With PAX Unplugged on the horizon, I thought it would be pertinent to share some helpful tips and guidelines for attending a convention, especially if you’ve never been to one before.
Each convention and each convention center are different. Look ahead of time to see what is and is not allowed. This includes not just the rules for the games and the vendors, but also dress codes and policies regarding backpacks and snacks and such.
Look, it’s going to be a lot of walking and a lot of people smushing past one another. There will be sweat and hot air filling the building. Know which antiperspirant is right for you and don’t be shy about bringing it with you to reapply in the bathroom.
The inverse of this is also true. You don’t need to overdo it on perfume or cologne or hair spray either.
Also, shower. Not only does it clean your body, it also can help relieve stress and accelerate relief for muscle soreness after you spend all day on your feet.
I’m not trying to insinuate that some people don’t shower but all of our body compositions are different. For instance, I sweat like a stuck faucet and take the proper measures to keep that contained.
Know where they are. I’m not saying there will be an emergency but it’s nice to know where they are before you have to go. I personally scout an out of the way location early on so while I may have to walk further, I don’t have to wait in line. Also, the out of the way ones typically are a little cleaner since they’re not seeing such a high volume of use.
This should go without saying but wash your hands before exiting too. Everyone will be touching everything (boxes, demos, prototype pieces) and I don’t want to contract something because John and Jane Q. refused to wash their hands.
Know your Limits
Conventions are a long day. It can be physically and mentally taxing due to being on your feet, learning new games, socially navigating new people and crowds, and more. Know when you need to sit and relax. Know where to as well.
I can’t stress enough how long of a day conventions are. It doesn’t seem like much but it adds up. I walk every day and play games as well, how taxing can eight hours of it be? Very. You may also purchase items that you’ll be hauling around that you originally didn’t take into account.
Also keep tabs on your water and food intake. You will need to drink and eat during this excursion (more on this in a bit).
If anything triggers you (an allergy or a mental trauma), do what you can to prepare yourself in case you’re faced with such a trigger. This is obviously easier said than done but it’s something to keep in mind.
Besides the physical demands, there are mental ones too (besides the learning of new games). Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone but at the same time, don’t over extend yourself.
You’re at an event where everyone else is at the same event for the same reason you are. For the most part, people will be nice and excited to talk about games, strategy, and design. In my experiences, it’s about a 90/10 split on quality guests towards bad guests. The bad will stick out more but you can’t let them bring you down with them.
I’ve met a lot of great people at some of the conventions I’ve attended over the last few years but I’ve also met some dicks that are regulars that I know to avoid.
Dress comfortably. If you’re into cosplay, that’s great, you do you. For the rest of us, dress for the temperature inside (if you can). You don’t really want to carry around a winter coat or an over-sized hoodie just because the block walk from your hotel makes you step outside.
Clothing also includes accessories, like belts. Please wear belts if your pants don’t fit correctly.
Don’t neglect shoes either. Don’t wear a brand new pair that you haven’t broken in and don’t wear a beat up pair that is on its last legs. Wear something comfortable with some support. You will be walking in them all day. If possible, I try to bring two pairs. The first reason is due to weather. If it rains and my shoes get wet, I have no guarantees that I can get that first pair dry before I need them again. Having a second pair will mitigate that issue. The second reason is smell. Shoes and feet smell. It happens and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being able to swap shoes will help control that odor. If you can’t swap, some deodorizers will go a long way towards helping.
Inserts are something else to look into if a new pair of shoes isn’t in the budget. What I’m trying to say is take care of your feet people.
Take water with you. Whether it’s a plastic bottle or a refillable one (I highly recommend a refillable one for practicality and for saving the environment.) Proper hydration is super important. You’re going to be on your feet more than you think. It’s going to be hotter than you originally thought. You’re going to be talking more than you imagined. Water will solve all of these problems.
