Gen Con: Beginner's Guide
Good Day Internet!
Last week we took a look at some lessons from Protospiel Michigan. This week, we’re moving on to lessons we learned from attending our first Gen Con!
Overall, the experience was great and we had a lot of fun: we played some games (including our own), met great people along the way, did our best to explore the entirety of the convention areas, and stayed under budget somehow (probably because we only bought two games the entire weekend). From this amazing experience we came up with 10 takeaways that every new attendee should know before their first time at Gen Con:
1) Book Early
We booked our Gen Con hotel about a month after initial registration opened as our plans relied heavily on Allysha’s dance training in Buffalo the week before. We got a hotel about a 25 minute drive away with a free breakfast for me, which we thought was pretty good at the time. The drive down and back each day was clear, even on Thursday when we arrived during rush hour. However, as soon as we started walking around the Indiana Convention Center (ICC) we immediately regretted our decision.
Gen Con involves a lot of walking with a backpack for water, snacks, and games, which quickly becomes tiring. Having the ability to go back to the hotel to take a nap during the day, or to leave some of your items there is very valuable. It also gives you the freedom to individually decide when your day ends (instead of having to facilitate everyone’s bedtime needs), plus you get an extra hour of gaming activities in each day. Luckily, there are many hotels close to the ICC (many with skywalks that connect them directly to the ICC) that if you book early enough you can get into. They basically sell out immediately though, so make sure you’re waiting for the housing portal on gencon.com to open, or booking a room via another route ASAP. From what we saw, you’ll be paying close to $200/night (approximately $50 more/night than what we paid) plus about $25/night for parking at the hotel. Despite the extra cost, we’ll definitely be going that route next year (and I’m pretty frugal).
2) Parking is Quite Excellent
If you do stay further away like we did this year, driving to the Indiana Convention Center and finding parking isn’t as much of a nightmare as you may think. There are plenty of parking garages and lots near the ICC (as in multiple in every block) with varying rates. We paid between $12-$30 for parking each day, depending on the day, how long we stayed, and at which parking lot. We highly suggest researching the parking lots ahead of time at downtownindy.org.
To get a spectacular parking spot and avoid walking multiple blocks to get to the ICC, you’re going to have to get there pretty early (about 8am or earlier on Thursday and Friday). The furthest we walked was about 6 blocks on Thursday, and personally, I thought it was worth it as we got to see some awesome architecture on our walk to and from the ICC. Allysha, with a sore back, begged to differ. On Saturday and Sunday though you can definitely afford to sleep in (which we did) as we were able to get a parking spot in the mall parking lot a block away from the ICC at around noon both days.
3) Do a Recon on Wednesday
Gen Con is MASSIVE. The Indiana Convention Center is 2 floors and covers 1.3 million square feet. Gen Con takes up all two floors of the ICC, many of the meeting rooms and lobbies of the 8 connected hotels, plus part of Lucas Oil Stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play. It is easy to get lost and overwhelmed, which we did during our recon on the Wednesday night. Luckily, there are program maps, plus general layout and Gen Con specific maps littered throughout the convention center. Take as much time as needed to walk around the convention center, get yourself acquainted with the maps, and ask questions on the Wednesday night to prevent stress come Thursday morning (especially if you have an early event).
4) Don’t get Intimidated by the Will Call Line
When we arrived Wednesday night for our recon the Will Call line was approximately the entire length of the ICC, and then looped around some. We heard rumours of the line being 2 hours long and that they’d stop accepting people in line at 10pm so we decided we’d take our chances Thursday morning instead.
When we arrived Thursday morning the line was only slightly smaller. We asked how long it would take and were told about 45 minutes, which we almost couldn’t believe. Turns out, 40 minutes later we were at the front desk grabbing our event tickets. Next year, we’ll definitely get our event tickets on the Wednesday evening (even if we do have to wait a little longer) to get it out of the way and give ourselves some extra sleeping time.
5) The Exhibitor Hall is a Dreamland
We already mentioned that Gen Con is massive, and the Exhibitor Hall is one of the biggest spaces at Gen Con. There is so much going on and it was so hard to not spend all our money in the first half hour and instead simply walking by most booths to check them out. Allysha may be the one with ADHD, but we both felt like a kid in a candy store wanting to see, try, and buy everything.
In terms of what you’ll see there, you’ve got: tons of publishers demoing and selling games, a lot of “geek” accessory and clothing booths (gaming table manufacturers/sellers, dice rings and geek jewellery, t-shirts, onesies, etc.), plus an artist section for both artists and writers. For a lot of Gen Con attendees this is Gen Con, and you can definitely tell by the crowds you’ll run into there (explore in small bits if you’re claustrophobic or have anxiety). However, it is only a small portion of what makes up the totality of Gen Con halls and events. It was definitely a high point for us, but we’ll probably only spend one full day, maybe plus a half day there next year because there is so much to do and see elsewhere too.
If you are looking forward to a game that is releasing at Gen Con, or has a lot of buzz around it, we 100% recommend going in early on Thursday. Seafall by Plaid Hat Games sold out in a matter of hours! Our lovely friend Jonathan Lavallee also premiered his game J’accuse! at Gen Con and it sold out by Saturday (of course we got a copy), leaving many others empty-handed. If there’s a game you’re interested in get it early or it’ll be gone!
