GenCon Report: Days 3 & 4
The weekend half of GenCon sees a significant surge in the number of attendees. People get off work and summer school and increase the attendee numbers considerably. Bearing this in mind, I changed my strategy a little.
On Saturday I had similar schedule to Friday with a midday game session. Not wanting to get stuck in Steak ‘n Shake for an hour, I opted to dine out with a simple burger and shake. The plan worked and I was in and out in under 15 minutes. I consumed breakfast (inhaled, really) en route to the Dealer Hall and it was a good thing it was, too. Attendee numbers jump on a Saturday, but this year they had jumped by more than I remember from past years. The Dealer Hall was packed with people and some of the bigger booths, like Fantasy Flight Games, had reinstated their mega lines.
I decided to not participate in any booth demos, let alone try to purchase anything. I’d been a few minutes late to my midday session the previous day, and didn’t want to repeat this. As it turned out, I was still a minute or so late, but that was more due to crowds and ‘shamblers’ than anything else. I know that not everyone walks as fast as I would like, but c’mon folks. If you’re going to stop and look at a booth, at least step closer to the booth so anyone following you is able to pass by without walking into your backpack. Also, if someone says “excuse me,” don’t reply with “meh” or some other equally non-committal statement. Don’t be that guy.
Moving on. Saturday’s midday session, titled Tubular Earth Expedition: Psionic Boogaloo, was a Hollow Earth Expedition adventure set in the 1980’s. Passengers on a cruise ship sailing through the Caribbean are attacked by “commies” and wind up in the hollow earth. It turns out the adventure was a continuation, of sorts, of an adventure that ran the year before. The two other players had played the year before, so I ended up playing the character missing from the last game – a long-haired, bronze-skinned, surfer dude. Once again, completely typecast. I didn’t have a surfboard, but the group had recovered an Atlantean hover chariot in the previous adventure that let me surf everywhere. Totally radical, dude!
I won’t go into too much detail about the adventure, but I will mention that it included a sentient crystal voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait, a young NPC who frequently broke the fourth wall (“I can do it. It says so on my character sheet.”), and a PC who was essentially Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. I spent the adventure using as many 80’s surfer terms as I could remember, while also referencing movies and music from the era. It’s fair to say that we didn’t take things too seriously with this adventure, and that was okay. We spent a lot of time laughing and eating Cheez-its and Pineapple Lumps. It was like a bong session… dude.
The session went fairly well, though Eddie Murphy got gunned down by a commie in an ancient Atlantean walker. Somehow, my surfer managed to avenge him by killing both the commie who killed him and most of the squad we encountered soon afterwards. Not exactly a realistic portrayal of Californian surfer culture, but then we were in the Hollow Earth… with a talking crystal… fighting commies using ancient Atlantean devices. Not all games are based in reality (let alone anywhere near it).
Following the game I stopped in at the board gaming hall to check out the demo table for Blackwater Gulch, the old west skirmish game I had backed on Kickstarter. It was the creator’s first GenCon, but the board he had set up was amazing, covered in period buildings and terrain from third-party companies. He had the Outlaw and Native gangs on display and they were most impressive. We chatted for a short while about the game, how the sculpting for the rest of the models was coming along, and finally what the future held. I asked for the Lawman gang for my Kickstarter reward and he confirmed that they should release in the next month or two, all going well.
From there I headed back to the Dealer Hall to catch up with people and find out what was happening that evening. Traditionally, Saturday night had been White Wolf Party night, but that all changed last year when they decided that too many non-fans were attending their parties and held something more exclusive. I freely admit that I was one of those non-fans. Even though I have played White Wolf games in the past they never really clicked for me, either not going on for long enough, or because I came in part way through an existing campaign and had trouble catching up.
Left with nothing to do we decided, at the last-minute, to find somewhere to have dinner. It wasn’t until we got outside that we remembered that GenCon didn’t have downtown Indy all to itself. MotoGP was in town, bringing with it more motorcyclists than I have ever seen in one place before. They had taken over the entirety of the street behind my hotel, the same street that a number of restaurants are either on or very near. We walked around downtown for nearly an hour before we realised that we weren’t going to get a table anywhere with any speed and opted for Jimmy Johns instead. They’re like Subway, but with slightly less customisable menu options. That said, the food was still pretty good.
