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Want to have fun at a Convention? Demo Dark Age. (by Never Knows Best)

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GenCon: 2014. It is my third visit. Three visits, I feel, is enough to start to figure out this massive convention full of ticketed events, exhibitor booths, open play rooms, and tons of distractions and opportunities tucked away into every nook and corner. The goal? To have as much fun as possible.

Like previous years I decided to do a few things differently. The exhibit hall is only open between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM, so Rule #1 is "schedule no events during this time." Their auction hall is neat but, on average, is not much more than a giant, board game garage sale - so this got skipped. The biggest change, however, is that I decided to give volunteering at a company booth a shot, and it made all the difference.

On Thursday morning at GenCon there are two ways to get into the Exhibit hall early. Getting in early allows you the unique opportunity to see the massive hall - a few football fields big - nearly empty and jump into any game you want or purchase anything, line-free, before anyone else. One of the ways to do this is to purchase the oft coveted, very expensive VIG badge. The other way is much, much simpler and it involves - you guessed it - working at a booth Thursday morning.

It was here I started my convention. Walking into the hall before the doors open and setting up at my booth for Dark Age, the primary CMoN miniatures game. Even though I was, for the most part, just standing there taking it all in before the official doors opened at ten, it's an experience that shouldn't be underestimated. It was awesome. It doesn't sound like a lot - simply getting to go inside before anyone else - but it was well worth it.

Then the noise began.

For any of you who have ever ran a game at a local convention or demoed a game at a store, you know what I know. At a local con you might have some people sign up only to be no-shows later or the expectation is for you to run a full game; perhaps kids or tired adults are playing. At a store you have passerbys who are really there for something else but might take a look or unenthusiastic onlookers who will try a demo once but never again and, heaven forbid, anyone discuss the game afterwards.

GenCon is completely different. Almost everyone there is energetic, practically begging to try new games. They are all, for the most part, interested in what you're interested in. People swarm to the booth with excitement, demo with enthusiasm, and leave, for the most part, interested. And in the middle of all that is the volunteer.

I ran many demos, each with multiple people. The boards I was on would be something I'd pay to play on at home, stunningly assembled and painted. The miniatures were top-notch art quality. Each demo went maybe 15 minutes or so, very small, very quick but nonetheless a blast for the players as well as for me.

The players were to my level of deviousness as well. In one game, a father ruthlessly disemboweled daughter (her minis anyway) after she taunted him about how she'd beat him in all the other games. No mercy! In another I saw friend pitted against friend where one figured out how to harpoon his buddy's model between two of his own, preventing him from even moving. Of course the whole time, I got to encourage the mayhem and antagonize the bloodshed.

One thing a miniature game lends itself to very well is variety. The level of discussion behind preparing for a game of Dark Age is mind-boggling. After the demo, many times these players would ask for my thoughts on how to put together an army of their own. One really liked the Forsaken and wanted to know all the best models. His buddy, liking some of the Dragyri figures, asked the natural question, "okay, so then what do I need to beat him." Even though playing is a lot of fun, this by far was my favorite part. Theory-crafting, interacting with new players, introducing each faction's strengths and weaknesses. Even though I am, most likely, never going to see these players again, connecting with someone over some shared interest is satisfying on a level not shared by any other experience at the convention.

Perhaps this isn't the most detailed account of a day in the life of volunteering for Cool Mini or Not and there certainly were some "downs" with the "ups" but the fact remains; of all the days I've had at GenCon this, by far, was one of the best.

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