Gen Con Crowds

16 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Gen Con

Geek Culture Tabletop Games

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We are one week from Gen Con now and, with just a handful of one-day badges to Gen Con left, there are going to be a whole lot of gamers headed to Gen Con for the first time. That’s OK, everyone was new once. So for those going for the first time and those who are looking for some new ideas, we present our Gen Con tips for making the most of your four days.

How to Get the Most Out of Gen Con

Gen Con Badge Line

1. As soon as you get to town and check into your hotel, head over to pick up your badge if you didn’t have it mailed. The line is going to be very, very long. Almost unbelievable. But it moves quickly and you can’t get in Thursday until you pick up your badge. Just get it over with.

2. You also need to wait in line to pick up any tickets you purchased for events. There’s a caveat here. If your event isn’t until Friday (or later), wait until Thursday night or some other off time to pick up your tickets. The line (if there is one) will be much, much shorter.

Gen Con Crowds
And this is just the hallway OUTSIDE the exhibit hall.

3. Take care of your feet. You are going to spend a lot of time walking or standing. Just getting from your hotel to your first event might be a walk of a mile or more. The Exhibit Hall at the Indianapolis Convention Center (pdf), alone, is more than a half million square feet. During a day, you may clock more miles than you typically walk in a week and, if your feet hurt, you’re going to be reminded with every step. So make sure you have comfortable shoes that fit. Wash your feet every day. Make sure you change your socks. I usually bring two pairs of shoes: a minimalist shoe, which is like what I wear most days, plus another with more support. That way, I can change my shoes from day to day if I need a little something more. I also bring some foot powder and cream and my feet love me for it. Change your socks. Did I mention that? Because it’s very important to change your socks. Your feet will love you for it.

4. And while you’re at it, start walking now. Yes, it would have been better to have been walking for the past two or three months, but the more time you spend moving now, the easier your days in Indianapolis will be.

5. The next most important thing you can do is make sure you get enough sleep. Gen Con is a 24/7 event and too often you will check your watch to see that it’s already well past midnight and you’ve just started another game. If you burn the candle too late, you’re going to pay for it by the end of the weekend. Try to get at least six good hours of sleep and your body will pay you back. Walking around in a haze is no fun at all. And you definitely don’t want to fall asleep behind the wheel on Sunday!

6. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. I can promise you, you will lose track of time. What’s more, the forecast for Indianapolis is looking very pleasant, especially for mid-August in the Midwest. You still have to drink water, especially when you are walking more than you’re probably used to and inside, amid the drying air of air conditioning. Getting dehydrated can put a serious kink in, if not ruin, your weekend. I like to carry a small Nalgene bottle because I’ve never had one leak on me and they are seemingly bulletproof. A small water bottle isn’t going to weigh you down and will take up less room. If you don’t have one, just bring a plastic cup to fill at one of the many water fountains. If you aren’t using the bathroom every couple of hours, you’re not drinking enough.

GeekDads Dave, Jonathan, and John show off tiles from Giant Tsuro at the Calliope Games booth.

7. Eat. While your body will remind you when you are hungry, you can push this one a bit further than drinking water, which you must do before you are thirsty. You probably don’t want to eat at the convention center because it’s expensive and not very good. Fortunately, there are a truckload of restaurants (pdf) around the convention center. Oh, there are also trucks! Dozens and dozens of food trucks line the streets immediately around the ICC. And here’s the rub, you need to plan ahead. Everyone is going to get hungry at about the same times of day. So don’t anticipate just running out to grab a bite to eat. Lines at the food trucks are long (but move fairly quickly), as are lines at restaurants. An hour wait is common. For that reason, make sure you pack some snacks in your bag (more on that in a moment). Something to tide you over until a real meal can literally save the day for you.

8. This is one that I don’t feel like I should have to say, but every year I show up and, well, it seems like not everyone knows. Please shower. Be clean. Your body will appreciate it. Your feet will be thankful. And the person next to you in line, the gamer at the table next to you, and everyone else will be happier to be around you. And while you’re at it, put on deodorant, change your clothes at least once a day and brush your teeth at least once, preferably in the morning.

Gen Con Exhibit Hall Map

9. There is a lot to do at Gen Con. Even if all you do is go to the Exhibit Hall, you can’t spend more than a handful of minutes at any booth if you want to see them all over the course of the weekend, plus the Exhibit Hall is only open from 10–6. Then there are the events, scheduled and impromptu demos, tournaments, movies, True Dungeon, DIY crafts, and SO MUCH MORE! (Someone at Gen Con needs to calculate how long it would take to do everything there is to do over those four days.) The only way to navigate it all is to come up with a plan.

Do this now and not Thursday morning. Look at the games that will be there, rank those that are most important to you. Budget time for eating, wandering, and just getting from place to place. Your schedule will no doubt fall apart at some point, but if you go in with a plan, you won’t be slapping yourself on the way home for forgetting to do that one thing you really wanted to do. And while you’re at it, print your schedule out. Networks may be unreliable, depending on where you are and if you’ve tucked it away on an app or site, it may not be reachable right away. There is an unofficial app for Gen Con, available for both iOS and Android. It’s worth downloading, even if you can’t get all the data in certain areas of the ICC.

