So you’re ponying up to Gen Con for the first time and you have no idea what to expect, what to bring, and what the heck to do. And you also wanna do it on a budget because you’re smart and know that you’ll be stocking up on sweet gaming loot.
Think of me as your Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – DON’T PANIC. I got you. You’re gonna do a great job and have a good time, and I’ll let you know how to do it best. In no particular order, here are the 20 things you should do to prepare for Gen Con, and what you should do when you hit downtown Indy.
1. Book a room as close as you can to the convention centre*^.
If this is your first time at Gen Con you will wanna stay as close as you can to the convention centre or you’ll wear yourself out with extra travel – whether you’re walking or needing to taxi to a hotel further out. Plus, being your first year, having a room close to the convention centre will be really handy for when you need to dump all the swag you’ll be buying. Coz you will. You might not think you will, but you probably will. Set yourself up for success now and you won’t regret it later.
*Booking a room is a perilous task. The 2017 Gen Con housing/room getting/hotel room booking lottery has just happened and as usual there’s a bunch of disappointed people. Go to step 2 if you haven’t got yourself a room, or if you have got yourself a room and want to know what to do next. ^Also – if you can’t stay close to the convention centre, know what times the shuttle buses come and go from where you’re staying. Have apps like Lyft and phone numbers for taxi services handy in case you need them. It’s not the end of the world if you aren’t in a hotel that’s close.
2. Get a roomie/be a roomie.
Hotel rooms are expensive. Not San Diego Comic-Con expensive, but still pricey for those of us travelling on a budget. If you want to ensure you’ve got enough cashy money to buy that limited edition dice set with matching bag and potions belt (because it’s the ultimate accessory to every outfit), then you need to share a room with someone. Room sharing is great for your wallet and great if you’re going with friends to the convention. You get to hang out with them and share stories about the cool stuff you’ve found while learning about the things your roomie has done (so you can add those to your list!) It’s even better if you don’t know the other person.
Here me out: conventions are a great place to meet like-minded people. Gen Con is honestly like coming home for me now (and I live in Australia, so it’s a home that’s very far away). I have yet to find one a**hole attendee these past 2 years. Maybe I’m lucky, but I like to think and hope that it’s because Gen Con brings some really lovely people together. Linking in with a roomie that shares similar interests is great because you make an instant friend. For the pessimists – even if you ended up with a roomie you don’t really like, you’re not going to see them all that much. You’ll be passing each other on the way to events and meals and hangouts, so don’t stress if you’re worried you’ll end up with a dud roomie. Chances are you won’t be around them enough for it to annoy you too much! You can find people looking for roomies on the Gen Con forums.
3. Pack light
You aren’t going to need lots of stuff to bring with you. As overseas travellers, we tend to bring a hard-shell suitcase and one regular suitcase – and one of them is empty when we arrive. You can make this work better for you if you can fit the regular suitcase inside the hard-shell one. That way you’re only checking in one suitcase, a babushka suitcase! When you fill one up, that’s when you start on the next bag. Always pack extra undies and socks. And have a bag you’re happy to have on you throughout the day, whether it’s just a small one that you just carry your cash and ID in, or a light backpack. Want to have your camera on you to capture cool stuff? Make sure you have room. Be honest with yourself about what you really need every day, because you don’t want to lug around a heavy bag for hours and hours.
4. Wear quick-dry clothing
Gen Con is typically held during fairly humid and hot Indianapolis weather. Packing quick-dry clothing will allow you to stay cool, because the kinds of fabrics you’ll be wearing typically breathe better, and they will also dry faster when you launder them. A great friend let us in on a tip last year that saved us in so many ways. By bringing one small bottle of liquid laundry detergent and packing quick-dry clothes you can save money to buy the things you really want, and make space in your suitcase. Washing your own clothes will take a little bit of time (10mins maybe), but it’s worth it. Plus it will keep you smelling fresh, which makes everyone a winner!