I thought I was prepared for the walking and the temperature but nothing prepared me for how hoarse my throat was after a convention. I did not plan for water and ended up having to buy bottled water (at a mark-up) and refilling it from the water fountain.
I like to think of conventions less like board gaming events and more like a rigorous hike. If I think of it in those terms, I pack light and bring along the necessities. Trail mix or a protein bar are great ways to get you through the day when your energy starts to dip or you feel hungry.
You can always venture out to get food as well. Avoid convention food as the prices are jacked up and not worth it. The convenience is what you’re buying. But be aware of venturing out. The closer you are to the convention, the more people will be at that location, especially at prime lunch hours. Some places, typically food trucks and stalls, are well equipped to feed a mass influx of people and are usually our first choice. Some places aren’t prepared though. We went to a “Five Guys” knock-off establishment last year that was for all intents and purposes ‘fast food’ and it took over an hour to get our meals.
Honestly, I would just pack a snack and/or eat a good breakfast and save the money for a hearty dinner that is well deserved after a long day.
As for snacks, I recommend trail mix, granola bars, and peanuts as they’re good for you and lightweight. They also don’t leave you sticky or anything.
Many vendors will give out totes with a purchase (and some for free) but always bring one or two. You’re probably going to buy something at the event and a tote is an easy, lightweight way to carry the item(s). They might look lame and clash with your style but they’re a godsend when you’re trying to carry around a few purchases.
I’m also a huge fan of the drawstring backpack as they’re light, easy to carry, don’t intrude, and can carry some of the necessities mentioned earlier (water, snacks, deodorant). Mine also doubles as a beacon for where I am as it’s bright pink and easy to spot in the event my group and I get separated.
Do Some Research
Know what vendors/booths/events/seminars you want to attend ahead of time and map them out. If it’s a high traffic area, maybe plan to hit that area first or last depending on the nature of your visit. Make sure you know if you need tickets for talks or if there’s a queuing system. If there are any games or developers you want to hunt down, see where they are and what you need to do to interact with them.
I personally try to play as many new games as possible so I can see if I want to purchase them later. You can see my rundown of last years Unplugged here.
Some vendors will have special releases or deals on certain days (Such as Stronghold releasing Venus Next on Saturday morning). There’s typically only a set amount of games and with the example I shared, they quickly ran out of Saturday stock. Just something to be cognizant of.
If you have an opportunity to demo an upcoming game or a prototype and you’re into that sort of thing, take it seriously and give some proper critiques and criticism. Even if you realize once you’ve played that the game isn’t for you, explain what didn’t work for you besides “I don’t like deck building.”
Charge Your Phone
Before getting to the event, make sure your phone is completely charged. If you have a phone that drains easily, look into a portable charger. It’s nice to have that lifeline if you’re in a strange city and need to call an Uber or Lyft or forget which direction your hotel is.
Either have them pulled up on your phone ahead of time or print them in advance. There’s no reason to fumble at the front desk as you try to load your phone or dig through your pockets for tickets. Make it easy on the workers/volunteers and for yourself.
The world is changing and public gathering spaces have become a target of unhinged individuals. Due to this, be aware of your surroundings. Know where the emergency exits are. If with a group, designate a location to meet if something were to happen and you get split up.
If you see something suspicious, alert staff or security in the area.
Explore the area
If you have time, explore the city you’re venturing to! Last year, we visited several museums in the area and made it a point to eat at different styles of restaurants in different neighborhoods. You’re obviously there for a primary reason but if time permits, see what else you can explore!
You’re going to a convention for a reason. Maybe it’s to see your favorite personality do a table discussion or to catch a first glimpse of your favorite designer releasing a new game. Whatever the reason, just remember that it’s supposed to be fun. Not everything will go to plan. At last years PAX, there were about five or six games I really wanted to demo that just had lines that were too long (Root being the most prominent). Instead of bumming me out, I got to play a ton of different games that were never on my radar and several have become staples of our game nights.