not out. Since I had already submitted events to run, I’m in their system as a GM and they have notified GMs about hints of what they are planning to do during their scheduled convention slot. They will be trying something online as well and while none of my events will work virtually since they are all physical dexterity games, I am interested in what they are cooking up. If there is a way for me to be involved, I will definitely try.