So many board games, theater shows, food trucks, crafting, not to mention Cardhalla…Here’s my list of must-plays at Gen Con 50 in downtown Indianapolis!

Image courtesy of Gen Con official Facebook page (Timeline Photos).

In exactly one week, Gen Con 50 returns to the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis to celebrate its golden 50th anniversary.  Boasted to be “the Best 4 Days in Gaming™!” it is the original, longest-running, best-attended gaming convention in the world, with attendees visiting from 64 countries, every state in the U.S., and every province in Canada.

“Gen Con attendees are some of the most passionate, loyal people in the world,” remarked Adrian Swartout, CEO/owner of Gen Con, on this year’s schedule of events, “and we wanted to create yet another memorable, ‘can’t miss experience’ for them for Gen Con 50.”

Founded in 1968 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Gen Con first started out as a war gaming convention called “Lake Geneva Wargaming Convention.”  As it gained popularity in time, Gen Con expanded to support all categories of traditional and collectible board games, role-playing games, live action role-playing, miniature war games, even computer and electronic games.  

Gen Con also celebrates a large variety of gaming-related entertainment such as cosplay parades and contests, puzzle hunts, film contests and screenings, art showcases, and the usual celebrity and musical performances.

Image courtesy of Gen Con official Facebook page (Timeline Photos).

Some highlights of this year’s convention include:

The return of puppet-related programming, including “make your own puppet” workshops and shows like Late Night Puppet Slam.

A mass wedding vow renewal ceremony and reception.

A new award category for the film festival called the Ovid Award, which will be given to “the most interesting and creative story” among short film entries.

Worldbuilders Party, a chance to play games and schmooze with some famous people in the gaming community while also benefiting charities such as Heifer International, Mercy Corps, and First Book. 

Concert performance by Grammy Award-winning artists They Might Be Giants.

First Exposure Playtest Hall.  Many games make their debut at Gen Con in prototype form.  Not only do gamers get a sneak peek into the game design process, but designers and publishers can receive direct feedback from their key audiences.  You can also find many of these new designers in the exhibit hall, who will probably ask you for your Kickstarter pledge right on the spot.

Image courtesy of Gen Con official Facebook page (Timeline Photos).

Speaking of debuts, there is list of board games making their first release at Gen Con 50.  There are too many to list, but I will name some of the ones I’m most excited about:

Final box art for Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game. Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game designed by Keith Baker.  Published by Renegade Games.  

The game is finally out, and I am so excited to see it!  Keith himself will be at Gen Con to demo the game, as well as some of some other games he’s made recently: Action Cats (which is technically his newest game to date); RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command; and Illimat, a card game he created with the band The Decemberists.

Image courtesy of Robots Love Ice Cream Kickstarter page.

Robots Love Ice Cream designed by Chad Elkins.  Published by 25th Century Games.  

Based on the super-cute mobile game, Robots is a family-friend, semi-cooperative game where players are using a weaponized ice cream truck to fight invading robots.  Saving the galaxy is pretty sweet!

Image courtesy of A Song of Ice & Fire Kickstarter page.

A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game designed by Eric M. Lang and Michael Shinall.  Published by CMON.  

Players recruit armies, build resources, and level up their tactics as they wage war for dominance in Westeros.  The battles can scale up from small skirmishes to full-on wars involving hundreds of miniatures, which can be customized according to Game of Thrones canon…or to your own fanfiction.  What if Robb Stark skipped the Red Wedding and assaulted King’s Landing?  Now fans can find out!

Image courtesy of Thunderstone Quest Kickstarter page.

Thunderstone Quest designed by Mike Elliott.  Published by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG).  

Fun fact, I played the original Thunderstone board game in one of my early dates with Ben.  I loved the original game and its spin-offs, but this is Mike Elliott’s first major revision in several years.  Quest utilizes the basic deck-building mechanics from the original game, yet promises a more exciting, story-driven dungeon-diving experience.

Image courtesy of Gen Con official Facebook page (Timeline Photos).

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle designed by Kami Mandell, Andrew Wolf, and Forrest-Pruzan Creative.  Published by USAopoly.

This board game isn’t new-new, but it’s still under a year old and still worth checking out.  Aside from this unofficial Harry Potter RPG (or this one), Hogwarts Battle is probably the most serious, worthy-of-adults Harry Potter-themed board game you’ll come across these days.  It’s a deck-building game where players form unique decks consisting of spells, magical items, and support characters.  Only by working together will the players defeat the villains, who will try to fight back using the Dark Arts.
Dark is the Night designed by students and first-time designers (YAY!) Josh Estill, Zach Abbott, and Arwen Boyer.  Published by APE Games.

Dark is a two-player game of the hunter vs. the hunted.  One player takes on the role of the hunter while the other player is the monster, each of them using tools at their disposal in attempts to eliminate the other player before daybreak.  The gameplay appears fairly simple and can be played in 15-20 minutes, but I’m always on the lookout for good 2-player games.

Image courtesy of Gen Con official Facebook page (Timeline Photos).

EXIT series designed by Inka and Markus Brand.  Published by Thames & Kosmos.

Ya’ll know me for writing reviews about escape rooms.  Something that I’ve never tried are escape board games, which are like contained escape room experiences you can host at home.  The EXIT series already has 6 separate installments that were all published within the last year.  The German publisher is already promising that 4 more games are in development, potentially ready for demo at Gen Con.  Some people really love this series, so I’m willing to check it out for myself.

