Tuesday 27 October 2015

NERDTASTIC Convention Roadtrip Report (Part 1) - Gen Con 2015

Back in May, Outpost Expeditions announced a NERDTASTIC Convention Roadtrip to the United States from late-July to August this year. Our Away Team is now pleased to present our Convention Recon Reports for Gen Con, Star Trek Vegas, D23 Expo and Disneyland progressively over the next few days.

Gen Con, the largest gathering of gamers in North America, is hosted annually in Indianapolis, capital of Indiana state in midwest / northern central region of United States. Gen Con dates back to 1968 as a wargames convention by Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. “The Best Four Days of Gaming” took place this year from 30 July to 2 August 2015 at the Indiana Convention Centre (ICC) with a record attendance of 61,423 people from all over the world.

Eve before the gaming Gen Con swarm at the Indiana Convention Centre (ICC).
To appreciate the scale of this convention, the exhibit hall alone covers 283,000 sqft for game publishers and retail vendors. In comparison with local Malaysian conventions, the entire ground level of Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre hosting Comic Fiesta's 40,000++ attendees in 2014 is only about 104,500 sqft. The larger MINES International Exhibition & Convention Centre (MIECC) hosting Big Bad Wolf sales and this year's Comic Fiesta measures about 180,000 sqft. Yet Gen Con's exhibit halls G to K only comprises half of the ICC's ground level while other halls and function rooms have also been occupied for gaming activities; refer to graphic below comparing relative size of the convention centres. Plus the ICC has a 2nd upper level and connects to 8 adjacent hotel all fully utilised to host Gen Con's 14,000+ events. Yes, Gen Con is a mega-convention!

Comparing the ICC to KL Convention Centre and MINES Exhibition Centre.

Spend many hours wandering the massive Gen Con Exhibit Hall.
Preceding the official first day of the convention is a Trade Day of panels / presentations for gaming industry participants and educators at the hotel meeting rooms. Some of these sessions involve previews by game publishers as well as discussions on the state of certain game genres and/or the industry. Any actual gaming on this day would be demonstrations by the publishers themselves or playtest sessions of upcoming games.

Prototype for the Conan Rise of Monsters boardgame showcased on Trade Day.

For a “dead” series, Firefly games keep on rolling... literally in this case with the new Shiny Dice game being demostrated on Trade Day by Upper Deck.
Day 1 of Gen Con started from 8am on Thursday morning as numerous events kick off such as RPG campaigns, miniatures wargames, and trading card game tournaments. Those few thousand attendees not involved in these events were on standy to swarm into the exhibition hall as soon as it opens at 10am to find out about the latest game reveals and/or snag exclusive convention merchandise. Many of the renown game publishers were exhibiting, such as Mayfair, Paizo, Fantasy Flight Games, Asmodee, Rio Grande, Upper Deck, and more.

Gamer hordes ready to swarm into the Exhibit Hall.

Follow the “red carpet” to “game heaven”.

Exhibits by Fantasy Flight Games showcased major products and preview of upcoming releases.

Privateer Press with Warcraft gaming miniatures.

Sample of convention exclusive loot, these being special miniatures from Privateer Press.

Demo for the upcoming Attack on Titan boardgame.

Fantasy Flight Game preview of upcoming Star Wars Armada starships.

Proposed Kickstarter games also featured at Gen Con, like this Battletech PC game.
Gamers will to roll a lot of “save vs. willpower” as there are too many opportunities to drain your wallet from retail vendors. Bargains were plenty as game distributors and retailers were throwing out games at huge discounts. Even if you had $$$ to spare for these bargains, luggage space may dampen your spirits as many boardgames are bulky and heavy. Fedex provided on-site shipping services for those with too much loot to carry. Unfortunately while Fedex rates for domestic shipping within U.S. are almost reasonable, international shipping charges are so ridiculously expensive that it may be better off buying a return flight ticket for a friend to fly over and lug back upto 45kg of check-in luggage!

Lots of retail vendors offering hundreds of games at bargain prices.

Magic TCG cards aplenty on the secondary market.

Customised TCG cards are also offered, some of which by the actual artists for MTG artwork.
Browsing the vendors also reveal the shear number of accessories to enhance the game experience, from dice rings, DBG card organiser systems to gaming table furniture. T-shirts are a big sell in U.S. so they come in all manner of gaming goodness with clever quotes and/or fan art. Other means to show your geekdom include D6-handbags, horny headgear, bumper stickers, etc.
Many gaming enhancements are also offered, like these generic buildings and structures for miniature wargaming.

Even dice have accessories like trays, towers and special containers.

Geek apparel aplenty to mix & match so as not to look the “generic” geek.
Steampunk and medieval cosplay are popular in U.S., so entire aisles of vendors are devoted for this hobby. There are many leather products here to accessorise for period wear plus make-up, wigs and even prosthetics. Game of Thrones enthusiasts could purchase replica metal swords and other weapons. Gen Con itself offers official convention souvenir merchandise comprising tshirts, hoodies, caps, backpacks, shot glasses, etc.

Fantasy, steampunk, and goth costumes are readily available that a cosplayer could easily pick-up everything needed to cosplay on-the-spot.
Many authors of the fantasy and sci-fi genre were present, offering book signing sessions for fans. Professional artists are also present selling prints of their artworks. However comic books do not have a significant vendor presence. For those, head over to one of the comic cons instead.

