The Opinionated Gamers Guide to GenCon Indy

[sorry for the late post this year — I know that it’s probably too late to use any of the housing suggestions… but things got busy this summer!  We’ll keep adding to this for next year’s edition!  DPY]

GenCon Indy will be held this year August 4 to 7, 2011 in Indianapolis, IN.  According to them, it is “the original, longest running, best attended, gaming convention in the world”.  It is one of the highlights of the summer gaming calendar.  More information can be found at their website:

Many of the Opinionated Gamers have been to GenCon in the past, and this Guide is a collection of advice from those folks who have been in the past.  Many of us have been as tourists, though some of us have also been there to work the fair.  We’ll break down our comments into a few broad areas to help organize our thoughts…

  • How to get to Indy
  • Where to Stay (and/or Park)
  • What to do before the Convention
  • What to do at the Convention itself
  • What to do after the Convention
  • What/Where to eat
  • Everything Else

How to get to Indianapolis

Dale Yu: Well, I drive there – so it’s easy for me.

Matt Carlson:  I also drive, and it isn’t hard to get to from the freeways, however do plan out your route to your hotel before you get there as there are many, many one way streets downtown.  Thankfully, they nearly all alternate directions so if you want to go left and it’s one-way going right, just go another block to turn.  The Indianapolis Airport is now even further from downtown (rebuilt after 9/11 with some very smooth security lines) so I’d suggest trying to see if your hotel has any shuttles running from the airport, otherwise catching a taxi with a group of people might be possible.

Where to Stay (and/or Park)

Dale Yu: I’d recommend staying within walking distance, but there are about 100 hotels in downtown Indy – so you have plenty of choices.  If you want to stay in the hotels super close to the Convention Center, try to get into one of the official room blocks.  Rates for those rooms are usually under $200/night. Without the convention block, you’re probably looking at $349/night or more.  Alternatively, stay much much further out and drive in.  I think daily parking at the Circle Center mall garage is $15 or $20 for the day.

Ted Cheatham:  I am back as the one day attendee! There is a great parking garage at the north west end of the convention center.  It is a little walk but only $10 for a day (as I recall).  The other spot near the middle of the convention center is the Hyatt parking garage.  It is a little more expensive and really not that much closer.

Matt Carlson:  I drive in and often park at the Circle Center mall parking, as it is one of the most convenient locations.  Note that if you park for a shorter term (less than 8 hours maybe?) the parking is much cheaper, but then jumps up to $15 to $20 as Dale mentions if you’re there for a very long day.  The northwest parking mentioned by Ted is a great place to park, but is always taken early in the day.  Surprisingly, it is MORE available on weekends (Sat/Sun) when the working folks are no longer taking up their weekday spots.  However, it still pays to arrive early.  For those who simply MUST park cheaply, if you drive east towards the Conseco Fieldhouse (several blocks, roughly a mile or so) there are pretty cheap options there – as low as $5 if I recall correctly.

What to do before the Convention

Dale Yu: Preorder you badge.  Seriously.  The lines can be excessively long and slow to move. And pay the extra bucks to have your badge shipped to you.  Last year, even the Will Call line was taking up to an hour.

Ted Cheatham:  I am not the pre-order kind of guy.  I have been to this convention many years.  One year, the machines broke down and it took 3 hours to get in.  I almost never went back.  All of the other years, you hit the line and expect 20-30 minutes to get your registration.  It looks like a Disneyland queue at Space Mountain but, it moves fairly well.

Matt Carlson:  Preorder your badge – especially if you arrive Thursday or Saturday morning (and to a lesser extent Friday morning).  All other times, the lines aren’t so bad.  If you’re interested in attending specific ticketed events, you may want to purchase those online as well – even if you purchase “generic” tickets usable at most under-filled events.  One more thing, for those with an iPhone/iPod Touch – there is a free GenCon app available that contains much of the basic convention information along with local maps and information.

What to do at the Convention itself

Ted Cheatham:  As a one day person that is a great distance away, I am in the dealer room all day.  And, depending on your distance away, this will be the bulk of your day.  If you are there longer, you must see all of the miniature rooms, they are awesome.  There are all kinds of events, shows, rooms, demos, etc.  I have always wanted to do the live dungeon but never had time.  There was even a segway maze and spam carving competition one year!  This convention is huge.  There is all kinds of gaming, gaming rooms, and events for just about any kind of gamer.

Matt Carlson:  GenCon has a huge mix of boardgaming, RPGs, Miniatures, and collectible card gaming.  Up until recently, boardgaming has seemed to take somewhat of a back seat to the other fields.  If you enjoy an occasional CCG tournament or role-playing session, I’d suggest signing up for events before attending, as the more popular (and usually more fun) sessions fill up fast.  Here’s a list of some convention highlights:

