I just wrapped up my second ever Gen Con experience, and it was amazing. Paradise. Nerd Heaven.
But boy, can it be overwhelming. This year, almost fifty thousand people attended, and there were twelve thousand events you could choose from, not even including the exhibition hall or people just sitting in hotel lobbies playing games.
The main thing I think you need to do to have a great time is to decide what you want your Gen Con experience to be. For instance, I spent two full days in the exhibition hall. This is the place where vendors, game makers, and artists are set up. It’s a gigantic room full of shiny. Hundreds of games just out there for you to demo. I got to demo the new Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG Age of Rebellion. My game was run by freaking Jay Little, the head designer of the RPG! It was amazing, to say the least. Having him run a session was a dream. I really got to experience the intricacies of the new system, which is awesome, by the way.
On the other hand, I could have spent my entire time at events. There are hundreds of board gaming events, which usually start at $2. Or I could go to crafting events. There was an event where I could learn to make chainmail! All of the supplies were provided, and I would have gotten to take the tools home too! Or I could go to seminars. Or workshops. Or participate in tournaments of varying subjects. There’s also a writing con connected to Gen Con, so there are a ton of famous authors like Patrick Rothfuss, R.A. Salvatore, Mercedes Lackey, and more who are around giving awesome panels.
There are so many options as to how you can spend your time. Trust me, you will need to give into the reality that it is physically impossible to do it all. Definitely figure out what is the most interesting to you, and focus in on that.
I do strongly suggest that you spend at least one day exclusively in the exhibition hall (open from 10am-6pm), even if you are more interested in events or panels. The exhibition floor is something everyone should experience. It is gigantic. There are so many things going on in that room. I’d use the first hour or two of the day to take in the scope of the floor. Figure out what’s there. Then start going back to the places that interest you! Find games you want to demo. Talk to artists and creators.
One of my favorite things is I got to actually talk to the people who created the games. I loved finding games by independent publishers that aren’t even in stores. In the City: Origins was a game like that. The guy who made the entire game called out to me when I was walking and asked if I wanted to play. I sat down and had a great time chatting with him and experiencing the cool card game, which was all about playing a leader who is accruing people and influence to take over the newly-vacated throne.
Aside from spending a day in the exhibition hall, I also highly suggest checking out the play test hall (which is where people bring games that they are developing to get feedback from players). That hall doesn’t even close until midnight, so you can catch a quick game after the main floor closes. I found one game there called Who’s Your Heavenly Father, which was like Clue, except you were trying to figure out who the “one true god” is. The possible gods? “Basically Batman,” “A Cat,” and other ridiculous ones like that. The players are also trying to “worship” who they think the one true god is by collecting virtues. You collect virtues by answering scenarios, all of which were hysterical! The game should be on Kickstarter at some point in the future.
Other than those two things, be open to meeting a ton of wonderful people. Every year, I meet more and more amazing wonderful people. In fact I met Sarah the Rebel (creator of this amazing site) this year at Gen Con, and here I am writing for her! The great thing about cons is that there are a ton of like-minded people around you who share so many of your own interests. Say hi, talk to people you demo games with, and run around the hotel lobbies at night and see if people want to play games with you. Making friends was definitely one of my highlights from this year.
So however you chose to spend your time, I hope it’s amazing! Definitely check out the events on the main website at least a week before you go. Oh and maybe bring some snacks. I had trail mix and power bars with me at all times, because once I got on the exhibition floor, you can bet I didn’t want to leave for something so trivial as food! At the end of your Gen Con, I hope you also come out of it with a pile of loot. Feast your eyes on my treasure trove!