This is the second GenCon I’ve ever been to, and the tenth convention I’ve ever been to. It’s funny, before last year I had never been to a convention before and now I have been to ten. Even more appropriate is that GenCon 2012 was the first convention I had ever gone to. I’ve been to huge conventions like PAX Prime and GenCon and smaller conventions like PopCon WV and The Escapist Expo, and GenCon is easily right on the top of the list. If PAX East were a closer drive it would be number 1, but it’s not and so GenCon has my heart.
The first year I went to GenCon I didn’t do much. I was thrust in the middle of 50,000 attendees in an environment of board games- I had never played any board games prior to GenCon other than the standards of Monopoly and Life. I had no idea what to do. The exhibition hall itself was completely massive; it was way bigger than any other exhibition hall for any other con I have attended. This is actually why GenCon is at the top of my list.
In the exhibition hall every single publisher is demoing their games. You can go in there and play free games all day and there are hundreds of them. I learned to just say yes anytime anyone asked me anything. “Want to demo Smallworld?” “Yes.” “Want to play Ascension?” “Yes.” Want to play this obscure card game we are trying to launch on Kickstarter?” “Yes.” “Want to pay $4 for a hotdog?” “Yes.” but I only say yes to that one because I would rather pay $4 for the hotdog than give up an hour of free games to find food.
The food is another thing I love about GenCon. There is food all over the place. There is a Subway in the hotel connected to the convention center so there’s an easy and quick way to get cheap, and not horrifically greasy food, right on hand. There is also a large mall connected to the convention center (another bonus! Things for your spouse to do if they’re not into board gaming for 4 days straight) and then the convention center itself is surrounded by restaurants, and there’s also a fleet of 20 food trucks on patrol all day for all four days. When I was in Boston for PAX East the closest food was about half a mile away, and tearing yourself away for two hours so you can walk a mile is not something you want to do in the middle of a convention. We actually ended up not eating for an entire day at PAX East because of food inaccessibility.
There’s so much to do at GenCon. Tournaments for almost any huge card of board game with really good entry fees and spectacular winners awards. They also hold world tournament championships for several different board or card games. They have video games and anime in the upper hotel levels. Obviously not as much as board or card games, but it’s still plenty to do for anyone that might be interested in them.
GenCon is also particularly family friendly. I wouldn’t take any children under, probably, 12 to a PAX convention. Even that is iffy, it depends on if they’re an asshole by then or not. I just generally don’t find the video game crowd to be nearly as friendly as the board gaming crowd. Most board gamers are also video gamers, but I don’t think most of video gamers are also board gamers. The crowd at GenCon is what I like to describe as a “polite mob.” They’re rarely loud and they’re very considerate. I didn’t have a single bad experience with any people at the GenCon I was at, and trust me I was in contact with a lot of people. On top of being a kind mob of people there are many areas themselves that are family friendly. They have events called “spousal activities” that are things like kickboxing, miniature panting lessons where you keep the miniature free, learn to knot/crochet/sew, and a lot of other random activities that are to give your spouse something to do if they want to stay in the convention hall but don’t want to play any more of your god damned game demos that you have been playing literally from 7am to 4am.
There are these cool areas set up especially for kids too. There are LARP areas specifically for kids so you don’t have to worry about some 16 or 32 year old beating them down with foam swords, and there are giant play board games set out around the game hall so you don’t have to worry about finicky pieces when you’re trying to play with your kid. They also offer a sitting service in an area full of more toys and games if there’s a panel you just have to get to that didn’t have room for the young ones.
If you’re not a people person, or if you get easily sick, you should take precautions if you plan on visiting GenCon. There are several areas that are generally empty and good places to get away from the crowds, and sickness is easily spread with so many people around. I actually ended up sick on the second day, and very sick by the fourth day, after having not been sick for over two years. I then proceeded to pass the sickness onto my boyfriend but at least he didn’t have to endure it during the convention.
If you stay in a hotel that isn’t in walking distance of the convention center then parking is also a nightmare. We ended up parking half a mile away from the convention center just because we couldn’t find any closer parking, and we got there an hour and a half before the floors even opened. The walk wasn’t unpleasant but it was inconvenient and slightly annoying. The best thing to do would obviously be to stay in one of the 15 or so hotels in a .3 mile radius of the convention center, but none of those cost $250 for the entire week so that’s probably not going to happen. The drive from our hotel which was about 10 miles away was really nice. It was pretty much a straight shot to and from the convention center with no weird tricks.
So after that unholy wall of text, I’m going to close this up. Next I’ll be doing a quick list of tips ad must-do’s for GenCon, just in case any of you guys are interested in “the best four days in gaming!”