GenCon Prep: Part 2
It’s less than 150 days till the doors open at GenCon 2012, so the time is right to release the follow-up to last year’s post. All going well, you will have purchased your badge and booked a room (or at least be on the waiting list for one), so now you need to figure out what to do during one of the biggest weekends on the gaming calendar.
If you are able to get your hands on a copy of an old GenCon guide (the ones handed out over the weekend) you can take a look at the variety of events on offer. Be warned, though, there will be a lot to take in. For example, GenCon 2010’s guide weighs in at a hefty 314 pages, with everything beyond page 135 devoted to listing events. Fortunately, they’re ordered by date and time and each comes with an easily identifiable icon. With only a glance you can tell the card games from the roleplaying games.
It is easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer number of events on offer, but once you start filtering out those you are not interested in, it becomes a lot more manageable. It also pays to make note of the time. Some official events (and plenty of unofficial ones) are held through the night. These are more often tournaments and other pre-organised events than pick-up-and-play sessions, so you can probably safely ignore them.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that the guide isn’t available until the day before GenCon begins. By the time they get it printed, a good third to half of the events listed within are already sold out. That doesn’t mean you can’t still turn up, however. Some GM’s don’t mind having an extra player to two in their game, while there is always the chance that a pre-registered player doesn’t turn up on the day. I’ve run sold-out games in the past where only one player has actually turned up.
But now I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Event registration occurs a few months before GenCon, this year taking place on May 20th. Much like when housing goes live, it’s a madcap time where many people rush to sign up for their favourite events. This is often a fairly manic time, but if you plan properly, it will go smoothly. A few weeks before registration opens, GenCon posts a full list of events on their site. There are two ways to view this information: you can use the online tool to search for events, or you can download a .CSV file and view them all in your spreadsheet programme of choice. Be aware that it will be a very long list, and won’t necessarily be as easy to read as the printed guide. Personally, I prefer to get in early and use the website.
Now comes the fun part. Search through the event listings for anything and everything you think you might be interested in. Remember to filter out the times you would much rather be sleeping or eating (not every GM is happy with their players bringing a packed lunch), as well as any other activities that will get in the way. Once you’ve got your list of events, try plugging them all into a scheduling programme (like the one in Outlook), making special note of the running time for each event. You should notice pretty quickly that there are double-ups and overlaps in your schedule, and that’s ok. Even people with only one or two gaming interests will find a timetable clash some time during the weekend.
With all your events picked, you will now need to make some decisions. For each of your clashes, you’ll need to pick which of the events you most want to attend. Don’t worry too much about the distance between events, running between rooms is an accepted part of the weekend, and I’ve not once encountered at GenCon GM who started their game exactly on time. Don’t completely discard the rejected events, either. Keep them on a separate list. These will be your backups should your first picks sell out.
When the registration system goes live, simply enter the event codes and you’re done. You may find that some events have already sold out, so have the codes for your backup events ready as well. You pay for events in advance and they will be sent to you along with your badge (or when you pick the badge up at the event). Nice and simple. You can also register for events and purchase generic tickets over the weekend, the latter of which will allow you to join a game with open slots (or an accommodating GM).
Remember, not all events sell out. Some of the events are open-ended, able to make room for any number of attendees. Usually, these tend to be seminars and Q&A sessions, which you can easily pop into or out of halfway through without too much trouble. These sorts of events can be great if you want to take a break from walking the Dealer Hall or if you want a little intellectual stimulation while you eat lunch. Also, they’re normally free. One of a gamer’s favourite words.
Speaking of the Dealer Hall, unless you’re planning on spending the entirety of GenCon in a room pushing miniatures around a table or tapping/bowing/kneeling cards, this is a must see. Unlike the events, no booking is required for the hall. It’s open to exploration all weekend (during the day only). There’s one thing you need to remember about the Dealer Hall: it is huge. It will take many hours to visit each of the booths, and more if you stop for a quick demo. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the map for last year’s GenCon:
Yeah. It’s big.
I strongly recommend not visiting every booth in the Dealer Hall. It can be tempting, especially if your tastes are broad, but unless you’ve got a day or two free it’s pretty hard to do. Take a look at the list of attending companies and, like the events, figure out which you would like to see the most. Once you get your guide-book you can mark each company’s booth location in there, making a sort of geek treasure map that will guide you to the best treasure.
There are a few things to remember when putting together your list of booths to visit, certain booths are busy at different times during the weekend. Big companies like Privateer Press and Fantasy Flight Games are always busy when the doors open on Thursday. These companies often have pre-release product that isn’t available to the public, and people are happy to queue for an hour or more to get it. Warmachine and Hordes players want to get the latest models for use in the weekend’s tournaments, while board game fans want to get the latest offering from FFG before it sells out (Blood Bowl Team Manager sold out within four hours of the doors opening last year). Unless you are very dedicated, I’d recommend avoiding these booths until around lunchtime. Go and take a look at some of the smaller companies instead and get in a demo or two for the people running them lose their voices.
But how are you going to know what your favourite companies will have on offer I hear you ask? Simple. The internet. Now is the time to start perusing the official sites for your favourite games. The deadline for registering events (not registering for events) has closed, so companies will have an idea of what they’re running and may start talking about it. They may even be looking for volunteers to run events. What they probably won’t be talking about are the surprises. Companies like to announce new products at GenCon, especially to a large audience. It’s much more satisfying to do this in person than it ever will be to online. Keep an eye out for teasers and hints. If you suspect something is going to be announced, stop in at the booth on the first day and ask if there is a particular time and day that you should come back, you know, just in case something were to, perhaps, happen.
One final piece of advice for the Dealer Hall. Plan more than one visit. I spent a fair bit of time in the hall last year and there were still booths I either missed or only saw once. It’s easy to get turn around and think you’ve gone down an aisle that you haven’t, but if you keep your wits about you (and your hall map handy), you should be able to see everything you want to. Try not to buy any food while you’re in there, either. They charge ‘convention prices’, when you could get the same thing in the mall food court for half the price. Also, don’t eat messy food too close to the booths. The last thing you want is for someone to bump you, knocking your nacho cheese all over an exhibitor’s pride and joy. There are tables where you can sit and eat, so buy a book, find a table, and eat there while you check our your new loot.
Oh, and keep your eyes open when you’re there. You never know what or who you’re going to see…