Gen Con for the First Time: Days Zero Through Two

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Like many tabletop, RPG, and board gamers, Gen Con has long been a bucket list item for me. In late 2021, we decided that 2022 was going to be The Year, and started saving for the trip. Now that we’re home, I have some thoughts to share. This is Part 2 of a three-part series.

Part One of the series discusses our preparations for Gen Con and the lessons we learned.

The First Half of Gen Con

As many single day passes as I saw throughout Gen Con, I can’t imagine only going for one day. Four days wasn’t enough to see everything, much less do everything. Here’s what we did for the first half of the trip.

Day 0 – Travel and Vaccine Proof

Sunrise somewhere over Oregon. Photo by Angela Leach.

Our travel day began at 2 AM on August 3. We got up, drove to the nearest airport (not a short distance), and boarded our first flight to Seattle at 4:30 AM. Our next flight wouldn’t be for four more hours, so we had the opportunity to have some tasty Beecher’s for breakfast sandwiches and coffee, and then people watched. We were some of the first to our gate, so we had a fantastic opportunity to people-watch as the gate filled slowly with nerds. As the crowd gathered, the atmosphere became electric. Geeks of all shapes and sizes congregated, waiting with unabashed excitement to get to Indianapolis. The four-hour flight was long, but I was prepared with a phone charger and the Kindle app on my phone. I had initially hoped to sleep, but the buzzing excitement from myself and nearly everyone else on the plane prevented that.

My family ready to get to con! Photo by Angela Leach

Once we landed, our ride got us quickly to the hotel where we unloaded our gear and immediately headed to the convention center. Despite the convention not officially starting until the next day, we wanted to be fully prepared with our wristbands. We got in line for the Vaccination Verification Station, and what a line it was! We managed to traverse the entire perimeter of the second floor of the convention center. Twice. It was a good way to see some things that we never would actually make it back to, despite having the desire to. Thankfully, the line moved quickly and everyone was in good spirits.

The line wrapped twice around the second floor of the convention center. Photo by Angela Leach.

Once we made it to the front of the line and through the serpentine line in the room itself, verification took only a few seconds. Our wristbands were applied, to be left on throughout the weekend. We made our way back downstairs and outside with the intent of finding some food, only to note that it was just past 10 PM and most restaurants had just closed. We did discover, however, a nearby Steak ‘n’ Shake, and headed in for food. I’d never eaten there, and, while it was good, the service was pretty slow. We finally ate around 11 PM and got back to the hotel in time to shower and climb in bed by midnight.

Day 1 – Wow, That’s a Lot of People

The first day of con, I needed to stop by and pick up a few things as a GeekDad, so we got up early and headed to the convention center at 8 AM, well before the 10 AM start time. Turns out, that was a good idea anyhow because once I finished in the press room, the lines were already long and the crowd was gathering outside the exhibit hall. Everyone was happy and friendly with each other, but they were super anxious to get in and get going as well. We paused outside to admire the gigantic inflatable Urbanmech, too.

A huge inflatable Urbanmech welcomed us to Gen Con. Photo by Jason Leach.

We stopped by customer service and gave them my old badge since having two was sort of silly, and discovered at the end of the customer service desk line was a separate desk with free coupon books and empty swag bags. This is a MUST. Get a bag and a coupon book for each person in your party. Not only will your bags never quite be enough, but they’re really cool looking and make for good organizing on your way home. The coupon books frequently have freebies listed in them and are masterful marketing. The lesson I learned by the end of the con with the coupon books: go through the books separately, pull out the coupons you want, write down the booth numbers, and then hide the coupon book from yourself. The pull of the clever marketing may otherwise be too strong, as it was for me. The same goes for the full page spread in the Gen Con program guide of all the con-branded stuff in different booths. If there’s something you want from that spread though, get it as early as you can. They sell out.

Instead of merging with the crowd or getting in the official Gen Con swag booth line, we went into the gaming hall which was still fairly empty at the time and wandered a bit. We saw Avalon Hill’s enormous space and Catalyst Game Labs’ Battletech area, and picked up some “generic” tickets that we’d ultimately fail to use.

Lots of tables to play on, but by full swing they were all full. Photo by Angela Leach.

Once the main exhibit hall opened, we tried our best to stick to a fairly reasonable zig-zag pattern starting with the 100 aisle, but we also skipped around a little knowing that there were a few people we wanted to say hi to. We got in the Catalyst line hoping to score one of the two hundred Battletech Alpha Strike boxes that made it to the con for sale, but about seven people in front of us, they announced the last one sold. Groans went up, but we were happy to get into the booth at all and ended up purchasing a few novels once we learned that five authors would be signing the next day.

The rest of the day was spent walking through the exhibit hall, talking to vendors (I particularly enjoyed chatting with small businesses) and tracking down pins for the Pin Bazaar, which is an annual pin collecting event at Gen Con. I somehow agreed to collect pins for two of us, which in hindsight was maybe not the best of plans, as it did lead to the majority of our going over budget. The lesson learned here is to look at the Pin Bazaar pins in the Program Guide, decide with your group who wants what, write the booth numbers down, and don’t worry about collecting every single one. Similar to the coupon book strategy, this will really save you money in the long run. You can combine your pin proofs of purchase as a group later if you all agree to it.

We stayed Thursday until the exhibit hall closed at 5 PM, then took an Uber back to our hotel and climbed into our friend’s truck to find dinner. We found a place nearby that touted the regional specialty of a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, so we went and enjoyed sampling Hoosier country cuisine. We’ve decided next time, we’ll try the same dish but at a different place, and so a tradition was born. When we got back to the room, we were all exhausted, so instead of managing to pull out any games we all just fell into our beds and slept.

Day 2 – Early to Rise, Late to Bed

The next morning, we added another friend to the mix and headed to the convention center closer to 10 AM. We immediately started walking the exhibit hall, thinking we would pick up where we left off, but I had Important Business of Importance on my calendar for noon, so we only made it one or two more aisles. At noon, I was honored to spend some time with Randall Bills from Catalyst Game Labs to talk about all their new and exciting upcoming and recent releases. I’m still a little starry eyed.

I am so excited to finally meet this incredible creator! Photo by Jason Leach.

Blinded by excitement and overwhelmed by all the shiny things, we all forgot to eat before my interview with Catalyst Game Labs, so once that was over we were super hungry and parched. We headed out to the food trucks and ate, guzzled our bottles of water, and headed back in to wander a tiny bit more before another interview. Once that was over, most of us were peopled out. We decided to head back to the hotel, order some pizza, and play a game of Battletech Alpha Strike that had been graciously set aside for me. Expect a review on that closer to its store release in November.

Playing a new game in the hotel lobby. Photo by Steven Morris.

We laughed uproariously and enjoyed the company of each other and the other gamers in the lobby well into the evening, but we were all ready for bed when the game was over.

The second half of our trip will appear in Part 3 of this series.

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