10 Lessons From GenCon 2017

For 2017 because we couldn’t make Worldcon, my wife and I decided we should take the chance to go hit up Gencon instead. I like tabletop games; I want to do freelance writing for game companies, so it seemed like a great place to see people at network. Still, it was my first time at Gencon proper and I learned quite a bit. Why, 10 lessons in fact.

Lesson 1: Register for things in advance.

My friends were really on top of going through all of the programming and registering for all of the events they wanted in advance. I thought it was closer to a writing convention – you just show up at programs, you sit, you enjoy.


Oh no. Gencon is PACKED with events, and most of those events filled up weeks ago. By the time the week of rolled around, there was zero chance of getting in to any of the programs that eventually caught my eye. That’s my own fault of course, but for the future I’ll definitely do better about registering sooner.


There is so much spectacle, and so many games to see, events to go to, the temptation to run and do it all can be very easy. It’s all the more crucial then to make sure you have some downtime to just sit and rest. And no matter how cool the panels are, I don’t suggest scheduling so that you have late nights that lead into early mornings the next day.

Pace yourself. There’s no need to rush. Space out the events you’re going to, leave yourself plenty of downtime, and however much time you think you’ll spend in the vendor hall, go ahead and double it so you can move through it more leisurely.

Lesson 3: Travel light!

The first day of Gencon I packed my messenger bag with snacks and water, plus some other odds and ends. You know, a Rubik’s cube, a couple notebooks, a kindle, a book to read (just in case), a game for downtime. Somehow by the end of the day when I’d picked up the Starfinder core rules, and was carrying games for friends, and had acquired bags with art in them, I discovered maaaybe I might be “slightly encumbered.”

The next days of the con I ditched everything but snacks, water, and my Kindle, and it made a world of difference.

Lesson 4: Take notes!

This sounds a little strange – it’s not a Math class you’re sitting in, after all. But I found that the vendor hall was big enough I wanted to explore it thoroughly before I spent any money. And more than once my friends and I would go “Well there was that booth… with the game… and stuff.”

We finally started keeping a list of games we were interested in, plus – importantly – what booth number they were at! It made it so much easier to swing back the third day of the con to follow up with games.

Lesson 5: You don’t need to buy the games there.

My wife and I looked at dozens of games. I certainly picked up a couple little games, and we got to sit in and play rounds of probably a half dozen or more games. Plenty of these games caught our eye and were interesting. Honestly though, we didn’t buy any huge big-ticket games at the con itself. We made a list of games we’re interested in, and we’ll give our LGS some money instead.

Look, it’s fun buying games at Gencon. It is a gaming convention, after all. But you also can easily spend hundreds of dollars on games, and eat up lots of shelf-space before you realize it. Sitting around and playing one round of a game is okay, but it’s not enough experience to decide if you want to drop that much cash.

For us, we’re going to wait and if we’re still interested in the games when they make it to our LGS. If we are still super excited about those games when they arrive, it’s probably a good investment in our money.

Lesson 6: There’s also a writer convention there!

I didn’t realize it until my wife pointed it out to me, but there is a Writer Symposium that is part of the Gencon experience. Brian McClellan, Mercedes Lackey, Patrick Rothfus, Branden Sanderson, Beth Cato, and more all came out for it! The panels were interesting, these events were small enough you could get into them (unless it was a panel involving Sanderson – then good luck), and just a nice contrast to the mobs of people in the vendor hall.

Lesson 7: Double check your schedule.

Mike wanted to hit up three specific panels at the writer’s symposium. Mike thought those panels were on Saturday. Those panels were on Friday. Don’t be like Mike.

That was not a good morning

Double check your schedule for the events you want to go to. While we’re on the topic of double-checking…

Lesson 8: Check to see if you have your badge before you leave your hotel room.

We stayed at a hotel several miles from the venue itself, closer to the airport. Since we drove, it wasn’t the biggest deal. However, a certain someone… we’ll call him Hike Meadley, definitely arrived at the convention center one day to discover that his badge (and his water bottle… and his apple… and more snacks) were back at the hotel.

Thirty seconds to check would have been all I needed to save another twenty minutes of driving.

Lesson 9: Take plenty of pictures!

Gencon is full of spectacle. There’s so much to see, from cosplayers to displayers to just the size of the crowd. Even the scope of the vendor hall is hard to explain to people who haven’t seen it. Seeing the games, the puns, all of it, it’s worth documenting. Here I took precisely one picture of the weekend:

And yet somehow I have about 50 attempted pictures of me trying to selfie with an eclipse.

Selfie game: astronomy wins.

Lesson 10: Have fun!

It can be really easy to get caught up in all the travel, all the events, all the things people want to stop and do, so that it’s really easy to forget to just have fun with the group you traveled with. One day I ditched all of my planned items just to hang out with my friend and watch him play Battletech, and we both ended up getting to play it together and it was awesome.

We like tabletop games because they bring people together to socialize and have fun. Gencon is no different. So yes, there is a hustle and bustle and a rush to pick up the next greatest thing. Make sure to take some time to have fun and spend time with the people you traveled with. Ultimately that is going to be what makes it worth it.


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