Gen Con is an amazing convention, but I see far too many people overlooking critical preparation work that detracts from the experience. Specifically, scheduling events in advance. Yes, you can just show up and find gaming but there are some events that are not just in demand, they are like chunks of raw meat in a tank of starving sharks. If you do not book these events in advance, you will never get in (True Dungeon being the classic example of this, but there are others). Even ignoring the high demand events, there is value in planning your events, both in terms of what you want to do and when, but where the events actually run. This last one often surprises Gen Con rookies. Gen Con is big, as in geographically large. Hotels and the convention center itself spread events over several blocks of downtown Indianapolis.
Overcoming these issues requires a little technology and a bit of planning. A couple of hours invested now saves much misery at the convention itself. Ready? Good, read on for my definitive guide to Gen Con event scheduling.
Step one is very easy, either download the Gen Con event schedule spreadsheet or go to the High Programmer’s Gen Con scheduling site and pick events. I prefer the web site, but some gamers with Excel skills get more mileage from the spreadsheet version. I prefer the High Programmer for ease of use and the Google integration and will use the High Programmer site for this guide.
Step two is to use some modern technology to make your life easier. Get a free Gmail account and setup a new Google calendar. There is a default calendar, but you can easily add another calendar called “Gen Con 2011″ for easy reference. Be sure to share your calendar with anyone going with your to Gen Con. Since most people attend Gen Con in groups, this allows everyone to see their cohort’s schedule. Be sure to give everyone the correct permissions on the calendar so they call edit the various events or “view only” permissions if you do not trust your fellow gamers not to sign you up for “Teddy Bear Chainmail Making” seminars. (FYI, this is a real event at Gen Con 2011).
Step three is the enjoyable task of finding events to play! There is a button on every event on the High Programmer site to add an event to your Google calendar. There is an issue where the HP site adds the event to the wrong calendar, but you can click on the event and move it to your “Gen Con Calendar” with a couple of clicks. Go crazy and add an entry for absolutely anything you are even considering! It is far easier to cull the list later than going back to the master list and hunt down “that event I saw last week.” If you are going with others, have them do the same thing. Once there is a master list of events, organize a Skype session to pick what the group really wants to play. Skip this step is everyone is doing disparate events.
Note: You can do some of these functions within the Gen Con registration site, but I prefer Google because you can edit the titles to add a location and share with others more easily.
There are some things to keep in mind when developing your schedule. DO NOT OVER-SCHEDULE! Yes, you can fill up your entire weekend in advance and some may do exactly that because they only play one type of game or compete in a convention-long tournament. That is fine, but I consider Gen Con the best place to play games you do not own, try out a game you never played and generally an opportunity to expand gaming horizons. Leave space for the new discoveries at Gen Con and take a risk!
Remember also that events appear on the schedule at irregular intervals between now and the convention in August. In my case, “Chronicles of the Shattered Empire’s” events are not on the schedule yet and I need to leave gaps for them. You just need to keep checking every few days.
As I said, Gen Con is large and nothing is sadder than gamers with heavy backpacks running through the convention center to reach their next event…three blocks away. Build in walking time between events and speaking of time, schedule lunch. Sounds obvious, but Gen Con event slots often run at odd times and often run right through lunch.
Step four involves adding the chosen events to your “Wish List” on the official Gen Con registration site. Run a search for the event number, in the case below “RPG1117852″ and add it to your wish list.
Note the options on the right to buy tickets for other people. To activate this function you must go to the “My Friends and Family” tab and invite people via email. Once they accept and buy a badge, you can buy tickets for them. The option at the bottom to “Only get selected tickets if ALL selected are available” makes me very nervous and I urge you to think long and hard about this option. It is literally all or nothing. Either you all play together or no one attends the event. Your call, just be aware of what it means.
A few words about the “wish list” system implemented for Gen Con 2011. In days of yore (last year), Gen Con attendees logged in simultaneously on a specific date and hit refresh on their browsers at an astonishing rate, trying to complete transactions and buy tickets. “Major hassle” does not do this experience justice. This year, you build your wish list well in advance and submit it on Sunday, May 1st 2011. Then the Gen Con system queues up the wish lists and sells tickets based on availability. I honestly have no idea if this is better, but it does raise an issue. Does each person submit their wish list for their own events, or should one person with a fast Internet connection buy tickets for everyone? I have no advice in this area. Take your pick and cross your fingers.
There is also another complication. You assign priorities to events on your wish list and then Gen Con processes your wish list in that order. Here is the official blurb.
Tickets for events in your Wish List will be processed in order of priority starting with 1, and then 2, and so on. Assign smaller priority numbers to the events that are most important to you.
Adding a countdown timer on the “submit wish list” page makes it very easy to know when to click submit. Sadly, it also means Gen Con’s servers will take a nearly simultaneous hit from thousands of anxious gamers. If they planned for the surge, all is well. If not, prepare to use that refresh button if the site bogs down under the load…
This is the system my cohorts and I use to good effect, but if anyone else our there has great suggestions please add a comment.
Good luck and see you at Indy!
Trask, The Last Tyromancer