Saturday, 24 January 2015

Rathnard's Gencon Guide

So this was something I wrote up a few months back, but was probably too long, too off topic and dare I say it, too self indulgent for the Wyrd Chronicles. ;) So instead, with Gencon 2015 tickets having just been made available, I thought I'd post this up on my blog. 

Tip #1: Make sure your camera is half decent. :P

As you should surely know (what, you mean you don’t closely follow my wacky adventures?!) 2014 was the year I attended Gencon, the self-described Best Four Days in Gaming(TM) and arguably one of the biggest gaming conventions on Earth! Being both married with a daughter and from literally the other side of the world, this was a big trip for me. Fortunately I can say that despite the cost, flight time and effort involved it was a truly unforgettable experience, and one I’d highly recommend it to any gamer out there!

In light of this, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a guide for those people who are planning to attend future Gencons! This is by no means a comprehensive guide. After all, I’ve only attended once and I’m trying to avoid writing a novel-sized article! So instead, I’m focussing on the tips I learnt and found most useful as a first-time attendee, and in particular as someone who was mostly (but not entirely) interested in Wyrd-related gaming.

Outside the Exhibition hall, about 15 mins before opening on the first day. 

Booking your Badge

It should go without saying that your first stop when planning a trip to Gencon is to access the website: There’s a lot of handy info on the convention itself and I’d strongly recommend you give it a browse while you’re planning your trip. Aside from the date of the convention, the most immediately useful bits of information are the dates for when Badge and Event Registration open. The Badge is your ticket to the convention itself and as far as I know, there’s no limit to how many are sold.  There’s also the option for a VIG (“Very Important Gamer”) Badge. This offers early access to the Exhibition hall and various other perks, but it’s quite expensive (more than US$500) and very limited in number so they sell out fast. I was too slow to buy a VIG when I booked my badge but with hindsight, I don’t regret not getting one. The perks would have been nice but I never felt as though I wasn’t getting the full “Gencon Experience” without a VIG badge. Whether it’s worth the price is up to you but if you do want one, make sure you buy it the moment badge registration opens (EDIT: if you're reading this now for Gencon 2015, you're probably too late for a VIG badge).

Despite the excellent location, these apartments were unavailable due to building code violations. 


First and foremost, I cannot stress enough just how important it is to book a hotel close to the convention centre! Yes, it’s going to cost a small fortune but believe me when I say that it’s absolutely worth it! For one, part of the expense is negated by not having to pay for transport to and from the Convention Centre every day. Also with the crowds and excessive walking, you really don’t want to be carrying more than you have to around the convention centre. So having a hotel nearby to drop off shopping or pick up your gear will prove invaluble, especially if you do what I did and buy more than US$1000 worth of models and other stuff for friends!

Gencon does offers discounted hotel rates through their reserved housing block, which becomes available for booking online about one week after the Badges go on sale. Unfortunately, the online system for booking these rooms should actually, seriously be considered a form of torture! Getting decent accommodation requires you to be online with a few thousand other people as soon as the website opens. And unfortunately, severely overloaded websites rarely work as quickly or reliably as you want them too.

For me, I was up at 3am (Perth time) in the hopes of getting a good room when the reservations website opened. The first attempt got me a reservation at the Hilton, right near the convention centre…but the website kicked me out as I was filling in credit card details. It took another two attempts and at least an hour of waiting before I finally managed to get a hotel next to the airport. It was a reasonable rate, but was a long way from the city and the whole experience left me bitterly disappointed about what I ended up with. In the end I gave up on the Gencon booking system and instead went through the usual channels (eg. or the hotel websites themselves) to book a non-discounted (and expensive!) hotel in downtown Indianapolis.
Speaking of costly accommodation, I found that sharing the room with two other friends made that hugely expensive hotel room much more affordable. Most standard hotel rooms will come with two beds, but someone could always bring an inflatable mattress or (if they feel like roughing it) just sleep on the floor. Some hotels will also be happy to wheel in a cot for that third person to sleep (for a nominal fee, of course!). Check with the hotel to see whether they can do that and if you do need a cot, try and arrange it as soon as possible in case they run out (and they probably will!). Depending on the room size you might be able to fit in a fourth (especially if they’re sharing a bed with someone else), but it will definitely be getting quite cramped by that point.

