Gen Con 2012: Choose your own adventure 

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After a long and perilous journey, you and your companions finally reach your destination — a sparkling hall filled with marvelous treasures that defy imagination. You want to hurry through the gates and dive headfirst into the riches beyond, but surrounding every entrance are the scariest assortment of ghouls, demons and dudes in three wolf moon T-shirts ever assembled.

As you make your way closer to the door, you shout out, “Hey, is that Joss Whedon?” and when everyone looks in the opposite direction, you and your compatriots rush through the door.

Clutching a laminated pass, your eyes take in amazing sights — hundreds of tables covered with nearly every role-playing or fantasy card game known to man, Dungeons and Dragons sets come to life and more warrior women in chain-mail bikinis than you can shake a sword at.

You’ve arrived at Gen Con: Appropriate for ages 8 and up, with proper adult supervision.

Go back three spaces: What is Gen Con?

Gen Con is the largest gaming convention in the world, attracting tens of thousands of role players, board-game aficionados, cosplayers and more to Indianapolis in August. More than 8,500 events are scheduled during the four days of the convention; more than 300 vendors and artists will sell their wares. Jake Theis, senior marketing communications manager for Gen Con, estimates close to 50 new games will debut over the weekend.

Gen Con has been a huge success for the city and vice versa. The Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association estimates that it had a $36 million economic impact on the city last year, with attendees coming from as far away as Germany and Japan. Promoters have agreed to keep the convention in Indy through 2020.

Theis said Mayor Greg Ballard will be on hand during the weekend — Gen Con’s 10th in Indianapolis — to issue a special proclamation.

Jondi Soper, who will attend her seventh Gen Con next week, calls the event “nerd heaven.”

“It’s a place where I feel I belong, among nerdy people who are interested in most of the same sort of stuff that I am,” Soper said. “The first year I went, I was going through a bad break up, but a friend dragged me along. When I walked through the doors, I forgot all the troubles in my life. For four days, I was on cloud nine, playing games and seeing all the people and costumes. That first time will always hold a special place in my heart.”

The twin Gallifreyan hearts of the convention are probably the vendor room, where exhibitors show off their latest wares, and the gaming room, open 24 hours a day. Dozens of game companies will allow attendees to be among the first to ever play — and buy — their offerings.

“Almost every imaginable game is going to be played at some point over the weekend,” Theis said. “Gen Con has been around for 45 years, so we have multiple generations of players, parents and kids, all playing these games together.”

Chelie Herthel, co-owner of Saltire Games in Lawrence and one of the sponsors of the convention, said board games are stronger than ever in the U.S., due in part to the still-struggling economy.

“It can cost $120 for a family of four to go to dinner and the movies, but only $60 for a nice board game they can play again and again,” Herthel said.

Considering the amount of activities planned — the introduction of Star Trek: Catan (a sci-fi take off on the popular Settlers of Catan board game), the inaugural Magic: The Gathering World Cup, and the tapping of the official beer of Gen Con, Sun King’s Ale of Destiny, to name just a few — the $80 price tag for a four-day pass seems almost criminally cheap for the hard-core gamer.

Theis said the biggest news will likely come from Wizards of the Coast, which will announce major changes to the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game in front of an expected capacity crowd.

Local fan Stephen King (not the horror author) claims he stayed awake almost the entire four days of his first Gen Con, spending the time he would have been sleeping in the 24-hour gaming room.

“There’s almost too much going on the entire time,” King said. “You’re always making tough choices about what to do.”

Another big attraction is the auction room, where gamers bring their forgotten and hard-to-find games to be sold to the highest bidder. Last year, the games ranged from the forgotten (such as Finance and Fortune, a 1936 Monopoly rip-off), to the tasteless (a 1970s-era Sinking of the Titanic game that had the cardboard luxury liner sink under the waves) to the undeniably odd (Medfly, another 1970s game that pitted California Gov. Jerry Brown against the agricultural scourge).

Hundreds of attendees make periodic stops to check out upcoming auctions, prowling for a long-lost game from their childhood.

Want to play a real life game of D&D, move ahead one space

One of the highlights for many attendees is the 45,000 square-foot True Dungeon game, sort of a Dungeons & Dragons game come to life. Groups of adventurers can choose among several different quests, each requiring puzzle-solving skills and teamwork. In order for each group’s wizard to cast a spell or the paladin to attack, the individual must perform a skill-appropriate test. If he or she passes, the group moves on; if not ... well, not everyone’s character makes it out alive.

Have a significant other who prefers more down-to-earth activities? Gen Con hosts more than 60 events like wine tasting, yoga and knitting to keep them occupied while you’re on a quest.

You’re likely to see more redshirts and Star Fleet insignia than in previous years. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura during the original series and subsequent movies, and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Wil Wheaton will be the guests of honor at Gen Con this year.

A geek icon of the highest order, Wheaton is a well-known gaming fanatic, hosting the Table Top series on fellow Internet celebrity Felicia Day’s Geek and Sundry YouTube channel. It’s likely the frequent Big Bang Theory guest star would be attending the event even if he wasn’t being paid by the promoters. (Rumors that he’s being paid in 20-sided die and Magic: The Gathering cards couldn’t be confirmed.)

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