Gen Con 2006, Day 1

The “Day at a Time” format seemed to work well for my Comic-Con report, so I’m going to stick with that. Here, then, is my account of the first day of Gen Con 2006, August 9. (This is actually set-up day, the day before the show officially opens.)

Indianapolis is only about a five-hour drive from my home in Wisconsin. I stick around town that morning to see my eldest son sing with his friends in Kids’ Fun & Drama, grab lunch with the whole crew, then hit that dusty trail. Back when I was president of Pinnacle or stood in another booth, I couldn’t get away with this kind of schedule, but I’m a guest of honor at the show this year and have no booth duties, so I stretch out my time at home as far as I’m able.

For some reason, I can never seem to remember how Daylight Savings Time works in Indiana. It’s right on the edge of the Eastern and Central Time Zones, and it can go either way. So, when I get into town at what I think is about 6 PM, it’s actually 7 PM. Not a huge deal, since I don’t have to be anywhere until the Diana Jones Award party at 9 PM.

I pull into the Hyatt’s entrance, and the parking lot is full, so I go with the valet. In that line, I run into the first guy I know at the show, who’s in the car right behind me: Japji Khalsa of Khalsa-Brain Games and KublaCon, truly one of the nicest guys in the industry. Since KublaCon is one of the sponsors of the DJA party, he stuffs a check in my hand as I head for the front desk.

Two cars in front of me, I bump into Eric Nofsinger of High Voltage Games, who’ve I’ve known for a few years. He’s here with his eldest son, which sets me to wondering when I’ll start bringing my kids to these shows to play games—and how that’s going to change how I approach the show.

I check in, get to my room, and realize I’m running later than I’d hoped. I change, then trot down to the party, hoping I can grab something to eat before things get started. I know it’s going to be a long night, and I don’t want to tackle that on an empty stomach.

I’ve been setting up the Diana Jones Award party ever since 2001, the award’s inaugural year. I turned 33 on Gen Con Saturday that year, which also happened to be my 20th consecutive summer Gen Con, so I threw a party and invited everyone I knew. We had somewhere around 300 people show up for beer and pretzels, which seemed perfect for gamers. At the end of the night, award-founder James Wallis (then of Hogshead Publishing) presented the trophy to Peter Adkison (then of Wizards of the Coast).

The party was such a hit that I started setting it up every year for the DJA. Instead of paying for it myself, though, I line up a number of sponsors to chip in a few bills each. Five years later, we’re having our sixth awards party tonight, and it’s run smoothly every time. I’m always dreading something going wrong, of course, but so far we’ve been lucky.

I get to the bar and run into John and Michelle Nephew of Atlas Games out front. Although they’ve already eaten, they duck inside for a drink with me while I wolf down a burger and fries. People start showing up and saying hi as I eat. At a quarter to nine, I charge up the stairs to chat with our host and make the final check that everything’s all right.

Tony (the host) hands me a stack of free drink tickets, which I’m to hand out to the partygoers. Since there are already people there, I get to work. I handle the door for the first hour, right up until we hand out the award at 10 PM. Marcelo Figueroa handles the DJ duties with some great tunes, and I keep passing out tickets, shaking hands, and saying hi to everyone.

The DJA event has become the unofficial Gen Con launch party for the industry, and even though it always ends up as a blur for me, I love it. It’s my first chance to see so many friends, many of whom I hope to hunt down at later points in the convention. It’s like the rehearsal dinner for the big show—but with beer and gamers.

At 10 PM, I take the mike and give a short speech about the history of the award, then thank our sponsors. By short, I mean under two minutes. The DJA committee is not long on ceremony. This year, the award goes to Irish Gaming Convention Charity Auctions.

While we weren’t able to line up any Irish gamers to accept the award, a couple of Scotsmen stepped up to handle the duties: Malcolm Craig of Contested Ground and Gregor Hutton of Boxninja. Both men are regulars in the Irish gaming convention scene and swore to escort the trophy to the next large convention in Ireland: Gaelcon.

Once that’s over—all complete in less than ten minutes, perhaps five—it’s back to the party. By the end of the night, I’ve given out all of the drink tickets, but the kind bartenders refuse to let me spend my money on myself, so I’m well taken care of. They keep the place open a bit longer than usual to accommodate the crowd, but eventually the lights come up about 1 AM, and it’s time to go. I settle up the check and give the crew a stiff tip.

Then I’m off to somewhere else, following Peter Adkison (now of Gen Con and Hidden City Games), Cindi Rice (of Epic Level Entertainment), Sean Patrick Fannon (of GAMA and Talisman Studios), Robin Laws, Jeff Tidball, John and Michelle Nephew, and many others. We drink, we dance, we drink some more at an outdoor table. Eventually, the crowd breaks up and we head home. I get to sleep about 3:30 AM.

Day 2—the first official day of the show—soon.