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Gen-Con Prep: Part 1

27/06/2011
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One of the biggest dates on the non-computer gaming calendar, GenCon Indy, is a little over a month away. What started as a small convention with a clever name* is now an international sensation, drawing in people from all over the globe including myself.

This year will be my 7th trip to GenCon, and my 6th to GenCon Indy (my first was to the short-lived GenCon SoCal). It’s a little weird attending such a large event, mostly because we have very little that matches its scale here in New Zealand. Local clubs hold gaming conventions, but combined they come nowhere near the scale of ‘the best four days in gaming’. The only local event that comes close is Armageddon, but that’s more of a general pop culture expo, and hasn’t featured wargaming in years. The closest it comes to GenCon are card gaming events, featuring Magic the Gathering and YuGiOh.

Because GenCon is so different to these sorts of conventions it requires a lot more planning if you’re thinking about attending. Truth be told, if you’re only thinking now about attending this years event, you might end up somewhat disappointed – unless you know someone who lives locally and has a spare room or comfy couch. In this post I’m going to over the early stages of preparing for GenCon, some click the link below and we’ll travel back to the halcyon days of January…

GenCon preparation begins in January when tickets (called badges) go on sale. There’s no rush to order a ticket as soon as the system goes live, in fact it is easier to wait a day or so. There’s often a rush of people trying to get in as soon as possible, and it’s not unusual for the system to run a little slowly. You will need to register on the GenCon site before you can buy your badge, but that doesn’t take too long. The only gripe I have with the system is that they’ll only send you your badge if you live in the United States. Everyone else has to pick up their badge at the con. Badge pre-registration remains open until June, but I wouldn’t recommend leaving it that long for one reason: housing.

Housing is when you get to select a hotel to stay in while you’re in Indy. There are dozens of hotels Downtown. Some are fancy, most are fairly standard. Some are across the road from the Convention Centre, some are a short walk away, some are a short(ish) drive away. It’s fair to say that the closer you stay, the more you pay, but it is worth it if you can walk from your room to the convention without going outside. Before you think about where you’ll stay, however, you need to know when you’ll be there.

It’s time to organise how you’re getting to Indianapolis. If you’re close enough to drive, then you’re good (until you have to buy petrol for the trip), but if you’re flying then you’re in for a happy fun time. On the upside, you’ll be booking your flights well enough in advance that you might be able to get a decent price. On the downside, most airlines like to gouge customers for taking luggage (both carry on and checked), so you might need to employ a little trickery, but more on that in a later post.

Some airlines don’t fly every day of the week, so figure out when you can get into and out of Indy easily. Even though GenCon doesn’t officially start until the Thursday, some gamers like to kick things off a day early and hold unofficial events on the Wednesday. Some people also try to fly out on Sunday, thus avoiding one night’s worth of accommodation. That takes a little planning to get everything you need to done on the day and still make it to the airport on time, but it is an option.

Personally, I prefer to arrive on the Tuesday or Wednesday and fly out again on the Monday. It gives you one last night to recover before heading home (which can take up to 24 hours for me) and means you can check out your loot before stuffing it into a suitcase for the return trip. This also seems to coincide quite well with Air New Zealand’s flights, even if it does mean I have to fly through LAX.

It's like Mos Eisley, but with slightly less aliens and no decent Cantina.

Once you’ve booked your flights, you’re ready to arrange your accommodation.

The housing system usually goes live in March, and if you signed up to receive emails when you registered you’ll get plenty of warning. There’s a good reason for this: housing is one of the most mad cap GenCon-related events, until the doors open on Day 1 that is. Once the housing system goes live, all available rooms in all participating hotels become available at the same time. Imagine 20,000 piranha devouring a cow carcass, except the carcass is a huge pile of hotel rooms and the fish know that 42 is the Meaning of Life.

This is the time when the GenCon server is the most stressed, and even the slightest hiccup at their end or yours can mean you miss out on a room within a block of the con at a good price and have to end up getting a room four or five blocks away at almost twice the price. To make matters worse (for some), housing goes live at a time best suited for America. Sure, that makes sense in the grand scheme of things, but for some of us it means getting up at 0300 just to get a decent room.

If you miss out on the initial frenzy all is not lost. You can still go on a waiting list to get a room should someone have to pull out and cancel their booking. I’ve never had to go this route myself, but I hear it has worked for others. It is also common for two or more GenCon attendees to share a room, with some opting to sleep on the floor, if at all. You might be able to find someone willing to let you bunk with them, but that’s probably more of a long shot than going on the waiting list. The other option is to investigate accommodation options like airport hotels. The major problem with these is you’re going to need to get into the Con each day. Most hotels offer a Downtown shuttle service, but then you’re tied to their schedule, and they don’t often run through the night. You could always get a taxi, if you want to spend all your money on travel instead of gaming products.

Or you could stay in a cardboard box, as long as you find a way to shower.

Whatever you end up getting, make sure you know where it is in relation to the Convention Center and the other amenities in Downtown Indianapolis. It is possible to get a room near the con, but still a fair distance from most of the bars and restaurants, which can suck if you feel like being socially active after hours. Remember this one thing: you probably won’t spend a lot of time sleeping over the weekend. The room is more of a place to stash your stuff and have regular showers**.

That’s all for now. Next time I’ll talk about sorting out what you’re going to do at GenCon. If you’ve got any questions or tips of your own, feel free to leave a comment below.

* GenCon is short for Geneva Convention. Not because it’s run by the United Nations, but because it was initially held near Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. It’s a bit like coming up with an acronym that spells AMERICA for your gaming club’s name just so the club president can call themselves the President of AMERICA.

** I’m really not kidding about the showers. GenCon should have an advertising deal with Axe, or at least give our free samples at the door.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 27/06/2011 23:59

    I haven’t been to GenCon in five or six years now… but when I did go, I was always late to the party and all the hotel block rooms were booked up. I was lucky to find room both times at the Hilton on Maryland St. Pricey, but I was able to split the room and cut down on cost. Rooming is hands down the most expensive aspect of GenCon. I think the next time I go, I hope to gather up a group of friends and road-trip it. This way we can stay at a cheaper hotel away from Downtown and save money that way.

    Of course, this has its own set of downsides…

  2. 28/06/2011 03:09

    We did discover one year that you can sometimes get a room outside the normal block. GenCon housing doesn’t actually cover the whole hotel. There was one con we went to (I’m blanking on which one) where we booked late and actually paid less through Hotwire than we would have through the con discount.

  3. 28/06/2011 04:02

    I’ll be watching your posts with interest. As a gamer who has just recently come out of “retirement”, I haven’t been to Gen Con in about 20 years.

    I did manage to sneak up to Origins, this past weekend. However, it was more of an exploratory trip than anything. Perhaps next year I’ll be able to take in some events.

    So what are your games of choice? RPGs, Wargames, Cards? Certainly a long haul from NZ. I wish you the best. Good Gaming!

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  1. GenCon Prep: Part 2 « Geek-Life Balance

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