Look mum, I'm playing Malifaux!


After buying your badge and booking a room, the next thing you’ll need to do is register for any events you want to participate in at Gencon. This includes tournaments, demo games, contests and generally participating in anything that’s organised and run by another company or group. Most of these take place in the Events hall, a huge space that is open almost 24 hours a day. Event registration typically opens a few months before Gencon, but the list of available events (with times and costs) is made available about a week before registration opens. This gives you some time to plan out your wish list of what you want to attend and when, before registration finally opens and the rush begins to actually secure those tickets. Fortunately, event registration isn’t nearly as painful as booking a hotel. At least in my own experience, most events won’t sell out the moment registration opens. So unless you know the event in question is wildly popular (eg. True Dungeon), you will usually be able to get what you’re hoping for.

One of the big questions about events is how many you should book for your time at Gencon? It is very easy to fill out your entire schedule, but doing so means you’ll either lose your spot at one event if another runs too late, or you won’t have enough time to wander the convention centre and check out all the cool new games, activities and other products on display. I found that a nice balance was to leave at least one full day to wander the convention centre. Personally I gave myself about 1 ½ days, which I felt was about right for me. It also helps to remember that while the Events hall is open almost 24 hours a day, the Exhibition hall (where all the games companies and other vendors sell their wares) is only open from 10am-6pm (4pm on Sunday). So booking events outside those hours will not interfere with any potential shopping or browsing time (I make no promises about socialising or sleeping time though!).

SPEEED PAINTIIIIING!!!! Well worth doing, especially since you get a free mini out of it!

While getting your event tickets, I would also recommend buying a few generic tickets. These can be used to fill in an empty spot at an event you hadn’t booked for or even for an event you that had booked out before you bought your tickets online. Unused tickets can be refunded for “system credit” (which only allows them to be spent on tickets/registration at a future Gencon), so you’ll want to weigh up how much you’re prepared to spend on tickets that you may not use, especially if like me, this may be your only foreseeable Gencon! Personally, I only spent one generic ticket (for a speed painting contest), but if my interests had been broader or I’d researched what I could have attended a little better, I'm sure would have used more.

Unless your tickets are mailed to you before Gencon, you’ll need to pick them up from the Will-Call booth at the convention centre itself. The staff are excellent at keeping the line moving quickly, but I’d still suggest picking up your tickets the day before Gencon officially opens. You can still grab them during the convention but if you do, try and avoid the morning of the first day when the queue is largest by far.

While you’re visiting the Will-Call booth, make sure you pick up a Program Book too, for the hefty cost of $0! The convention centre map itself is well worth having, but flipping through it can give you lots of great ideas on what to do in your downtime. This includes themed restaurants, promotions, giveaways and of course events that you might have missed when doing your research online!

The Haul.


With so many companies at the one event releasing everything from exclusives to newly released products, it’s inevitable that you’ll be doing some shopping over Gencon. The question, then, is when to do it? The morning of the first day is undoubtedly the busiest time at the Exhibit Hall, but if you want to get some exclusive or early releases before they run out, this is sometimes your only chance to buy them.

If you really do want to do your shopping on the first day, it really helps to have a plan of attack. For me, I wanted to buy some “essentials” from the Wyrd booth as soon as the doors opened. So I used the Exhibit Hall map to determine exactly where the booth was located and positioned myself outside the doors half an hour before they opened. There was still more than a hundred people in front of me but this turned out not to be a problem. Once the doors opened I made a beeline for the Wyrd booth and was still one of the first people there. In fact grabbing what I needed, heading to the cash register and paying took all of about two minutes, giving me time to head for another booth to buy the next item on my shopping list. Needless to say, I found this approach was well worth it, especially considering a friend who arrived a little later at the Wyrd booth had to wait a full hour in line to buy his product!

Peak hour at the Wyrd booth. Save yourself the stress and stay away until the crowds clear. 

