Friday, August 29, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day 2

Last year when I declared that I would do the Orc Stomp 5k, I assumed they would still have a 8 a.m. event. When it came time to register, I discovered they had eliminated the 8 a.m. run and only had a 6 a.m. run. Well, frak. I had already told people I was going to do the run, so I signed up.

Friday I got up at 4:30 to make it downtown and be on site on time. As it was, I cut it close to the wire, despite the fact there was no traffic at o'gods early. My friend @knharter was running it also, but she was actually planning on running it, as opposed to me, which would be more of a power-walk. I wisely moved towards the back of the starting pack to stay out of the way of the speedier folk. This was my first event of this nature. I was surprised by how supportive and encouraging people were. I finished just over 47 minutes, which is what I had done on the treadmill at the gym.

After the Orc Stomp, I went home to shower and change (don't want to live up to the gamer stink) and returned downtown. During event registration, we had only secured 1 ticket for a tabletop Brass & Steel game, so I took some generics and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, someone else had gotten there first with generics, claiming the only no-show spot. Rather than game without me, KNH opted to skip the game and we hit the Exhibition Hall.

We both had mental shopping lists, mostly to do with Steampunk costuming stuff. I didn't much luck - what I was looking for was pretty specific, and the only person I saw wearing it didn't get it from the vendor booth he was working at. He was kind enough to get me a card, so I can get it for next year. After KNH left, I also managed to do my annual blessing of the dice. I know KNH appreciates me sharing my luck.

Scotty's was chosen as the dinner venue and I went there with a couple of friends. Despite the farther walk, we thought it would be worth it as Scotty's was most assuredly better prepared than the Ram. It was funny seeing muggles show up with no clue what was going on. A bridal party showed up only to find a geek invasion under way. Some sulked, others were good sports, taking pictures with the 501 (the stormtrooper group) and so forth.

I tried the Dogslicer Ale. It reminded me of Heineken. My second beer was a Klingon Warnog.

After dinner, I checked into my hotel. We did some walking around downtown and visited the WotC Tyranny of Dragons release party. I was underwhelmed. My friends took off, so I hung around the beer garden a bit, running into various people I knew. I got to try the Sun King Gen Con beer, but that was it. They ran out, so I settled for a Wee Mac and found more people I knew. A friend led me over to Tiki Bob's where some Gen Con folks were having a get togther, but the 4:30 a.m. soon caught up to me, so I called it an early night.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day 1

Every year I tell my self I will get downtown bright and early despite staying up late on Wednesday. Normally this is to beat the parking situation. My actually success in this in the past years has been hit or miss. Since I knew my parking situation was dealt with, there was less pressure, but I felt like I was making decent time, even stopping to grab breakfast I figured to be on site about 9. As long as I could get there around the time the Exhibitor Hall opened, it was all good.

My parking was taken care of, the traffic was a different story. It was as congested downtown as it would be by the X Hall. The traffic issue wasn't even Gen Con traffic, it was probably people being stupid. I ended up arriving just as they began the pre-opening speeches.

Speaking of which, if they are going to do that and want people to hear them, a few suggestions. First, stop the hall musicians during this time. There were a few thousand impatient gamers and one of the roving acts. Second, use a better sound system or turn up the volume. Finally, keep it short. As the crowd's attention wandered, their conversations rose.

When it comes to the actual opening of the X Hall, I don't try to go in with the tide of gamers. I'll wait until the crowds disappate. Then again, my sister found me to be infuriatingly patient on Christmas morning - she wanted to wake our parents at the crack of dawn, I was content to wait and avoid raising their ire before we could open our presents.

I met with a friend and we ventured into the hall, hoping to get a little shopping/sight-seeing before our game. We normally start at aisle 100 and work our way across. Evidently it was a popular idea. The crowd was significant, leading me to predict that Gen Con would break 60k. (Surprisingly, it was "only" 56k).

Our game of the day was a Pathfinder adventure. I picked the less-than-bright dwarf fighter so I could chew scenery with my quasi-Gaelic brogue. The GM was a bit less than prepared, and pacing suffered. My d20 betrayed me right out of the gate.