Once we had done eating it was time for a little gaming. We retired to a friend’s suite and busted out a game he had purchased that day: Evil Baby Orphanage from Wyrd Miniatures. In short: The point of the game is to ‘adopt’ evil people while they are still infants and try to prehabilitate them. The game comes with a wide selection of babies, some of whom have special abilities that make the game surprisingly tactical and a whole heap of fun. One of the most amusing parts is deciding who goes first. Each player starts the game with a single baby and the player who most looks like their baby goes first. As it happened, my first baby was Fidel Castro – possibly the only baby to already have facial hair. Thanks to that, I went first and things only got weirder from there. In the end, I practically handed victory to another player without realising it, but still had a great time. This is another game designed to not be taken too seriously.
The next morning I decided to break with tradition and not have breakfast at Steak ‘n Shake and instead headed straight to the Dealer Hall for the 10am opening. The final day of GenCon is slightly shorter, with the Hall closing at 4pm so the stores have time to pack up and get stuff moved out without having to stay too late. I also decided that today would be the day I got around and pick up all the items I had seen during the weekend and still wanted to get. My first stop was the Wyrd booth to get one of the last remaining copies of Evil Baby Orphanage, followed by and hour or so of walking back and forth trying to find the booths selling the ARC card game and the Banditos board game. In the end I managed to track them down and was pleased to find that they were selling ARC decks at 40% off if you bought the lot. That was enough to convince me to get the game, and Banditios simply looked too much fun to pass up.
I also picked up a few impulse purchases, including the new Doctor Who Card Game from Cubicle 7, a box of Shrew Hussars from On the Lamb Games (shrews riding giant kiwis), and some male and female zombies from Wargames Factory (which should come in handy for games like Last Night on Earth). I also picked up hard copies of Adventure Companion by Crafty Games and League of Adventure by Triple Ace Games so I don’t have to constantly refer to my PDF copies. PDF is convenient, but it’s easier to read an actual book when your phone’s battery is dead.
At this point I bumped into some of the Crafty Games guys who insisted we all check out the lunch trucks and get something to eat. I remembered that I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before and quickly agreed. Oddly, there were only five trucks lined up on Georgia Street. I asked one of the vendors and they said that they weren’t all sure if GenCon was continuing on Sunday or not, and the ones that had taken the risk and turn up, didn’t bring enough food with them to compensate for the increased demand from hungry gamers. A couple of the trucks had run out of food by the time we got out there, and the remainder had long lines.
We ended up settling on one of the cajun trucks, named SotSot (Some of This, Some of That). The queue was long and there was a considerable delay between ordering food and it being prepared, but it was well worth the wait when I finally got to tuck into my shrimp po’boy. The thing was huge and much better value than any of the food that could be pursed inside the Convention Centre. It reminded me that we have just had a cajun restaurant open up in Auckland and that I should really go and check them out once I get back there. I don’t know if they sell po’boys, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Following our feast we returned to the Dealer Hall for the last hour or so of the con. It’s actually kind of fun to be inside the hall as they count down the minutes. The atmosphere is a mix of excitement and relief, with a touch of sadness. Gen Con is a bit like a geek version of Thanksgiving. It’s a time to bring the extended ‘family’ together, eat a lot of food, do things we wouldn’t normally do, and yes, occasionally get in a fights over often trivial matters. Once it’s done we all go our separate ways until next year.
As the announcement comes over the tannoy that the Dealer Hall has closed and thanks everyone for attending, a great cheer goes up throughout the hall. I’m not saying that they should print t-shirts for vendors that read “I survived Gen Con [YEAR],” but I’m certain there are more than a few who would want one. It can be a hard slog, but one that is ultimately worthwhile. Friendships are made, business deals are struck, ideas coalesce into products, and people discover new things every day. It’s not called The Best Four Days in Gaming for nothing.
And with that, GenCon is done for another year. We return to our ‘normal’ lives, or ‘normal’ jobs, and our ‘normal’ families, all the while thinking, in the backs of our minds, what we want to do next year, or the year after, or when we plan to attend GenCon again.