Speaking about Wyrd in particular, in recent years the company has been very good at bringing enough stock to satisfy the customers over the course of Gencon. But there’s always a few items that run out by the end of the convention (rarely by the end of the first day, though). You might be able to predict some of them, (like the Strategies and Schemes deck last year), but others may take you by surprise (like Killjoy, believe it or not). If you’re concerned that something you want will run out, then it’s worth getting in early to buy those items as soon as possible. Otherwise, consider ordering online on the morning of the first day for those particular releases. Stock also occasionally arrives partway through Gencon, so if there’s something specific that’s not available on the first day (this will always be announced through the Wyrd website), it might be best to avoid the initial crowds and do all your purchasing once everything you want is available.

If you are planning to spend a lot of money at the Wyrd booth, try and find a chance to chat with one of the staff to let them know in advance. Then do your purchasing during a quiet time at the booth, such as the afternoon. If the booth is empty and you’re nice enough to the staff (and I really must stress this – be NICE to the staff!), they might even help you collect your order and bring it to the cash register.

In past years Wyrd has offered a free limited edition model for orders over $100. If you’re hoping to get more than one of these then in the past it's been possible to do so at the Wyrd booth, but you’ll have to divide your order into multiple $100 lots, paying for each lot separately (there's no guarantee they'll do this again in 2015 mind you). Ideally you’re best off doing this during the quiet periods (see above) where both you and the staff aren’t in a rush to process your order. However if you absolutely must do this when it’s busy then don’t mess about – make sure you’ve already divided your order up so that you waste as little time as possible at the till!

Have cash on hand. While almost every booth will accept your credit or debit card, sometimes the card readers will be down. In such cases cash is the only option unless you’re willing to wait around for the machine to work again! During the peak times I found that some booths will divide their customers into two separate lines – those with cash and those with a card. The cash line tends to go much faster than the card line, so you can save yourself some time by being flexible in how you can pay for your goodies!
If you’re not from the USA it’s worth knowing that in most States, retailers (including those at Gencon) will charge you an additional sales tax on top of the advertised price of whatever you buy. In Indiana this sales tax amounts to 7%. So if you’re doing any shopping at Gencon, make sure you take into account that extra cost when working out how much money to bring on the day.  

If you’re after a bargain, it will pay to do your shopping on the last day of the convention. Many (not all!) vendors will be selling their wares at a discount to minimise how much they have to take home with them. So taking the time to wander the Exhibit hall in the closing hours of the final day might just land you some cheap, last minute goodies.

My final shopping related tip is something that never even occurred to me until I was in actually on my flight to Indianapolis. If you’re not from the USA, make sure to look up your own country’s import allowances! Most countries allow people to bring in purchased goods to a certain value, above which they hit you with an import tax. The last thing you want is to get hit with a few hundred dollars in tax so if you are planning to buy a lot, make sure you’re not going to exceed your countries limit. In my case, the amount I bought at Gencon was well in excess of AU$900 (the limit on imports for Australia), so I circumvented this by sending some of my purchased models home through the post. It cost me a fair amount to do so, but it was better than possibly being delayed at the airport and forking out a few hundred dollars extra in tax.

The whiskey was all gone by the time I arrived, so you'll need to bring your own. 

And finally…

Make sure you bring food and water. While there is no shortage of nearby restaurants and food trucks nearby the venue, there’s also no shortage of people queuing for those food trucks over lunch. Not to mention that you may not want to waste the time and money getting out there to find sustenance, especially if you’re in the middle of an event. So be sure to pack a bottle of water and a few bananas or energy bars. It’s well worth the trouble, and it may even win you a few friends if you encounter a game designer who hasn’t eaten all day because he or she couldn’t leave the exhibition hall (looking at you, Aaron Darland!).

Finally, to round this guide out I have one more nugget of wisdom. Remember those poor saps not attending Gencon? Remember how you used to feel, waiting on the edge of your seat to get any new info on the releases as all those lucky schmucks got their books, cards and models weeks before you did? And remember how awesome it was when some of those schmucks took the time to post pictures of all those cool products during Gencon? I hope you know what I’m getting at here. Please, for the sake of the rest of us, bring a camera and upload photos during the convention. :)

Until next time,


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