The fight before the "boss" encounter was a dragon that should have tore us up. Instead it was an hour of it playing apple-bobbing with our swimming cleric while our weapons bounced off and our wizard whittled it down. Time ran out for the session, so the GM declared that the dragon had killed the boss and taken the relics we were after, wrapping everything up. All in all, we still had some fun and I got out a few dwarf quotes on twitter:

"Kiss my axe!"
"I always keep my word... even if I can't spell it."

We went for an early dinner at the Ram (Oz tip - never plan to eat at 6 p.m., that's when everyone else will be leaving the hall.) We got a table in the bar right away, which seemed to bode well. However, service was slow and my medium burger ended up being closer to well and it seemed like our food had sat around a bit before being brought to us.

I called it an early night since I had to be up at 4:30 a.m. for the 5k Orc Stomp.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day 0

Day 0 - Wednesday

I arrived early Wednesday afternoon and had an hour or so to kill before I started taking care of swag business for the Stink. I swung through the old part of the ICC to check out how crowded the registration area was. There were a lot of people and a substantial line, but the line looked to be moving pretty quickly. Still, I was glad that I ponied up to have my badge and tickets sent to me.

I noticed another short line at the coupon book pick-up. While I almost never use the coupons and wasn't going to bother even getting one this year, I noticed they were giving away some sort of bag. I hopped in line and soon walked away with one of the messenger-style bags they were giving away. Sure, they were cheap, but they were free and so much more useful and durable than the plastic swag bags from years past. Over the next five days it would serve me well, keeping my hands free and freeing me from worrying whether the plastic bag would give out under the weight of one more purchase. Kudos to whoever at Gen Con decided to give these out.

Veteran attendees probably all experience this phenomena - there are people you see every Gen Con, year after year, that you recognize but have no clue who they are. It took me five minutes to spot my first one.

One of the perks of collecting the Stink swag donations is that it lets me peek inside the Exhibition Hall during set up while I am making pick-ups from exhibitors. I've previously likened it to getting to peek under the Christmas tree. This year the Christmas tree was bigger than ever, with the X Hall totaling 30 aisles.

Something about Gen Con makes me a little less introverted than normal. Maybe it's being surrounded by thousands of people that get the same things I am passionate about. Plus we have a common topic to use to start up conversations - the convention. One conversation might lead to a job opportunity (no, not in the gaming industry) - nothing may come of it, but if so it will be another example of gaming leading to great things in my life.

The Stink set-up went off smooth. I was forced to miss the last Mavens (the group that puts on the Stink) meeting, but everyone else already knew what they were doing and had several years of practice. The generosity of Gen Con and the exhibitor donors made my job easy.

Ultra PRO
Fireside Games

The only hitch we ran into with the swag lines was people stopping to decide what color of a certain item they wanted, forgetting there was over a hundred people waiting behind them. Occasionally I would have to prod someone along, but all in all it went really well.

In addition to meeting a few friends I see every Gen Con, a gaming friend from high school came to visit so we were able to catch up. I think one of the best things that could be said about our hobby is that it forges friendships, especially for people that might otherwise find a hard time meeting people and making friends.

Every year my friend @Knharter plays host to some out-of-town friends and Wednesday night has a get together that has been dubbed N-Con. So after the Stink I bee-line it there. There's always an opportunity to game, especially since some of the folks are game designers, or like this year I just socialized. But after a couple of hours I headed some so I could be up bright and early for Day 1.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day -1

Yup, that's Day -1, as in Tuesday (since I consider Wednesday Day 0). I was downtown on an errand and parked across from the ICC, so I decided to pop in and check things out. I walked by a reporter from a local news channel setting up to do a spot and joked that he was a day or two too early. We started talking about Gen Con and Wednesday events like the Beer Tapping and the Stink and he asked to interview me. A whole 5 seconds actually made the broadcast!

I saw that @nellybellexox had put out an open invitation to lunch at Scotty's via Facebook. Since I was already downtown, I decided to take the opportunity to hang out with gamers pre-Gen Con. I chatted with the manager of Scotty's while I waited for people to arrive and we talked about how Tuesday had become the new Wednesday as folks were arriving earlier and now events were happening on Wednesday.

