10 things you should do at GenCon
The inspiration for this post came from Crazy 4 Comic Con’s recent post Top 10 ways to make the best Comic-Con. I’m not going to call mine the “Top 10”; chances are I’ll miss out a lot of things you should do. There are so many groups who attend GenCon it would be almost impossible to cater for them all.
Alright, let’s begin….
1. Remember the 3-2-1 Rule
I’ll start with something that seems logical, but one that some people still manage to forget. There are three important things to remember when attending a big convention like GenCon: Sleep, Food, and Hygiene. A number of people have suggested the following: “Each day of the convention you must get at least three hours of sleep, eat two proper meals, and have one shower/bath.” That’s easy enough to follow, right? You may be surprised. It’s easy to get talked into staying up all night and taking part in a mini-tournament, or ‘trying out’ the new roleplaying game you bought earlier that day, or just simply playing never-ending casual games of one card game or another. The problem is, you’re wasting the next day if you do so, or the day after. You can only maintain that energy high for so long before you crash. Hard. Make an effort to get at least three contiguous hours of sleep each night (or day, or when you can fit it in). If you know you need more, then sleep more. Don’t tire yourself out too soon, especially if you’re driving home on Monday.
As for food, we all know that it gives us the energy to make it through those epic gaming sessions and occasional all-nighters. What is easy to forget is that some food is better than others. Us gamers are not well-known for eating the best foods in terms of healthiness, and I’m not saying you should leave the Doritos and Mountain Dew at home, you just need to make sure you eat something else now and then. Downtown Indianapolis is full of good restaurants, both affordable and high-end, so there’s no excuse for living on nachos and Coke for four days. Make sure you take the time each day to eat two full meals. They don’t have to be multi-course extravaganzas, just something bigger than you could hold in your hand and eat while you walk. This is also a good chance to sit down with some friends and talk about how the con is going. Take the weight off your feet for a half hour or so and let your batteries recharge. Hey, if you’re lucky, you might even be able to get in a quick session of that new card game you just bought while you wait for your food to arrive.
Finally, washing. There is a well-known phenomena known as ‘con funk‘. The further into a convention you are, the more its participants begin to smell. This varies of con to con, but GenCon tends to be particularly bad. The con takes place in the height of summer, and even the strongest antiperspirants struggle against the heat. Unless you come from a desert region, have no sweat glands, or have somehow built a portable air conditioning unit that constantly keeps you cool, you’ll probably start sweating at some point. To offset this, you should shower or bathe at least once a day, preferably in the morning. It will help keep you fresh and be a good way to cool down after a long day. Showers are generally better than baths, but you can read your newly purchased game book in the latter (as long as you don’t fall asleep and drop it). Also, carrying a can of your preferred brand of deodorant for a quick top up during the course of the day.
2. Take a small backpack
It will be tempting to carry a lot of stuff with you during the convention, but unless you’re on your way to, or returning to your room after a game, you’re likely not going to need 90% of it. With a few exceptions, there’s no reason to carrying any books when you’re cruising the Dealer Hall, nor do you need more than a pen and paper (or other note-taking implements) when attending a seminar. A smaller bag also means you’ll have less trouble slipping through crowds, something that becomes vital when you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry.
Only carry the essentials, and try to keep your bag as small as possible, satchels and messenger bags are excellent options. Don’t worry about over-filling your bag with loot and purchases, either. Most dealers will supply their own bags, with some of the bigger companies even handing out bags big enough to hold board games. If you’re staying at a hotel that isn’t a short walk from the Convention Centre, lockers are available but they tend to fill up pretty fast. Your best bet is to plan your schedule in such a way that you don’t end up lugging around a heavy bag of books for half of the day.
One last thing, if your bag requires wheels to move then keep it out of the Dealer Hall unless you’re taking it to a booth or need it for medical reasons. It can sometimes be hard to spot these things when you’re in a hurry and the less falls caused by unnoticed mini-suitcases, the better.
3. Don’t say No
As previously mentioned, there is a lot on offer at GenCon. You can easily spend the entire convention playing one game or another, if you are clever with your schedule. At times it can feel a little overwhelming and it’s easy to turn down a game demo or free event simply because you’re burnt out. While burn out is a bad thing, so is missing out on a game demo run by the game designer themself. You should try to say Yes as often as possible. Someone offers a game demo? Yes. Given tickets to an event by a friend who can no longer make it? Yes. Challenged to a foam sword battle by a little kid? Yes (and play nice).
Many companies preview upcoming releases at GenCon, sometimes up to 6 months early, and this is your chance to try them out. Be the first in your gaming group to play the latest game from Fantasy Flight. Play the beta version of an upcoming game and end up with your name in the credits as a playtester. See the latest models for your favourite wargame long before your opponents do and gain a slight tactical advantage. All of this, and more, is possible at GenCon – but only if you say Yes.
There will be times, of course, where you have to say no. If you’ve paid to play in an event you should turn up for it. This is where planning comes into it. Most of your offers will occur while you’re in the Dealer Hall, so it’s best to either avoid that area, or make sure you’re near an exit, as the time for your event draws near. The last thing you want is to receive a once-in-a-lifetime offer as you’re running to a game.
