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Gen Con Insider’s Guide: 50 Years of Gaming, and Growing Stronger

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This week, we’re heading to the 50th anniversary edition of one of the world’s first and biggest gaming conventions: Gen Con. We’ll be there with some pretty sweet miniatures to give away — plus daily contests — at the Shapeways booth. To help you navigate the massive, round-the-clock event, we turned to veteran gamer and journalist Ryan Schapals from Nerdarchy for an insider’s look at Gen Con.

The year is 2017, the same year Blade Runner is set in, and here we are tossing dice and cards like it’s 1982. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Surprisingly, the tabletop renaissance is in full bloom, all thanks to the internet. Instead of rogue androids, we’ve got Kickstarter and print-on-demand fueling ambitious new tabletop games, and you can catch the best of them at Gen Con. Hard to believe it’s just two days away!

There’s nothing quite like Gen Con. While there’s an incredible wealth of great gaming conventions in the US these days, Gen Con feels like the most wholeheartedly focused on getting new and veteran gamers around a table to experience the best in tabletop. Walking the Vendor Hall, you’ll be overloaded by the sheer number of gaming possibilities.

You’ll find plenty of friendly faces on the floor ready to introduce to you to everything from the freshest take on Werewolf to the kind of strategy games that take all day! Outside of simply demoing every game that catches your eye, here are some of my favorite picks for Gen Con 2017.

Homebrews in the Gaming Hall

Did you ever wonder what kind historical miniatures games a historian might create? Look no further than the Gaming Hall at Gen Con. You can find all sorts of incredible games here, from giant-sized Catan matches to MTG tournaments all day, but the hot ticket here is the homebrew games. Walking the hall, you can check out some custom made castles and armies, strike up a conversation, and before you know it you’re playing a game like no other. And often these kind of games are free because you’re helping to playtest!

Battletech Beta and Pods

Full disclosure, I first attended Gen Con in 2014 with Harebrained Schemes and had an absolute blast sharing their games and making new friends. The Battletech Beta is here and you’ll have a chance to test it out before launch. Video games at Gen Con? Yep, that’s right. Time to break the rules and recommend one game that’s taken all the strategic fun of one of the most intense tabletop games and transported it to the digital realm.

Outside of HBS, there are also Battletech Pods in the gaming hall where you can hop in and get in on a first person ‘Mech destruction! Not to be missed. It’s like hopping into a time machine that takes you to the past and the future all at once. I keep returning to these pods each year because there’s nothing quite like them. They’re filled with knobs, levers, and pedals that actually function and need to be mastered if you want to stand a chance in the free-for-all. This is as close as you’ll ever come to actually piloting a ‘Mech!

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The GM Improv Showdown

The number one event I’m looking forward to this year is the GM Showdown hosted by Open Legend, featuring Matt Mercer (Critical Role), Satine Phoenix (GM Tips, Maze Arcana), Shanna Germain (Monte Cook Games), Andrew Armstrong (DawnforgedCast), Brian Feister (Open Legend), and myself (Open Legend)! What can I say, I’m a little biased, but getting these many amazing storytellers and performers in one room and challenging them to run an adventure blind, with no preparation, is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Anything could happen! Expect the unexpected as each GM takes a round trying to control the chaos made by other players. Who will win it all in the first ever GM Showdown? Even if you can’t be there in person, we’ll be streaming the entire event for the gamers at home! Check it out here on August 17th from 3 – 4 PM EDT. And be sure to check out the Shapeways minis we get to use for all our events during the best four days in gaming!

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True Dungeon

Every single year I’ve been to Gen Con, my biggest regret has been missing True Dungeon. I plan to fix that this year. There are few other events that are so completely unique to Gen Con. You embark on a live action RPG adventure with friends and strangers alike. I’ve heard it’s best if you can bring your own group, but it’s still worth checking out solo because of the sheer scale and madness of this dungeon delve.

You have to pick actual locked boxes, complete puzzles as a team, and memorize the planes themselves to succeed. There’s nothing this immersive anywhere else in the world. If you’ve ever wondered, how you, not your character sheet, would handle the perils of a fantasy adventure. With accolades from Patrick Rothfuss, Wil Wheaton, and Gary Gygax himself, this is a must-play experience.

Caffeine, Brews, and Bites

Last, but certainly not least, if you can, avoid the food inside the convention center. Head outside to Georgia Street and grab great bites and brews from local food trucks. And stay caffeinated with Bee Coffee Roasters. They’ve got fun themed drinks, awesome costumed staff, and the most solid good ol’ fashioned coffee near the convention. I could never handle all the hours of gaming without them!

And if you’re feeling real adventurous and looking for some late night activities, bring your friends out to the Cadillac Ranch to ride the mechanical bull and witness (or join in on) the line dancing!

There are near infinite games to discover at Gen Con and I wish I could include them all here, but be sure to wander the floor and share your findings. What are you looking forward to most? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re going to Gen Con 50, be sure to stop and say hi if you see me! I’m a master of taking blurry selfies. Here’s to 50 more years of gaming!

Shapeways will be in the Miniature Hobby Events section on Sagamore Concourse, giving away free miniatures for the Paint & Take and holding daily contests. See you in Indy!

See you at the Shapeways booth!

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