Gen Con 50 wrapped up a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to capture my thoughts on the *historic* event before they slip away…
Firstly, this event was HUGE. Allow me to provide some frame of reference: turnstile attendance was nearly 208,000 over 4 days. The convention spread out over the entire India Convention Center and the nearby Lucas Oil Stadium. So. Many. People. There was no where you could go for even a moment alone; even in bathroom stalls you could still feel surrounded. There were designated quiet rooms, but nowhere one could truly escape. Now, that being said, almost every single person I encountered was nice and polite. People were enjoying themselves and most were in good spirits. Throughout the convention people mentioned just how nice everyone was and I even ran into a native who said that she and her church set up outside of every event at the convention center and stadium, talking to people and disseminating literature, and that the Gen Con crowd was noticeably the nicest of all she had experienced by far. It was nice to be a part of this. In addition to friendly crowds all staff I interacted with (security, convention, food workers, custodians) were pleasant and helpful.
Next, I’m going to take a couple of steps back and talk about the process ahead of the event. I preregistered myself and my husband for badges (Gen Con’s term for tickets) as soon as pre-registration opened in late January. This secured our badges to Gen Con – it got us in the door. To get tickets for specific events we also had to register for those events and I’ll talk more about this later. Housing reservations opened in mid-February for attendees needing hotel stays. I did not pursue this at all and cannot speak to this separate, seemingly complicated process; we went with friends who had family in the area, and we stayed with them. On a side note – this was amazing. The family who put us up were incredibly kind and hospitable and the homey, restful nature of our lodgings was very special. This event was fun but very draining and to have a private, homey place to return to was indescribably valuable and exceedingly nice. Event registration opened in late May and was nerve-wracking. Ahead of registration opening badge-holders could create wish lists, prioritizing each item they wanted to get a ticket for. Then, when registration opened you could submit your wish list and basically just hope for the best. Of the some 25ish events my husband and I hoped to get tickets for we actually acquired about half. While this was really disappointing and frustrating for some attendees it was alright with my husband and me (although I was disappointed that I didn’t get into the Arkham Horror LCG Gen Con exclusive event). After the initial event registration we didn’t mess with our tickets much – we did drop a few events directly after registration as we worked out a schedule to accommodate the events we did get tickets for, and we dropped a few events after getting to Gen Con and reevaluating. We did not attempt, at any time after the initial registration, to get tickets. I know some people were able to pick up some events they had wanted but were unable to get immediately by monitoring the website for weeks after registration opened – I did not feel inclined to do this, even if it meant missing out.
In addition to getting tickets for specific events we also bought about a dozen (each) generic tickets which cost $2 each and could be used to get into any event with openings – you just “paid” by giving as many generics as it would take to reach the regular ticket price (if, for example the ticket for the event you wanted to go to was $4 then you would just “pay” two generic tickets). I’m glad we had these, in case we would have found some reason to use them, but we didn’t actually use a single one. Near the end of the event we exchanged them for a credit to our account that we can use on any future badge/ticket purchase, so it wasn’t a complete waste, but there was a fee to do this and I’m not sure we’ll actually use the (nontransferable) credit in the future. If we go to Gen Con again I’ll either buy only a few of these or none at all. There was also a parking pass you could buy with your tickets which guaranteed you a spot in Gate 10 Event Parking, about 2 blocks from the convention center. It included use of a shuttle as well, but my husband and I only rode it once. Again, having this was nice for the guarantee it offered, but I’m not sure I would buy it again. There were cheaper parking options closer to the venue that we could have used instead.
Alright! On to some info about the *actual* convention. Oh my goodness, this event was so cool. The first thing we did was a retrospective tour with Peter and Gary Adkison (Peter was the founder and first CEO of Wizards of the Coast). At this event we got a feel for the history of the convention, reaching all the way back to its conception in 1967, and we got to see the footprint of that first convention…it was so very small, especially in comparison to the size to which it has grown. Peter and his son Gary spoke about their firsthand experiences in the industry and with the convention. It was fun. It was a good way to get into the spirit and excitement of the event; Gary’s enthusiasm was contagious.