This turned out to be kind of a gamer's UN as there were gamers from Ireland, Australia and Canada in addition to various parts of the country.

The pic was blurry because I snapped in in a hurry trying to hold the camera as much in the corner of the room as possible. Now it's time to make sure all of most costume stuff is laundered and ready, which may require some archeology.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gen Con 2013 - Day 4

Normally the last day of Gen Con is pretty low key. People are tired after burning the candle at both ends for the previous three days, possibly hung over after partying on Saturday night, and are realizing the end of the con is all too rapidly approaching.

One benefit of not getting wild and woolly Saturday night was that I wasn’t hung over and was in pretty good shape after seven hours of sleep. I packed everything up and loaded it into my car, checked out of my room, and hit the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

I usually put off most of my purchases at Gen Con until Sunday. I headed to the Exhibit Hall with a mental list – Paizo’s Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign Book, Brass & Steel, a book for a friend and some dice.

I met up with Nicole and found out that she intended to get me a copy of Brass & Steel as part of the campaign to convince me to run a B&S table top game. Sometimes it’s good to be the GM. We also made plans to attend the Table Top Behind The Scenes seminar featuring Wil Wheaton, deciding that we’d better get in line early.

Fortunately (for us) the seminar was poorly advertised, so the line wasn’t huge. As usual, Wheaton was an entertaining speaker and it was cool to see behind the curtain of the show.

As usual, I waited for the closing announcement in the X Hall. Saying good-bye to Gen Con for the year, Nicole and I met Jason for a post-con beer at the Ram and to discuss the potential for a Brass & Steel campaign.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Gen Con 2013 - Day 3

Saturday is the biggest day on Gen Con. It is also the day of the costume contest. For some of my friends and I, it is our traditional LARP day. And our traditional after-LARP lets-go-out-for-drinks day. It is the only night of Gen Con I bother to get a hotel room. Hotel room - $200, not having to worry about getting a DUI – priceless.

Given the expectations for the crowd, I got downtown even earlier so I could score a space under my hotel. This also meant that I was way too early to check in, so I had to sort out the final touches on my costume at my car then set off for the ICC dressed as a Steampunk Texas Ranger.

I was thankful for the mild summer we’d been having since at places I was wearing three layers including a hefty amount of leather. I had no real agenda other than the LARP that evening. I mentally figured I’d try to squeeze in watching the costume parade around checking into my room. I strode towards the dealer hall.

There’s something about dressing in a costume that makes you walk prouder. There’s also something about dressing in costume that makes strangers willing to hand you their baby for a picture. While I had worn various iterations of my steampunk outfit over the year. The “sheriff” theme made it more popular.

It should be no surprise I ended up at the X Hall. On Saturday, the area in front of the X hall and inside are the best places to see people in costume. I watched my phone for texts from friends to meet up and started wandering.

Despite the sea of humanity, or maybe because of it, I kept running into people I knew. Despite having spent hours and hours in the X Hall, I was still finding new things. I also stopped at a couple of booths that had donated to the Stink to thank my contacts and inquire about whether they had gotten any traffic.

Just before 3:00 folks started lining up for the costume parade. I decided to hurry over to the Marriott, check in, and try to get back in time for the parade. Luckily my room was ready, I took my bags up and headed back to the ICC. Just in time to see the crowds dissolving from the end of the parade. Guess I’ll have to watch it on the internet.

With a 6:00 LARP, another early dinner seemed in order. One of my friends twisted my arm to go back to the Kilt (okay, he suggested it). The crowd was a lot noisier than Thursday. The music was turned up loud enough to make it hard to carry on a conversation and there was a raucous group in one of the side rooms. Again, service was okay, but they were crowded as the MotoGP crowd was turning up in force.

I met with Nicole to head to the LARP. No surprise, she was having her picture taken when I arrived. Then my theory that the more cosplayers you get together, the more people will want to take their picture seemed to be validated. Go a bit, get your picture taken. Wait as a couple more people grab pictures. Of course, if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t dress in costume. It’s just one of those things you have to build into your logistics.

