Gencon 2019 – A Foreigner’s Guide
Foreign from another English speaking country, but I had to get on a plane and go over real water. Still, you take my meaning, America – to me – is a strange country with no mountains, straight roads, and personal injury billboards. Your food does strange things to my stomach, and you don’t appear to have trains. To your credit, only three people out of the countless I spoke to got my accent wrong, and in most cases not by much, but on the other hand some of you seem to think that Brexit is all done and dusted, and that made me cry.
So based on my one and only experience, here’s what I’d tell anyone coming from outside of America headed to Gencon, and some advice I’d give to any first-timers.
Most conventions I’ve ever attended, including the biggest in the country, are pretty easy to simply attend without much of a plan, you just show up, and you can drop into things as and when you choose, you don’t need to have every moment planned out.
Gencon is a different beast, and the options on how you can spend every hour are expansive to say the least. While there is plenty to see around the con floor, and a few instances where one can just drop in, many of the conventions events are pay-to-attend. For the most part these are merely a couple of dollars, enough to cover the use of the room and to keep Gencon growing throughout downtown, but for many it’s because the organisers are professionals in their various fields and are here to earn. Things like True Dungeon put on one hell of a show, and it sells out fast.
When events go live, it’s a good idea to have a look and make decisions early. While you don’t have to pack every hour of every day, it’s sensible to at least ensure you have something more than just blindly ambling the trade floor between meals because you simply won’t see what Gencon has to offer.
Take an Extra Bag
Board games are big, many are getting bigger. On your flight you’ll have a limited luggage allowance, and you can get away with taking very little: clothes enough for the long weekend, necessary toiletries, and just enough entertainment value to keep you occupied on the plane to and from. You can get most of that in your carry-ons, leaving a potential suitcase worth of purchasing power. Use clothes for padding where possible, don’t forget they’ll be going through the airport luggage system.
My mistake was not taking carry-on luggage. My bag counts as a personal item, meaning I had a few cu.ft of space that I simply wasn’t carrying. Hells, I could have packed that case into my suitcase for the flight out ready to separate them for the return journey. I also returned with nearly $200 that could, even now, be a leather ringmail cuirass or Fate of the Norns. More fool me, and now I have a dent in my art print from improper packing. More fool me.
Don’t Go Alone
I went alone so that I could do a convention by myself without having any friends to fall back on, and while that has its perks (which I’ll get to shortly) it has some serious drawbacks. For a start, splitting the burden of hotel and travel fees would have saved me around $600 on the weekend, but there are other less obvious considerations that I was less prepared for.
Starting with the weird one… it is decidedly odd eating alone. I had the pleasure of sharing a meal once, and even then I only sat with a drink because I’d not long eaten, but when faced with the prospect of going to a restaurant or something for a proper sit-down meal without someone there, it was enough to drive me to find alternatives, simple small meals from Starbucks or similar, occasional journeys to the food court to walk somewhere secluded to eat. You never consider how sociable a thing it is to eat until you have to do so alone.
More importantly, I was sick on the Saturday, sick enough to drive me out of the con and back to the hotel. I don’t care how old you are, how independent you may think yourself, it’s no pleasant thing to have to look after yourself, and more importantly to know that there’s no one to help you. The long walk to the nearby Target to get some soup and more meds would have been a far less burdensome thing if I’d have had the assurance that at some point someone was coming back to the hotel, someone I could have messaged begging for a bottle of water that was better than the unpleasant swill coming out of the taps.
Ditch Your Friends
Screw them! You don’t need them, you’re a strong, independent adult who never gets sick or needs help! You can pay for your own crippling taxi fees.
The best way to meet new people is to cut the safety net and dive face-first into the world. It’s a lesson I have learned and unlearned repeatedly over the last few years, but Gencon has served as a wonderful reminder that there is no better way to induct yourself into the ranks than by standing in the middle and pretending you’d been there the whole time.
If you’re already engaged in conversation with someone you already know, you rather effectively barricade yourself from random encounters, conversations with people in queues, strangers who rope you into faux-arguments (hi Tom, hi Lauren), or having conversations with stall workers who invite you to games or events throughout the weekend. That’s the best way to experience the convention scene, chat to people who are attending and working, talk to the locals about the best ways to work the convention, places to eat, and things to do and see.