Games and memorabilia were on display as part of the retrospective and among the collection was a first edition of my favorite game, Settlers of Catan – it was neat to see!
Over the course of the next several days we explored the massive exhibitors hall, participated in both ticketed and walk-up demos and events, met creators and industry personnel, and reveled in a love of games, shared by hundreds of thousands of people. Positioned throughout the venue were entertainers performing every kind of art form, including singing, playing various musical instruments, dancing, cosplaying, drawing, performing skits…you name it. There were seminars, jumbo-sized games, and food trucks. There was so much I can’t even begin to describe it all, so I’m going to focus on some of things I really enjoyed and on my overall experience.
I loved getting to see old friends like Daniel Hadlock, President of TMG (one of my favorite people in the industry), Gil Hova, owner of Formal Ferret Games and the creator behind two truly outstanding games, The Networks and Wordsy, and friends from my FLGS (friendly local game store)). I got meet industry celebrities like Paul Dennen, the designer of Clank! and Clank in Space!, Emerson Matsuuchi, the designer of Century Spice Road and Century Golem Edition (which I bought at Gen Con), and Scott Gaeta, the founder and president of Renegade Games. Getting to meet these people and to be able to tell them how much I love their games is a treat. I was really happy to get to chat with Paul Dennen especially. He’s the creator of one of my favorite games, Clank! and he was very gracious with his time. He chatted with me about his games, took pictures with me, gave me and signed two packets of promos cards (one was for a friend who couldn’t make to Gen Con this year).
We also got to meet and play with one of the creators behind a new game called War Time, which will be out next month, and one of the creators of Blood and Plunder. They were passionate about their games and were fun to play with and learn from. We demoed new games like Photosynthesis, Potion Explosion: The Fifth Ingredient, and Star Wars Legion. I played Celestia and Oh, Captain! and went to AEG’s Big Game Night where I learned new games like Cat Lady, 60 Seconds to Save the World, and Mad Science Expo (at this ticketed event I also received a copy of each of the aforementioned games and a copy of Oath of the Brotherhood). My husband and I played in a Clank! “tournament” and won promo cards and a golden dragon to incorporate into our copy of the game – the word tournament was almost a misnomer, this was a single round event in which all participants received participation prizes. The golden dragon was raffled off and I was lucky enough to win it.
This year at Gen Con there was a free, family-friendly, event-wide button program where participants could go to designated areas to collect buttons, each one featuring unique artwork. There were about a dozen different designs and to collect each one you would have to go to each location. If you collected enough of them you could show your collection to customer service and would then receive a special button. I love pins and buttons and couldn’t resist participating. I really enjoyed doing this and not just because of the button-collecting; I saw so much more of the convention then I would have if I hadn’t been hunting for the buttons and I met some neat people in the process too. One of buttons was located at a local game store a block or two from the convention center and getting to stop in and chat with the staff there was fun. I am fortunate to work and play at a pretty amazing store back home and this store was lacking in comparison, but it was still enjoyable to see it and meet its staff. Below are pictures of some of the neat things I encountered all throughout the convention.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about the accessibility to food and water at Gen Con. Then I’m going to share a few more pictures and sign off. There were a few small eateries in the convention center and the service and food there was good. There was also a plaza across the street where food trucks lined up everyday and I must specifically mention one in particular – Island Noodles was fantastic. There was a really neat restaurant, St. Elmo Steakhouse, a block or two from the convention center that had a fun, speakeasy theme and good chocolate cake. Food was as expensive as expected and there was easy access to water (it was $3.50/bottle at concessions, but we brought refillable bottles and used the many water fountains to refill). I have been to conventions in the past where getting water is more difficult than it should be – I didn’t have that problem at Gen Con.
I’ll leave you with a few more pictures. More information and future con dates here: http://www.gencon.com/
Thanks for reading my review; I hope you enjoyed it! S