Published: 14 August 2016
Walking into the largest gaming convention in the world, oddly enough, feels kind of like coming home again. Seeing the sea of faces, the woven tapestry of geekdom spread out across the multi-colored convention hall floor has become familiar at this point. Cosplay of all types, from comic heroes, anime characters, video game worlds, to original steampunk mix with booth upon booth of tabletop, card, and miniature games interspersed with vendors of all types. It's become, quite literally, a gathering of all things geek, and I love it.
The first day always seems to be the best. You're not tired or sore yet, your feet don't hurt, there's so much to see and do, and you're overwhelmed with the scope of what you're about to dive into. Like all good adventurers we jump right in, and promptly get lost in the maze of awesome. My first day was no different, even with this being my 5th year. I was excited to see all the new games, cosplay, demos, but most especially I was thrilled to meet a legend in the industry. One of the grandfathers of RPGs, if I may be so bold, Ken St. Andre. Ken is the mastermind behind the only competitor Dungeons & Dragons had for awhile, Tunnels & Trolls. Ken was a blast to talk to, still full of passion for a game he designed and released 40 years ago. You could still hear the friendly rivalry that existed between the two as he told me about wanting a game that was a true RPG rather than a tabletop tactical miniature game, which D&D was in its inception.
Spread around the convention floor, and outside in the halls and courts you'll find musicians, performers, LARPers and dancers, some in cosplay and others in elaborate costumes and regalia. Charity is also a huge deal at GenCon, with a blood drive, kid's charities and local groups. Parents and spouses will also find some great stuff, with a huge children's area supervised by licensed daycare professionals, and spousal events that involve all manner of crafts as well as an open craft room that's free to enter when you need a break from the crowd or just need somewhere quiet to sit and draw.
I managed to get in about 25% of the show floor on the Friday, but I feel like I saw even less. Many familiar booths still grace the aisles like the fantastic artist, and very cool storyteller, Larry Elmore. To my surprise his booth also sported copies of a new game in development based on SnarfQuest Tales, which was a comic that once lived on the pages of Dragon Magazine and now resides in the back of the ever-funny Knights of the Dinner Table Kenzer Co. The game is a classic point-and-click adventure that the developer describes as similar in nature to games like King's Quest. It caught my eye right away due to the box art being heavily inspired by the D&D Basic red box. You can get the game in early-access on Steam, and the set at the con came with the box that Larry will signed as well as a cloth map and 11 miniatures all for $50.
The most difficult part was not impulse buying. With a limited budget, and still so much of the show to see it was hard not to buy some of the first things that caught my eye. I've managed to only pick up a few small items, but plan to finish the hall and go back for the things I still remember as pieces I have to have. The game mentioned above is high on the list, and I may also pick up a copy of the Deluxe Edition Tunnels & Trolls, just to see if it's something a future group might enjoy. If you're a collector you'll quickly become overwhelmed with all the stuff you can buy. Swords, games, dice, miniatures, molded buildings and dungeon tiles, and costumes are all display across the dozens of aisles and hundreds of booths.
I did manage to finally pick up a copy of the director's cut of The Gamers, a movie that any hardcore gamer should see, if you haven't already. I got to meet a couple of the cast members of the cult classic, and even see some scenes from their recently funded Kickstarter movie. I also got to try this year's GenCon brew from Sun King Brewing called Twenty-Sided Rye. It wasn't bad, and surprisingly inexpensive for a special run, themed beer at a convention. At $5 for a 16 oz can it was a needed refreshment in the middle of a whirlwind of a day. A little hoppier than I normally drink, but not as bad as an IPA, it went well with the gyro I had at one of the food trucks on Georgia St. outside the hall. If you plan on going to the con, or you go but have never done the trucks I highly recommend it. Cheaper than the food inside the center, and usually much better.
