So this is the second time I've been to Gencon, taking the long, long trip out to Indianapolis. I've been to PAX East twice also, and the texture and feel of Gencon feels completely different than PAX East. People in impressive, hundred dollar cosplay are high fiving people who are cosplaying the same character but with duct tape and cardboard. I saw a conga line of nerds go by singing crazy train at the top of their lungs. Kickstarter success stories have booths next to Paizo and Asmodee. In a word, it's more genuine. PAX is about multi million dollar companies selling games to a huge goal market; Gencon is about people sharing the labour of their love with like minded souls. The love of the game shines through all the sweat and the grime. PAX has polish and shiny chrome siding; Gencon has polished oak, worn smooth from years of dedicated caresses.
Part of the difference comes just from history: GenCon is the oldest running game convention out there, started by Gary Gygax himself back in 1968. The focus hasn't changed either: while the world of gaming changed to a huge video game focus, GenCon has never left the world of boards and miniatures, pen and pencil. The show floors aren't taken over by giant screens and massive sound systems, but instead are filled with the rolling of dice and game developers giving 1-on-1 demonstrations of their games. PAX isn't bad, but it doesn't feel as palpably enamored with its subject material. It's a gathering of companies for profit, and without conventions like it, we wouldn't have the blockbuster triple A video games we know and love. Maybe it's because all the video screens have been taken away, but Gencon gives us the chance to meet the developers of our favorite little games face to face.
GenCon is a 4-day event, and it's still impossible to see everything there.
I was able to go talk to Wyrd Miniatures, the company behind the game Malifaux. Sprites and Dice loves Malifaux, and it's great that they use Gencon as a way to preview miniature sets months in advance; many companies use this convention to give fans a chance to see models, rulebooks, and games in advance of a release date. You see the original developer of a game, like Nathan, and you're able to go over to shake their hand. Large booths like Wyrd's feel like little worlds into themselves, with their own life-size statues and decorations.
Panels are everywhere, from podcasters giving tips to companies giving exclusive news into what games are coming out next. True Dungeon sells out of tickets every year, an event where you can walk around a constructed dungeon maze, carrying a character sheet and fighting as a team. The convention had to host it in the nearby Lucas Oil Stadium to make room for all the normal booths and exhibitions. Sun King Brewing makes a convention beer every year, and it's sold in all the local bars and restaurants until it sells out. GenCon is old fashioned, but it's still massive.
There's always tons of new games. There's a new Pandemic game called Reign of Cthulhu that got a lot of attention - not my sort of game, but co-op loving Wyatt will probably buy it the day it comes out. Codex is a card-game that takes the bad stuff out of original games like Magic: The Gathering to make something new and cool. SeaFall, the newest Legacy board game, sold out immediately, but that's okay, because there's only a thousand other new games to try at this convention.
I had the pleasure of talking to John, originally from the development team of Golem Arcana, who now works for Privateer Press, the makers of Warmachine and Hordes. That interaction was real special because a great friend of mine at Eschaton Media had been his smoking buddy for four years at different conventions, and John was able to start a dialogue about my buddy getting a freelance writer job. John even remembered me from last year when I spoke to him about Golem Arcana, may it rest in peace. That sort of organic interaction is so easy to have happen at GenCon; people are in it for the love of the game, and you can feel it in the atmosphere of the convention hall.
As this four day event winds down, I'm exhausted, and had a great time. The only downside of going to Gencon that I can think of is how many people think it's okay to wear utilikilts. It's okay to cosplay, it's okay to crossplay, it's okay to go around nearly butt naked for the sake of a costume... it's even okay to wear dumb nerd shirts, but utility kilts are not okay. If you wear utility kilts, I will kilt shame you. I'm kilt shaming you right now.
Did you have a good time at GenCon? Do you have a favorite game that you found? Maybe you're a utilikilt wearer, and want to explain to Dana why they're a great fashion choice: in any case, leave us a comment below! Like our articles? Follow us on Facebook to keep up with all of our game coverage following the convention, or donate to us on Patreon to help fund us on making our articles even better.