Saturday, July 31, 2010

All In for Gen Con

We are all geeky about something.

Gen Con is this week right here in Indianapolis. This will be my 5th visit. The level of involvement over the years goes like this: curious, interested, involved, engulfed, fanatical. Somewhere between the involved and engulfed phase I shook loose from the mild embarrassment I felt about being a part of this community. To this day it still requires a bit of an explanation as to 1) What is Gen Con? and 2) Why are you paying $70 to attend? In the early days I wouldn't bring up the subject, lest I get further queried as if I had two navels or practiced Voodoo. Realizing that everyone is a geek about something (and if they aren't they are boring people). I will now talk your ear off about my new passion.

So here is the FAQ section in which I proudly proclaim my geekdom.

What is Gen Con?
It's a gaming convention where the gaming industry and players come together to play and preview primarily board and card games.

For the full (and boring) Wiki version:

Why are you paying $70 to attend?
I'd rather not pay the fee in light of the fact that most events and sessions carry an extra charge and that the folks in the exhibit hall must pay to sell their wares. That being said, there are other $70 items that I don't think are worth the money. One being a round of golf which is a subject that I will someday open up about in a later post.

Is this one of those conventions where people dress up like trolls, warriors, and other fictional characters?
Yes. But I don't. It's like going to nudist colony with one's clothes on. I get to view the spectacle without really participating. It is annoying when I get smacked by a rubber sword or a dragon tail in a crowded aisle.

Are there games like Monopoly at Gen Con?
I suppose, but outside Magic the Gathering, and Dungeons and Dragons. most of the titles are a newer generation of board games that feature high quality components and fresh designs that rely on strategy to win rather than luck. Many of the the titles originate in Europe and are not found at Wal-Mart or Target. They are sold in specialty game stores. Many of themes are fantasy and horror related and that brings in many of the comic book fans.

What games do you play?
I mostly play war games featuring historical accuracy. Reading about a famous battle is one thing, but playing it on a tabletop goes a long way in understanding the conflict. I particularly like games with miniatures. Read: toy soldiers.

Any games that I'd like?
Given that you like playing games, there are a few worth looking into. For example, Settlers of Catan, Dominion, and Ticket to Ride are games that my friends and family enjoy.

So what do you do there for 4 1/2 days?
I play the games with fans from all over the nation. Often the game's designer is on hand to answer questions or give tips on winning strategies. I'm booked solid with various sessions.

Felicia Day will be there this year and I once saw Kari Byron of The Mythbusters. Oh, and you can grab a bunch of swag. There will be special edition game pieces given out. There's other things like Anime festivals of which I hold no interest. It's like Las Vegas. Everyone has a different agenda at the same location. Having 30,000 other gamers there is a sight to behold.

See you there?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back to School at Wal-Mart

Back to School sales have always triggered an acute episode of depression and dread within me. They remind me that summer will be ending some day. That's what hit me when I walked into my local Wal-Mart today. It's effen July 14. It's less than three weeks into the season. Yet I see full displays of Elmer's School Glue, compasses with sharp points, gel pens, giant erasers, spiral notebooks, and other supplies for the classroom that will be banned by most teachers from day one. Summarily: school glue (kids pour it on their palm, let it dry, and peel it off the fine layer of an imprint of their skin; compasses (sharp object, duh?), gel pens (especially pink, tend to bleed on cheap-assed school paper, and are hard on teacher's eyes) ; big erasers (big hole in paper, guaranteed), spiral notebooks (devices of evil constructed out of wire, shreds of paper all over creation, and maned edges of paper lock together when stacked).

These are great deals for adults who do not have access to a bounty of free office supplies from their job site, but for parents lacking shopping savvy or held captive to the desires of their children, it's a big waste of money. The wise wait until registration when the teacher provides a list of required (and sensible) supplies. Which, come to think of it, is within three weeks in these parts. School opens August 2. I guess not too many Indiana children are needed to harvest the corn crop. So, my shock at seeing this crap on the shelves in mid-July shouldn't have stunned me.

What did stun me was the condition of said displays at this particular Wal-Mart. It looked like someone spilled a giant box of Lucky Charms all over the front of the store. Bulk school supplies spilled from various bins and boxes had formed a sea of pink, blue, pink, yellow, red, green, pink, pink, purple, turquoise, and pink. Newly packaged objects mixed with broken and / or unpacked objects. The few survivors wading through the area were filling their carts indiscriminately. While one parent was hollering across a mound of pocket folders to ask her little Boo Boo what he needed, he was tossing stuff in the cart that he wanted. A clerk was failing in his attempt to restock the displays as some were picking merchandise right off his flat wagon.

OK, maybe I mostly made most of this up exaggerate a bit. But the store is a mess. I went it looking for mounting putty that is usually found right where the sale was happening. Going back an aisle or two, hoping that the putty was just moved for the occasion, I walked into a clearance sale that was going on. That's four rows of absolute junk that Wal-Mart shoppers have rummaged through for the past few months. There was no apparent system to the placement of these items. If there was, a complex system that only Stephen Hawking could grasp was used. How could a single washcloth relate to a a partially open package of 240 grain sand paper or a pack of birthday candles?

Wal-Mart gives me the willies anyway, but today was particularly distressing. Frustration in not finding mounting putty, facing the fact that summer does not last forever, and that not everyone is as neat and orderly as me, presented a three-headed beast that sent me away in a quivering mass of anxiety.