We made it to our LARP, Brass and Steel by Pamean Games. We had played in the LARP ran by the same group last year and eagerly looked forward to this year’s event. The GMs had worked with people in advance on character selection and providing some background but were still able to accommodate walk-ins (including two cosplayers I had told about the LARP outside the X Hall and had convinced to give LARPing a try).

It was pretty much a perfect storm of setting, Game Masters and players. I spent the evening affecting a Texas drawl that didn’t devolve into a quasi-Gaelic brogue (as my character accents are want to do) and trying to juggle in-game crises as my character was put in charge of security. Nicole literally had a line of people waiting to talk to her character. All of the players seemed really engaged, to the point that I thought one was a ringer put in place by the GMs (he had a pivotal role in the events).

Afterwards the GMs invited people to join them at the RAM, another Gen Con mainstay. We got there before everyone else, put in for a table, and found out it would be at least 45 minutes to get seated. While some may look at that as just a long wait, we looked at it as an opportunity to go to the nearby beer garden.

Sadly, by then the beer garden was gone. So we went to the House Bar (under Union Station), got a drink, checked out the Dance with the Dead, and then headed back. Unfortunately, our group had swollen well beyond our original estimate. We ended up being split between tables when finally seated and the table I was at was lost in the shuffle. A couple of beers later, it was 2 in the morning, Meridian was crowded with bikers, my friends had already called it a night, so I had an early Saturday.

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Gen Con 2013 - Day 2

After the parking debacle on Thursday, I got an earlier start on Friday. This time I was able to get a spot in the Pan Am Plaza garage, right across from the ICC, close to Georgia St. I had a little time to kill before my afternoon game, so I headed to the Exhibit Hall. Yes, I spend a lot of time in the X Hall during Gen Con.

One thing I try to avoid in the X Hall is the bathrooms. They are the nastiest in the ICC complex. But sometimes you have to make a pit stop, and I figured that since the X Hall just opened, the cleaning crew would have cleaned and stocked the bathrooms overnight. Wrong. One of my standing Gen Con tips is use the restrooms in the hotels if possible.

With the aid of technology, I helped a friend do a little remote shopping while I navigated the healthy crowd. The crowd was what I would consider a Saturday crowd, complete with huge backpacks-of-doom and pull-carts-of-tripping-hazards.

Our afternoon game was Bar Room Blitz, a Pathfinder battle royale that stuck 16 characters in a tavern with secret agendas to accomplish in four hours. I regret passing on the chef character once I realized I could have spent four hours playing a psychotic Swedish Chef. Here ve have der magic wand… oop de oop… fireball!

I ended up running a chaotic neutral halfing rogue on a secret courier mission with no idea what my contact looked like. For those of you who don’t play D&D, chaotic neutral = sociopath. Why my character would have been entrusted with anything I don’t know. Since all of my fellow tavern patrons seemed to be just as bad (seriously, the first fire was started in the second round of play), I threw accomplishing my mission out the window, went outside the burning tavern and barred the door. Why did the tavern have bars on the outside of the door? Obviously to lock those lunatics in a burning building.

Having worked up an appetite playing a lunatic, an early dinner seemed to be appropriate, especially with the increasing crowd downtown between MotoGP and Gen Con. This time we opted for a Gen Con staple, Scottie’s. Sure, it’s a farther walk, but Scottie’s is probably the most pro-Gen Con establishment. Due to our timing we were seated right away.

Scottie’s may have been running on a limited menu, to be honest I’m not sure if the themed menu was our only option because what I wanted was on it. I also decided to try the Paizo Dog-slicer Ale. We placed our order and sat back to wait on our drink. I waited… and waited. The waitress stopped by a couple of time to assure me she hadn’t forgotten, that the beer should be right out. It felt like half an hour (which means it was 15 minutes), it turned out they had to change the keg.

I wish I could say the beer was worth the wait. It tasted like a cross between an IPA and a wheat beer, and I’m not an IPA fan. I choked it down and ordered a Wee Mac when my food arrived. That beer only took 10 minutes… again I had ordered at the end of a keg.

