Gen Con, the United States' biggest tabletop gaming convention, is in its 49th year. While there are thousands of events, from wargames and role-playing games to board game tournaments, the epicenter of it all is the vendor floor.
This year in the cavernous Indianapolis Convention Center, hundreds of artists and craftsman were on hand to hang out their shingle. There were so many applications that Gen Con had to expand the vendor hall into the neighboring exhibit space, and even after that, the organization said there were still dozens and dozens more left on the waiting list.
Sure, the major landmarks were the sprawling booths for the big names like Fantasy Flight Games and Cool Mini or Not, but there was so much more to see than that. Every few steps was a tiny, independent company with something few had ever seen before.
I walked the hall for four days in search of the best gadgets and gear I could find. Here's what I found.
- Laser-cut wood terrain was all the rage this year. At least four different companies were on the vendor floor with different options. 4Ground had a few themed sets, including a western and a 1920’s inspired series.
- And check out this saloon/inn. Perfect for 28 mm skirmishes and, from the looks of things, fairly affordable. Better still, most of what they had on offer packs flat like an Ikea bookcase to save on shipping.
- I can’t say enough how much improved the tabletop experience is with metal coins. But they’re super expensive, with some going for upwards of a dollar a piece. Artana’s Best Damn Gaming Coins Ever series is out with a second edition, and there’s more than a dozen themed sets that won’t break your bank.
- I never thought I’d see so much innovation in dice, but here we are. Artisan Dice was back this year with their Jack Daniels whiskey cask dice (left), as well as a laser inscribed set made from animal horn (second from the right). There’s also a solid titanium set (fourth from the left) that is guaranteed to destroy your table. A good rolling tray is required, as is $344 plus shipping.
- For all your Warhammer 40,000 cosplay needs, may I recommend these beautiful Oaths of Moment from BAS Gaming. They also make and ship custom banners.
- Whether you’re a huge War Machine fan or a devotee of other expensive miniatures lines, you’ve no doubt heard of Battlefoam. They’re the gold standard for carrying your army around, and have everything from regular nylon cloth to waterproof, impact resistant hard plastic cases. For those who invest the time and energy to repaint Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, know that they’ve got custom molds for the all the latest waves ready to ship.
- The Broken Token made our list of great gaming gadgets last year, and they’re back with a new set of laser-cut organizers for miniatures-based board games. This Blood Rage set is particularly nice and even has room for the game board right on top.
- Tesla vs. Edison has a ton of bits, but The Broken Token makes it easy to open up the box and start playing quickly. If you have a favorite game that you love to share with new players, do yourself a favor and see if they’ve got an insert for you. I picked up one for Caverna and I’m very excited to get it all set up.
- Who knew there was this much going on in the world of dice? Chessex unveiled their new line at Gen Con, called Faux Metal Jacket dice. All the metallic flash at the table, without that nasty habit of pitting and chipping your nice play surface.
- We’ve written about Dog Might Games and their beautiful line of dice cases before. Based on that successful campaign, they’re coming out with a new line of miniatures cases. Look for it on Kickstarter soon.
- If you’re looking for a travel solution that’s just a little more dynamic, try the Spellbook Game Box from Elderwood Academy. Available in a number of leather finishes, the guts can be customized for Dungeons & Dragons and card games like Magic: The Gathering. There’s even room for your coins inside. Oh, and that metal piece on the inside of the front cover? That’s a dry erase board.
- Fantasy Arc got on my radar a few years ago with their line of Bug Hunt Corridors, which are perfect for the gridless version of Space Hulk I’m never going to have time to make. Look at the detail on this 28 mm-scale corridor! This year at Gen Con they had a whole bunch of new rooms to share including ...
- ... an armory. See all the little plasma rifles lined up there inside the locked security cage?
- There’s also a breached airlock. The little post there in the center is for the door that opens when you pull it up.
- Fantasy Arc also had this futuristic armored train set. The tops come off revealing little features inside. Can someone please do a Firefly-based Train Job skirmish diorama in miniature for me? Thanks.
- Speaking of Firefly, let me introduce you to Vera. She’s the four-foot-by-six-foot deluxe vinyl playmat for Firefly: The Game and all of its various expansions. It’s a must have for any fan of the series, but it might just be a bit too big for my kitchen table.
- Carrying board games around can be a challenge. I know, because I just flew home economy with TIME Stories in my luggage. But even if you’re just going across town, Gamefolio might be a good solution for you. While The Broken Token lets you use the original box, Gamefolio asks that you put it aside for a time. The advantage to their system though is that they offer a duffle bag that will hold a half-dozen Gamefolio bags at a time.
- You might have thought that we were done with new and unusual dice, but Role 4 Initiative has an interesting approach. First off, their new line of dice is bigger in every way. Bigger overall, they also have bigger, brighter numbers. That d4 there? Rounded corners in case you step on it at some point. And they’re sold in oversized sets: 3d4 (for magic missile), 4d6 (for fireballs and character generation), 2d8 (for healing and two-weapon fighting), 3d20 (for multiple attacks per round), 1d10, a percentile die and a d12. Packs of 15 dice are available for $6.99, but the new and improved dice will cost a bit more when they’re available online.
- The furniture from Geek Chic is gorgeous, but do you really need an "heirloom quality table" for your house? If you don’t want to spend thousands for things like hand-made dovetail joints, Studio 6D6 is making good-enough gaming tables on the cheap.
- Finally, Wyrmwood Gaming had a prototype of its Game Master Screen System, coming soon to Kickstarter. It all clicks together with magnets, and features clear plastic slots for inserting sheets of regular printer paper. That will let game masters put useful information for players on the outside, and the means of their destruction on the inside. There’s even a clever panel that spins around, so you can dramatically reveal the next location map or the portrait of a monster. The whole system seems very well built, and designed for drama. The dice tower pictured here even allows for rolls both in front of and behind the screen.