The beginning of August means many things to many different people. It’s the signal of the end of summer, and a reminder for many kids that it’s time to head back to school. But for many of those in the board gaming community, it means one major thing: GenCon is back in Indianapolis.
Originally founded in 1968 by Gary Gygax (who would go on to be one of the creators of the original Dungeons and Dragons), GenCon was first established as the Lake Geneva Wargames Convention hosted at Lake Geneva, WI, before moving to Milwaukee and, later, Indianapolis. Since then, it’s changed hands and owners a few times but has always retained the same goal: to showcase the latest and greatest in tabletop gaming.
It’s been over 50 years since the con began (with 19 years in its current home), and after a temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still going strong (with masks, of course). The convention, which brings over 60,000 people to downtown Indianapolis every year, is regarded as the crown jewel of board game events, packing the all-stars of the industry under one roof (well, several roofs, but that will be discussed later).
While Indiana is a tad out of KX’s broadcast range, the idea of GenCon is one that’s intriguing enough to draw people from every state — North Dakota and its surrounding areas notwithstanding. Fortunately, our digital correspondent is a frequent attendee of the convention and was able to bring KX News an inside look at the tremendous tabletop event.
The main feature of GenCon for most is the Exhibit Hall — a tremendous gallery of the biggest and best names in board gaming who come together to unveil their newest products and reinvigorate interest in older classics. It’d be impossible to go into detail about every little aspect of the hall, so let our photos highlight a few of the more unique things to appear at the convention this year.
Board Games and accessories aren’t the only things on display either. A large corner of the exhibit hall is home to many artists and authors, who have come to the convention to share their fantasy, sci-fi, and historic stories with the congoers. Writers and musicians are always popular, but the biggest hits in this section seem to be the artists — many of whom have worked on their own art for games and sell unique prints and designs. It’s often a tradition for Magic: The Gathering players, in particular, to hunt down the artists behind their favorite cards and get them to sign them.
This exhibit hall is only one portion of the activities taking place in the convention center, however. The second major event space is also converted into GenCon territory, as a massive gaming hall that holds the majority of free and organized play events. This is also a great place for companies to show off new products, or bring in displays that may be a little too large or flashy to fit into the regular exhibit area.
Even the smaller conference rooms in the center aren’t spared from the tabletop takeover, becoming hosts for guest panels and for game companies with more to offer than just one booth to display their full assortment of wares. There are even rooms dedicated to both retro and modern video gaming, which feature open play. More popular games, like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder, even have their own dedicated halls (a large portion of the Play Hall, for example, is primarily used for Magic: The Gathering tournaments).
The gaming doesn’t just happen in the convention center. In addition to the spread of games to nearby buildings and hotels, the entire Lucas Oil Stadium — normally the home of the Indianapolis Colts — becomes home to play tables for board and card games. Of particular note is the popular Games Library that takes place in the arena, where hundreds of games are available to be rented and tested out. With how many are available, one could theoretically spend the entire convention from dusk until dawn each day playing everything the library has to offer and still not have finished checking everything out.
The biggest feature of note in these side areas, though, is located in the corridor connecting the convention center and the stadium. Here lies True Dungeon — a live-action dungeon-crawling experience where attendees can complete quests, discover secrets and use magic items in a full and challenging environment. While we couldn’t get into one this year (as the dungeons are wildly popular), these photos of some of the props and creatures should speak for themselves.
The smaller meeting rooms in the Mariott and Crowne Plaza are also used frequently during the weekend, although usually not for gaming. Seminars, panels, and lessons about writing and game-making are usually held there, but in recent years, they’ve been extended to hold role-playing games, miniature performances, and even escape rooms.
Costumes are also a huge part of any pop culture convention, and GenCon is no exception. The creativity on display in the exhibit hall may as well carry on to the people within it, as these clever and unusual costumes on display during the Cosplay Parade show.
It isn’t a convention without food and drinks, and thankfully, a brief step outside into downtown Indianapolis delivers all of that and more. Plenty of nearby restaurants and food trucks not only offer their usual downtown fare but offer unique items and brews specifically for the 4-day event. Sun King Brewery, usually tasked with creating the official beer of GenCon, hosted a tournament between its past event ales to determine who would return for 2022. The winner was Dragon’s Delight — a golden Belgian Pale Ale from 2017 that many restaurants and bars placed on tap over the weekend. Indy is also home to plenty of restaurants of all kinds — including the pricey but world-class St. Elmo Steakhouse — that are sure to feed any cravings one might have while at the con.
When it comes to games of all kinds, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to unleash your inner gamer than at GenCon. Whether you’re looking to playtest the newest games, getting into gaming and seeking suggestions, an opportunity to learn how to create your own game, or hoping to show your skills against the best board battlers across the world, there’s always something there that can grab your attention. It’s almost impossible to squeeze everything into four days. But trust us… you don’t have to roll a 20-sided die to know that the convention easily passes the ‘fun’ check.
GenCon 2023 has already been confirmed to be taking place in Indianapolis again next year, and tickets will be available soon. Hotels are already being booked up in advance, so to get the best rates and events, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest news on GenCon’s official website.