4. Try something new
Now that you’re more open to offers it’s time to put this into practice. GenCon is a cornucopia games, covering every aspect of the hobby. Most people only focus on a couple of these areas, so this is your chance to see what the grass is like in the neighbouring paddock. The easiest way to do this is while you’re cruising the Dealer Hall. Pause at every booth that even slightly tickles your fancy and see if they’re running any demos. Chances are they are, though you may have to wait for one to finish first. Most demos are pretty quick (depending on the game, of course), so you’ll be able to get through a few each day.
The other way to try new things is by purchasing generic tickets. These allow you to take part in events without booking them in advance. Armed with generics you can turn up at an event and, as long as there is a free slot, you’ll be able to hand over enough tickets and take part. You can use the GenCon app for Android and Apple to see if an event has slots free, but don’t be too discouraged if one shows up as full. Some GMs are happy to run a session with more people than planned. It might get a little crowded around the table, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
5. Make new friends
GenCon is one of the biggest events on the gaming calendar and draws in gamers from all over the world. There aren’t many conventions where roleplayers from the United Kingdom can rub shoulders LARPers from Texas, card gamers from New Zealand, and wargamers from Japan. Chances are you’ll meet and play with dozens of new people during the course of the weekend. You won’t hit it off with all of them, but when you do make the most of it. Sites like Twitter and Facebook make it easy to stay in touch, even with people on the other side of the world.
The added benefit of staying in touch is that, the next time GenCon rolls around, you can plan to meet up in advance, sign up for the same events, maybe even share a hotel room so you can save on accommodation costs. It’s just like making friends in everyday life, except you’re casting your net much wider than is normally possible. Who knows, you might even meet someone from your neighbourhood you’ve not bumped into at home. Gaming is a very social activity, so the bigger your network, the better.
6. Attend a seminar or three
There’s more to GenCon than just gaming. Seminars are an excellent way to get off your feet for an hour, while not venturing too far from the Convention Centre. They vary from Q&A panels with people from the gaming industry, to topic discussions, to the ever popular Writer’s Symposium. On top of this, seminars start at 8am and continue through to the evening. The downside with most panels is that they aren’t repeated throughout the weekend, so if a panel is on at the same time as an event you’ve signed up for, you’ll have to make some tough choices. Unlike Comic-Con, only a few of the panels get recorded and end up on YouTube, so there’s even less chance of catching up with missed panels once you get home. If you want to listen to a selection of panels, you can find them on Genesis of Legend.
7. Don’t forget the Writers and Artists
GenCon isn’t only about dice, cards, and miniatures – it also features two less gaming-specific areas, the Authors’ Avenue and the Art Show. Both feature small booths occupied by creators showing off their work. Don’t expect any big names to appear in this area, but you might occasionally find someone whose work you’ve enjoyed for some time. As an added bonus, you can purchase books and artwork straight from the source.
Speaking of which…
8. Get something signed
Don’t forget to take advantage of being able to meet your favourite authors and game designers by bringing along a book or two and asking for an autograph. Sure, it’s not the same as getting your DVD signed by a movie or TV star, but in gaming terms it can still be impressive in the right circles. It’s also a good chance to talk directly to a games designer, if only briefly. The best time to do this is after playing in a session that the designer has run. Not all designers do this, of course, so you might also want to try dropping by their booth. GenCon is an excellent chance for designers to meet their fans in person, so most are more than happy to have a quick chat, maybe even answer a few questions. You just need to be patient, some of the more popular designers can get quite busy with fans wanting to chat.
Designers aren’t always available, of course. They often fill their days with business meetings, interviews, and the like, so it’s best to keep an eye on when they’re running games or holding seminars and try then.
9. Buy a Geekcessory
There’s more on sale at GenCon than just games, games, and more games. There is a sizeable contingent of companies selling accessories that are more geek-adjacent (or inspired). Tshirts aside, there are 101 flavours of steampunk (from goggles painted brass and silver, to full Victorian-esque corsets and gadgets), plush versions of characters from geek pop culture (mostly Cthulhu in various costumes), and jewellery (both cheap costume fare and expensive ‘proper’ stuff).
One of the better geekcessory sellers I’ve seen in years past was Gamers for Humanity. This charitable organisation supports in a number of projects that help the greater non-gaming community. In years past, they have raised donations at GenCon by selling earrings and necklaces with dice incorporated into them. They’re fairly basic, but in a good way, plus your money ends up going to those who need it. Sounds like a win-win to me.
10. See the rest of Indianapolis
There is a LOT more to Indianapolis than the Convention Centre and your hotel room. If you’ve got some free time, try to get out and see what the rest of the city has to offer. Your transport options may limit what you can see, but there is still plenty to see within a few minutes walk.
I would list some examples here, but I’m actually going to leave that for a future update, the third (and final) part of my GenCon Prep series. Look for that in the next week or so (all going well).