Yes, it is that time of the year again – time for my unsolicited updated list of Gen Con tips survival. These are to be treated as tongue and cheek – intended with a hint of a sense of humor. If you’re offended, well, suck it up…this was intended to be useful and hopefully funny.
So, here’s my annual tips – updated where appropriate.
#1: Plan in advance. Go online, figure out what you want to do. DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets. This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…” Don’t be that guy. Everybody hates that guy.
#2 Getting into the city. Indianapolis is easy to navigate. It is hairiest to drive into the city on Thursday and Friday because of the locals who work there. The good news is that rush hour in Indianapolis is not horrible. The locals think it is, but it isn’t (I live outside of Washington DC.)
#3 Parking. Okay, this is tricky. Thursday and Friday, you have to compete with the locals for parking spaces. Many lots fill up by 10:30am. In other words, be prepared to walk some distance on those days. I have a secret place or two for parking – which I won’t reveal. The key is, get there early before the garages fill up.
#4: Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are. Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks. Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, phone charger, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – typical geek gamer survival gear. Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals. Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there. Don’t over pack. You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive. Keep it simple, keep it light. Pack what you need but remember, you’re not setting out to climb Mt. Everest (or Mt. Doom, your choice.)
#5: Be prepared for the rush to the main hall when it opens. Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a geek equivalent to the running of the bulls in Spain (albeit a little safer). Don’t fight the masses, ride it in. Also – DON’T RUN. The convention folks really hate people that run. To answer your question now: Yes, it’s that crowded every year. You can’t get in without a badge, have it out and visible. The Stormtrooper Door Guards will stop you dead in your tracks, meaning you are subject to being trampled by the crowd surge. Also, nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.
#6: Get generic tickets. Events are sold out, but people don’t show. When they don’t, you can use generic tickets to get into anything. They are wonderful little gems to have tucked away. Don’t worry about having leftovers, you can go to the BattleTech pods and spend ‘em.
#7: Cosplay is part of the experience and is encouraged. If you are going to do it, don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby. Think it over. No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.
#8: If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.
#9: Bathe and use deodorant. This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense. Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it. Look, you paid for a hotel room right? Go back at some point and at least use the shower. Foot powder, toothpaste, and clean clothing (a fresh set for every day) shouldn’t require mentioning – yet here I am doing it. Why? Because people don’t do it!
#10: While you have no adult supervision and can do what you want, be respectful of others. In other words, bringing your leftover Taco Bell burrito from dinner to that 8am gaming session and eating it during the set-up is just wrong. You do know that their meat isn’t real meat, right?
#11: For your meals eat outside of the convention center. First, convention food sucks and is expensive. My memory is that a single, room-temperature, piece of convention cardboard pizza runs around $425. I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too. I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall. They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.
Go only five blocks away and there are a LOT of eating places. Pita Pit is great. Gamers hate leaving the convention site, even for an hour for food, so if you are willing to walk, downtown has a LOT of eating options and the further you walk, the smaller the crowds. I recommend taking the stroll. Ten minutes of walking gives you a few minutes of peace and quiet.
The Food Trucks are your best friends. I only discovered where these vendors parked four years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con. Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center. While we’re on it…
#12: Don’t frighten the locals. Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money. Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish. A lot of locals come down town to look at the cosplay folks – don’t add to their stereotype images of us. Not cool dude.
#13: While I totally appreciate Cosplayers, sometimes the costumes are confusing as all hell. Don’t be insulted if people ask you, “who are you trying to be?” Obviously show the cosplayers some respect. While you may think their costumes suck, they put some work into them.
#14: There is always someone that knows the rules better than you. He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?) Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G. We get it, you read and memorized the rule book. Stop ruining game play for everyone just to demonstrate your incredible powers of memorization…please. We refer to these individuals as Rules Douches, or the more French- La Rules Douchebag.
#15: Don’t just sit around. Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon. You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you? The convention won’t come to you – you need to move.
#16: Do some prep work if you are planning on buying some specific products. Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day. If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed. The short version of this: Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it. If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out. Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.
