With our Summer Tour winding down it was time to get down to the serious business of getting ready for Gen Con. On Wednesday, August 4th we made our way back to Indianapolis where our whole trip started and entered the Indianapolis Convention Center.
Now, I “knew” Gen Con was big.
People had told me “Gen Con is really big.”
But it’s hard to really grasp the size of this thing until you walk into a convention center that literally takes up a couple of city blocks and it is COMPLETELY FILLED with gamers. Every exhibit hall is packed with tables and chairs. There are massive lines of people waiting for badges. Groups of people fill the hallways looking at whatever swag they may have collected, comparing notes, and playing pick-up games of Magic. It’s madness and it was wonderful.
We’d just gotten back from Origins a few months earlier, so even though we were stunned by the size of Gen Con, we were still able to slide back into our convention mindset pretty quickly.
The convention didn’t officially start until Thursday, so Wednesday was our set up day. There’s something sort of surreal about walking around with an exhibitor badge the day before a convention starts. It let’s you get into places that the general public can’t, but deep down inside we’re all still gamers, and since this was our first Gen Con, we felt pretty special. It’s sort of like having a Golden Ticket and an automatically successful Jedi Mind Trick all in one. “You want to let us into the exhibitor hall…” “Let them into the exhibitor hall.”
The exhibitor hall is huge and it was packed with skeletons of booths still being constructed, forklifts speeding by, boxes, cases and containers of all sorts and hundreds of people running around trying not to be run over by the previously mentioned forklifts.
We made our way to the booth which was in a special area designated “Entrepreneur’s Alley”. This was an area set aside for new companies to showcase their products which many attendees might not be familiar with. Unfortunately, that also translates into; “We were waaaaaaaay in the back corner.”
Once we completed the trek we got started setting up. We got our empty, bare-bones booth and started to transform it into a fantastic space for battling Monsters and defending towers. We split our booth into two areas; a long table for full demos on the left and a smaller, standing table where we could give overviews of the game and also run sales.
It didn’t take long to get this organized and once the carpet guys came by we were looking pretty good. A few finishing touches and we were done for the day. See how wide open and empty that aisle looks here? Remember that.
And so it Begins
Thursday morning at 9:00 they let some Very Important Gamers or VIG’s in an hour ahead of the regular crew. Since the exhibitor hall is so large it took a while for them to make it to our booth but once they did, the show had truly begun. We brought Neal, a friend of ours, with us to Gen Con for some extra manpower and we managed to get a shot of the very first attendee as Neal and I fire up a demo game with her.
Remember those wide open aisles from yesterday? Yeah, this is what they looked like once the con really got started. Every aisle was packed full of gamers, some stopping for demos others literally running past, trying to see everything the first day.
We also started getting our first looks at some of the legendary costumes that Gen Con is famous for. Sadly, we got so busy we didn’t take any pictures, but I’m sure if you look online you can find some… Every kind of costume is there, from film quality Darth Vader outfits to scantily clad catgirls. Toss in some obscure Anime characters, a few Dr. Whos and a good dose of video game characters, and you’ve got Gen Con.
It wasn’t long before our booth was full and this set the pace for the rest of the convention. We were running non-stop demos all day with one of us giving overviews at the smaller table, which almost always turned into another demo at the big table. We got so busy that Neal set off with his own demo copy to an empty table to show people how the game works. Next year we’re gonna need a bigger booth.
Later that afternoon, as I was finishing up a demo, this rather tall, very familiar looking man made his way through the crowd and introduced himself. It turned out to be none other than Tom Vasel of “The Dice Tower” fame! Tom gave Castle Panic a really great video review and his daughter loves our game. I’ve seen tons of his reviews before, but it was great to get to meet him in person. He’s a really nice guy and ridiculously knowledgeable about gaming. If you haven’t seen his reviews yet, or you’re just wondering about a game you’ve never played, check him out at The Dice Tower. The funny thing about those reviews is that since he’s always sitting down, you don’t realize quite how tall Tom is.
Friday brought even bigger crowds and more demos. It was really interesting to see the mix of gamers that visited our booth. By far, most of them had never heard of Castle Panic, so we got to introduce them to the game for the first time. There is a wonderful moment when you are explaining the game to someone where there eyes light up and you can tell they really want to play it. For some, it’s as soon as the word “co-op” is mentioned. For others, it’s when they see the way you rotate Monsters to track damage and for others it’s not until you explain how the Master Slayer scoring works. Regardless of when it happened, it was happening a lot on Friday and we could barely keep up with all the folks that wanted to demo the game.
The other part of the mix was the gamers that were already fans. We had countless people come up to the booth and tell us how much they love Castle Panic. Some of them just wanted to let us know they were fans, others wanted to meet me or ask a specific question about the game. I signed a lot of box lids during this convention and I loved every one of them. The energy we get back from fans and the excitement we saw as people who had never played became fans was amazing. It really gets us fired up as well and we love it.
We also started seeing our first “repeat players”. These were folks that had played the game yesterday, and were back today, bringing their friends and telling them “You’ve got to try this game!”
We weren’t complaining.
Some of these folks came back over and over again during the convention. When I thought about how many games there are at this show and how much there is to see, the fact that they wanted to spend their very precious time playing our game again was the highest compliment we could get.
