The Pros and Cons of Cons: 2011 Edition

Portions of this article originally appeared on Dice Hate Me on July 22, 2010 – it has been updated to reflect 2011 convention dates and information, and reposted because the somewhat-humorous, but mostly-informative posts can still aid those seeking to attend conventions in the continental US this summer. I will be at Origins this year, so if you plan to attend, look for the guy with grumpy dice somewhere on his upper body and I’ll give you a cool pin. Look for more pre-coverage of Origins, including a sneak peek at our upcoming game prototype, on Dice Hate Me within the next week.

Ah, Summer. Tis the season of spray-on tans, silicon, shiny smiles and sparsely-clad young sprites – all crammed into hundreds of ten-foot cubicles, peddling the geekiest things on the planet. Yes, people, tis the season of the booth babe, and thus the season of the Cons.┬áConsider this a primer for the uninitiated. Feel free to clip and save, people.

Origins (June 22-26, 2011)

You'd better hope you roll high on your plague saving throw - Flickr photo by prolix.21

For 36 years, the Origins Game Fair has been rocking faces in Party Town, USA: Columbus, Ohio. As if this exciting metropolis wasn’t enough of a draw, Origins attendees can look forward to rollicking activities such as 9-hour-long games of Diplomacy that ultimately end in a draw, beating the stuffing out of perfect strangers with a foam broadsword, and eating at Barley’s Brewery for the 35th time. Origins is not for the faint of heart – this convention is 72+ hours of no-holds-barred, in-your-face, unabashed gaming geekery. Treat it like a marathon and train for months beforehand. Remember, sleep is for the weak.

Pros: Fairly cheap; most likely place to find a buddy or three willing to play that epic boardgame that’s been sitting on the shelf for a few years (ahem – Twilight Imperium); did I mention Columbus?

Cons: Catching typhoid from the giant dice bin (*shudder* dice…).

San Diego Comic-Con (July 21-24)

The face of Comic-Con, God forbid. Paul Horn: CoolJerk - Flickr photo by chris_wass

When Shel Dorf organized the first Comic-Con in 1970, it captured the attention of a whopping 300 Southern Californians. Today, it has grown into the largest media spectacle known to man; I know this because the media tells me so. At today’s Comic-Con you’re likely to rub elbows with celebrities promoting the latest sci-fi, horror or comic-based film, producers of said films, publicity managers of the producers of said films, and, probably, assistant hair dressers of the publicity managers of the producers of those films. What you’re less likely to find at Comic-Con? Comics*. You remember those, right? Those are the little illustrated books that Hollywood ganks all the ideas from nowadays.

Pros: Freakin’ sweet Con exclusive toys (like this year’s huge Stay Puft Marshmallow Man ); the usual appearance by Stan “The Man” Lee (we hope).

Cons: Not a ton of gaming (although it happens – just wear a d20 shirt, they’ll find you); no longer seeing Olivia Munn dressed as Wonder Woman;┬áthe fact that people like that guy in that picture up above there (the backbones of today’s modern comics) are shoved into booths behind the Orange Julius in the annex of the annex.

*hyperbole (noun) – rhetoric: obvious and intentional exaggeration (so don’t get your panties in a wad, fanboy)

Games Day Chicago (July 30)

Waaagh indeed

Usually held in Baltimore, this year’s huge game day has switched to the City of Big Shoulders, Chicago. Regardless of the location, there is a congregation of fanatical hobbyists who know and believe that in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *GASP* WWAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! *COUGH* WAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! *HORK* WWWWWWWAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Pros: WAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Cons: You’re quite likely to get a bit hoarse over the course of the day. Also, if you play in any sanctioned games, you’re likely to get your butt handed to you by an 11-year-old and his army of elves. Elves, people. It ain’t dignified.

GenCon Indianapolis (August 4-7)

Yep, this pretty much sums up GenCon - Flickr photo by Brandy Shaul

This is it, folks – the big Kahuna, the mack daddy and the daddy mack of gaming conventions. If you’re into gaming and you don’t go to GenCon, you’re basically a total loser and should be fed to a shoggoth (guess who’s not going to GenCon this year – again?) This one has it all; if Origins is the awkward chess club president, GenCon is the prom queen. Not only is it four solid days of gaming bedlam, just about every games publisher and creator in the world shows up with bushels of free swag and round-the-clock game demos. GenCon also attracts quite a crowd of costumed freaks who spend months refining the perfect outfit. It’s a magnificent sight, bested only slightly by the freak circus that appears ringside yearly at Dragon*Con – hold on, we’re getting there.

Pros: Games; pre-release specials; discount merch; free swag; talking Car Wars with Steve Jackson; booth babes.

Cons: After four days of non-stop gaming and never leaving the convention center, your skin will likely burst into flames upon contact with the sun.

Dragon*Con (September 2-5)

I ain't lying

Atlanta is weird. There are exactly 823 Peachtree Streets, the most well-known landmark is a giant soda bottle, and what should be a quiet, genteel Southern city is actually the nation’s freak central. Take Dragon*Con, for instance. If Origins is the chess club president and GenCon is the prom queen, Dragon*Con is the kooky girl in art class that has purple dreads and watches Nightmare Before Christmas every night. Take that goofy asterisk, for instance. Does GenCon have an asterisk in its name? No. GenCon does not play around with asterisks. Origins can’t even be bothered with a real logo, much less a freaking asterisk. But I digress. Dragon*Con is actually a very entertaining smorgasbord of gaming, attracting numbers comparable to both Origins and GenCon. Just about any kind of game is represented at Dragon*Con, and you can usually find someone for a pickup game or two, plus you can play absolutely any game you want in the tournament room as long as that game is Magic: The Gathering. In between games and the occasional 20-minute power nap, you can have a seat and watch the freak parade as thousands of lost souls wander the halls dressed as the Baroness or a Ghostbuster or a giant, green d20. My pro-tip for Dragon*Con is to get there on Thursday; that’s quality costume time, as there are no scheduled events, it’s not too crowded, and all the die-hards are already there and on parade.

Pros: You may have noticed, but a lot of the female costumes are short on fabric; lots of panels; celebrity signings; Dragon*Con TV.

Cons:Filking;” Atlanta in the summer; inevitably catching the Con flu.


Related posts:

  1. The Pros and Cons of Cons
  2. The Year of Awesome
  3. Seven Habits of Highly Dysfunctional Boardgamers
  4. Magic: The Gathering, or How I Came to Love the Game and Leave the Addiction
  5. Playing in Public: Winning Friends with a Fireball to the Face
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