The League of Extraordinary GenConmen
GenCon is no SaltCon, that’s for sure. Or perhaps that should be writ the other way around — SaltCon is no GenCon. That’s for sure.
Dan and the Space-Biff! crew, or at least one of the Space-Biff! crew, flew all the way to Indianapolis, which is in Iowa, I think, for the largest board game convention in these the United States. The original thought was to deliver a daily report of all the GenCon goings-on, but Dan was too timid to actually interview anyone, though he claims it was because the Wyndham West didn’t have working internet, which it really didn’t, and we don’t recommend anyone stay there if they want to Skype their baby’s first steps.*
What follows is the true story of how Dan and Steve navigated the crowds, fell asleep at odd hours in their hotel suite, and generally GenCon’d it up. Fun fact: there were more people at GenCon than in the entirety of Dan’s hometown!**
GenCon Indy 2014 was a learning experience. At least, that’s what we told ourselves whenever we realized we’d screwed something up.
Some things we got right. For example, bringing along a game like Oddball Aeronauts to play on the plane, because airplane flights are boring and noisy, and playing a game about “I’m gonna blow up your aircraft!” is the perfect way to fill the time and also make new friends with the sky marshal.
However, even the night before the convention, we made a couple mistakes. For one thing, we shouldn’t have been lured into staying at the Wyndham West through silver-tongued promises of free high-speed internet. You’d think that in the year 2014, high-speed internet would be a sure thing in a city with -polis on the end of it, but it was a ruse. At least we were given a spacious room with lots of tables and chairs for some reason — possibly because the staff had heard that Mark Wahlberg hangs out with us sometimes, though we sure fooled them because Mark was too busy on the set of Wahlburgers to tag along.
Our second mistake was not having our badges mailed to us. Ten dollars seemed like such a big deal at the time — that’s two burritos, provided I don’t get guacamole! But standing in the will call line for over an hour was enough to persuade me that if we ever again travel to the distance reaches of Indianapolis, Iowa, the postal service will be lovingly delivering our badges atop buttoned velvet cushions well in advance of the convention.
We rose bright and early, driving into downtown Indianapolis and parking in the seediest parking garage in the history of the world. “Don’t leave belongings in your car,” a sign read, “and lock your doors and roll up your windows, or your things WILL be stolen and the car-burglar WILL use your driver’s license to learn your home address and your family WILL be murdered before you can get home to tell them you love them one last time.” That seemed like overkill to us, but on the way down to street level we saw at least two dozen masked hooligans breaking into cars, so I suppose it was sound advice.
We arrived at the convention center about an hour early. We were planning on meeting some friends to help shepherd us on our inaugural GenCon experience, but we got too impatient and jittery with anticipation, so we went to wait in line for the exhibition hall instead. Like everyone else in that crowd, a sort of terrible spendthrift/bloodlust clouded our minds and made us want to buy everything, so Steve and I split up and planned to storm the hall.
To alleviate the tedium of the wait, a merry duo came out in medieval garb and sang a few bardly songs, which was really nifty of them, but it was so loud that I couldn’t hear their probably-bawdy lyrics even though I was only about twenty feet away. The crowd was humming in anticipation — literally, in some cases, though I sidled through the crowd to get away from that guy because he looked like a terrorist, complete with Burger King crown and knockoff Ray-Bans, just like the guy we saved SaltCon from a couple years back. Serious chills.
Then someone blew an air horn, or maybe I just imagined it, and the crowd surged forward despite the panicked cries of “No running!” from the people at the doors, and trampled them into zesty marinara in a mad rush to be the first to reach the AEG and Fantasy Flight booths. I failed at both.
The first half of that day was spent waiting in lines and struggling to carry the too-many board games that we purchased. I missed the one at the AEG booth because I reached it at the wrong angle and the line formed around me with a maneuver straight out of a cartoon, so I moved on to the Catalyst Game Labs booth, then over to Portal Games to chat with Ignacy Trzewiczek and pick up a copy of his Imperial Settlers, then all over the damn place until I was in the line for Fantasy Flight Games, which wound through multiple blocks of convention center real estate. I waited in that line for almost two hours, thinking I could pick up a copy of Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, and was told by FFG’s multiple attendants that they would definitely have enough copies. Then I reached the front and they said I needed a ticket, only where were these magical tickets? So I bought a copy of Age of War as a consolation prize. The upside was that so much time spent in FFG’s line meant I was able to get a prolonged, up-close look at a few upcoming titles like The Witcher Adventure Game, XCOM: The Board Game, and Star Wars: Armada.
