02 September 2015

GenCon with Geeklets, Part 3 (Big Kids)

This is part 3 in a series of posts about navigating GenCon with geek kids. Part 1 (General Advice) is here. Part 2 (infants and toddlers) is here.

Big Kid Badges:

Two years ago Girl Scouts of Central Indiana were still hosting events at GenCon, and registration came with a 4-day badge, so Cups was upgraded for cheap. Last year and this year there were no Girl Scout events, so we had to decide whether to spring for a badge for her or not. Kids over 8 must have a badge per GenCon policy. Cups (age 8) did enough this year that we got a badge's worth of entertainment out of her. Your child's mileage may vary.

Without a full badge, kids aren't supposed to be able to participate in non-KID tagged events, so if your Big Kid is planning to play Big Games you'll want to consider it. However, there is no discount so you're looking at $80 for a 4-day badge or $45 for a single day on preregistration. If you want to just try it out, then I'd recommend a Family Fun Day package, which is $35 total for up to 4 single-day Sunday badges. This is also a good option for groups who aren't wanting to commit to the full GenCon experience. That said, not everyone is a stickler on official badges for kids -- but the registration system is, so somebody needs a badge to preregister for events and I'd recommend playing it by the rules.


Games for kids are easier to find than games for littles; I find that gamer kids tend to function a category higher than what's printed on the box. Demos are really important here, in order to get a handle on whether the rules complexity is right for your kid or not, and in the 6-8 range your kid is generally old enough to sit for demos themselves. Encourage your Big Kid to interact with dealers, ask questions, and assess the games they're playing. Set some ground rules before you go into the dealer's hall or demo rooms -- some games may be in the demo/beta stage (and you can't fund everything that looks cool on Kickstarter) while others may fall into the "we can't buy every game in the con" rule. Our kids work on a budget system (it's educational and entertaining to watch them try to math) but whatever works for your family, just set expectations in advance

Cups pitches a new Skylander

Depending on your Big Kid's interests (we have a comic book nerd), you may find some things to their liking in Artists' Alley as well. If your Big Kid has a particular comic or collection they enjoy, it's worth checking to see if someone related to that is going to be exhibiting. There's one important thing to know about Artists' Alley: unlike the rest of the vendor hall, it works on a centralized cash register system. If you are making a purchase from one of the artists exhibiting, you'll get a billing slip from them that you take to the central kiosk. You wait in line there to pay your total, then take the stamped slip back to the artist and get your goods. Sometimes the lines are long, so keep this in mind and if you're moving fast or very tired you may want to plan to come back later.

Keep in mind that Artists' Alley hosts all kinds of art, so you may find yourself needing to explain some of the finer points of anatomy to your Big Kid (in our case, it was why someone had put sticker pasties on the display). Come prepared. In fact, you should probably come prepared to deal with questions and commentary in general if you are bringing your Big Kid to a con; cosplayers are a diverse lot. Also bear in mind that anything you say may very well be repeated to a complete stranger at full volume ("My mom says I'm not old enough to wear just underpants in public"), so practice your good manners.

Pathfinder Kids Track

Pathfinder hosts a Kids Track event with both beginner (no experience needed) and advanced (some previous Pathfinder experience) tracks, and kids who participate will get a set of dice and some other freebies, as well as taking part in a Real Pathfinder adventure. Kids who complete four games will get some Pathfinder swag, and a boon that carries over in case of joining the Pathfinder Society in the future. It's a good time, and the GM's are excellent. You'll want to plan on being in the room but not over your Big Kid's shoulders; well-meaning gaming parents can ruin everyone's fun. Games are scheduled with a muster about 5 minutes before the scheduled time; ticketed kids get priority but we had no trouble getting in on generics alone. They're supposed to run about 90 minutes-2 hours but as with any gaming session the dice may make this time longer or shorter.

Pokemon XY Pre-Release Event

Pokemon and My Little Pony TCG's run demos and tournaments which can range from free to very pricey but may come with cool swag like promo cards or pre-release decks, if your Big Kid is a collector. Magic: the Gathering takes up half a hall and runs events throughout the con. You'll want to brush up on the different types of tournaments if you aren't a player in order to gauge what your Big Kid is ready for and how much time you should expect to spend. Be aware that some games will simply wait for enough players to show up, resulting in a lot of wasted time (we waited an hour for a tournament to start -- after 30 minutes we were given the option to "come back later" and hope that enough folks were there) and bored kids, while others will give a "bye" in order to start playing sooner. You'll have to ask what a particular group's policy is on a case basis.

