Gregg and I decided to attend the much raved about GENCON this year. It seemed like a natural progression for a couple who avidly plays and collects board games, and who teaches and demos those games on a regular basis. We were both extremely curious about the convention, and craving the experience of this renowned world of geekdom where board gamers unite and feel right at home; where everyone knows what a meeple is!!!
We traveled with our Cardboard Carnage partners-in-crime, Katie & Curtis S., and also, Chad, the Star Realms-loving polar bear. It was a LONG 13+ hours drive to get to Indianapolis due to unforeseen, but not totally unexpected road construction and a traffic accident. Upon arrival, after a brief stint at will-call, and check-in at the hotel, it was lights out in anticipation of a bright and early start to Day One of the convention.
For anyone driving to GENCON, we recommend parking at the Lucas Oil Stadium; it’s a little bit of a walk, but in the grand scheme of things, it was affordable compared to the parking garages and was far enough away from the congested pedestrian traffic directly outside of the convention center.
Indy, WE ARE IN YOU!!!
The Indiana Convention Center is quite large, as was the program book for GENCON, so it took a little while to digest the fact that there were thousands of activities scheduled for thousands of people that would all be taking place over the next several days in this building. Plenty of time was spent walking back and forth exploring, as well as, standing in long, to moderately long, to insanely long lines. Crowds and lines are the name of the game, so embrace them even if you don’t love them.
The better part of Thursday morning was spent standing in a mass of gamers (photo above) excitedly waiting to enter the vendor hall, which we imagined was the equivalent to entering and touring Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, so many game publishing companies, so many game designers, so many game demos!!!! Where to stop first?!?
As the clock ticked down to 10:00am, the initial opening of the vendor hall, I started to get nervous as the announcer roused the crowd into a repetitive chant of, “Do not run! Do not run! Do not run!” I kept thinking, “Am I going to get trampled? Am I going to get trampled? Am I going to get trampled?” I am pleased to announce that NO ONE got trampled! We were all very civilized, while shuffling forward inches at a time, and trying to stuff a massive crowd of people through a tiny entrance of two doorways.
This, being our first experience with board game wonderland, we were very distracted. Like mystic mice in a maze, we scurried along the aisles looking for game company signage and trying not to block the passageways. At this time, we did not take any photos at all…. too preoccupied…. sorry…..!
Our game plan quickly became: DIVIDE and CONQUER!!! Which basically meant that Gregg would stand patiently in the really, really long lines like AEG, Upper Deck, etc. while I would run around and snag other games/expansions that were on our wish list like: Survive Space Attack!, Atlanteans (Imperial Settlers), Dragon Farkle, and others. This worked really well for us! I’m not sure if I need to mention that waves of people were flowing through the aisles shoulder to shoulder? While the majority were very polite, there was a fair amount of bumping and pushing amongst the sardines. And, I will also mention that almost the entirety of Day One was spent in that vendor hall trying to procure the games on the previously mentioned wish list. I don’t view this as negative at all, just letting you know for planning purposes! This part of the convention takes LOTS of time and patience.
Don’t just expect to only see games at this convention! There were all kinds of other novelty items available for purchase as well; some game related, some not, like my little bat friend, Glider (photo above)!
Aside from shopping, the vendor hall was also great for catching game demos (we participated in several)…
for chatting with game designers like Jonathan Gilmore and Ignacy Trzewiczek, and for running into fun characters like Kevin Burkhardsmeier of Board Game Theater…
for accepting interesting challenges like the Nevermore Tattoo Challenge – Gregg and I ran around the convention center from one pre-selected booth to another, each booth giving us the location to the next one, until we had collected all 5 tattoos, APPLIED them to Gregg’s arm, posted to social media, and earned the prize – upgraded, heavy-duty poker chip components for the game we had just purchased!
And of course, the vendor hall was also great for freebies and promos!!! All of these aforementioned activities kept us quite busy throughout most of Day Two at the convention.
Around the center, there were plenty of other activities taking place! We watched the Balloon Sculptor (pictured above) start work on a balloon creature, a GIANT red squid. Blowing up balloons, hand tying them, and sculpting them ALL day long for three days…! That’s dedication!
By Saturday night, it was completely finished and ready to be slain by the Children of the Con…. hahahahaha, I crack myself up!!! On Sunday, a.k.a. Family Fun Day, the Children of the Con were allowed to pull the monster apart… vicious pulling, biting, twisting and popping ensued. But it was all for charity, so that makes it acceptable, right?
There was also a Cosplay Costume Parade, which I loved! Who doesn’t love a parade??? It was fun seeing so many cosplay participants marching down Crossroads Hall together. I appreciate each person’s creativity and always wonder, “Did you make that from scratch?!?” Advice: if you are interested in watching the parade, please consult your program book for the parade route and make sure to secure a viewing location along the wall at least 30 minutes in advance. CONGESTION along the parade route is no laughing matter…
Some of our favorites included the colorful characters photographed above.
And I was quite delighted to hang out with Cthulhu!!! He is part of our Tabletop University logo, ya know?!?
After each FULL day at the convention, our exhausted group piled in the van, drove back to our hotel, and did what?!? PLAYED MORE GAMES in the hotel lobby… yup, that’s right!
While Team Cardboard Carnage spent a ton of time at the con playing games, getting demos of games, purchasing games, competing in tournaments, listening to panels, etc. etc., I requested to go off-campus each day for some fresh air and a few sightseeing adventures. These extracurricular activities can make the GENCON trip even more spouse and family friendly, in my opinion, for the not-so-hard-core gamers…!
The Indiana State Zoo is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the convention center and is conveniently linked to downtown Indy by way of a pedestrian bridge (photo below). We received tickets for a free dolphin show with purchase of admission. The conservatory and botanical gardens are also included in admission.
Gregg and I stopped at this museum for lunch in their cafe. It was a very quiet and peaceful stop along the cultural trail. A good place to decompress!
Another great thing about downtown Indy is the Sky Walk which connects many hotels and businesses allowing pedestrians to walk from place to place without worrying about traffic and/or weather. This photo shows the Indianapolis Arts Garden, which is part of the Sky Walk.
Gregg and I stumbled upon this adorable little candy store, Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop right along Monument Circle. It’s the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth!
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, also at Monument Circle, is a BEAUTIFUL stop – a tribute to Indiana’s military men and women who served in all of the wars prior to World War I. We paid $2.00 per person to ride up the elevator and gaze out at the city’s skyline! I thoroughly enjoyed this little detour!
Believe you me, GENCON is more than enough when it comes to FUN and FULL days!!! You can go and get lost in the delightful mayhem for the entirety of the con! However, if you need/want a fresh air break, there are so many charming, conveniently located stops within walking distance that it doesn’t take much time at all to enjoy them! Next time, I’m thinking the Canal district and the City Market may be calling my name!
GENCON was overwhelming… it took some time, after the fact, to digest what exactly happened during the best four days of gaming in Indianapolis. Are there some things that we would do differently? Sure. Did we get to do everything that we wanted? Not exactly. Did we have a blast and enjoy the con? YES! Would we go again??? Everyone has been asking… Yes, I believe that we would definitely go again! There is a satisfying appeal to being able to purchase and own games before they become available in the stores. There are educational panels that showcase upcoming board game releases, that encourage the inner board game designer in you, and/or that discuss relevant issues to the board gaming community. You can participate in tournaments to compete for prizes. Join a board gaming league and play board games to your heart’s content. Cosplay, enter the contest, join the parade. There were even activities centered around yoga, dancing, arts and crafts. There’s something for everyone in GENCON’s gaming paradise!