I started visiting conventions in the mid-90s. As a high-level Magic player, most of the larger Magic events were run at gaming conventions. So I went to Cork for WarpCon (it’s still going and I plan to re-visit at some point!) and Loughborough for Gen Con UK.
As I got into board gaming, I loved the feel and vibe of conventions - a chance to try out new games, meet new people and hopefully pick up some bargains while I’m there! I’ve been to UK Games Expo eight times (of their thirteen shows!), this year will be our seventh year at Essen Spiel and my fifth at BGG Con, alongside many smaller, local conventions. (Con Junkie is on my business card for a reason!) But this year I finally got the chance to visit the other mecca of board gaming - Gen Con in Indianapolis!
So, this wasn’t my first convention by a long shot. On arrival at Indianapolis, I was convinced someone had accidentally opened a portal to hell (maybe from playing too much D and D?!) This was 6pm and the heat was unbearable for this very pale Brit! I was staying at the JW Marriott so checked in, cranked up the air con and took some time out to recover from the journey. After cooling off somewhat I headed to the local mall for a bit of shopping and some food before the madness started next day!
Set up day was Wednesday and I woke up bright and early at 5am (well, early for sure!) and ended up heading down to the hall at around 9am. Set up is always a crazy day and it’s super satisfying to watch a show of this size come together. I was helping out Parallel Games so for a nice change, we had one product to get out so no ordering of shelves, worrying about overstocks etc etc. However, we did have two Board Game Tables to piece together! After setting everything up to look beautiful I had a quick wander around the hall to have a look, get my bearings and say hello to a few people.
That evening, the Parallel Games crew met up to run through the game, all introduce ourselves and grab some pizza. This included a pop quiz about the game with Reese's peanut butter cups as prizes (feels like home already!) After that, I ran over to a food swap, organised through the Fans of Gen Con Facebook Group. Sadly, I’d only found out about this a couple of days before leaving, but I managed to stock up on peanut butter m and ms until my next trip to the States! I always find it fascinating which things from the UK people want, the things I took included Cadburys (obviously!), some hard boiled sweets from Marks and Spencer's and some tea bags! I briefly caught up with some friends before heading to bed ready for show open the next morning.
So, on Thursday I was only working one shift in the morning and had the rest of the day to myself. From the moment doors opened, we were rammed, the demo tables were constantly full along with people heading straight over to buy the game. Our beautiful display tower needed constant rebuilding, which, obviously, was a good thing!
At twelve I got to have a look round the show, starting with my important buys of Pipeline and Ragusa from Capstone Games and then taking a wander and trying to take it all in! Gen Con is IMMENSE, I really can’t think of another word! Everywhere you go in the convention centre there is stuff happening. Every little side room has something happening: auctions, retro video gaming, kids play areas, balloon sculptures - there is something for everyone here and enough to keep you busy for weeks, let alone the four show days. Even as someone who is used to shows on a big scale it is overwhelming. Then you go outside and there are the food trucks with people sitting around, the whole town screams geek (in the best possible sense of the word!)
We went out for dinner that evening and even away from the Convention Center there are people in cosplay throughout the town - it’s a sight to see for sure.
After dinner I met up with some friends and got a game in of Underwater Cities, this is becoming a firm favourite for me (and I may have even picked up the awesome geek up pieces for it) At the hotel, we played in the ballroom which was full of people playing games, before you take into account a lot of the side rooms there were full of people playing various RPGs throughout the weekend.
Friday and Saturday were a whirlwind of activity at the stand and trying to see some of the show in my spare time, catching up with a lot of old friends and meeting up with companies I don’t get a chance to see often.
On Friday night I was lucky enough to go to the ‘Renegade Rally’ and have a look at the new and exciting things that Renegade Games will be launching over the next year or two - so much cool stuff! We got to see the upcoming Power Rangers packs, the new Scott Pilgrim miniature game, the new Scott Almes game - Warps Edge as well as an unboxing of the new Clank Legacy game. Loads of stuff to get us excited for! There was the chance to play some of the newly released games too with Terror Below, Clip Cut Parks and Paladins of the West Kingdoms all available to play.
Saturday I had a great chat with USAopoly - a company that I rarely get to see. Ross showed me some great new things in the pipeline including the Kingdom Hearts Talisman (I have friends just waiting on this!) and the very exciting Dark Side Rising - a Star Wars themed version of Thanos Rising, complete with an awesome looking Darth Vadar figure! Sadly, they were all out of copies of IT: Evil Below which I’d obviously been looking forward to seeing but I do have a copy of the Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game that you’ll all be hearing about soon.
I then went to see my friend Geo from Ankama Board Games who showed me the updated version of Arkeis. I got some sneaky previews of the figures for this at Essen last year but with it’s Kickstarter launch on November 5th, it’s now a bit closer to completion! This is a co-operative, story-driven game set among ancient Egyptian Ruins. It is a campaign-style game with legacy elements and some fearsome beasts to fight off. I’m loving this little backpacks each character has to carry over their loot from game to game, but be careful to not be carrying over ancient curses and scars from game to game! Really looking forward to seeing this at Essen shortly before it's launch!
Sunday was spent working and running round to get in my last-minute purchases and get in the one thing I HAD to do all weekend - I entered a Magic draft, after all, it only seemed fitting to go full circle. The TCG hall was packed, full of people playing Pokemon and Transformers alongside Magic. I got knocked out first round but that gave me enough time to head back to the stand and help with breakdown, which was a lot easier than I am used to, especially as we had sold a huge chunk of our stock!
Sunday night was spent having a few quiet drinks and unwinding with some new friends before preparing for the flight home on Monday.
GenCon was an amazing experience, during the weekend I felt like I just didn’t get anything done, but looking back on it now I understand why I arrived home Tuesday morning exhausted! Even not working, it would be impossible to see even half of what was available (I didn’t even make it over to the open gaming at the stadium at any point!) I had great fun working with the Parallel Games team and I am very much looking forward to again at PAX Unplugged and Origins next year.
If you want to see any more photos from Gen Con 2019, I've post all of the pictures on Facebook.