GenCon has started doing a button collection event that your Big Kid may find interesting: scattered throughout the convention center are nine stations where GenCon volunteers distribute souvenir buttons to kids. The Family Fun Guide has a description of all the buttons and a map showing where to find them. Buttons are restricted to children for part of the day and they have a lot, but we've seen them run out on Sundays as families flood the convention (cheap tickets are the way to go), so if your Big Kid enjoys buttons grab a map and start hunting.


Cardhalla may be another location to entertain your Big Kid. It's usually located near the Georgia Street exit; just look for the towers of cards. Essentially, instead of tossing extra common cards out, gamers will bring them and donate to a massive community card-house-building effort. Anyone is welcome to help with the building, so your Big Kid can test out their skills on a little tower or polish them on a big one.

Amazing Feats!

This year we picked up tickets to Acrobatica Infiniti, whom I can only hope will return in future years. This one-hour cirque is a family-friendly (but still geek targeted) event with amazing performers doing Feats of Incredible Skill. Be prepared for some risque comments and references your Big Kid may not get (at least ours has not yet read Game of Thrones), but the show itself was well worth attending.

It's worth a shoutout here to the SPA activities -- SPA stands for Spouse Activities, which stands for an eclectic collection of tours, crafting, and creativity -- and also to the Writer's Symposium, which does host some kid-targeted writing workshops which were really fun. We're fairly new to the Big Kid - GenCon territory, but Cups was really thrilled to be able to schedule her own events, especially when it involved getting to play Pathfinder and acquiring new Pokemon cards that her friends wouldn't have. Sitting down with the event catalog and letting your Big Kid explore their interests is a great chance to spend some quality time getting to know things you might not have otherwise discovered.

That's what we've got. Hopefully it's helpful. If you've got suggestions, comments, or things the Geek This kids need to check out, please let us know!








GenCon with Geeklets, Part 2 (Infants and Toddlers)

This is part 2 in a series of posts about navigating GenCon with geek kids. Part 1 (General Advice) is here.

Infants and Toddlers:

Big stroller. Tiny baby. Stark casual.

Practically speaking, small babies are pretty easy to manage in a con environment. You should plan to bring child-wearing gear, or the smallest stroller that you can manage. If you intend to take a stroller into the dealer's hall then please be aware of the footprint -- our jogging stroller is pretty substantial and we definitely found parking it on the edges of booths for browsing purposes problematic at times. Bigger booths with internal space were much less trouble. People are overall very aware of their space and we didn't really run into trouble with tripping or collisions. People are also very polite and did not give us mean looks or snide comments to our faces, and in return we tried to be as polite and careful as we could be.

Toddlers are a full-time job, and you should probably plan to have someone who can devote their attention full-time to child monitoring at all times. You would not believe how quickly a toddler can get lost in a crowded dealer's hall, when you just stopped for a moment to look at that game demo. For your toddler, you will still want to bring a stroller (again, small footprint please) or your child-wearing gear of choice, because you will be doing a lot of carrying. The convention hall is big. Really big. You are going to wish you had a grownup to carry you sometimes.

Really really busy.

The convention is busy. It is loud. It is full of sudden colors and intense stimuli. Your primary responsibility is going to have to be to your littles -- be aware of their responses to their environment, especially in the dealer's hall, and be prepared to get out if need be. Pax had no trouble with the noise and chaos of the dealer hall, but Cap'n's first trip was a little more stressful. He got overwhelmed at times and was just at the starting-to-walk phase so he wanted to be down and exploring frequently. We spent quite a bit of time that year at the Family Fun pavilion, which is located at the back of the 100 section of the dealer hall, and the surrounding booths and demos.

The kids waited in line just for this stuff.


