GenCon – The funnest ‘Con we’ve been to in years
When you think of board games you typically think of the traditional mass-market games like Monopoly, Sorry, and a slew of others that have been around since your creation. Like many people I grew up playing those games but moved on to some of the ‘fringe’ games like D&D and numerous titles from vendors like Avalon Hill and SSI. As I reached adulthood I branched out even further and started getting into tabletop games like Necromunda, Warhammer, and other miniatures based table-top games. Despite what I thought was a healthy knowledge and understanding of gaming culture, I was completely blown away by the extremes in which the participants and vendors at GenCon went to for their craft.
Board Games have seen a sort of re-birth lately even going so far as to having entire stores dedicated to them. In my opinion this is sort of a rebuttal to the influx of video games in the 90’s and 2000’s. People like me wanted to go back (or continue) to the time when games required more personable skills than a faceless video game. Walk in to one of these Game stores and you will be amazed at the shear number and variety of quality games available for every type of group dynamic.
I had heard of GenCon throughout the years but never had a good reason to go and check it out. Finally, in 2018, we found ourselves looking to branch out from our usual gamut of conventions and shows and see what else was out there. I had a friend that mentioned he had been taking his kids to GenCon the last few years and we decided maybe that would be a great one to try. And we were right!
The ticket prices were VERY reasonable, especially when compared to conventions like AlienCon. We purchased tickets online but turned down the offer of having them Fed-Ex’d to us prior to the show. Big Mistake!
Finding a hotel was fairly easy, despite waiting until about two months before the show to book it. Having never stayed in Indianapolis before, I had no idea what part of town was good or bad, how the traffic would be going to and from the show every day, or what the parking situation was going to be. We took a chance on a hotel in the area known as Avalon.
Upon arrival, the hotel room was not great. A flooded room above some time ago was half-assed repaired making our room tilt to one side. You felt like you were walking across the deck of a moving ship whenever you crossed the room. Of course getting another room was impossible since by that time it was all booked up. But, we figured we would only be in there at night to sleep so not a big deal.
First day of the show and boy are we excited. But wait, we have to get our tickets at the Registration Booths. This brings me to my first bit of advice when going to GenCon and that is spend the money to have the tickets sent to you beforehand. The line was RIDICULOUSLY long. It started a quarter mile OUTSIDE the convention center and stretched another quarter mile once inside. This is NOT an exaggeration, the line is LONG and it was particularly warm that day which added to the discomfort.
If you do not get your tickets through the mail, you can still get them at the Registration Booths without waiting in line! Information I could have used the day before finding this out. Since the convention is open 24-hours a day and the actual first day of the convention is Wednesday, get there about 6AM Thursday (the first FULL day of the event) when they haven’t started the whole ticket line thing yet. There are people at the Registration Booths getting ready and you can basically just walk right up and get your ticket with no line. If you wait until 8AM or later, be prepared to stand in line about 2-3 hours.
Once inside, we were completely blown away at the shear number of people attending the show. We’ve been to dozens of ‘Cons all over the place, including San Diego Comicon, but the crowd here seemed enormous. Yet despite the large number of people the venue was able to make the experience enjoyable without feeling crammed or uncomfortable.
Outside the main hall there is a food area which again, despite the huge crowd, required very little wait time to fill your order. Seating on the other hand was harder to find because about half the tables were taken up with people playing games. This in itself was helpful because you could watch or participate and learn more about the games before heading into the vendor area.
On Saturday and Sunday we got there around 7AM to get better parking and would walk straight to the food area for a small breakfast. Both mornings we ran into a man that was there all night sitting at a table with a box full of various games. As people walked by he would wave them over and ask to play. He wasn’t selling anything or promoting one game over another, he just wanted to share his games with other people as they passed through.
The man in the food area was just one example of how friendly the people are at GenCon. This made the show so enjoyable knowing that there were no Grognards present and everyone was there to just have a good time and play some friendly interactive games.
The convention room itself was immense. I thought I’d seen some large convention vendor areas but this was massive. Some areas were hard to get through and finding a spot at a table to learn about a game from the vendor was hard to do a lot of times. When we found a busy area we would just move a few rows over and find one that wasn’t busy at that time an learned about those games instead. Then, go back to the others when the crowd trends shift. We ended up with over a dozen games that we would run out and play after buying, then go back in and get another one.
Outside the vendor hall is a huge game playing area where they had some general tournaments and reserved tables for specific games and vendors. There were plenty of open tables to stretch out and play your own game as well.
The games themselves were so awesome to see. I was enthralled by the work and passion that a lot of people put in to creating their game. There were a few disappointing ones but for the most part quality ruled!
One of the best we bought: Truck Off! Food truck vendors fight for customers in the cut-throat world of mobile food vending.
One of the not-so-good ones we DIDN’T buy: Not naming names, but it consisted of separate decks of cards that contained types of people, places, things, and action verbs. One person is appointed the Studio President (like a GM in D&D) and listens to each player pitch a movie based on their card selections. The winner gets the money to make their movie. At the end of several rounds, the person with the most money awarded wins. It’s completely subjective and totally creative based rather than strategy based which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing.
Before we knew it the convention was over and we were heading home. The only thing we could think of was that we couldn’t wait to go back there next year! If it is your first time going, here are a couple of things I would recommend:
- Buy your tickets and spend the money to have them shipped to you in advance.
- Get a room early at one the downtown hotels, preferably the Hyatt. There is a shopping mall downtown that connects the Hyatt hotel and the Convention Center that also hosts 24-hour games around the food court area which we totally missed because we had to drive in and out of downtown every day.
- Get there early and enjoy a relaxing drink or food before the main gates open. You will meet some of the friendliest and nicest people there.
- Bring LOTS of money. There are so many games that you will want to buy you don’t want to run short of cash.
See you at next year’s GenCon!