Thursday, March 12, 2015
PUG Life - GamerNationCon 2015
A review of a convention can sometimes read like a post on a travel website; somewhat entertaining but ultimately pointless unless the person reading has an interest in going there. To that end, I'm going to try to not only entertain you, but also sell you on attending GamerNationCon in the future;
I had more fun gaming at GamerNationCon 2015 than I did gaming at GenCon2014.
The two conventions are completely different animals; GenCon is an industry trade show and the pinnacle of competitive gaming. The biggest tournaments are held at GenCon, as are the biggest releases. Companies save product to specifically release at GenCon to boost the hype. Gamers and GMs from around the world write and register events, creating a catalog of events 200 pages long in tiny 6-point font. 40,000 gamers crowd into the vast halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center. It truly is an experience every gamer should participate in, simply for the sensory overload of "GAME".
GenCon is what you make it; if you have a lot of friends to go and adventure with it can be a great time. If you can get in on one of the official events run by the game companies, you may be treated to a grand, well written adventure. You may even get in on some private-run and registered game, run by a solid GM who knows his stuff. It's very hard to get in on pick-up games, unless you come from a gaming community and they organize something together. Even then, your group wanders around the vast halls and hotels looking for some place to play your game while a dozen other groups attempt the same feat.
In my experience, there's little friendly interaction with other con-goers unless you've happened to sign up for the same game. Because everyone pays an additional amount to play the registered events, some folks come to the table with an attitude of "I'm a consumer and I'm going to get my money's worth, dammit". They may insist on rulings go their way, or tell the rest of the party how the group will proceed and hog the spotlight as much as possible (which is funny, because everyone else paid just as much to sit at that table with Captain Blowhard).
Pick Up Games at GenCon are mostly non-existent, except in the situations I described above (gaming communities) or at demo-areas in the exhibition hall where game companies are trying to get you interested in their games. Not a bad thing, mind you, a good game is worth its weight in gold, but Demos tend to last just long enough to teach you how the game works and get your buy in to the product, not the other players.
On the flip side is GamerNationCon, a convention held entirely within the confines of a former dance studio in Plano, Texas. "Dallas Games Marathon" is a small facility with a capacity for 187 people, max. This means attendees are capped at 150, to allow room for volunteer staff and small overflow. This particular site location has the advantage of a massive games library where you can grab a game off a playing rack, a flag that states "Looking for Players", and generally within 5 minutes you're off and running.
Artemis Bridge Simulator. There's minor celebrities and Names from "the industry" to game with, or simply chat with. There's shenanigans, late nights, gamer food, and laughs. It's a lot like the "gamer community" option with GenCon, but the whole room is filled with folks there for the same reason; game with others from the community. This happens at all hours. There's almost always someone to game with, someone willing to hop in on Pandemic, or Star Wars RPG, or a hundred other games.
GamerNationCon also has the game-within-the-game; GamerCred. Various actions or accomplishments earns you small buttons that have a name, an image, and a point value. Coming in costume/cosplaying gets you the "Alter Ego" badge, worth 10 points. Getting a photo with a member of the 501st is worth 5 points. Playing a game that's no longer being supported or produced earns the 10-point "Dead Gamer" pin. Play in 30 hours of events over the con and you get the "Iron Gamer" pin. RUN 30+ hours of events and you'll earn the "Iron GM" pin. There are secret ones too; Order 66, Brush with Greatness, Sad Panda, Steward of Gamedor, the list goes on and on. Starting next year, your total in "GamerCred" will earn you benefits or first shots at events. It'll be fun to see.
Personally, I had a blast at GamerNationCon 2015, also called "Three Days of Good Gaming" or "3DoGG" for short. It's a fun con where you're surrounded by gamers who are there to game with the community and have a good time. I feel that can get lost, and did get lost in the insanity that was GenCon.
If you get a chance, or an opportunity, go to GamerNationCon. It's small, it's weird, but it's awesome and can be the most fulfilling con-gaming experience you'll ever have.
Don't get me wrong, GenCon was awesome and I'd love to go back. But sometimes you don't want the Big Dog at the Big Show. Sometimes you just want a PUG*.
May the dice be with you (and see all my Puggies in Plano next year!)
* - Someone REALLY needs to make a mascot/icon for GamerNationCon, and it needs to be a pug...