Life-size King of Tokyo. Image courtesy of Gen Con official Facebook page (Timeline Photos).

It’s only at Gen Con where I might expect to find a cash tournament dedicated to games like Smash Up or Tanto Cuore.  For many serious players, it is just that.  Tournaments dedicated to long-standing games like Magic the Gathering, Settlers of Catan, and Pokemon Trading Card Game will be playing all weekend long.  If you’re competing, I hope you’re planning on bringing a pillow and a picnic basket, because 30 minutes in-between matches is only enough time to run to the bathroom!

Gen Con is also known for a very robust list of “live event” programming.  In the past, I’ve participated in fun events such as murder mystery parties, K-pop aerobics, and a “smack down” Dungeons & Dragons event narrated by sports commentators.  On my list for this year’s must-see shows are…

Image courtesy of Critical Role Live Eventbrite page.

Critical Role Live! presented by Geek & Sundry.  Critical Role is a popular web series in which a group of voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons.  Live theater shows of nerdy activities like D&D, Mystery Science Theater, and Game Grumps have been growing popular in recent years.  Improv + comedy + D&D = great night of theater!

Have Mercy! Image courtesy of Cosplay Deviants official website.

Dungeons & Deviants presented by Cosplay Deviants.  If you’re looking to explore the NSFW side of Gen Con, look no further than Dungeons & Deviants, a live theater show of Dungeons & Dragons with humorous sexcapades on top of the usual dungeoneering and dragon-fighting.  This year’s erotic fantasy will involve solving a Wild West murder mystery in a haunted brothel.

Image courtesy of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment official Facebook page (Timeline photos).

Gamers Live: Attack of the Mutants from Planet X presented by Zombie Orpheus Entertainment.  An improv show with a rotating cast of improvisers and actors from across the Zombie Orpheus Entertainment and Dead Gentlemen Productions universes. The action switches between the game table and “in-game” world, like the movies.  Suggestions from the audience shape the story as the performers respond to the constantly changing landscape around them – to the laughter and enjoyment of all!

Image courtesy of AI Circus official website.

Acrobatica Infiniti (AI) Circus.  Returning for their third year in a row, AI Circus will put on a cosplay-themed circus show featuring contortionists, aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, and more!

Image courtesy of D20 Burlesque official website.

Burlesque shows by the Glitter Guild and D20 Burlesque.  For me, this is the true highlight of Gen Con.  It’s basically 5 hours of burlesque shows that represent the spectrum of dance, creativity, and costuming.  Comparing the two shows, Glitter Guild is more of a collective of cosplayers who happen to do burlesque.  They also put on workshops throughout the convention.  D20 seems more on the “professional” side of the spectrum with their high-quality props, costumes, and show script.  Whichever show you choose to go to, you’re bound to have a great time!

Cardhalla from Gen Con 2005. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

For people who need a break from playing games or missed buying theater tickets, there are many different activities held at the convention center or just a short walk from it.  Why not try…

One of the food trucks lined up along Georgia Street.  It feels like you’re on a food tour, because different trucks show up for every day of the convention and rotate twice a day.  Sun King Brewing is the official beer of Gen Con 50 and will have a beer garden.  Free events will be happening in this little gathering space, so even if you don’t have a badge, you can enjoy a taste of Gen Con.  Also, little shout-out to my favorite lifesaver Bee Coffee Roasters (S Capitol Avenue) for staying open late if you’re looking to get a caffeine boost for some red-eye gaming.

Ballroom dancing taught by the affectionately named group Dancing & Dragons.

Crafting classes.  Learn to make fairy wings, a leather pirate journal, or even your very own Dr. Who police box.  The schedule of craft classes is so long, it’s practically its own mini convention.

Fun tour events.  Past tours have included breweries, the city market, gondola rides in the canal district, even haunted houses and catacombs.  

Watching the entertainers roving the halls of the convention center.

Building cards at Cardhalla, a long-standing tradition where you can build card houses inside the main convention hall.  It’s free and open 24 hours a day.  Near the end of the convention (usually late Saturday night), attendees are invited to throw coins at the houses, and the collected coins are donated to charity.  This year, Cards Against Humanity will match donations during the coin tossing destruction.

Gen Con’s annual dance.  It’s Gen Con 50, and the entire convention is celebrating in style.  Held in the Union Station Grand Hall, this year’s theme is “Dance Through the Ages” and attendees are encouraged to dress in their best historical attire.  It’s free for all attendees – just don’t forget your badge!

After-parties at any hotel bar.  Some favorites include nearby bars like the Claddaugh, The Tilted Kilt, The Ram, and Scotty’s.  Other venues like the Slippey Noodle, Rathskellar, and the Cat’s Meow will have live music and/or dancing.

WHEW, you made it to the end of the countdown! Hope to see you at GEN CON! Image courtesy of Gen Con official Facebook page (Timeline Photos).


About The Author

Andrea Chin

Andrea is a glamorous gamer, pastry chef, and cosplay princess from the Emerald City. She plays board games across the spectrum, from the very casual Cards Against Humanity to sleepless nights of Twilight Imperium. Andrea is a big fan of RPG and experiential games like Monsterhearts, Dungeons & Dragons, murder mystery parties, and escape rooms.