Conventions in 1-2-3

Convention season has started again in the United States. To be fair, I’m not sure that it ever ends here as it always seems like there is a convention of some size somewhere at all times. I just got back from Geekway, which is a little shindig in St. Louis, Missouri. Inspired by the amazing time I had there, I’ve decided to compare the three main conventions I’ve been to here in the US: BGGCon, Geekway, and GenCon.

This post is no way comprehensive. I have been to conventions like PAX East that don’t exactly qualify as board game conventions but have a board game area. I have been to a small, local convention that is invite only. I have never been but dream of going to the Spiel in Essen. Like I mentioned, it seems like there is always something going on in the US, so I looked it up and started making a calendar. It includes all the conventions in New England (where I live – call me selfish if you like), and all the bigger conventions elsewhere.

convention calendarWhen and where will you need to go?

BGGCon

  • When: November 18-22, 2015
  • Where: Dallas, TX

Geekway

  • When: May 14-17, 2015; May 19-22, 2016
  • Where: St. Louis, MO

GenCon

  • When: July 30-August 2, 2015
  • Where: Indianapolis, IN
Location of the Three Conventions

Location of the Three Conventions

How much will it cost?

BGGCon

  • Badge Cost: $95 early registration, $120 afterwards
  • Room Cost: $118 per night

Geekway

  • Badge Cost: $45
  • Room Cost: $109 per night

GenCon

  • Badge Cost: 4-day: $80.00; Single day: $45.00; VIG: $130.00
  • Room Cost: Varies immensely: $200+ per night downtown

How many people will you have to put up with?

BGGCon

Attendance: 2300

Geekway

Attendance: 1400

GenCon

Attendance: 56, 614

How easy is it to get a room?

BGGCon

As far as I know, the rooms at the Hyatt Regency DFW where the convention is held is currently sold out. There are two other hotels nearby that apparently have space, but let’s face it, staying on site is a million times better especially when shuttles are involved. Looks like I’ll be muscling my way into friends’ rooms again this year.

Geekway

I had zero problems getting a room a few days before the badges sold out.

GenCon

Not easy. There was a lotto system implemented this year. When registration opened, everyone was assigned a time slot. This ranged from immediately to four hours later. Needless to say, a lot of people are staying much farther away (think 20-30 minutes out from the convention center) than they would like. As I understand it, a lot of exhibitors are left out in no man’s land and will have to make the trek in every day and out every night.

What will you be able to do at the convention?

BGGCon

Play games! BGGCon is heavily focused on game playing. There is a large open gaming area that is available twenty four hours a day. Attendees have access to the BGG library and the games they purchased from the vendors at the convention. If they weren’t lucky enough to attend Essen, there’s a booth with Essen goodness ready for the taking.

Buy and demo games. There are approximately 85 vendors at the convention. Most of them provide demos for the games, and of course, all of them have wares to peddle. There is also an area called Demo Land where attendees can play demos in case the exhibitor booths are too busy.

Do the other things. There are several other scheduled events attendees can participate in. Probably the biggest thing is the Battling Tops tournament. They can man a station on the bridge of Artemis. There’s a charity auction, designer/publisher speed dating, and poker tournaments. There’s an escape room, puzzle hunt, and game shows. That’s not to mention the math trade and flea market that happens as well. There is plenty to do and all of it very low-key.

Geekway

Play games! Playing games is what attendees do most at Geekway. There is a sizable and varied library that is very easy to check games in and out of. There is plenty of space in the main playing area and several other smaller areas to play in as well.

Win games. At check in, attendees win a game. There are daily door prizes where attendees can win games. There’s also a Play and Win system where attendees can enter to win the games they play.

Buy games. Purchasing games is by no means a main focus of Geekway, but the option is there. There is a small vendor area where attendees can buy games from smaller/indie publishers. Miniature Market is there and has a Dent and Ding section where attendees can pick up games at a good price.

Do the other things. If attendees want to participate in events beyond game playing, there is a Prototype Lab, a Game Design Competition, a Trade Table, a Crokinole Tournament, and a Game Market. There is also a Battling Tops Tournament. Don’t worry, Geekway provides some masks if people are feeling spunky and didn’t bring their own.

GenCon

Buy games! GenCon is undoubtedly a convention for buying games. Sure, there’s hotels full of things to do other than purchase games, but the main point of going to GenCon is to buy the new hotness. With hundreds of vendors, there is plenty of places to buy games, game-related things, and lots of other things.

Demo games. Demoing games happens at many of the vendor booths. However, many companies have separate space in a different hall where attendees can participate in full demos of games without the rush of the next person waiting.

Do the other things. There are so many other things to do that are part of the convention, I don’t even know where to begin. There is board gaming obviously. There is role playing, LARPing, workshops to make armor, seminars, cos playing, a geeky strip tease, etc., etc., etc. While the convention hall is enormous, the events are spread across several hotels. Top tip: make all the plans you want, but don’t expect to do them all. There is far too much to do and much too little time to do it all.

What will you be able to do around the convention?

BGGCon

A whole lot of nothing. BGG is held at a hotel that’s on airport grounds. Once you’re there, you’re pretty much there unless you take a taxi or have friends with cars. If attendees do decide to venture beyond the hotel walls and have an unhealthy relationship with barbecue, I highly recommend visiting the amusement park of meat, Hard Eight BBQ.

Geekway

At its current location, there is a little area of restaurants directly adjacent to the hotel, so getting non-hotel food is very easy. Otherwise, attendees can venture into St. Louis and do things, but it would require a vehicle.

GenCon

When GenCon comes to Indianapolis, GenCon takes over Indianapolis. Many of the surrounding businesses adopt “geeky” themes and cater to the conventions’ attendees. The convention center is surrounded by restaurants, shopping malls, and other businesses. There’s a food truck row, which is amazing.

How crazy are you going to be trying to do all the things you want to do?

BGGCon

Not very. The convention isn’t that big, so it’s fairly easy to do anything inside the convention. If attendees want to do anything outside of it though, they might be frustrated with the lack of transportation and options.

Geekway

Not at all. The smallest of the conventions, perhaps it makes sense that it’s the easiest to do the things you want to do. It really is about playing games. The playing areas are spacious and full of natural light. This may seem like a silly thing to point out, but it’s a very nice change from most convention spaces.

GenCon

If attendees want to buy something, they’ll stand in a line for a long time. If they want to buy something everyone else wants to buy, they’ll stand in a line for a longer time. There are a lot of lines. However, when they’re not standing in line, there is a lot to do outside of the convention. There is gaming in other halls. There is gaming in hotel lobbies and rooms. There is food and fun outside of the convention, whether attendees are hanging with friends or looking for unique experiences.

What does the LudiCrew think about conventions?

Harry-Pekka

In conventions, I go for one of two things: 1) getting to play games I normally won’t get to the table – Twilight imperium, 18xx and rare games I really want to try like Indonesia or Dune and 2) to see and aquire games that would normally be hard to get to, small far away publishers, hand crafted games etc. Another is just to mill about with a goofy grin surrounded by so many likeminded folk and wonderful cardboard. I really start to want to get to a convention soon just thinking about them.

Todd S.

Todd S. has never been to a convention.

Todd W.

Todd used to go to GenCon regularly, but having kids put an end to that. Now we host a mini-convention at our house every year. We have 30-40 people who come, and we game from Thursday all the way through Sunday. It’s a great way to get the con experience without having to spend gobs of money, and at night you still get to sleep (albeit, not very much) in your own bed.