If you want to outsource the washing of your clothes while at the convention it’s going to cost you. Hotels will charge you to launder your clothing per item so unless you don’t feel like eating (and trust me, you’re gonna need the fuel) it’s much easier to do your own laundry. Simply wash your gear thoroughly in the bathroom sink (one item at a time) with your small bottle of detergent, hang your clothes up over the shower railing/with hangers, and you’re good as gold! Just don’t have the air conditioning on too cold, otherwise your stuff will take longer to dry. I used towels last year to help absorb water and speed-up the drying time (I lay one item of clothing on the towel and rolled it up like a big snake, and then squeezed).
5. Stay fresh
While we’re on the subject of laundering clothing, keep yourself fresh. It’s a convention. It’s hot and humid. People are going to be queuing for stuff, going outside for food, running to their next event, and you don’t wanna be that person that stanks it out for everyone else. Shower at least once a day. If you get particularly sweaty and sticky, shower again. Just do it. Bring industrial strength deodorant (those 48hr ones, because even though you’ll be showering, give yourself the opportunity to be as dry as possible with the strong stuff). Make sure you have fresh clothes to change into (see the previous point). Brush your teeth. Yeah, just do it. Pack some gum with you too, because you never know who you might meet and I’ll bet Patrick Rothfuss doesn’t want to smell the Primantis sandwich you just had for lunch. Speaking of…
6. Food & eating
Totally not related to the next few paragraphs but I’m so damn excited that Primantis will be there when I go back this year. So. Freaking. Good.
Anyway. You should be aware that most food places get busy very quickly over the course of the 4 days. If you wanna eat food, try to time-it to non-busy periods. Meaning, if you wanna go get lunch, maybe don’t do it at 1pm. If you can do it at 3pm, do that instead. It might not be much better in terms of busy-ness, but the wait should be slightly less hectic at the eateries. Around the convention centre are food trucks (yay!) with a fair bit of variety, so even if you’re vegetarian you’ll have something to eat. For budget eaters, Steak n Shake are open 24hrs around the convention (seriously) but you’ll be waiting if you want to sit down. If you want to grab takeaway from there instead the wait isn’t too bad. All sit-down places will be busy, so factor that in to your timetable.
Yes, just like Hermione, you should timetable yo’self. If you factor in extra time for walking, you can realistically save yourself more time by eating a little further away from the convention centre. If you want to fill yourself up first thing in the morning so that you’re not starving by lunchtime, some hotels have wicked buffet breakfasts. Yes, you might be paying a little more for those, but if you eat sensibly and fill up on the good stuff (plenty of fresh fruit and veggies to be had) you’ll find that you aren’t craving as much by lunchtime. So you kinda save money in that regard, or at least balance it out slightly. I typically budget about $15USD a meal, give or take. Not including adult beverages. You can definitely do less, and you can definitely do more – and it’s easier when you have snacks. Speaking of…
7. Snacks and drinking hacks
Buying bottles of water or soft drink/pop/soda can be an expensive exercise. But – if you get to Indy before the convention kicks off, you can save yourself some queue time and money by going to the local supermarket. There’s a few shops you can go for, depending on how far you want to travel. This is where ride services like Lyft are really handy and helpful. You can grab water, snacks, etc. in bulk and stash it in your hotel room. At the start of every day, or whenever you go back to the room to leave your swag, you can re-stock on snacks and drinks for the remainder of the day. Remember to put your drinks into the mini-bar fridge so you can cool down with a nice cold drink.
Going to the supermarket means you’ve got something healthy on standby to eat. As tempting as it is to buy a $5 Steak n Shake meal as often as you can to save your cash, you really don’t want to be doing that every day. Get some fruit, nuts and seeds, or even some veggies to snack on. I promise it will physically make you feel better to do this.