6) Seminars are Debatable
We originally signed up for a lot of seminars and events, waaaaay more than we probably ever would have been able to attend. After doing our own research before the event and finding this guide (which is very useful and covers different items than we are here), we decided to cut down our seminars and events for the weekend. After cutting down, Allysha ended up with 2 scheduled seminars on Thursday and I had 3 scheduled. At the end of the last seminar on Thursday, we decided to not attend anymore for the weekend.
For us, the seminars didn’t give us enough (or any) new information to justify them taking away an hour and half of our day (one hour for the seminar, plus 3o minute travel and waiting time). There was simply way better ways for us to spend our time and make connections with other gamers, which what we really wanted to do. That being said, if you see a seminar on a topic you know little or nothing about and what to learn, then you may want to check it out. As far as we know, they’re all free and you can’t beat that.
7) Avoid Spacing out Your Schedule too Much
It sounds very counterintuitive, but if you have multiple events at the same location you will suffer from splitting those events up. For us, we decided to split up our First Exposure Playtest Hall (FEPH) gamemaster slots to one each day, which ended up being a terrible choice (for us). We would have been much better off doing them all back to back and save the travel and setup time (about half an hour at least each time). In total, we could have saved at least 2 hours and not have been as worn out from walking around so much if we had done it all back to back. Of course, if we had a hotel that was connected to the ICC, this may not have been such a big deal as we also wouldn’t have had to carry around our prototype all day. Still it would have been nice to get all done and then get rid of that burden on our backs for the rest of the convention.
8) Hidden Open Gaming
There are a lot of open gaming areas at Gen Con; there’s the games library (which you need to pay for, but then can stay as long as you like from what we understand), others are small events that are usually ticketed, some are just open tables in lobbies where people decided to start playing (usually pretty loud), and somewhere there’s a designated open gaming area (for free) that we didn’t find until Sunday. Turns out it was located in the tunnel connecting the ICC to the small part of Gen Con that is in Lucas Oil Stadium. It was Sunday, but it seemed to be a very quiet area (a nice bonus) due to it being tucked away from the rest of the convention and not having any secondary entrances/exits. We were fine without it this year, but will be taking advantage of it next year. Open gaming times are 8am-2am Thursday-Saturday, and 8am-3pm on Sunday.
9) Explore the Food and Architecture of Indianapolis
Beyond parking lots and garages, downtown Indianapolis seems to be littered by great restaurants and amazing architecture. Although not a part of Gen Con, the nearby restaurants are often main highlights for frequent attendees as they get to get away from the mayhem of Gen Con, relax, and catch up with friends over good food and drinks. We had the great fortune of being invited by the first playtesters of Pulled into Darkness on Thursday at the FEPH, Aaron and Tara, out to lunch on Friday at Yard House. It was a fantastic time, and I only wish we had more time to try out all the draught beers they had on tap.
Additionally, there are many outstanding food trucks that take over part of Georgia street for the weekend to provide quick meals to attendees. Some actually even spill over onto South Capitol Avenue and are less busy despite still having great food and the farthest one being maybe 50m away from Georgia street.
10) Don’t go to Dick’s Last Resort
This is a public service announcement for attendees going with young children or for those who just don’t appreciate or can’t handle the humour and kinds of shenanigans that go on at Dick’s Last Resort.
Dick’s Last Resort is one of the closest sit down restaurants to the Indiana Convention Center that looks to be something like a rough around the edges jungle themed cafe. However, it’s the kind of place you would suspect those who think Cards Against Humanity is absolutely the funniest thing ever would not be able to get enough of.
Their motto is “service with sarcasm”, but it’s usually just crude. For example, part of the experience is a server coming by and placing/forcing a paper hat with some sort of “funny” insult on your head. The nature of the “joke” varies, but at least a few are something you would expect to see on a Cards Against Humanity card. It was also clear that they weren’t general remarks but were personally made to put on your head, so if you do have issues and insecurities with yourself watch for that. You can take your “hat” off but the waitstaff may or may not comment about how you are “being rude”. We actually watched someone who had young children walk in and immediately walked out after hearing the server getting the restaurant patrons to yell “You suck!” to a patron to wish them a happy birthday...good choice on her behalf.
So if you have young children or struggle with Anxiety, mental illness or other personal insecurities, we highly suggest not going there as it can be stressful and demeaning in your eyes. And if you love that kind of humour, knock yourself out.
It’s been over a week since Gen Con finished and it feels like we still haven’t caught our breath. Last night we were at Snakes & Lattes Designers Night playtesting an updated version of Pulled into Darkness and this weekend we’re helping to run Toronto’s first prototype convention: ProtoTO. Designer tickets are sold out, but there are still plenty of playtester tickets available for those who want to help design the games of tomorrow. Many of the participants are published designers, including Eric Lang, Chritopher Chung, Paul Tseng, Daryl Andrews, and Francois Valentyne, or are playtesting games soon to be published. We’re going to be exhausted by the end of it, but it should be a great weekend.
Next week, we’re going to get back into game design posts with “The Playtester is Right...Usually”.
Thanks for dropping by! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
8/17/2016 06:41:22 am
It was great to meet you at GenCon. I look forward to seeing you next year and watch your games develop ☺️
8/17/2016 12:23:27 pm
Great to meet you too Tara! We can't wait to get back to Gen Con and to see you there :)
1/8/2021 12:25:32 am
I enjoyed reading your post.
Leave a Reply.
Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.