Hotels, lines and games: The best and worst of Gen Con 2023

Still in a line for Lorcana? I hate to tell you this, but the event is over.

Hotels, lines and games: The best and worst of Gen Con 2023
Image via Gen Con

2023 marks Gen Con’s 20th year in Indianapolis, and it was the biggest Gen Con ever.

Over 70,000 unique attendees descended on downtown Indy, taking part in over 20,000 ticketed events. The exhibit hall featured over 570 vendors and the convention generated nearly $75 million for local businesses. Shortly after the event, Gen Con announced it officially extended its contract with the city through 2030.

“We are excited to announce that Gen Con will be extending its stay in Indianapolis through 2030,” said David Hoppe, president of Gen Con. “I am eager to see the continued growth and success that will come from our partnership with a city that has supported us over the last 20 years.”

However, Gen Con’s growth is also a disadvantage for participants. The exhibit hall often felt cramped. More attendees were forced to stay at hotels miles from the convention center, being forced to drive or Uber in as no transport between hotels and the venue were provided. Some attendees mentioned getting AirBnBs downtown, only to have them canceled by the host at the last minute. They found themselves scrambling to find new accommodations in a town where most lodging was already filled.

The city recognizes it needs to increase downtown hotels and expand the convention center. A week before the convention, city leaders broke ground on a $800 million hotel and expansion that should alleviate some of the issues currently faced by attendees.

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It’s all about the games

Four Horsemen. Photo by Jason Dean

Once attendees got checked in, it was game time at Gen Con. The most popular ticket by far was for Disney’s Lorcana, a collectible card game similar to Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon that features Disney characters. Attendees waited in lines over 16 hours for a first glimpse at the game, and to receive a special Mickey Mouse promotional card. In a convention that is usually known for its hospitality, lines became hostile with reports of shoving and verbal abuse.  

The line to demo Lorcana down the block at Gen Con. Photo by Jason Dean

Will Lorcana’s success kick off a trend in collectible card games? One prominent game designer thinks so.

One of the highlights of Gen Con is playing and demoing new games. Publishers often either bring their latest games to the convention for sale or announce them beforehand so gamers can preview them while attending. With record attendance in 2023, some games sold out quickly. World Wonders and 3 Ring Circus, the most anticipated board game of the convention sold out in a matter of hours. Representatives for the company said they brought 2 pallets of the game, and they were gone by Thursday afternoon. Other big games like Expeditions and Cosmoctopus were depleted by early in day two.

Photo by Jason Dean

A popular trend at Gen Con 2023 was video games as board games. Frostpunk, Dorfromantik and Call of Duty were just some of the new games based on video games. We played a 1v1 prototype of the Call of Duty game, which is currently on Kickstarter. Hardcore fans of the video game might enjoy playing this with a friend, but gameplay is cumbersome and confusing. There is a reason the Kickstarter page says very little about how the game actually plays. The game feels like a complete money grab by the publisher, and is the type of game players will only try a few times before it heads to the local Goodwill.

Compare that with Dorfromantik, the 2023 Spiel des Jahres winner for best board game. The game offers a unique play method of unlocks, similar to the board game. It can be played solo or with friends, and the upgrades are easily marked so they can go back in the box depending on who you are playing with.

Personal picks

Wandering Towers. Photo by Jason Dean

There were a few games that caught my eye and that I enjoyed playing at Gen Con 2023.

The first was Wandering Towers, a game very loosely based on the Harry Potter wizarding world where you are trying to get all your students to class. Your students and the towers move around a circular track. If one of your characters is in a tower, another can be placed on top, effectively trapping your meeple until you can move that tower to get them out. Gameplay is simple and fun, but can be made more challenging by introducing spells. The first player to get all their students to class wins.

Cosmoctopus, a game from the creator of PARKS was another that caught my eye. You are trying to summon your god, The Great Inky One, a giant space octopus. Gain knowledge about your messiah and you can gain one of his tentacles. Collect all eight to win. It’s a rather silly premise, but the mechanics are solid and it’s a fun concept.

Finally, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar is an older game that was released in 2012, but was getting a big push from its publisher, Czech Games. Rightfully so, as the game is ranked 57 overall on BoardGameGeek, and is a fun and unique worker placement game based in the Mayan era. Gather corn to feed your workers and pay tribute to your gods. After each turn, spin the giant center wheel to advance your workers along their tracks. A smart and fun game.

Did you attend Gen Con? What was your favorite game? Leave a note in our comments.