#17: Wear comfortable shoes. Preferably shoes that do not have a predetermined aroma.
#18: Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep. The convention is not designed as an endurance test. You’ll need the energy. All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.
#19: Attend the auction. You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value. You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one. It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.
#20: Play the demo games. Look, games cost money – a LOT of money. I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash. I recommend you do the same. Try some things you’ve never played before. Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.
#21: Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally. These guys work hard to produce your fun. Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book. We get it, you can read. If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off. If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful. As a writer in the industry, I welcome comments from fans…but there is a limit to critique that I will endure, and I am not alone. As a corollary – there is a limit to the number of things you want autographed.
#22: Go early to the con. Get out of bed and get to the convention early. There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter. I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish. They are a tradition I am addicted to.
#23: WIN. Savor your victories. Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy! Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it. Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win. You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you? Hell no! In other words, have fun!
#24: Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people. Skip the political stuff. Someone is going to be upset and that isn’t the intention of going to a convention and having fun.
#25: Wear something other than a black tee shirt. At Gen Con, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers. Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt. Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts. In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black. Corollary: Reading the hilarious tee shirts is one of the more phone things about the Con.
#26: Don’t abuse your demo time in any booth. Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products. These are a major part of the experience. Don’t abuse the privilege. I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours. There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.
#27: Remember the Gen Con food groups. Caffeine, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Caffeine, Pointless Carbs. Beef Jerky, while not a formal food group, is also permissible but please be discreet when eating it – no one looks cool tearing into a piece of jerky. Yes, Caffeine is listed twice because it is that important.
#28: If you want to do free events plan on a wait or get there early. A good example of this is the Paint and Take event Reaper puts on. It’s cool to get a free mini you paint there, but everyone wants to do it and there’s usually a line.
#29: If you want the Convention giveaways – go to those booths first thing when the doors open. A lot of these vendors run out in the first 20 minutes. They often have more of the freebies, but limit the number they give out each day.
#30: Con-Crud – prepare for it. Con Crud is not a new module release of Pandemic – it’s the social plague that hits thousands when they return from Gen Con on the following Monday. Use hand sanitizer (you have to bring your own on this). Load up on vitamins and other legal medications aimed at reducing colds, flu, or whatever it is that morphs into Con-Crud.
#31: Patronize the places the support Gen Con. If they support Gen Con, support them.
#32: If you have a young one with you, go the Lucas Oil Stadium. I took my grandson last year and there was a ton of stuff for us to do together.
#33: Don’t overschedule. This one came from my compadre Scott. Leave yourself some time to soak it all in. Otherwise you miss a lot of the convention just bouncing from one event to another.
#34: Meet the celebrities. I’m not just talking about the “name” celebrities. This is a chance for you to track down that favorite author or artist and shake their hand. I make a point at every Gen Con to network and meet people (and re-meet people I met years before). Mingle and be social.
#35: “Language” I’m noticing more and more kids at the Con which is great. I bring my grandson. If you feel the need to curse, make sure only the adults are around.
#36: Take advantage of the crowds to do things you want to do. Look, at 10am, everyone is lined up to get into the main hall. That’s the perfect time to do things that otherwise have long lines. For me, that is when I hit Paint and Take. Understand the masses, don’t always be part of the masses.
#37: If you are in a wheelchair, it is not a weapon to clear the crowds. I got hit by someone in a wheelchair last year just standing still. He just plowed into my ankle because he wanted to get through. I’m understanding, but not that understanding.
#38: You will get a book of freebie coupons. If you plan on redeeming them, you need to do it first thing in the main hall. Some of that stuff disappears in a matter of minutes.
#39: Some booths have a line. Paizo, Fantasy Flight Games, CMON, Catalyst…they all have lines. Lines just to get into the booth to look around. Lines for the demos. Don’t get discouraged, it is almost always worth the wait. If these guys are high on your list, go straight there when the doors open.
#40: Play some things you never have before.
There you have it guys – GAME ON!