I headed back to the ICC to look for something to do. I was outside texting when I saw two men walking towards me. I could tell by their attire they were a couple of the evangelicals that seem to show up every Gen Con and lurk outside trying to save us wicked gamers from Satan. I had drink just enough beer to loosen my introvert tendencies but not enough to dull my wits.

I’m pretty sure they are used to one of two reactions. Blow them off or get defensive. They opened the conversation politely, asking about what I liked to do at Gen Con and what kinds of games I played. Of course, I included D&D in my response. “I used to play D&D for a few years,” one of them said. “It started to consume my life and…” “But you’re here to talk to me about faith, right?” Sure, interrupting was a little rude, but I knew where he was going and I decided to defuse that bomb. “Gaming is just a hobby. And I think you’d agree there is a huge difference between faith and a hobby.”

Twenty minutes later they walked away after we agreed they could pray to their god for me and I would pray to my gods for them. I prayed that our conversation would give them something to think about and that they could learn something from the two Christian gaming groups that were in the exhibit hall and realize people didn’t need to be saved from gaming. I didn’t see Gary and Randy the rest of the convention.

After perusing the event guide, I decided to head to the beer garden for a while. Of course, I ran into people I knew outside and in the garden, hung out talking to people for a couple of hours before deciding to call it an early night so I could rest up for Saturday.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gen Con 2013 - Day 1

Parking can often be a bit dicey during Gen Con. I had timed my arrival to coincide with the opening of the Exhibit Hall so that by the time I got parked and walked over there, the crowd would be dispersed.

I chose poorly.

In the past I’d always been able to enter a “full” garage and find a spot. Evidently a lot of other people have learned this trick. It took 45 minutes to find a spot, and even then I think it was because it was a cramped space hidden in a corner obscure by some construction.

Once I got to the Exhibit Hall, it was Christmas time. A very crowded Christmas. I’m sure everyone has a plan on how to attack the Exhibit Hall, mine is pretty straight forward, start in aisle 100 and work your way across going up each aisle. Evidently whoever planned the layout of the Exhibit Hall thought that was a terrible idea.

Large “booths” broke up the flow of traffic, forcing you to double back to an aisle you had been down or skip ahead to circle around the large exhibit. I don’t know if the intent was to try to disperse the flow of people, but I found it rather annoying as did others I talked to.

On Gen Con X Hall tradition for me is to buy some new dice. My friend Nicole swears my touch jinxes dice. This has led to another tradition – though she seems to be the only one affected by my so-called jinx.

A good chunk of the first day was spent in the X Hall, hanging out with one friend after another, checking out what was new. The only thing I was intent on picking up was the copy of the Firefly Game Preview I had pre-ordered, and I was keeping an eye out for anything that might go with my Steampunk Texas Ranger costume for Saturday,

We (my friends Weasel, Mike and I) decided on any early dinner at the Tilted Kilt. A piece of advice - never plan on eating right after the Exhibit Hall closes if you don’t want to wait an hour for a table. Since it was early, we were seated right away. I was looking forward to some boneless wings and garlic fries to go with this year’s Gen Con beer.

It turned out that since both Gen Con and MotoGP were in town, the Kilt was running with a very limited menu. While as a customer I was disappointed, having worked in the restaurant business I could understand the logistics behind the decision. The beer was so-so, not nearly as good as the previous year’s Ale of Destiny. The service was okay, not great, but okay.

We headed back to the ICC environs. Weasel and I had an RPG scheduled, a chance to be D&D Vikings which meant dice to throw and scenery to chew. We arrived at our table 5 minutes early, the first ones there. At five minutes after, only one other player had arrived, and no GM. I checked with the event desk, our event hadn’t been cancelled. At 30 minutes after and no GM, we bailed and got refunds for our tickets.

Since our evening was now open, we decided to try to D&D Experience. Weasel and I had played in a D&D Next event in Fort Wayne a year and a half ago, and while I had been downloading the playtest packets since we hadn’t actually played the game. We got in a growing line just before 8 o’clock, I figured our timing was good. I turned out the line was for the 9 o’clock event, so we had to stand there for over 45 minutes before getting taken to pick out our characters then seated at a table. Then they had to find a GM as they were shorthanded.

