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Gen Con Journal Part 1 – The Experience

In this two part Gen Con special, we’ll be covering both my highlights of the convention and all of the games that I was able to play. This first part will focus mostly on what my actual experience was across the four days we were there. Due to the nature of this piece, I will not go into too much detail on my thoughts on each game. Check back in over the next few days for part two, where I will actually go over all of the great games we played and what I thought of them!

Don’t forget to check out the Top 6 games I was most looking forward to at Gen Con.

Think of something you love – something that you often pour all of your energy into because it is so important to you. Now picture that thing or activity, but picture it with everyone you love. Let’s go even further and picture it with tens of thousands of people – people whom you’ve never met before, yet love your “thing” just as much as you. People whom you can bond with instantly over your “thing” despite differences in race, sexual orientation, or religion.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Oh man. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.

If your “thing” is board games (and if you’re reading this, I suspect it might be) then you might just know what I’m talking about.

In a previous article I waxed poetic on the importance and beauty of community in the board gaming hobby. Last week I experienced that in a whole new way during my trip to Indianapolis for Gen Con 2016.

What is Gen Con?

For those who aren’t aware, Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming convention in the US and the second largest in the world (behind Spiel in Essen, Germany). Labeled as the “best four days in gaming”, people come from all over the world to experience a week full of all things geeky. Over 60,000 unique visitors funnel through the doors of the Indianapolis convention center every day to see the latest and greatest in gaming. Not only are most of the big releases announced or released at Gen Con, but there are also all kinds of gaming events and panels with members of the industry throughout the week.

My Gen Con Experience

This year was my first year to experience Gen Con. I specifically say experience because you cannot simply “attend” it. Sure, you can show up for a few hours a day, but you just won’t get the same sense of what the show has to offer. If your feet aren’t sore from walking around the exhibit hall all day, you aren’t exhausted from lack of sleep due to hanging out with awesome people and playing games into the night, and your voice isn’t a little raspy (if not completely gone) from trying to talk to vendors or other players, then you probably didn’t experience Gen Con.

I probably make it sound like a negative experience based on that last statement, but on the contrary, Gen Con was probably the best event I’ve ever been to! I was finally able to meet all of my favorite internet personalities, I got to play a ton of new games, and met so many awesome people!

My goal for this article is to really give you a chance to see what it is like to be at Gen Con. Since this was my first year, I did a lot of research leading up to the trip. One thing I had a hard time finding was a detailed explanation of someone’s experience. Sure there are plenty of overviews, but I wanted to know what the convention really felt like, not just a few of the highlights. I know that there is a lot here, but I hope that this is able to help you feel the spirit of the Gen Con experience. Also, note that I will not go in depth about specific games here, but instead will save that for part 2.

So what exactly did I do all week? Let’s take a look!

Day 0

We headed out from Nashville around 7pm wednesday night and were able to make it up to Indianapolis by 1am eastern time. Luckily, I was able to catch up on my podcasts (thanks Shut Up & Sit Down and Tuesday Knight Games!) and work on my Five Tribes review which filled a lot of the time. I didn’t realize this ahead of time, but our AirBnb turned out to be a loft above the shops of Mass Ave! We lucked out by getting a great spot for super cheap that was only a 30 minute walk to the convention center. After a quick unloading, we hit the sack to rest up for the big day.

Find housing
We got lucky with a beautiful airBnB at Gen Con in 2016!

Day 1

I had to head over early Thursday morning in order to pick up my press badge. Luckily the line wasn’t too long and I got to meet some of the great guys over at [GeekDad]( while waiting. One of the perks of being a press is that you get to get into the exhibitor hall an hour early, so I headed that way as soon as i got my badge.

Gen Con badge

After having some trouble finding the press entrance, I ran into Quinns (of Shut Up & Sit Down) who was having the same problem. He invited me to join him in his search for the elusive Hall J, so I walked with him over to the correct entrance. Unfortunately, we were sent on a wild goose chase for “press entrance” tickets, that we were unaware existed, only to find out that they had given them all out the night before. While this was quite unfortunate, I’m so glad that it gave me the opportunity to hang out with one of my favorite game journalists for an hour. (Though I’m still kicking myself for not having anything on me when he asked if i’d brought any small games that we could play.) If any of you were wondering, he really is as humble and nice of a person as you’d imagine!