Margaret Weis (left) of Dragonlance acclaim signs books for the Firefly RPG. Kevin Sembieda (right) of Palladium Books signs for the Robotech RPG.

Plenty of original art available at Gen Con, although more skewed towards fantasy visuals compared to superheroes & sci-fi at the comic cons.
Eventhough this seems like a lot happening, the majority of Gen Con's 14,000+ scheduled events take place outside the exhibit hall. Major games and/or sponsors like MTG, Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, Settlers of Catan, etc. have entire halls dedicated for their games. These scheduled events include numerous tournaments and popular games which are often booked out months in advance through the Gen Con online event registration system. In addition to your Gen Con attendance fee, set aside some funds to participate in gaming events, which cost between a nominal entry fee from USD$2-4 upwards to USD$52 for True Dungeon, an immersive live fantasy adventure. With over 14,000+ events, there is simply too much going on to try “seeing everything”; the Gen Con Program Book itself is 1cm thick trying to list every event! So best prepare by shortlisting “must attend” events and register in advance online.

Layout of ICC for various gaming zones and event rooms, not including level 2 and adjacent hotels.

Entry to the Dungeons & Dragons playing hall.

DnD RPGs run all day & night.

Pathfinder games are popular.

Mayfair Game's hit Settlers of Catan as a giant-scale floor game.
Tournaments usually run during daylight hours while more casual activities like RPG sessions and friendly table-top gaming may take place well past midnight until 3-4am. Sleep at Gen Con is optional, though highly recommended!

Star Wars The Card Game tournaments.

Star Trek Attack Wing tournaments run by the community supported by WizKids although not official present at Gen Con.

Upper Deck running Legendary and VS mini-contests whereby winner of a timed game takes home the game.

Community run Star Wars Miniatures Battle of Hoth campaign is great eye-candy.

Star Wars Miniatures battle it out.
Pilot Battlemechs in these cockpit simulators.
Events also take place outside the ICC with panels and live-action role-play (LARP) events often held at the adjacent hotels. Panels mostly relate to the gaming industry with presentations by publishers as well as discussions with community experts. There are also educational panels on book writing and cosplay. On-hands activities include painting miniatures, making LARP weapons, and starship command simulator, to name only a few. Plus there are auctions of pre-loved games.

Paint miniatures.

Make LARP weapons.

Fantasy Flight Games presentation was packed.

Discussion panel by fiction book authors sharing their experiences.

Cosplay 101 panel.

Film, documentary and anime screenings.

Lelong, lelong! Auction of games, books and other parapherniaia.
Check out more sights of Gen Con from this video by The Dice Tower:

Gen Con hosts the highly popular TrueDungeon experience. Players form a party adventurers to undergo a live quest into a 3D dungeon environment with puzzles to solve and monsters to kill. Different character classes comprise each adventuring party such as Wizard, Ranger, Monk, Paladin, etc. Players can customise their character at the start of each adventure by assigning weapons and equipment represented by tokens to enhance their abilities and the party's survivability. A bunch of these tokens come with purchase of the adventure but also found as treasure, especially the more powerful ones. An official True Dungeon shop sells tokens but a secondary market has also evolved with traders buying & selling tokens. Certainly True Dungeon veterans returning year-on-year will level up!

Sample True Dungeon “Monk” character partially equipped. Upper right insert: A substantial secondary market is available for treasure and equipment tokens.  

Dungeon Crawl offers an alternative role-play adventure experience with hands-on combat using foam weapons.
Of course cosplay is aplenty at Gen Con. The official Costume Parade took place on Day 3, Saturday afternoon with cosplayers marching through the convention centre concourse by the hundreds. It was immediately followed by the Costume Contest in the Ballroom of the best cosplay in Gen Con. Some contestants were outstanding, like the 9ft tall Sauron and even a huge dragon!

Costume Parade includes all manner of cosplayers.

Marvel cosplayers.

Dark elves.

Spider-man's nemesis, Doctor Octopus in both comtemporary outfit and Steampunk inspired.

Left to right: Kanan from Star Wars Rebels, Captain America, & mythical Goatman.

Cinderella & her Prince. Game of Thrones inspired Iron Throne cosplay (right).

Finalists of the Costume Contest (top). Female DC superheroes and villains in Victorian era garb.
Check out more cosplay from videos by Cosplayer Nation:

Roam the convention corridors to find some quirky activities taking place, like signing Klingons or building a “city” from trading cards under Cardhalla: Build Donate Destroy. And for those autograph collectors, guests of honor include Terry Brooks, Marina Sirtis (Star Trek), and Summer Glau (Firefly).

Klingon opera perhaps? No actualy it sounded like country music!

What do you do with millions of excess trading cards? Build a “city” out of it then smash them out like Godzilla for a charitable cause!
There is so much to do at Gen Con that our report is unable to cover everything. For hardcore gamers, certainly include Gen Con in your bucket list. Better yet work your way over on 4-7 August 2016 or any of the subsequent dates scheduled upto 2020. Gen Con is certainly “the best 4 days of gaming”!

To close, here's a video review of Gen Con by The Dice Tower:

Find more photos on our Facebook photo album and stay tuned for Part 2 of this NERDTASTIC Convention Roadtrip when our Away Team headed to Star Trek Vegas.