This article originally appeared in Pyramid #10
By The Time We Got To Milwaukee, We Were 23,000 Strong. . .
by Scott Haring
FASA's Earthdawn Temple, seen across a crowded Exhibit Hall. Decipher Games' Matt Mariani showed off the soon-to-be-released Star Trek: The Next Generation trading card game. Juliette Harrel does her Sigourney Weaver impression. The monster was there promoting the Aliens line from Leading Edge; Juliette was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This giant-sized Ogre had modelmakers from all over shaking their heads in amazement. SJ Games' Derek Pearcy (left) and Jeff Koke (second from left) enjoy a laugh during a demonstration of In Nomine. Majel Barrett signs one of 3 gazillion autographs. WWF Wrestling star Hillbilly Jim helped promote the WWF RPG. The usually all-business SJ Games Dana Blankenship shows her true colors. TSR's Jim Atkiss stands ready to defend Fortress TSR from invaders. The TSR castle.
Winners! Winners! Winners!
Congratulations to these two winners of $400 worth of SJ Games merchandise, given away in a drawing at the booth in the Exhibit Hall at GenCon:
Rich Hughest, Mishawaha, IN
Dave Scott, Seattle, WA
OK, so even if we got Crosby, Stills & Nash to sing it, it wouldn't quite rival Woodstock -- but as gaming events went, the 1994 edition of GenCon was awfully impressive.
By all accounts and measurements, it was the biggest game show in American history. (Biggest in the world? The Essen Toy Fair in Germany draws around 100,000 annually.) Usually, it's at this point in the news report where I put together various quotes from folks showing the various reactions to the con, get a sampling of the different points of view . . . I spent about 30 minutes doing that at GenCon before I realized that everybody was going to say pretty much the exact same thing:
"Pretty good. Maybe our best year." -- Sam Shirley, Chaosium.
"It's a great show. It's an electric show." -- Marc Miller, Super Decks.
"Great." -- Joseph Scott, Avalon Hill.
"Kicking ass and taking names." -- Greg Porter, Blacksburg Tactical Research Center.
"It was great!" -- Steve Wieck, White Wolf.
You get the idea.
Prior to the convention, many people predicted that Wizards of the Coast would be the hit of the show, especially with The Dark, their new supplements for Magic: The Gathering, at the show, as well as the debut of their first non-Magic card game, Jyhad, and that their overwhelming presence would suck all the life and enthusiasm (not to mention the sales) out of the rest of the convention.
They were only half right. No doubt, Jyhad and The Dark were the sales hits of the show -- but instead of drawing attention and energy away from the rest of the industry, the enthusiasm generated at the Wizards of the Coast booth seemed to fill the entire convention. This was the most exciting game convention in anyone's memory.
Wizards of the Coast was not the beginning and the end of the story. TSR was teaching their trading card game, Spellfire, to 100 people at a time at four long rows of demo tables right in the Exhibit Hall; two other collectible card games, the superhero- based Super Deck! and the science-fiction Galactic Empires, made their debut. And four more trading card games -- SJ Games' Illuminati: New World Order, Decipher Games' Star Trek: The Next Generation game, Mayfair's SimCity and Atlas Games' On The Edge -- were all close enough to completion to wow attendees with demonstration games and prototypes.
Oh, yeah, there was a lot of roleplaying, too. FASA had their Parlainth boxed set for Earthdawn and the Denver boxed set for Shadowrun; Marquee Press had Khaotic; BTRC had a second edition of Macho Women With Guns, complete with four different lurid covers; West End Games had both the Indiana Jones Roleplaying Game and Bloodshadows, along with a special edition Masterbook hardbound edition of the core rules for both games; R. Talsorian had the hardbound version of Castle Falkenstein; Daedalus Games had their new Nexus RPG; Pariah Press had the much-awaited The Whispering Vault; a new company called Epitaph Studios had a science-fiction RPG called Periphery; a new edition of The Golden Age of Champions kept Iron Crown customers happy; and a bizarre (and extremely foul-mouthed) handwritten game called Hol, from unknown Dirt Merchant Games, was the underground hit of the show (see review, p. 74).
Special events? Oh, there were a few. Majel Barrett and John DeLancie highlighted a "Science Fiction Saturday" that also included the Klingon jail, a mockup of a Federation captain's chair and console, and an exhibit of SF memorabilia that included Barrett's original Nurse Chappell uniform from the old Star Trek. Comic book stars were the hit of "Superhero Sunday." The art show was huge; the auction was bringing in big numbers, especially for Magic cards; the computer gaming and virtual reality center was packed; and, of course, a few games got played along the way.
A few games. Right. Every nook and cranny of the entire Mecca center was filled with gamers, mostly playing games. Magic: The Gathering, of course, but everything else under the sun, too, from Risk to Talisman to Toon. The entire building across the street from the main convention center (connected by a second floor walkway over Kilbourn Ave.) was given over to roleplaying, with over a hundred events going on at a time in the partitioned gaming areas.
One thing Wizards of the Coast did not run away with was the Biggest Booth competition; once again, "Fortress TSR" took the prize with their huge castle, this year highlighted by a Planescape stage in the very middle and a smoke-belching dragon perched atop one of the highest towers. A close second was FASA, with their Earthdawn temple and the two finest RPG demo tables ever seen, complete with hidden control panels for the referee for lighting, flash and smoke effects. Wizards of the Coast could only manage third-best with their faux marble temple, closely followed by White Wolf's graveyard motif. There were many other nice exhibit booths, but none in the class of these four.
Fortress TSR did provide the one single funniest event of the convention, an event the general public never got to see. Sunday morning, before the Exhibit Hall was opened to the masses, TSR employees took on all comers in a siege of the TSR castle. Armed with the latest Nerf weapon technology, attackers and defenders alike made fools of themselves for the better part of an hour before exhaustion (and the need to open the doors to paying customers) won out.
At night, there were more games, business meetings, and parties. Lots and lots of parties.
But while GenCon ‘94 was a great celebration for all of the industry (and a triumph for TSR, who did their usual outstanding job running the biggest con in America), the single defining story had to be -- you guessed it -- Wizards of the Coast. WotC management was a travel agent's dream; in addition to nearly their entire Seattle-based staff, the Wizards flew in and put up the artists who had contributed to their games, all on the company tab -- nearly 120 people altogether. It's not like they couldn't afford it, though -- rumor was they pulled in over $100,000 in sales over the weekend. And you know what? It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people.
TSR has already announced plans for next year's GenCon, scheduled for August 10-13, 1995. Their big "Science Fiction Saturday" guest will be James "Scotty" Doohan. And rumors that several game companies are working on a catapult that will throw Nerf boulders are greatly exaggerated . . .
Article publication date: December 1, 1994
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