When our GM arrived, he informed us that he had never run this adventure. Our party consisted of 2 paladins, 2 druids, 1 cleric and my monk. I guessed we’d get a chance to see how reliant the new system was on having a “balanced” party.

It turned out, not very. The GM was quick on his feet and probably loose with the rules, but we were having fun bashing goblins, ogres, skeletons and such. During the course of the evening we had seen a staff member taking a miniature of a dragon to each table. It turned out each table represented a different tower in a besieged fortress and the dragon was going tower to tower. As the mini neared our table, the GM asked how mean we wanted him to be.

“Give us a heroic death”, I answered.

Turns out being feared by the dragon and running away wasn’t very heroic as my dice decided to balance out all of those high numbers I had been rolling by tanking my fear save. Somehow our party survived the dragon until the timer ran out and it moved to the next table. We finished up with a couple of ogres and called it night.

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Gen Con 2013 - Day 0

The first thing I noticed when I got to the ICC (Indianapolis Convention Center) was the number of people. Activity on Wednesday has been increasing year after year. Whereas the Stink used to be the only thing officially going on besides the will call line, now there are actually some events. This year featured a party for the tapping of the official Gen Con beer which included a concert out on Georgia Street.

Within 30 minutes I had run into four people I know, all gamers from earlier epochs of my life. This is always an ongoing occurrence for me at Gen Con, running into people I know but almost never see anymore, many only at Gen Con.

But I wasn’t at the ICC to bump into people, I was on a mission. I was in charge of collecting swag for the Stink as well as my usual duty of getting the Nordic Distance Dice from Gen Con and transporting them to Union Station. I ran into a wrinkle when I couldn’t get a hold of any of my contacts among the donors except the one that had not arrived yet. Fortunately I knew an exhibitor who was able to get me in so I could make the rounds.

Going into the Exhibitor Hall on Wednesday is kind of like being a kid and finding the closet where your parents hid the Christmas presents. Sure, everything isn’t wrapped up yet, but seeing what you have to look forward to gets you even more excited. But again, I was on a mission and didn’t have time to sight see. I collected the assorted swag from our gracious donors, a mental clock ticking in my brain.

Part two of my mission was to get swag and the ND dice from Gen Con itself. Each year Gen Con gives us boxes of t-shirts to give away at the Stink. On top of boxes of shirts I balanced the two huge dice (each one is about 2’ across each face) on my hand truck, then set out from by the will call line all the way to Union Station.

Last year was the first year for the food trucks on Georgia Street. As I’m rolling my hand truck I notice the police are setting up a line of traffic cones on Capitol, then the food trucks start filing in one after another. It looked like a parade, the line of trucks stretching for two blocks.

At Union Station my fellow Mavens had been at work decorating and setting up. There were already people gathered outside the entrance 45 minutes early. I was a little concerned about attendance because not only had Gen Con left us out of the event book (usually we get a blurb in addition to our event listing) but the party and concert was scheduled and the weather was beautiful. Even though our event had sold out all 400 tickets, they were free tickets.

We opened the door and began the annual task of line herding. The trick isn’t to get people to line up, the trick is to keep the lines from running together as attendees got to the end of the swag line, saw a game table and got in line for it. That line quickly backed up to the swag line, and since people saw a line their instinct was to stay in line. In the end, we tallied somewhere over 350 attendees.

I got to say hi to my Irish Gen Con/Facebook friend and found out that new phone’s camera was extremely sensitive to movement (there’s an anti-vibration icon that does nothing but taunt me), so my pictures for Gen Con are pretty spotty.

At the end of the Stink, I loaded the dice on my hand truck, a bit easier when they aren’t perched on top of a pile of boxes, and reversed my path back to the front of the ICC. Needless to say, giant dice draw attention from gamers, so I stopped a few times for photos.

A Wednesday tradition is that a friend of mine hosts a get together. She usually has house guests for Gen Con that include not only gamers but game designers, so it is a great time to hang out, talk games, drink a few home brews and try new games. The perfect way to finish up Gen Con Day 0.

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