I'm on my third child and by this point I frankly don't give a hoot about whether people's sensibilities are offended by breastfeeeding in public, but not everyone (or their babies) is at that place. This year Family Fun introduced a crawlers space and a private nursing area, which had two chairs with arms and was a real blessing; additionally one of the convention hall women's bathrooms apparently had their powder room space set up for private nursing space (I never found it but I was told it was quite nice). It's a pretty substantial walk to the back of the dealer's hall (pro tip: they usually have an open entrance along the Capitol Ave hallway that's less crowded and a LOT closer to the Family Fun pavilion) and I'm lazy, so I also took an inflatable My Brest Friend nursing pillow (I saw a lot of travel Boppy pillows too) and a cover and just grabbed whatever space was available in hotel lobbies or the chairs along the concourse to feed Pax. Nobody gave me any trouble, and I had some great conversations as well.

Also Donuts.

For older infants: Bring baby food or a grinder if you are going to need them -- there is a pretty limited store selection in the near vicinity, and the food trucks do not cater to the bland and mushy palate. If you need a fridge in your hotel room, ask the hotel in advance. Frequently these are provided, but we have had years where there were no fridges or a waiting list 1-2 days long for fridges. If it's extremely important (breast milk supplies, special dietary needs) then you may consider bringing your own cooler for emergencies.

This is covered in more detail in the General Advice post, but if the food trucks are not an option for your toddler, there are some bistro-style cafes in the convention center and Circle Center does have a food court. Most of the restaurants near the convention center also provide a kids' menu, so your picky eater will have eating options. However, lines are long in the surrounding few blocks so you will need to plan your restaurant ahead. Pack snacks.

Baby-Specific Needs:

We have yet to find a bathroom -- men's or women's -- in the Indianapolis Convention Center that has a changing table. Be aware. The surrounding hotels do have some changing tables, including in the men's rooms, but not all hotels and not all bathrooms are so equipped. Bring a changing pad and be ready to do diapers in a down and dirty fashion.

For emergency supply needs you may be able to get some things from your hotel's front desk, but if not then the closest pharmacy is the CVS on Ohio Street, approximately 3/4 of a mile walk away. They carry a sufficient selection of baby and nursing supplies and the staff are very nice. It's not a 24 hour store so check the hours before you go late at night. Circle Center Mall has children's clothing but is pretty upscale so does not carry basic necessities that I'm aware of.

Family Fun Noodle Fight


If you do cosplay, we cannot recommend Baby Yoda highly enough. We've done several variants on this costume (this year Etsy provided a crocheted Yoda hat) and it's quick, easy, extremely recognizable, and eminently washable. Also for older babies Luke Skywalker's Dagobah outfit is basically a beat-up white tank top and some cargo pants, and you can carry Baby Yoda in a backpack to complete the set.

Cosplay Baby!

If you're a little craftier, I took some pre-con time with my embroidery machine (you could economize and buy patches too) and did some baby costumes based off of a Simplicity baby dress pattern. They were a huge hit and Pax got a lot of compliments. Everyone loves a geek baby.

As far as doing activities, we had good luck with the CCG hall and game demos; parking the stroller next to the game space was no problem for larger booths or playspaces like Iello's demo room. Over-18 and over-21 activities generally will not permit even infants in, which I find to be a point of respect for the other attendees and we did not try to take Pax to see the Glitter Guild. Concerts are often pretty tightly seated but you can put a stroller in the back of the room and sit with it there or lap-sit your baby; we have taken the littles to see Marc Gunn play in previous years (I recommend the Cat Lovers show) and that's gone well when they're not overtired.

As far as playing in scheduled games, most convention games are on a time-restricted schedule and often players are booked back to back. If your baby is going to require attention and take your focus away from the game (hint: most babies will not reliably schedule a two-hour nap during your game slot) then you should have someone who can care for them during the game. If you don't have someone, then ask your GM in advance (if possible) how they feel about having the distraction. Then ask the other players. Be prepared to bow out if your child is going to negatively impact others' con gaming experience. As a GM, I've seen distracted players sometimes pull down the whole run, while other groups are able to work around them much more flexibly. Playing with strangers is an adventure in itself.

Strollers are not welcome in True Dungeon, nor would I recommend trying to bring a carried infant into the space. It's dark, it's loud, things move around and there are lots of surprises. Signing a waiver is probably your cue that this is not a baby-friendly activity, if you make it that far. Get a baby-watcher and have yourself some adult fun, if True Dungeon is your thing.

...next up: Part Three: Big Kid Activities...