The disappointing "Writing in the 21st Century" symposium was made up for by the nerd circus we attended, put on by Acrobatica Infiniti. Circus performers cosplaying as Pikachu, Elastigirl, and the Tardis put on a show full of dance, juggling, balancing, contortion and hoola hoop dance. We exited the convention center and left the haze of con-funk behind to make our way to a small hotel down the road. It's the second year we've stayed at a remote hotel rather than downtown, and we're still not sure if the cheaper room is worth it.
Saturday was the longest day we've ever spent at GenCon, and certainly tested my will to ever stay at a remote hotel again. I'm sure after a year goes by and we look at prices again we'll go for the cheaper option, but damn it would have been nice not to have to drive even the fifteen minutes or so to our roached Super 8 (on Bixler, don't stay at the one on Bixler). There's something to be said for being able to catch one of the skywalks from the convention center and hop an elevator right to your room and a hot shower.
Saturday started out with me lugging my laptop into the convention center to finish up my thoughts on day one. The wifi in the hotel was spotty and couldn't stay up for more than a couple minutes at a stretch. Thankfully GenCon provides a nice press room, out of the traffic and noise of the con, where I could sit and wrap that up before my first interview. Talking to the EIC of Paizo Inc., F. Wesley Schneider, was a treat. A very nice, approachable guy to start, which always makes the interview process so much easier, but also with a real passion for the work he does. He shared some great thoughts on the new Spacefinder setting they're working on as well as a tie-in with a new Vampire Hunter D comic that's coming out.
The day was a lot of walking, as I had classes in a hotel on the opposite side of the block from the main convention hall, so I saw a lot of the middle hallway between the Westin and the big hall. Thankfully the classes were much more informative than the one I'd taken on Friday, and should prove much more useful when it comes to writing my book.
The place was packed, and while unique attendance stayed the same, at just over 60K, total turnstile attendance for the weekend was over 201K people going through the hall doors at opening. One of the charities supported, the PourHouse, will receive $35K with this year's event. Navigating the crowd can be tough, especially for anyone who doesn't like confined spaces, or a lot of people. Take lots of breaks. Drink lots of water. Make sure to take care of yourself while you try to see everything. I did that more this year than in the past, which is probably why I feel like I missed a few things, but it's also why I didn't come home an absolute wreck like past years. They even had a room that was designated as a quiet space you could go in and lie down, get a nap, or just get out of the noise for awhile.
Walking the convention floor on Saturday was a trial in patience. People really do need to learn to move, and not stop in the middle of aisles without getting out of the way. The convention tried its best with one of the worst types of traffic issues, cosplayers that get stopped right in the middle of the traffic flow for pictures. Designated photo areas were set up, and were supposed to be used, but it wasn't always followed. It seemed like enough people followed it, especially in the hall itself, that we didn't have as many roadblock issues while people posed for pictures.
I did get to meet Andrew Looney, of Looney Labs and creator of Fluxx fame. He was fun to talk to, and clearly loves games. They've got a new board game coming out called Pyramid Arcade, that's jam packed with tons of classic games all of us have played, but simplified into a compact system of plain boards and game pieces. I considered getting a copy there, and didn't, which I'll probably regret but I'll be picking it up sometime soon I'm sure. I haven't played anything from them that I haven't liked. This is also when I picked up the dwarven drinking card game Iron & Ale, and right across the aisle won a copy of Imploding Kittens, the expansion to Exploding Kittens. I'm looking forward to playing both with my friends, and seeing who gets to wear the cone of shame...yup, Imploding Kittens came with a cone of shame.
