They aren't lying. A cornucopia of gaming events, merchandise, and people flood the Indiana Convention Center for four days. It's truly a board game paradise. This was Mystic Ape's first year at Gen Con, and I'm not going to lie and say that it wasn't daunting. The exhibitors' hall alone was enough to make us nervous from its sheer size. But once you get acclimated to the size of the con, its a pretty amazing event.
I don't remember encountering a single rude or mean person the whole time we were there. I mean, why should anyone be mean? They are surrounded by what they love and a bunch of people who share that same love of games. To help spread that love, we have compiled some tips for people in our shoes and attending their first Gen Con. These tips are from a maiden voyage to Gen Con, so veterans of the event may think some of these things are obvious. They weren't to us.
Looking back, this was a rather obvious oversight. Not only was it annoying to get up from a game or event to track down one of Gen Con's watering stations (kudos to Gen Con for having them in the first place), but two of us were suffering from almost constant headaches because of dehydration. All of this could have been avoided if we had brought water bottles. It's just more convenient. Do yourself (and your health) a favor and bring a water bottle. This is probably the most practical advice I can give.
Though initally overwhelming, the exhibitors' hall is a great place. The hall boasts exclusive Gen Con merchandise, art stalls, and every game that you could ever want. Another great thing about the exhibitor's hall are the publisher-run demos. If you're like me, you don't necessarily like reading rules. Publishers have teachers stationed around their booths, instructing anyone who is interested. Every teacher that we encountered was excited to be there and was very helpful. Mystic Ape got to play Mice and Mystics, which was taught by the game's designer, Jerry Hawthorne. It's a great experience for both parties, as the gamers get to learn a new game, and the publishers gain exposure to their audience.
One of the best things about the exhibitors' hall is that it's completely free. This is in contrast to the library at Gen Con, which was a paid event. Maybe we're spoiled by our local con, Geekway to the West, with their massive, free library of games. If you don't fancy paying to play at the library, the demos at the exhibitors' hall is a great alternative.
Mystic Ape was pleasantly surprised that we, as a very small, no-name game company, actually got participants for our playtests. We just set up the events on a whim, hoping to get any amount of playtesters, but we never thought that we would actually get as many as we did. In fact, two of our events actually sold out. If you're a game company with a prototype, set up some playtesting events even if you don't think anyone will show up. Since it doesn't cost anything to set up an event, it's risk free. We gained some valuable feedback throughout our events, and we even gained some fans! Thanks to everyone who took the time out of their busy Gen Con schedules to playtest Space Gypsies!
Gen Con posts all their events months before the event. Events very often sell out, and it can be a real bummer if you are looking forward to an event, but it sells out before you can buy a ticket. Gen Con does sell generic tickets that will grant entrance into events without pre-registering, but if the number of attendees is at the max, then you could be out of luck.
I know that it may be tempting to just ignore daylight for as much as possible during Gen Con, but it's really cool to see how most of downtown Indianapolis embraces Gen Con. Bars, restaurants, and even movie theaters cater to "The Best Four Days in Gaming." Crude drawings of Pikachu, Iron Man, and The Hulk adorned one of the bars that we visited. Another had the bartenders wearing Superman and Batman shirts. A nearby theater was showing "Alien" in order to tempt the gamers passing by. It's pretty amazing seeing your culture engulf a city so entirely. Almost scary.
Gen Con really is a board gamer's utopia. I'd say that, overall, Mystic Ape's first Gen Con was a success. We hope we can pass along some of the knowledge that we gained onto others. What about you? Do you have any tips for a first time gamer at Gen Con? Hit us up in an email or tweet.