This year was my first year at Gen Con, the annual tabletop gaming convention held in Indianapolis, and it was pretty overwhelming. With over 12,000 ticketed events listed, I ended up just showing up and walking the hall most of the time it was open, and staying up late playing games and talking to people after the exhibit hall closed. I did take some time on Thursday to attend the Gen Con Press Conference, because I realized there’s a lot I just didn’t know about the show.
Peter Adkison (Owner of Gen Con) and Adrian Swartout (Gen Con CEO) kicked off the press conference with—what else?—the roll of a d20. It was clear right from the start that they both love games. For them, Gen Con is all about gaming—especially tabletop gaming, the type that brings people together around a table—and all the geek culture surrounding gaming.
Fun fact: Adkison and Swartout appear in Dangerous Games, a trilogy by GeekDad Matt Forbeck set at Gen Con.
This year was the biggest Gen Con yet, with the convention taking up the entire Indiana Convention Center except for Hall A, plus events in nine hotels in the surrounding areas. The ICC was recently expanded, and Gen Con took up a lot of that space.
Fun fact: I hadn’t ever bothered to look up the name itself, but Gen Con is named after its first location: Lake Geneva,
Michigan Wisconsin. It started off with a focus on wargaming, so “Geneva Convention” was a double entendre. It got shortened to Gen Con, but even after the show moved to Milwaukee and Indianapolis, the name stayed.
According to Chris Gahl of Visit Indy, Gen Con is the biggest convention in Indianapolis. The current contract goes through 2020, but Gahl expressed hopes that Gen Con would stay forever. Aside from the fact that Gen Con has the biggest economic impact than any other show in Indy, Gahl said he loves the energy and character that Gen Con brings to downtown. Businesses get in on the fun, too: several restaurants have renamed menus or costumed staff during the weekend.
Fun fact: For this year’s show (which also overlapped with the Indianapolis Motorcycle Grand Prix this year), the initial hotel room block sold out in a mere 17 minutes.
Gahl said some people were staying in hotels up to 40 or 50 miles away from downtown to get to Gen Con, and that the only way to get a room closer was if there had been a cancellation. (I guess I got pretty lucky finding a room when I did!)
Mayfair Games has been sponsoring Gen Con for three years. Robert Carty was particularly excited about the world record attempt for this year: on Friday evening, 922 gamers sat down to play a game of Settlers of Catan together. There had been a previous record of 1,200 people playing chess together, but that wasn’t a single game. This particular version used modified rules and a huge interconnected board that let all 922 players compete against each other, with a single winner, Brendon Harbor. It’s a totally different spin on the giant versions of board games at Gen Con. Guinness World Records certified the new record. In addition to the world record, Mayfair hosted a charity event on Thursday night benefiting Big Brothers & Big Sisters.
Fun fact: Wil Wheaton may have broken a record himself by actually winning a game of Star Trek Catan while cameras were rolling—too bad it wasn’t on TableTop.
Paizo Publishing is the newest co-sponsor of Gen Con, and Erik Mona talked about the Pathfinder RPG. Although I’m not a roleplayer myself, I was intrigued by Paizo’s new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, which sold out at the show. Designed by Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games, it’s Paizo’s first foray into card games, and has elements of deck-building while also letting players retain character traits from game to game.
Fun fact: according to Mona, about 8,000 people are playing Pathfinder at any given time during Gen Con.
Mona also mentioned Pathfinder Society Organized Play, which he described as a “massively multiplayer offline game.” It’s a worldwide mega-campaign that includes thousands of players, all feeding into the same storyline. Mona said that Gen Con is one of the biggest Pathfinder Society events, where you could find hundreds of people joining in an interconnected campaign.
Finally we heard from Clay Robinson of Sun King Brewing, which had its second official Gen Con beer this year. They picked the type of beer and then had a naming contest. This year’s bear was a braggot, which is a mead/beer blend originating several hundred years ago in Ireland. Sun King doesn’t make mead, so their brew uses a beer base with a bit of local honey and cherry.
Fun fact: braggot is referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
They had over 6,000 submissions, and the winning name was Flagon Slayer. Unfortunately, the beer is only available during Gen Con, so you’ll have to show up next year if you want a taste of whatever they concoct next.
Fun fact: this year was the first year Gen Con had a beer garden, thanks to Sun King Brewing.
Stay tuned for more stories and reviews from Gen Con! Dave Banks, John Booth, and I had a great time and we’ll be sharing our favorite things about the show, our experiences playing True Dungeon, and some of the games we’re excited to play.