If you are really tight on cash, you can do what we did last year and take an empty suitcase with you to the supermarket and put your purchases in that. It makes taking the stuff back to your hotel room much easier, but it’s still fairly tiring and time consuming. Also – suitcases aren’t necessarily built to take a huge slab of water bottles. Be sensible, don’t break your stuff. Also – if you like an adult beverage or two, you can get your alcohol much cheaper this way. But don’t go too nuts. Because if you’re gonna have a drink it will most likely be with other people and you’ll go out to do that. Be wise!
8. Know thy bathrooms
Get familiar with where the bathrooms are in the convention centre and in your hotel. Go when you have the chance to. Don’t put it off. You might be queuing for ages to get food, or to go to a panel/event. Just go. Trust me. Especially if you’ve been eating Steak n Shake.
9. Get the showbag thingy
When you go to pick up your pass and event tickets there are people that will be handing out a little “showbag” of sorts. In it you will find a voucher book. You want that book. The voucher/coupon book thingy will contain some good deals for you to take advantage of while you’re at the convention. 15% off purchases at that really cool booth you wanted to check out? Yes please. Exclusive Gen Con only offers? I’ll take 2. Get the showbag. You never know what cool stuff it will lead you to!
10. Have a map of the exhibitor hall & know where you’re going
Have a map or make sure you know where the giant one is for the exhibitor hall. It’s a huge space (huge actually doesn’t even come close to describing it). Figure out who or what you want see and where they are in that space. Know the stall numbers and use the big signs hanging from the roof to help guide you to where you need to go. Stall numbers become dead useful when you meet up with other people. Want to direct them to that incredible jewellery stand you saw before? You know the booth number so you can tell them where to find it. Found someone who is a huge Munchkin fan? Lucky you know where the Steve Jackson games booth is, and what time John Kovalic will be doing signings! That’s how friendships are made.
11. Use the Gen Con website and plan, plan, plan!
The Gen Con website will tell you what’s worth going to see because they have descriptions of all the events, workshops and panels. Useful eh?
Use the website before you get to the con to help you figure out your plans for each day. You don’t have to stick to your plans, but having a good idea of what you want to do, and where you need to be and at what times will be really helpful. Always give yourself a bit of extra time to get somewhere because you never know what the crowds are going to be like (oh look! An impromptu cosplay photo session!) Having extra time up my sleeve has saved me on more than one occasion. Just like a person going on holiday, don’t plan too much. You don’t want to pack your days and then feel disappointed when you don’t get around to doing everything you wanted to do. You won’t, plain and simple. It might be 4 days of convention fun, but you will need to sleep. At least a little. Be wise, set yourself up for success and not “woulda-shoulda-couldas”.
12. Phone and data
I get myself a US sim card now when I land because roaming charges are silly. Especially when all you really need is sweet, sweet data. Phone reception around the convention ranges from terrible to “meh”. Especially inside the exhibitor hall. Be prepared for awful or no service at all. WiFi spots aren’t really great either, but better in the hotels. You need data so you can follow people and businesses on social media in case there are time changes etc. to the panel/event you want to go and see. It’s also good for when little give-aways are announced (free goodies!) and to find out about impromptu gatherings. Carry a portable battery charger – especially if you’re using a tablet – and make sure you charge your tech each day so you don’t run out.
13. Schedule some rest time
You will be able to do more this way. Trust me. Get some sleep. Slot in some naps if you need to. Hydrate. Take a load off your feet. Recover well and you’ll be able to go harder than most. And by harder I just mean do more awesome things. That being said…
14. Expect not to sleep much
By this I mean you may not get 8hrs. I certainly don’t. You’ll be out with people having a wonderful time playing games, killing the monsters in True Dungeon, when you’ll look down at your phone/watch and realise it’s 4am. If you schedule in your rest time, this won’t be a problem. Be sensible and make sure it isn’t.
15. Pick up your badge early (or just time it right)
Getting your badge in itself can be a 1+ hour queue. Seriously. Time it right. Get in when you’ve got the energy and don’t have anywhere else to be. I got mine at 11pm last year, and I queued for 50 minutes. It sucked, I was tired and I wanted to be in bed sleeping (or hanging out with my buddies). Grab a snack and be prepared to wait. They’re open all night the day before the convention starts.
