Con Review: Gen Con Indy 2014

GenCon2014by Rob Balder


Gen Con Indy 2014
August 14–17, 2014
Indianapolis, Indiana

The best gaming convention in North America had another booming year.

Gen Con manages to offer the spectacular mega-con experience of a DragonCon or San Diego Comic Con (top-name guests, amazing cosplay everywhere you look, endless exhibitor space with everything a geek could want to buy or ogle, and the feeling of taking over the downtown area of a major metropolis) without losing their soul.

If it weren’t for Internationale Spieltage (Spiel) every October in Essen, Germany, Gen Con Indy would be the biggest tabletop games convention in the world, and this year’s crowd was the largest ever (56,614 attendees, topping last year’s attendance of 49,530). Among attendees and exhibitors alike, the whole vibe was upbeat and fun. Beautiful weather all weekend and excellent management by Gen Con’s experienced staff helped make it something special in 2014.

If you’re heading to Gen Con next year, book early and plan to go with friends. You’ll be spending hours with them in tournaments, or trying out the new games you’ve grabbed from independent developers on the exhibit floor. In the middle of 57,000 people, Gen Con will always be about sitting down in a group of 4 or 5 and having fun with your imagination and your friends.


Con Review: Intervention 5

Intervention5by Rob Balder


Intervention 5
August 22–24, 2014
Rockville, Maryland

In the 2000s, the traditional science fiction convention scene in the D.C. area was all but dead. Big, raucous, party conventions like EveCon and CastleCon were gone, Capclave continued like the small, dense core left after Disclave went supernova, and even those occasional Star Trek conventions of the 1990s and 1-day autograph expos had gone away. Only Katsucon was really thriving, riding the ever-rising popularity of anime.

But in the 2010s, a set of bright new convention “stars” have been born in the Washington area. 2014 saw the explosive birth of AwesomeCon, a big red-giant of a downtown expo in the vein of a NYCC or a C2E2. The music and gaming relaxacon MAGFest also grew so fast it split into two events (a binary star, to continue the analogy).

But in its fifth year, Intervention remains the happy yellow Sol-class star of the D.C. con scene. With its broad range of guests (musicians, webcomics creators, bloggers, authors, podcasters, game designers, publishers, filmmakers and more), and its refreshing and practical program/workshop track (with workshops on making a business plan, tutorials for using some of the latest creative software, and core topics in various creative fields), there was something there for every area of fannish interest.

This year, they added a full arcade room of classic video games, and the lively party scene continued in the Rockville Hilton’s lounges, lofts, and suites. Intervention does an excellent job of bringing in guests who really want to be around fans and share what they do. D.C. fans couldn’t ask for a nicer, friendlier place to geek out and learn something cool.


Con Review: Balticon 48

Balticon48by Rob Balder


Balticon 48
May 23–26, 2014
Hunt Valley, Maryland

Balticon has long been a mainstay convention of East Coast fandom. As fandom has changed, some traditional literary SF cons such as this one have had to adjust—diversifying and expanding their programming. In recent years, Balticon may have seen a disappointing attendance figure or two, and heard some grumbling from attendees. But this year felt like a clear uptick.

The heart and soul of Balticon is still the printed word, but the guests and programming again included extensive media and new media tracks, a big art show, film, music, and costuming tracks. Panel topics in all tracks were fresh, interesting, and contemporary. There were events for all ages, such as the Lego challenge in the con suite, so attendance was not only strong, but included lots of families and the full spectrum of ages.

And hey, our con bags included a massive softcover copy of The Way of Kings, by Author Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson was a big draw, and this was a really nice bonus.

So we had as much of a blast at Balticon 48 as ever, and we can’t wait for 49. Long live Balticon!


Con Review: A-Kon 25

a-kon25by Rob Balder


A-Kon 25
June 6–8, 2014
Dallas, Texas

Big, loud, hot, and amazing. Dallas’ huge Hilton Anatole plays host to one of the ten largest anime cons on the continent, and the match-up between convention and venue is about perfect. This event ranks up there with DragonCon for the overwhelming spectacle of cosplay, but unlike DC you can actually get an elevator.

That’s partly because of the hotel’s sprawling design, in which almost everywhere you want to go is on the ground floor or accessible by a flight or two of stairs. But the combined great management of the con staff and hotel staff have a lot to do with it as well. A-Kon truly has their act together in terms of scheduling, instructions, volunteers and management, and they really should be commended because it’s hard to handle a crowd that size at all, let alone as well as this.

Our only complaint this year was that the hotel kept out the food trucks until after 9 pm, and tried to cash in on the crowds with a concession monopoly of overpriced hot dogs and crappy barbecue (by Texas standards). When the food trucks finally rolled in, they were so swarmed it took an hour’s wait to get anything at all. Not cool, Hilton Anatole. 😛

The programming has something for everyone, and the size of this con attracts some top talent in voice acting, game design, art, and writing. They also had two full J-pop bands (Ra:IN and GEEKS) performing. You could go there and never leave the massive gaming rooms. The dealers, artists, and exhibitors rooms alone would be worth making the trip. But A-Kon is just fun all around. If you can brave Texas in June and 25,000 screaming otaku, this con is definitely worth the trip.


Con Review: A-Kon 24

AKONby Rob Balder


A-Kon 24
May 31–June 2, 2013
Dallas, Texas

A-Kon 24 was brilliant. Although it is focused on anime and the hallways teem with anime cosplay, this is very much an all-fandoms convention. Programming and performance tracks covered broad swaths of fannish interests from the literary to the bizarre. There was a ton of space for gaming (tabletop, PC, LARPing), and guests from all different media and genres were invited to talk in panel rooms packed with enthusiastic people.

Over the last few years, A-Kon has grown into one of those whale-class conventions. Attendance this year topped 25,000. Not every con takes a growth spurt like that in stride, but the staff did an absolutely stellar job of adapting to a new venue and accommodating guests and attendees alike.

It was A-Kon’s first year inhabiting the sprawling 1600-room Hilton Anatole, a beautiful site with LED kinetic scupltures in the halls and its own permanent art exhibit of mostly Asian antiquities ( There was a ton of walking involved, but aside from one bottleneck around the exhibitor hall badge check (which the staff and fire marshalls cleared up quickly) it was actually possible to get where you were going. The elevators were managed by volunteers during peak traffic times, so the wait was never longer than a few minutes.

The Texas heat and the lack of nearby dining were a little bit of a drawback, but an armada of food trucks rolled up to the parking lot and gourmet eats could be had in the grassy shade of mesquite trees.

This con had a fun, happy vibe to it at all times. The guests, volunteers, and attendees just seemed to be glad to be there, and that’s a very infectious feeling. As a guest/panelist, they treated me as warmly as any con I can recall, and I thank them tremendously for their hospitality.

All in all, I’d say A-Kon can take its place among the major destination cons like SDCC, Gen Con, Dragon*Con and Anime Expo. Consider making it part of your plans in future years, because you can’t help but enjoy yourself there. A-Kon 25 will be held June 6–8, 2014.