Indianapolis transformed into fantasy wonderland for historic gaming convention

Photo:  Union, Ohio’s own Capstone Games was at Gen Con 50 exhibiting their new title, The Ruhr.; photo: Josher Lumpkin

by Josher Lumpkin

For hobby gamers, the long-running gaming convention Gen Con in Indianapolis is like Walt Disney World. Whether your poison is board games, role playing games, or collectible card games, the four days that make up Gen Con are full of precious moments and fun activities. Gamers can peruse the exhibitor hall and shop their favorite game companies’ booths for the hottest new releases of the season. They can attend panels discussing game design, marketing, and retail. Or they can simply play games for four days. At Gen Con, there are more things to experience than a person could do in a year. And it’s all crammed into four awesome, nerdy days of fun.

This year’s Gen Con was extra special. It marked the 50th anniversary of the convention, whose humble beginnings were in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (hence the name) with a handful of wargamers. It was also historic because, for the first time ever, the convention completely sold out of badges. Over 60,000 gamers attended Gen Con 50 on Aug. 17-20.

Though it sounds like it would be a logistical nightmare, this writer found all aspects of the massive convention to have run smoothly. With 60,000 people swarming the Indiana Convention Center, there was the potential for chaos. However, this year, the Gen Con increased its footprint to also include the field of Lucas Oil Stadium for some gaming events, as well as other locations in downtown Indy. So, while there were always a good many people around, it never really felt too crowded.

Gen Con marks the unofficial start to the board game season, and all the major game publishers are there to show you their newest titles. Though there were waaaay too many exciting games released to mention, there are a few notable titles. Especially hot this year was the release of Fantasy Flight Games’ fourth edition of Twilight Imperium, the epic sci-fi board game battle for space supremacy. Asmodee was showing their new Cities of Splendor, a set of expansions for their ultra-popular 2014 title, Splendor. WizKids released their new Dungeons & Dragons board game, Tomb of Annihilation, which many gamers picked up. Even Dayton-area game publisher Capstone Games was there, presenting their hot new games The Climbers and The Ruhr.

This year, there were over 17,000 individual gaming events represented at Gen Con, ranging from a simple game of Candyland to massive, 50-person “mega games.” Industry experts representing every possible genre and subgenre of game were there to present. There was a massive board game library on the field of Lucas Oil Stadium where you could check out and play games. Every year, there is a game auction, where attendees can make room for new games by bringing in their old to auction off.

However, while Gen Con may have started as a gaming convention, it has grown into more of a pop culture convention with a heavy influence on gaming. Gen Con 50 had plenty of things to do for the non-gamers in attendance.

They Might Be Giants played an exclusive concert as part of Gen Con 50. They put on a heck of a show, too, playing for about 90 minutes at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday night. All the hits were performed, and the crowd had a great time. The band remarked several times that they were unused to performing in front of such a large crowd.

Gen Con 50 was also a special place for bookworms. Charlaine Harris, best known for her Sookie Stackhouse novels, which were adapted for television into the HBO series True Blood, was the literary guest of honor. Fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson, who completed Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after that author died, was also at the convention. Margaret Weis, creator of the Dragonlance setting and author of many novels, was at Gen Con signing books. Other authors at Gen Con 50 included Larry Dixon, Mercedes Lackey, and Patrick Rothfuss.

If anime is your vice, there were tons of activities to enjoy. Gen Con hosted an anime screening room the entire four days where eager Otaku could retreat for an episode or two between games. There was a manga reading room where fans could check out the hottest Japanese comics.

No convention is complete without cosplay, of course, and there was no shortage of cool costumes to behold at Gen Con 50. As in recent years, a popular cosplay trend was the combination of popular characters with steampunk costumes to “Victorianize” geek culture icons. There was a Victorian Pikachu from Pokémon, Victorian Captain America, and many Victorian Harley Quinns. Other notable cosplay mentions include Game of Thrones, “Spaceballs,” and of course, the usual Star Trek and “Star Wars” characters.

There’s no way this brief review could ever scratch the surface of everything to do at Gen Con. There were many events that can’t even be categorized: Paint Your Own My Little Pony, Saturday Morning Cartoons Breakfast, even spa activities and a film festival. It was a magical four days, and I can’t wait until next year’s Gen Con!

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Josher Lumpkin
Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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