Be comfortable. You’re going to be on your feet an awful lot, hitting the pavement between hotels, rooms, eateries and events. Regardless of whether you think you’ll be sitting mostly you don’t want to risk blisters and ouchies (that’s a real medical term). Pack shoes that breathe – remember, it’s hot – and ensure you’ve got plenty of socks you can change into.
17. Be prepared (for emergencies!)
Chances are you won’t be severely injured while you’re at the convention. It’s rather safe and very well run in that regard. But, if you want to make sure you stay as comfy as possible, here are some things I like to have with me just in case:
- Water in a refillable drink bottle.
- A snack (for low blood sugar moments)
- Passport/driver’s license (for when I get carded)
- Medication (if you’re taking stuff)
- A small notepad and pen
- A small game
Having a small game like Love Letter handy is great for when you’re in a queue and you want something to play with people around you. Make sure you familiarise yourself with areas you can go to take a breather. This is really important for those of us that suffer from anxiety. Know where the First Aid stations are, and where you should go when you’re not feeling well. It’s the easiest peace of mind you can have.
18. Have a refuge
If you’re not great with big crowds or are more introverted then extroverted, bring an MP3 player/podcasts to listen to with some good headphones. This will allow you to retreat when you need to withdraw from the convention silliness. Even if you’re not an introvert, having a place to go and stop and breathe is really important. Use your room when you need it. Have a back-up location, just in case your roomie is there and they’re playing Lords of Waterdeep with their friends. Set yourself up for some convention success!
19. Shop smart, shop S Mart… for games
Gen Con is notorious for having really hot games that sell out ridiculously fast. Part of this is because of the Gen Con VIPs. These folk get to enter the exhibitor hall an hour early on Thursday and get a whole bunch of other cool perks along with it. Because of this – they can get in on the games that have been super hyped, which means there’s less stock to go around. Another reason that it’s hard to get games is because people go in with a list of the stuff they’re keen to grab… and they typically go after these things first. This means you might not get a game that you really want.
If you are looking to buy certain games, the best thing you can do is to try and buy it before midday on the Saturday. The convention is busiest over the weekend – don’t leave your special purchases to luck. But there is a flipside to this, often on a Sunday afternoon there will be some great deals going where games are sold cheap simply because the exhibitor doesn’t want to take back a tonne of stock with them. The best thing to do is buy your non-negotiable purchases as quick as you can. Then, if you’ve got room in your suitcase, check out the Sunday sales. You’ll most likely get a great bargain to take home!
20. Do epic things
There are just some things should try to do if you’re going to Gen Con for the first time. True Dungeon is one of them. Yeah, it’s pricer than most events, but it’s AMAZING. It is one of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had. The dungeon is always filled with cool challenges- a combination of battle and puzzles. I want to go back and do it again! Go to a live show. Things like The Gamers Live by Zombie Orpheus Entertainment and the Concert Against Humanity (previously featuring Paul and Storm and The Doubleclicks) are great for a laugh and you’ll see some great nerds do what they do best – perform! Live roleplaying shows are always great to see, with Critical Role streaming live last year, and Syrinscape partnering up on a Pathfinder adventure.
Announcements of upcoming releases from the big game companies (Asmodee, Green Ronin, Fantasy Flight and Steve Jackson Games to name a few) are always worth going to, so you get to hear about the cool stuff they’re working on. Look out for new releases and upcoming games that are being play tested and go play them! You’ll have something cool to tell your friends about when you come home (or make them jealous of!) Enter competitions when you can, there are cool promos and limited edition items you can win. Sometimes you can win the game itself! It’s always worth giving it a shot to score yourself some sweet loot.
*** Have you been to Gen Con before? Anything I missed on this list? Leave a comment below and tell me what you can’t do without.