Once the doors officially opened to the public, Quinns and I parted ways to explore the exhibit hall. After wandering around for an hour or so, I met up with Josh (my roommate) and we explored some more. I decided that I wanted to make my way through the entire hall to scout things out before sitting down and demoing anything. I knew that if I took every demo available, I would never make it all the way through.

After making it through about 2/3rds of the exhibit hall, we split up and I headed over to my first event, Board Game Media: Do’s and Don’ts. This event was a panel on advice for people in (or aspiring to be in) board game media. It was hosted by Tom Vasel (of The Dice Tower), Rodney Smith (of Watch it Played), and Jamie Keagy (of The Secret Cabal). All of these guys are awesome people who I really look up to in the industry and I was able to glean a lot of sage wisdom from these industry veterans.

Shortly after the event, Josh and I met up again to finish our walk through the exhibit hall, headed back to the apartment to drop off the stuff we had purchased, and then grabbed a delicious burger at a nearby restaurant named Bru. After dinner, I headed back down to the convention center to meet up with my buddy Tim. After getting a chance to try the delicious convention beer, Twenty Sided Rye from Sun King Brewery, I headed back to get some sleep.

And no, I didn’t play a single game during my first day at the largest gaming convention in the country…

Day 2

I told myself that Friday was going to be all about playing games since Thursday was all about scouting the floor. I kicked the day off with a round of Junk Art over at the Pretzel Games booth. They had a oversized version of both Junk Art and Flick ’em Up which were a ton of fun to play.

I looked around for a bit, bit to find another demo and realized that it is actually pretty hard to get demos going with so many people in the hall. All of the hotness had people lined up to try them. I avoided most of these because I didn’t think it was worth spending half the day standing in a line for a 30 minute demo of a game that will be out in the next few months.

One of my highlights of the day was stopping by the Tuesday Knight Games booth to try out World Championship Russian Roulette and meet Alan and Sean (the designers of Two Rooms and a Boom and the founders of the company). As expected, they were super friendly and awesome to meet. Plus, they finally signed my “signed” copy of Two Rooms that I won earlier this year, but showed up unsigned (I forgive you guys! ;P).

Next on the agenda was The Dice Tower Live! I almost missed this one due to my calendar not switching over to Eastern time, but I made it right as it began. The live podcast was definitely entertaining throughout its entirety of two hours. Probably the most frustrating moment I had during the week happened during this event. Throughout the previous day I had struggled to maintain any cell service while in the downtown area. I really noticed it during this podcast since there were many big announcements that I was not able to tweet through our twitter account. Eventually I gave up, but I was pretty disappointed that I was not able to keep you guys up to date on the events of the week.

Before the exhibitor hall closed, Josh and I went back and tried a few more games. I finally got a chance to try out Onitama from Arcane Wonders (which was fantastic). We hit a point where we needed to sit down for a minute since we’d been standing up for the last few hours. We saw an open table over at the Stone Blade booth, so instead of heading out of the hall to find a place to sit, we decided to stop there and play a game of Ascension. We played through a round of Dreamscape which we thought was actually the newest game, War of Shadows, due to the mismatched playmat. Neither of us had played with any of the sets after the original game, so it was still fun to try something newer.

Once our legs were nice and rested, Josh went off to grab something before the hall officially closed and I wandered around a bit more. Somehow I stumbled into a demo of Potion Explosion and played it right up until closing time. I really enjoyed the “Bejeweled” mechanic of the game and even won the demo round!

As a last ditch effort to find something to fill the time until the Shut Up and Sit Down Live podcast, we headed over to the Rio Grande room. I’m not sure how we didn’t discover this room earlier, but it was a fantastic place to hang out. Most of their games were set up among the tables, they had free food, and there was no entrance fee! We ended up playing Arctic Scavengers for the first time. I’d been curious about it for a while, so it was great to finally give it a shot.