  • Boardgame Library and Pick-up Play Room:  This is a revamped game play area.  Where previously people had to “rent” boardgames using tickets and could then play in a room (if they could find somewhere to play) this new area is open longer (7am until 3am), guarantees seating (well, they now have twice the space), and no longer costs tickets.  Instead, people buy a badge or ticket for use of the room for a specific time period ($4 for 7-6pm, $6 for 6pm-3am) and can then play any of the games in the area (no longer any rental fees).  People who don’t purchase a ticket ahead of time may still be able to get in using generic tickets (depending on how crowded the area gets.)  It isn’t quite as easy as the Origins game room badge, but should be much, much better than previous years’ GenCon open boardgaming.
  • Rio Grande Boardgaming:  Since I have no affiliation with Rio Grande, I can freely advertise their excellent presense at GenCon.  For several years now they’ve held down a room full of tables of thier games – free for anyone to play along with helpful docents (yes, you, Dale) roaming around to explain how to play.  To top it off, if you luck out at the right times there are often quality refreshments (again, free) for the taking.  I’m somewhat loath to point the Rio Grande Gaming gaming room out since it is such a nice place to game during the convention, so let’s all just keep that our little secret….
  • The Exhibit Hall:  There is quite an eclectic selection of vendors and companies at the hall each year.  Most exhibitors have at least one or two spots to demo and play through their games, with the larger ones having multiple tables.  Mayfair always runs a program offering significant discounts (or freebies) if you collect the right ribbons from playing their games.  I know of some families who spend almost a whole day just hopping around Mayfair games.  Fantasy Flight has a table for most of their games, although there can be a wait to play.
  • Family Gaming:  The family gaming pavilion (sponsored by Mayfair games) has now been a regular feature for several years.  This area is a great place for parents with younger gamers to hang out and play typical younger fare like twister, etc… and even has things to do like arts and crafts.  As an added bonus, many of the exhibitors targeting families (Northstar Games) or the younger set (like LEGO Games) set their booths up near this area.
  • Killer Breakfast:  The Tracy and Laura Hickman’s Killer Breakfast is always a packed crowd.  Running early Saturday morning, the gathering is a fun little combination of improv comedy mixed with lighthearted role playing.  When you enter, choose to watch from the audience or to sit in the participant’s section.  If you are a participant, simply wait your turn until the dozens (hundreds?) of people ahead of you are slowly and surely killed off at the hands of the Dungeon Master – Tracy Hickman.  Over time, the “show” has begun to pick up some inside jokes similar to those found in fans of cult movies, but it is an enjoyable time nonetheless.  Throughout the show, there are pauses for safety videos, sing-a-longs, and mini trivia contests.  Participate and marvel at your prowess if you manage to live through more than a single encounter or sit back in the audience knowing you’re (probably) safe.

What to do after the Convention

Matt Carlson: While there’s nothing I’d consider a must-see when you visit Indianapolis, if you’re travelling with family or are looking for things for non-gamers to do at the convention there are a couple sites worth a look.  First, Indianapolis has an excellent children’s museum downtown that I’d recommend for nearly any age.   The Indiapolis Zoo is just across the river, within a long walk or short taxi ride (over 1 mile but less than 2) from the convention center.  Along that same river is a nice walking trail if you want to get some fresh air, part of the White River State Park.  Perhaps it is best hit as an early morning jogging trail (for all those jogging gamers out there…)  Just across the street from the convention center is the Indiana State Museum which has a mix of historical, scientific, and cultural exhibits, and if you visit the museum they have some of the least expensive parking in the convention center area.  Finally, the Circle Mall has a few movie theaters if you’ve got some teens or a spouse who is tired of gaming-related stuff and want a quick two hour break.

What/Where to eat

Dale Yu: I know a lot of people love the RAM, but I’m not one of them.  I prefer to walk an extra block or two away from the convention center to get away from the crowds a bit.  The Old Spaghetti factory has been a nice stand-by, and they can usually handle large groups.  The Weber Grill has also been nice for dinners.  Most lunches for me are in the Circle Center food court.  With the nice Skywalk system, I don’t even have to go outside to get to the mall!

Ted Cheatham:  Ok, I am a Ram person most of the time because I am just a lunch person there.  I will agree with Dale that it is just lunch and nothing special.  I will remind you though, go early anywhere you go.  There are several thousand people there and it is crowded.  Dinner for me is on the road on the way home.  But, if you can afford it, there is a wonderful Brazilian steak house within walking distance.  It is easy to walk to and you will definitely need to walk on the way back to work off all of the meat.  For breakfast, there is an Einstein Bagel very close.

Matt Carlson: I’ve not found anywhere nearby that calls to me as a great place to eat.  When I get time for lunch (I occasionally skip), I usually make a dash for the mall food court for its quick service.

Everything Else

Dale Yu: Don’t forget to pre-order your badge!  I can’t stress this enough.  The lines can be monstrous – and who wants to spend 3 to 4 hours waiting in line.  Every year they promise to improve the situation, and every year it turns out to be the same long lines.

Other comments? Things I should add?
I am still a very handsome gamer.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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3 Responses to The Opinionated Gamers Guide to GenCon Indy

  1. Isamoor says:

    May I personally recommend a short walk for some food at the Eiteljorg’s Sky Cafe:

    They really make great food that’s much fresher than the food court and yet not that far from the exhibit hall (2 blocks from the NW corner)

  2. Nice guide, I’d add that Rock Bottom Brewery is worth the three or four block walk. There’s also an Indian lunch buffet that I try to hit on Thursday or Friday.

    See you all there!

  3. Matt J Carlson says:

    I loved the Indian lunch buffet as well, but it always seems to move around on me and then I can’t find it in other years… I haven’t gone in a few years now… Rock Bottom Brewery is very good, but still close enough to be VERY busy. Try to go to lunch early (preferably) or late to avoid long waits.

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