I had a couple of afternoon writing classes, and my wife went with the two teenagers that tagged along, to the Tavern on South for dinner. I was to meet them there after my last class. For those of you who don't know, Tavern on South gets turned into the Munchkin Tavern almost every year, with Munchkin themed menus, place mats you can color, and all sorts of goodies. They even have a Munchkin gift shop on the top floor where, if you're lucky, you can spot some of the creative team from Steve Jackson Games having dinner. We did, and we didn't bother them, but it did sort of heighten the atmosphere of the place. Making my way to the Tavern was like a quest, finishing my long adventure for the day to meet the rest of the party at our favorite watering hole, my princess included. Say what you will, the fact she was wearing a tiara she had made in a class earlier in the day inspired the comparison. Sitting down, footsore and tired, to a frosty brew and a hot meal surrounded by the rest of our party and fellow revelers was so much like the end to an epic quest that the metaphor couldn't be ignored. It was fitting, and humorous, and we had a good laugh about it on the way back to the convention center to wrap up our day with the nerdlesque show by D20 Burlesque.
I've been to one other burlesque show in my life, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect but I had an idea. What we got was so far above those expectations though. The ladies, and two gentlemen, of D20 Burlesque put on an amazing show. Geek-themed music and costumes brought everything we love about our nerddom to colorful, and a little naughty, life. Everything from Kill Bill and Daredevil, to H.P. Lovecraft and Mousetrap (yes, the game Mousetrap) were worked into routines that were entertaining, clever, and definitely adult. The Mousetrap routine will be, by far, the most memorable as the raunchy Iris Explosion put the game together with parts hidden all throughout her costume. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the time the show ended, at 11 P.M., but even that late there were still gamers in the halls, people throwing dice, and tossing cards despite the show floor having been closed for hours.
Sunday was a short day, hitting up a few final stops, picking up last minute items, and a panel that tested my nerve, but it was still a blast. First up was my reading, where I got the opportunity to read part of my own work for the ears of four professional authors and hear their critique. I shook, stammered, and forgot my own name, but I got through it. In the end they gave some great feedback, and I walked back to the hall with one of them to get some advice on one of my critical faults regarding point of view. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but was well worth it.
Unfortunately my reading went beyond the time I expected, and I double-booked myself, causing me to miss my interview appointment with Steve Jackson Games. I intend to send them a personal apology letter for missing it, I feel awful, but at the end of the day writing fiction is the dream I hope to make reality and I needed the advice and insight those four pros had to offer.
It was a day to pick up the things I still remember I wanted. This is something I recommend for anyone going to cons, especially one this size. The place is huge, with over 500 exhibitors most of whom are selling something. It would be too easy to spend all of your money in the first few booths, only to find something halfway across the floor that you want more. What I tend to do is walk the entire floor, or most of the floor, and if there's something I like I'll take a card or write down the booth number. If I can remember at the end of the day, or the next day in this case, what it is I wanted then I must have wanted it enough and I'll go back and get it.
We ended day three early. The boys had a couple of last minute things they wanted to see, and a book to get signed, so we had a last lunch from the trucks outside, and parked our butts at a corner table out of the way of everyone else, just watching and waiting. Sunday is almost a different atmosphere from the previous days. Besides everyone being tired, it's family fun day at the con, where families can get in really cheap. Usually it's attended by locals who want to take their kids, but don't want to pay the higher price and fight the larger crowds. Seeing the kid's faces when they walk in the first time is pretty epic. I can't imagine what it must be like to be that young and excited about everything, only to then be taken to something where there's just so much to be excited about. A lot of them had costumes on, and they were loving every minute of it.
We, on the other hand, were ready to get out of there. I love GenCon, and hate to leave it every year, but like pushing back a plate of cheesecake because you just can't eat anymore, we had to go. After all this long rambling I hope you found just a little of the excitement and love I have for this con. If you can make your way to Indy, I highly recommend it. It's one of the cheapest cons you can go to that's anywhere near this size. Lodging can be found relatively cheaply if you don't stay downtown, and food is reasonable for what it is. It's something we look forward to every year, almost the moment we leave...well maybe the week after we get back. If you love games of the tabletop, miniature, card, or RPG variety this con has so much for you. Also, geek interests in general, art lovers, readers of fantasy and sci fi, and writers will all find something for them. It is, as GenCon puts it, "The best 4 days in gaming".