Guest Impressions: GenCon 2011

Although we weren’t able to make it to GenCon this year, we were lucky enough that a friend of Dice Hate Me was there – Marc Specter. Marc attended GenCon on Saturday and was kind enough to volunteer his impressions of the big show. We’d like to thank Marc for running the gauntlet for us! Also, look for a special episode of The State of Games on Thursday when Patrick Nickell will share his experiences (including interviews with some industry giants) and Monkey238 and I will share our thoughts and experiences at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, PA!

Running the gauntlet of aisle 800

As the grandaddy of all gaming conventions, there is just so much to GenCon.  The events are spread out over multiple venues, and the Exhibitor Hall just cannot be taken in on one pass (or two, or three…).  This is the second time I have visited this show, and the first time I have gone to any gaming convention with my wife, who flies her gamer flag proudly.  I am going to try, however, to convey the GenCon experience.  Here goes…

Marc's wife, left, with 2 Danaerys Stormborns

My day at GenCon began at 8:00am with Days of Wonder’s Shadows Over Camelot.  As I walked into the boardgaming room, the first thing I wondered was, “Okay, how am I going to find this?”  Then I looked at my ticket, and promptly headed to the Boardgaming HQ.  Much to my surprise, the colored tablecloths on the tables actually corresponded to my ticket, and I found my game in short order.  It was being run by a single gamer who has a passion for the game.  Since I already knew what a great game is SOC, and what a great company is DoW, I just want to take a minute to shout out to the prepared GM.  There was nothing better than learning a game from someone who is ready to teach.  And while I do not remember his name, I salute you GM, who did a great job of running the event for us.  (He even brought a box of donuts!)

That took us to just after 10am, in time to be just behind the stampede into the Exhibitor Hall.  And to the EH we went! Unlike other gaming conventions, the EH at GenCon is truly a spectacle to behold.  Mostly because you just cannot behold it in one sweep of your eyes.  The hall is so vast, so cavernous, that the only way to absorb is to just dive in.  Many of the big players had their grand displays, but it was the appearance of the smaller players that really drew me in.

As displays goes, I think the EH at GenCon just has a very professional, polished feel.  The layout was great, with areas focused for specific interests.  For example, at the far left of the hall was a dedicated family area.  The exhibitors there were all focused on younger games.  As a gamer trying to cultivate a family of gamers, it is sometimes easy to forget that I did not start out with elves, trains, and Euro-style bits.  The Family area really drew that home, and all of the Exhibitors there were truly excited about the younger gamer.

Cardhalla, a spectacle of manipulated cardstock

Another impressive part of the EH was “Entrepeneurs’ Avenue.”  From the GenCon guide, this area featured “the newest members of the GenCon exhibitor community” and asked us to “Support the game industry giants of the future!”  My only beef with this area was that it was at the back of the hall.  Now I understand that money gets you the good spaces, but everyone is going to make sure they can get to the booths of the big game companies.  It would have been nice if they had to make their way through the small guys to get to the big guys, and not the other way around. (Editor’s note: Possibly the smartest thing Marc has ever said)

After about 2 hours strolling through 1/3 of the Exhibitor’s Hall, it was off to lunch and then to play the new Drizzt board game in the D&D line.  It was a good experience at another cooperative game — and we won! — but it lacked the smoothness of Shadows earlier in the day.  It seemed that the GMs were just running too many boards with too many people, the copies’ parts had gotten mixed up, and it just was not very smooth.  Overall it left me disappointed and with a less-than-impressed feeling for the game, and that is the difference that can be made by a GM that has it together versus one that does not.


The Drizzt-loving crowd.

After that it was back to the EH to tour the remaining 2/3, and make some purchases.  We bought a number of family games that had been demonstrated by very enthusiastic booth attendants, and I picked up 5 Dominion expansions for $100.  I think I scored a sweet deal.  We spent some time with the artists and authors, another truly sweet dimension at this show.  Only at a venue like GenCon can talent of this caliber be found.


An impromptu steampunk band.

After the dealer room closed at 6:00pm and we grabbed dinner, it was off to one final RPG, Oz: Dark and Terrible.  I think the name says it all, and without going into all the detail, let’s just say it all ended with a somewhat self-inflicted total party kill.

All told it was a great second visit to Gen Con, and one I would gladly repeat.

– Marc Specter

Related posts:

  1. Origins Game Fair 2011: Day 4
  2. Origins Game Fair 2011: Day 3
  3. Origins Game Fair 2011: Day 2
  4. Origins Game Fair 2011: Day 1
  5. WBC Bound!
2 Responses to “Guest Impressions: GenCon 2011”
  1. AngryTetris says:

    I was sporting the button I got from you at Origins while I was there. I don’t know if I gave you any new viewers, but it was certainly well received.

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