The first Shut Up & Sit Down live podcast was a great time. As I’ve mentioned before, their show is one of my favorites on the internet and was an influential part of me really getting invested in the hobby. Unfortunately, Matt wasn’t able to make it this year, so it was just Paul, Quinns, and Eric (their miniatures correspondant). Since I don’t keep up with miniatures gaming, I was unfamiliar with Eric. He was a great host and brought out some good jokes with the guys. I’m sure they’ll have the episode up on their website soon, so feel free to listen/watch it so you can get a feel for how great it was!

At this point it was getting pretty late, so Tim and I grabbed a bite and drinks at The Tap and headed home. By the way, I’ve never had pickle fries before we stopped by there, but they were amazing! Like fried pickles… but they actually looked like fries! I realize that probably sounds ridiculous, but they were totally different and delicious!

Day 3

Another busy day! I jumped right in and headed to the convention center to check out some of the things I had missed during the previous days. The first thing I checked out was a demo for a game called Mythe (like “scythe” with an M). I had mostly been intrigued by its small size and pop up book board and wanted to see what it was all about. It turned out to be a cute little press your luck microgame with lots of full art cards that were reminiscent of Dixit.

Once Josh made it in, we sat down and tried out Star Realms, which had been on our radar, but we had yet to try it. For some reason we kept being drawn into deck building games… Regardless, we really enjoyed it. It had a surprising amount of depth for it’s size and the damage mechanic reminded us of our days with Magic the Gathering.

Next up was the second Shut Up and Sit Down live podcast! Yes, two in one week! Again, I was thrilled to get to see these guys in action again. Paul, Quinns, and Eric hosted again with some special guests like Geoff Engelstein. This was a much bigger podcast than the night before, and was at noon instead of 9pm. The guys had a “Best of Gen Con” tournament where they pitted their favorite moments and games from the con against each other to produce a winner. In true SU&SD form, the winners consisted of a live action, real time, battleship (Captain Sonar) and a dexterity game about making a nest and stacking eggs on top (Go Cuckoo).

Once the podcast wrapped up, Josh and I were famished, so we went to find food. After Quinns wouldn’t stop talking about both his and Vlaada Chvatil’s omelettes, we had a hunger boiling for them ourselves. We found a nice little brunch spot down the road from the convention center and headed that way. They were pretty busy, so the waitress gave us the opportunity to join with a few other small parties on a big table to be seated quicker. Oddly enough, one of the couples at the table had also just come from the live podcast and only came here for the omelettes as well! First you guys make us buy all these board games and now you are moving into breakfast foods? Dangerous waters, fellas.

When we made it back to the convention center, the first thing we did was head over to the Haba booth to check out this strange egg game. Animal Upon Animal is already one of my favorite games, so I have a great love for what Haba does. I also had a bad feeling that i’d be walking away with this egg game once I saw it… Funny enough, the guy who showed us Go Cuckoo at the booth commented on how they’ve had an influx of people stopping by ever since some podcast event! The Shut Up and Sit Down effect was in full swing here. I was quite surprised by Haba’s showings this year. They have all of their usual inventive kids games (that are secretly adult games), but they also had some more traditional board games this year. I’m excited to see what else they bring to the table in the future. Look for a review of Go Cuckoo coming soon.

At this point, I finally experienced one of the hotness games at the con. Josh and I were able to get in on a demo of Mystic Vale from AEG. Again, our run with deck builders was strong this weekend. This one is a bit different though since you are building cards instead of adding them. I’ll have more of my impressions on this one in part 2 of this article, but we were generally intrigued.

We had time for one more demo before our next event, so we headed over to the Iello booth. I was really hoping to get a demo of Oceanos or Happy Pigs, but since both of those were full, we sat down for a game called Sea of Clouds. It was interesting, but I’m not sure a short demo really did it justice. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have tried it if all of the other tables weren’t already full, but it was still a cute little game.

Once we wrapped up our demo, we headed over to our next event, the Tuesday Knight Games live podcast. I realize now that I listen to a lot of podcasts… I really enjoy how Sean, Alan, and SBJ talk about more than just games on their show. They often bring up bigger issues like race tension, sexuality, religion, etc. and I really respect their willingness to openly talk about deeper topics. They are also hilarious guys, so that plays another big role in my enjoyment. This one was a bit of a smaller show, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also finally got to meet SBJ which was great.