We also started getting some buzz about our Leader board by now. The Leader board was our way of tracking scores of demos played during the convention. If the players survived the game, we would track the total teams’ points as well as just the Master Slayer’s points and we wrote those on our Leader board. On Sunday we would announce the top three scoring teams and Master Slayers and they would be awarded “fabulous” prizes. Trust me, lots of people wanted to get on that Leader board.
I also had the chance to meet Hayden and his Dad from the Games with Hayden website. Hayden’s a big fan of Castle Panic, and his video review was a lot of fun and great publicity for us. They were both great and it was a lot of fun getting to meet another celebrity. Of course I forgot to take any pictures, but trust me; he’s a great kid and is already turning out to be a great advocate for the next generation of gamers.
…And then I hugged Wil Wheaton
Friday also brought what might be the highlight/lowpoint of the con for me. I knew Wil Wheaton was attending Gen Con, and aside from him being a just generally cool guy, he’s a fan of Castle Panic. I knew he was crazy busy with signings and a panel discussion, so I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to meet him at all. Then I got a call from Neal. He had been walking back to our booth and spotted Wil with our mutual friend Andrew Hackard. I managed to take a break and head over to where they were and sure enough, there’s Wil Wheaton standing there like he’s just a regular guy or something. Andrew started to introduce me when Wil spotted my name tag and his eyes lit up. “You’re the guys that make Castle Panic! I love that game!” he said, pointing at my name tag. I was so excited I blurted out something about thanking him for his endorsement and being a fan… and then I hugged him.
It wasn’t a “hey, we should hug” moment. He wasn’t coming at me with arms wide open. I just got excited and hugged him. It was awkward and I knew it was a bad idea the second I did it, but the damage was already done.
I thanked him again and invited him to our booth to meet the rest of the gang and then left him to the hordes of fans that had closed in on us.
If I had only read his blog post from about 2 days previous, I would have known that part of what made it so awkward was that Wil got really sick at a previous convention and he REALLY didn’t want to touch anyone at Gen Con out of not wanting to get sick again. But no. I just ran up and glommed onto the guy.
Wil, if you’re reading this, I feel like a complete poo brain and I’m really sorry. I hope you stay healthy and I promise not to hug you if we meet again… unless of course you want to. Then I’m totally cool with it. Oh, and we still have goodies for you from the convention!
I don’t know what was in the air on Saturday, but whatever it was it made for an awful lot of Monster victories that day. We had a ton of demo games that ended with smashed castle towers and gleeful Trolls. I had the fun opportunity to give a few interviews during Gen Con as well. The Spiel came by and I answered a few questions for their podcast. Then I got a chance to be interviewed in a video by Hayden from Games with Hayden. We’ll share more info on those once they get posted.
We had a great moment on Saturday that I’m particularly pleased with. A six player demo had taken a turn for the worst. The players had been doing fine until a badly rolled boulder followed by a few Boss Monsters had turned the whole game on its head. The players were down to the last 2 Trolls, which were both inside the castle and headed for the players’ last tower. They were desperately trading the Scavenge card on every turn as each player discarded like mad to try and get one of the special cards. Then, on the last possible turn before the tower would be destroyed they drew the Barbarian. The scream that went up from table was so fantastic we had other people in nearby booths yelling and clapping without even knowing what had happened. When it finished there were a few moments of silence throughout the entire exhibitor hall as if to acknowledge the awesomeness of what had just occurred. It was great.
The last day of a convention is always a little bittersweet since you’re really tired and ready for it to be over, but you never really want it to end. This was no different. We had a rush of players coming back to the booth to pick up the game with their last few dollars and still others bringing their friends back for one more game.
One of the nicest things I heard at the convention was when someone would come up to the booth and essentially tell us, “I only buy one game when I come to Gen Con and this year, it’s going to be Castle Panic.” Heck, we even had a couple of people break their “one game” rule, just to get our game. You guys are great and we’re glad to be your special indulgence. We’re just like Ice Cream only we don’t have to be kept in the freezer and we’re much healthier for you.
Then it was time to reveal the winners of our Leader board. With great pomp and circumstance we gathered the crowd and read the top three teams and the top three Master Slayers’ scores aloud and then showered them with gifts. A glow in the dark sword, magnetic castle playset, “gold” coins and a snazzy knight action figure were among the prizes given away, unfortunately, we were too busy to take any photos. Want to know what we’re giving away next year? We’ll you’ll just have to come by the booth and find out!
Four o’clock came around much too soon and the convention came to an official end. We began taking our booth down and I realized I would need to stick around longer than anticipated. I took Anne-Marie to the airport so she could catch her flight home and I rescheduled to fly stand-by on Monday. Neal and I disassembled the booth and packed everything away. Then we took care of the rental car and other details before grabbing some dinner.
I spent pretty much the entire next day waiting in the airport to get home. Let me offer just a word of advice if you plan on flying stand-by in or out of Indianapolis during Gen Con weekend.
The seats at Indianapolis International Airport are comfortable enough, but nobody wants to spend 12 hours in an airport. The good news is that I was able to work on some new game ideas, so perhaps some good will come of this.
I finally made it out after 7 and arrived home in Austin that night. It was good to be home after not only our Summer Tour, but our first Gen Con experience as well. Gen Con’s slogan is “The Best Four Days in Gaming” and it’s true. It was an amazing experience, both in scale and in people. To get that many of us together in one place where we all share this love of games is really something special. It’s an amazingly creative, wacky, fun, hilarious group and we can’t wait to go back next year.