10. This one is simple: Be nice. Everyone is there to have a good time. Don’t ruin anyone’s vacation by being a jerk. Since this year’s Gen Con is going to be completely sold out (likely), be extra mindful of how crowded it’s going to be. Things may take longer than they have in the past. Be thoughtful of your backpack and/or costume. Don’t whack somebody by spinning around too fast with the 20-pound sack on your back. Have a good attitude – you will be waiting in lines for pretty much everything. Or navigating aisles swollen with people in just as much of a hurry as you. Don’t block aisles to talk to friends; move to the sides. Ask permission before taking a photo of someone, especially someone in cosplay and, especially, don’t make fun of people. It’s never been cool. Instead, keep a smile on your face and make friends with as many people you can.

11. Depending on where you are in the ICC it can be sweaty hot or pretty chilly. On top of that, it’s going to be pretty nice outside, which may affect HVAC systems differently than usual. You know your body’s internal temperature better than anyone. You should dress accordingly and you may want to throw in a pullover or something if you’re someone who gets cold easily.

12. Games. There are strategies here too. Has your gaming group told you that you shouldn’t come home unless you get a copy of Legend of the Five Rings? You had better get up very early Thursday morning and get in line outside the door closest to Fantasy Flight’s booth. Then walk (DON’T RUN!) as quickly as you can to get a copy, first thing. Are you more of a bargain hunter? Late Sunday afternoon, it’s not unheard of (but not guaranteed) that publishers might let some games go for a bit less than retail, rather than ship them home. But beware, popular games will sell out very quickly. If there’s a game you must have, buy it before it disappears.

13. Gen Con has a huge, thick program with all the events in it, some features, and other things. It’s a nice souvenir and worth reading later. When you arrive, there’s only one thing you need: the map at the back. Rip it out, throw the book on your bed at your hotel or in your bag and just carry the map around until you know where everything is.

Convention Bag

14. Let’s talk a bit about what you want to put in your Gen Con Adventurer’s Kit, those items to carry with you throughout the day. You’ll want to have a backpack or messenger bag to carry all of these things. Jonathan covered his bag essentials a couple of years ago; I have a few more items to add:

  • Hand sanitizer (As a survivor of Con Crud, I can promise that you don’t want any part of it. Wash your hands as often as you can, use sanitizer when you can’t get to a sink.)
  • Phone/watch
  • Battery charger/cords
  • Medicine (If you have specific daily needs, this should go without saying, but, even if you don’t, a few pain reliever caplets can significantly improve your day and keep you going.)
  • Gum (See #8, above.)
  • Snacks (See #7, above.)
  • Cloth grocery bags (These fold away easily and hardly weigh anything. If you have a surprise purchase, a grocery bag will make it easier to carry around.)
  • Dice (If you are planning on playing an RPG. But leave your rule books at home. The GM will have them.)
  • Pen, paper (Never leave home without it!)
  • Toilet paper (You don’t need a full roll, take one from home that has just a bit left. But nothing is worse than walking in the bathroom at the end of a day and having every stall be empty of paper.)
  • Money (Almost all vendors will take plastic, but cash works all the time.)
  • Badge holder/lanyard (Jonathan mentions this in his post from a couple years ago, but sometimes the lanyard given out can irritate your neck, which is very annoying. It’s better to bring your own and be comfortable. Gen Con badges have long been 3″ tall and 4″ wide with a punch at the center top. You’ll have to show it all the time and you have to wear it, so you may as well be comfortable.)
  • Small game to play while waiting (It’s Gen Con — you may as well be playing a game!)
  • Cough drops (In addition to walking more than you usually do, you’ll probably be talking more than you usually do. Cough drops soothe a tired throat.)
  • Generic tickets (I always pick up a few, just in case I run across an event that has openings.)
  • Business cards (You will meet people. Help them remember you with a business card.)

15. Additionally, there are a couple other items that you might want to bring with you to Indianapolis. Someone turned me on to binder clips last year. I didn’t understand why at first, but binder clips are really helpful for keeping hotel curtains shut so you can sleep a little later, especially if you’re sensitive to light. Next, as Jonathan pointed out in his post on suitcase Tetris from a couple of years ago, you have to be able to get things home somehow. This is more challenging if you flew in. Check out Jonathan’s tips and don’t forget to bring an extra bag for purchases or a duffel to throw dirty clothes in. If all else fails, throw your underwear and socks away. That new copy of First Martians is far more important.

16. Last and certainly not least is really easy, but vitally important. Thank the volunteers. Gen Con is so big that it couldn’t work without the many volunteers who give up part of their con so that games can be demoed, lost gamers can find their next events, water jugs get filled, and a thousand other big and small tasks that make Gen Con work. Smile and say thank you. Little words go a long way.

See you in Indy!

Ryan Bruns of Mayday Games and GeekDad Dave Banks give Meteor a thumbs-up. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu
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3 thoughts on “16 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Gen Con

  1. The convention center food isn’t that bad. I remember getting a $5 meal so I didn’t have to leave the center and then fuss about getting back in.

  2. I wish I could go this year, but school started early and there was just too much going on to make it. I hope all the attendees enjoy themselves!!

    Oh, and I heartily approve of your choice of apparel when you reviewed Meteor!

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