Right when the show was over, we started making the trek down to the hotel where The Secret Cabal was hosting their annual meet up party. Honestly, this was my highlight of the entire week! When we got there, it was completely packed. After a few minutes we were able to get in, grab some Cabalist swag, and grab a drink.This place was the party to be at Saturday night! There were tons of designers, publishers, and board game media personalities there to talk to. There was also an insane prize pool that was donated by all of these people and companies to be given away throughout the night.

Josh and I settled in around one of the small tables and started talking to some of the other guests. Someone mentioned Go Cuckoo in the conversation and when I mentioned that I had it on me, everyone was excited to play it! I swear we played 8 games in a row!

Once 9pm hit, it was time for the game raffle. I can’t emphasise enough how many games there were to choose from! Picture two pool tables covered in games stacked 3-5 games high. Each one was sponsored by a different board game media site or game publisher. Somehow I ended up being the second number called! After some deliberation, I excitedly grabbed the pile with the copy of Scythe.

Most of the rest of the party was spent talking with a couple great guys that I was able to get to know pretty well. We were able to talk for quite a while about all kinds of topics related to the hobby. One of the great things about Gen Con is the ability to meet people that you just click with. You could probably start a conversation with any one of the 61,000 guests without any issue.

Day 4

The last day of Gen Con was extremely bittersweet. I had such a great time over the past few days, but I was also extremely exhausted. We decided to grab a few last minute things from the exhibit hall and try one or two more games.

I had set up a private demo of Kung Fu Zoo with Charlie of Trusty Lamp Games for Sunday morning. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, so it was cool to get a firsthand look at it. I’m excited to get another look again once it gets a little closer to production!

Josh and I also got a game of Flip City in while waiting for the demo. I was very surprised with how much depth such a small game had! There will be more on this one on part two as well! Check out our reviews of Flip City, and the Flip City: Reuse expansion.

That was it for the con. We packed up our bags and began heading back to Nashville!

What did I learn?

There are a lot of things I would have done differently If I had known what I was doing this year. One of the biggest mistakes I made was simply not having a plan. Wandering around the exhibit hall and demo rooms can be lots of fun, but if I would have planned a bit more ahead of time, I would have been able to see so many more games and met so many more people.

I also had no idea what I was doing as a member of the press. That will be a huge area of improvement for me next year! Luckily, I had some awesome business cards to hand out that gave us some legitimacy, but with so many other people promoting their website or brand, it can be quite intimidating to also promote your own. Self promotion is tricky because you don’t want to come off as annoying, but you really do need to get your name out there in order to grow.

I’m strongly considering getting an actual hotel near the convention center next year. One of the things I felt like I missed out on was the late night community aspects of the convention. While I had a great experience with my AirBnb, the fact that it was a 30 minute walk away meant that once it started getting late, it became a hassle to stay out and get home. The convention and hotel halls are lined with people playing games all night and I never really got a taste for that. Personally, I think that it would be worth the extra money to be right there. Also, it would be so much more convenient to be able to drop off heavy games at the hotel room instead of carrying them around all day!

Wrapping Things Up

Gen Con was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in the board gaming hobby! There are few places where you can spend the week constantly surrounded by so many people who are also as passionate about games as you are. Though it is a huge convention, it feels strangely small and intimate when you are able to meet all of your favorite internet personalities. If I had to wrap the week up in just a sentence, it would probably be “Come for the board games, stay for the people!”

I am already excited about planning my trip up to Indianapolis next year and have already started recruiting as many friends as possible to join me! If you have the opportunity to go, do not miss it!

In Part 2 of my Gen Con Journal I cover some of the games that I particularly enjoyed and found interesting! Also, make sure to [like us on Facebook]( where you can check out our entire Gen Con 2016 photo album!

What are some of your favorite moments from Gen Con? Whether from this year or a previous year, let us know in the comments below!

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About the author

Elijah Longwell

Recruiter by day, board game enthusiast by night. Despite controversy, i’m a firm believer that collecting can be just as fun as playing games. My favorite aspect of the board gaming hobby is its ability to bring people together in a meaningful way.

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