Intermission for the day consisted of hiding all the games in the car, fighting off a couple car-burglars to let them know we meant business, eating lunch, and heading back with intent to enjoy the exhibition hall for real this time.
We visited an enormous amount of booths that afternoon, including IELLO’s ridiculously cool Zombie ’15 model and Gale Force Nine’s Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem table, where the demo dude pretty much made up Sons of Anarchy-ish rules under the assumption that nobody would know the real ones, though I did and he seemed a little bugged that I kept correcting him. Nothing is better than being a rules lawyer to strapping fellows who would rather just teach rules to nerds and collect a paycheck.
In the end, we still only saw about half of the hall, but vowed to return again in the morning.
That evening, after an ill-advised journey to find a grocery store to save on food money that deposited us briefly in Scarytown, Iowa, we returned to the hotel and met up in the lobby with Ignacy Trzewiczek, where he taught us his Imperial Settlers, which was a great way to learn the game since he knew all the little rules and now I will never read a rulebook again but rather insist that a game’s designer personally instruct me on how to play. In return, I taught him how to play Trieste, which he’d picked up at the convention.***
Our original plan was to take it easy on the second day, but our failures at the AEG and Fantasy Flight booths made us more determined than ever. We stormed the doors again, and between Steve and myself, we were able to be first in line at both, nabbing exactly what we were looking for. We held them aloft and pranced around for a good twenty minutes, prompting a few observers to take candid photos of our revelry.****
Most of the second day consisted of extra time in the exhibition hall, visits to booths like Plaid Hat Games (to briefly observe some of the demos and tournaments they had going for games like Video Game High School, Dead of Winter, Mice and Mystics, and Summoner Wars), a brief and timid foray into the foreboding tournament hall, and more demos from pleasant half-motivated and nerd-exhausted folk.
We eventually figured out how to buy generic tickets to get into the games library, where we played an excellent game of Dead of Winter with one of the friends we were intending to meet up with the day before. Christy somehow pulled off a win as a traitor, which bummed out everyone honest at the table.
That evening, we braved a darkened Indianapolis crawling with exceptionally alert policemen to meet up at Shut Up & Sit Down’s get-together at a taproom a few blocks from the convention center. While the more sociable folk busied themselves with multiple games of Two Rooms and a Boom, we sat down with a pair of introverted nerds like ourselves to play Sheriff of Nottingham and more Imperial Settlers. I saw lots of famous board game reviewers and didn’t speak to a single one of them, because I was far too busy being a toll-collecting sheriff. You know: serious business.
Our last day at GenCon, as we would be heading home without experiencing the final Sunday, was filled with self-reflection. As we walked the exhibition hall one last time, we came to realize all the things we’d learned, the little lessons that, when summed, make a person wise and happy. Avoid the Wyndham West. Buy event tickets in advance, because apparently that’s a thing. Ideally stay in a room adjacent to the convention center rather than driving in from the airport twice a day.
But most of all, have fun, and remember the good times, because then you’re back home and Baby Cate isn’t quite as cute as you thought when you weren’t dealing with her screaming fits.
And that’s all. GenCon, we love you.
Oh, and we totally saw a Mark Wahlberg lookalike in the airport on the way home. The resemblance was uncanny.
* baby didn’t actually take her first steps, though that’s what we told the Wyndham West staff just to make them feel shitty
** not even close to true, though GenCon 2014 had an attendance of over 56,000 nerds and about 600 confused Colts fans
*** my review of Trieste was received with some grumpiness by a few over at BoardGameGeek, who insisted it wasn’t as unbalanced as I insisted; however, Ignacy Trzewiczek agreed with me that it had a runaway merchant problem, so suck it, critic-critics!
**** okay, that didn’t happen, but it was absolutely surreal to be recognized a few times by fans of Space-Biff!, which I didn’t even realize existed