GenCon 2008 was earlier this month, and I thought I’d share some impressions of the convention for those who didn’t make it. Realityforge didn’t exhibit this year, since EpicTable is still in development, but I went for Trade Days and to scout things out for next year…and to be surrounded by games and gamers for the better part of a week.
I hadn’t been to GenCon since 1987, when it was still in Milwaukee. (Curiously, neither Milwaukee nor Indianapolis, where GenCon is currently held, is a particularly nice-smelling city…though arguably two weeks in 21 years isn’t a large enough sample size for a fair and balanced olfactory review.)
First off, if you find yourself going to GenCon some year, and you have any interest in registering to participate in a game, don’t try to do it on the day you arrive—even if you arrive two days before the ‘Con starts. Everything was fully booked, and shame on me for not registering for events online, but let me describe the registration process for you.
- Find a game (better make it a whole list) that you’re interested in and go to a human handling registrations.
- Lean forward and hold out your badge so the human can squint at your badge’s number and type it into the computer. (Yes, the badge has a barcode, but I didn’t see a barcode reader all week.)
- Read off the game’s 7-digit number and wait while the human (a very patient, nice human, usually) types the number into a computer—often successfully on the first try.
- Listen while said human tells you, with something between boredom and knowing sympathy, that there are no slots left for the game.
- Repeat this over and over…and over, until you’ve exhausted, not just your list of interesting events, but everything remotely familiar or cool-sounding before giving up.
Secondly, if you register for Trade Days, consider that it might become Trade Half-Day, leaving you in Indianapolis with a lot more time on your hands than you’d anticipated. GenCon 2007 saw such a successful Trade Day (a day for industry folks to network before the ‘Con) that the organizers expanded it to two days for 2008…until sometime this Spring, which it quietly became one day again…with events starting at 1 or 2 pm.
Despite my inability to get into any events and the fact that Trade Days all but evaporated on me, leaving me two days early in Indianapolis, GenCon was a reasonably good time. Two of the members of the EpicTable forum were with me, and since we were unable to get into any RPG events, we ended up playing a couple boardgames—often until 4 or 5 am: Arkham Horror (which I’d brought and can highly recommend) and RuneBound (brought by Jeremy and also very good way to spend several hours). The ‘Con had a game library, in which we were able to play (for free) Tannhäuser and Dust, both from Fantasy Flight Games.
In addition to the playing boardgames, I got to spend hours in what amounted to the biggest gamestore on earth. Unlike your local gamestore, though, many of the booths were manned by the games’ own developers or editors. dDemonicAngels from the Dundjinni forum was giving demos at the booth they shared with DragonRoots, whose creator, Rocco, was telling folks about the magazine that would replace Dragon. Speaking of magazines to replace dragon, Wolfgang Baur was there representing Kobold Quarterly. Michelle Nephew of Atlas Games sold me a Lovecraftian parody of "Where the Wilds Things Are" called "Where the Deep Ones Are". Fred Hicks (Evil Hat Productions) was running the cash register at The Forge’s booth. Richard Iorio II, one of the rogues from Rogue Games, told me about his own creation, Colonial Gothic. Ron Edwards (Sorcerer) was giving demos of indie games, and Paul Czege (My Life with Master) was talking with folks in the Ashcan Front booth. Even Fantasy Flight Games, with their immense, always busy booth, brought along the game designer behind Starcraft: The Board Game.
Why does this matter? Am I just name-dropping? No. None of these people know me. To the best of my knowledge, none have sworn an oath to bring about my destruction, but neither would they know me if they saw me on the street. No, the reason I mention these folks is because GenCon brings together people from all over the game industry, and this is where the small/indie game companies really shine. Having the game designers themselves in the booth talking to people is huge. Their passion for what they do really shows. It’s not like some of the larger companies with marketing folks (presumably) manning the booth. The small/indie game folks are there representing themselves, and there’s just no better marketing than the game’s designer talking about what he thinks is cool about the game.