As SPIEL ’15 in Essen, Germany, draws the attention of gaming fans and aficionados around the world, some of us are still looking back at the premiere gaming event a little closer to home. GenCon, held in Indianapolis, is considered the great gaming event of the year by many. The convention’s attendance this year exceeded previous records, with an impressive turnstile attendance of 197,695. The event’s unique attendance weighed in at 61,423. That’s not a bad attendance count for a humble little game fair.
This being my first ever chance to attend GenCon, I was not quite sure what to expect. I’ve attended many conventions before, but nothing on this scale. I wish I could say I was prepared. In all honesty, my visit to GenCon 2015 was one of the hardest trips I’ve ever taken. From financial chaos to an allergic reaction to medicine, whatever challenge could crop up did so. To top it all off, I arrived home to realize I had lost a memory card that had a large number of photos from the trip.
And yet, here I am writing about how great GenCon 2015 was.
What struck me right away is how many people were lining up early to enter the exhibit hall. Some folks were there three or four hours ahead of time, just to have a spot to stand near the doors. With apologies, I was not one of those people, so I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be first through the doors and first to see the newest releases of the year. As the opening of the exhibit hall drew closer, the crowd outside the doors grew. Standing in the midst of the horde of gamers, one might not realize just what it really looked like. From overhead, however, the view was impressive.
These photos really do not do the crowd justice. Not even close. By the time the doors were to be opened, that crowd extended down all of the side hallways connecting to this area. Looking at it now, it’s easy to understand why people wanted to be a part of that. The excitement and anticipation was palpable, and the joy was contagious.
As I would later discover, the thick crowd would dissipate only slightly once the exhibit hall was open. The attendance volume never seemed to wane, and any movement beyond a slow shuffle was a hopeless dream.
Attendees willing to wait for entry, as well as those who stopped to rest outside the Exhibit Hall, were treated to a variety of entertainment. A few musical acts, a comedian, and even a magician graced the stage- or the area near the stage- with family friendly entertainment. Some of the material was targeted to a small, niche audience, but most of what I saw there was entertaining to almost anyone who happened by. It was the inclusion of this entertainment that made me realize this was not simply a convention to promote and sell games, but something more akin to a celebration of the gaming hobby.
Tentacles were very popular, apparently. I found myself glad that I was not at a conference in Japan. That aside, it was fantastic to see so many costumes and fun props. From elves to Jedi to mouse soldiers, almost anything you can imagine was somewhere at the convention. Even Cthulhu made an appearance more than once.
Some of the publishers had side rooms in which visitors could try out various games from the publisher’s library. Separate from the exhibit hall and the organized play events, these side rooms provided a relaxed atmosphere for people to casually explore different games before committing to any purchases. I spent the majority of my first day in the Rio Grande Games room, though I will vehemently deny that it had anything to do with the pretty young lady who was teaching me games.
I was impressed by the size of the Rio Grande Games room and how well organized it remained. With so many tables and games, and so many visitors going in and out, I had expected at least one or two complications to crop up. The company’s team was fantastic, however, and handled the traffic expertly. The demo team was incredibly welcoming and knowledgable, and I not only learned to play some fun games, but I witnessed first hand just how much the company values its customers.
There were plenty of games for any audience. There were challenging games for adults, as well as lighthearted games for children.
Of the games I was able to try, my absolute favorite was Rattlebones. I don’t have enough experience with the game to give an actual review, but if I can get my hands on a copy of the game I will be thrilled to do a full review. What I can do is share some photos of the game so you can imagine just how much fun it would be to get this to your table.
The general idea of the game is that a troop of monkeys is run amok at a festival. Players roll dice to determine movement and effects. As you play, the dice faces will change based on which spot a player lands on. The faces of each die are removable so that a new face can be attached, changing the dynamo of the game even as you play. The game is absolutely beautiful, and tons of fun. It’s great for most ages, and the changing nature of the game gives great replay value. At least, that is what it felt like as I was learning the game. That fresh and exciting feeling is exactly what a game like this should inspire.
While Rattlebones is the game I was most excited about, other players were losing themselves in other games, such as Dominion and Airlines: Europe.
As you can see in the photo of Airlines: Europe, even with all the activity in the room, people were able to lose themselves in their games.
There was so much going on at GenCon 2015, but as I mentioned above I lost one of my memory cards during the trip. Sadly, that means I can’t share much else about the event. I do have a couple photos that show my absolute favorite part of the entire convention.
The card towers were phenomenal. I loved watching people work on their contributions to the tower area. It was a very calm place, an oasis of sorts, in the chaos of GenCon.
Despite losing a majority of the photos I shot, having a bad reaction to some medicine, and freaking out Summer Glau, the event was highly positive. I learned a lot, made some great contacts, met some great friends, and cannot wait for the next GenCon.