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Tips On Herding Cats (or How I Organize My Annual GenCon Trip)

For the past five years, I have attended GenCon with an average of 10 of my friends.  On the larger years, it has been as large as 14 people and on the smaller years around 8.  Coordinating a group that large, at the largest gaming convention of the year, is no easy task.  Over the years, I have figured out some tricks for organizing such a large group and today I am going to share some of those tips with you.

There is no magic formula for organizing a trip this large.  Mostly its about coming up with some simple plans, and then being flexible enough to adapt them as things change, when you get there.   Before we get into the more specific tips, there are a few general tips, about organizing large groups:

With those things in mind, here are some specific tips that have helped me organize my group each year.

One Leader…Lots of Delegation

The planning and execution for your trip is going to go best, if you have one person who is the main coordinator.  Pick a person who has the organization skills to plan out the trip, and make them the Leader for organizing the trip.  The Leader is going to have a lot of work to do, but with one person at the helm, things will come from a single voice, and it will reduce confusion.

At the same time, the Leader should not have to plan every aspect of the trip.  The Leader should be encouraged to delegate various parts of the trip planning to other members of the group.  For instance, one of my friends has a GPS, and his job is to be our navigator.  I let him know what destinations we will be traveling to, and any specific routes, and he programs them into the GPS, and provides directions during the drive to and from GenCon.

Collaborate and Share Information

Communication is everything when organizing a large group.  The first thing I do, is to create an email alias that includes everyone attending the trip.  We use email almost exclusively to communicate with one another, during the planning part of the trip.  This is helpful, since our group often spans 4 states, and has people working all sorts of times, day and night.

The other thing we use, is Google Docs and Spreadsheets.  This year, after event registration, we used a shared spreadsheet, to plug in our individual schedules, so that everyone in the group was able to see what events people were going to, and what times people were free.  Shared documents can also be used to post directions, notes, etc.  A platform like Google Docs and Spreadsheets makes it easy to create a document, and very easy to share with a group of friends.

Do One Thing Together…and A Lot Of Things In Small Groups

GenCon is about playing games, and getting a game for a group as large as 10 people is pretty hard.  There are a few ways to ensure that you can secure enough tickets for an event.  Before Event Registration, you should plan out what events you want to attend, as individuals and as a group.  On the day of Event Registration, coordinate a handful of your members to go on and get tickets for your events.  This year, we had 5 people on laptops in different locations, using both IM and cell phones to stay in touch.

It has been my experience that at the size of 10 people there are few events that can accommodate the entire group, and a smaller number that you will be able to register for, and actually get all the tickets.  You may have to look around for an event that can handle your entire group.  If you can, try to pick one event to do as a large group, and then break up in smaller groups to do events together.

This year, my whole group attended the Lunch Money [1] game, organized by the Rogue Judges [2].  This is a fun game, and an easy event to get a lot of tickets.   I then played in two RPG sessions, each one, with a different  member from my group.  Others went to different events in groups of 3 and 4.  This way you are still with some friends and are able to get into the smaller events.

Aside from gaming events, make some effort to visit each of your friends during the length of the con.  I make it a point to either have a meal with or share some time, such as walking the floor, with as many members of the group as I can.  This way I get to see everyone for a little bit and get to share some memories with everyone.

Home Base

Another thing that helps is to have a single location where you can all gather at different points during the day.  It is far easier for everyone in the group to know that they need to meet up in the same location, rather than trying to pass along to everyone different meeting locations, every day.

Take advantage to some of the lesser used areas in the convention center, and some of the lobby areas in the adjacent hotels.  Keep the location central to the con, so that most people can reach it easily, and can reach their upcoming events quickly.

My group likes the Hotel Lobby area in the Westin, located near Starbucks (critical for waking up in the morning).  With a large group, we often have to re-arrange the furniture to create a space that we can all fit.  We will all gather in the Westin lobby and drink coffee and play some card games, until the convention floor opens.  This way we are all together for the morning, before we split up into smaller groups.

Group Attire

With a large group, it is fun to have some kind of clothing to identify you as part of the group.  Consider creating a T-Shrit or hat for everyone in your group to wear.  It is a great way to create some camaraderie and it makes it easy to find one another when out of the convention floor.  You will also find that by wearing group attire, that people will recognize you as part of your group, during the course of the con.  Its an extra expense, but there is a special feeling about being bonded together with a common shirt, or other attire.

My group, has a set of custom made green bowling shirts that we all wear, for the entire con.  The shirts have our nicknames over the pockets, a pair of dragons on the back, and the years we attended GenCon, going down the sleeves.  We enjoy walking into the con on Thursday morning, as a full group, and having people look at us as a single group, and sometimes mistaking us as our own company.  As a running joke, when we spot each other in the hallways, we make it a point to call out, “Nice Shirt” to each other.  It may sound silly, but there is a certain esprit de corps that wearing our Greenshirts brings.

Group Picture

My last tip, is that during the course of your time at the Con, make sure you set aside time for a group picture.  I recommend you do this at the beginning of the con, and wearing your group attire.   Use the time before the convention floor opens to gather up for a group picture.  Be careful if you try to do this on Sunday, as different members of your group may have different departure times, depending on how they are leaving the Con.  Be creative about the place you have your picture taken.  Pick somewhere that either has great meaning to the group, or will look interesting when you look pack on the picture in the years to come.

In years past we have had our picture taken holding the giant d20 over our heads, we have had it taken with young ladies from various booths, and this year, we had our picture taken with cast members from the Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising [3].

A large group at GenCon can be a lot of fun, and a great way to visit with friends that you do not get to see often.  It is not easy to coordinate such an event, but with some upfront planning, a lot of communictaion, and some flexibility, you will have a great Con and a lot of great memories.

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Tips On Herding Cats (or How I Organize My Annual GenCon Trip)"

#1 Comment By nblade On August 27, 2008 @ 9:54 am

I’ve never been to a Con with more than a few people, but your general advice seems solid. I had a quick laugh at the group attire thing. At first I said how dorky is that. Then I remembered, It’s a dorkfest, there are going to be people doing dorkier things than that. Someday, I may actually be able to go to Gen Con (if it still exists that is)

#2 Comment By DNAphil On August 27, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

I will say that at first the Group Attire sounds dorky…but I think the secret is to come up with something that by itself looks good, and that you are not embarrassed to wear. I would not have any problem wearing my GreenShirt to GenCon if I was alone. Its a cool bowling shirt.

And like you said, for all the things you will wind up seeing at GenCon, a group of guys in matching shirts is hardly noticed.

#3 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On August 27, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

Especially if the shirt design is pretty cool. [4] is this year’s design. Last year’s design was a spoof of a AD&D module “GC40 – Assault on the Dealer Room”. [5] it is with someone you may recognize.

We travel with a big group as well, about a dozen from the Austin area and another dozen from Michigan. We generally go our own way during the day, and then get into after-hours games together.

Things we’ve learned (I’m not an original member, so others may post here with more tips):
– Use a Yahoo or Google Group to coordinate and communicate with each other in the off-season.
– Try to put everyone in the same hotel, preferably nearby each other.
– Find an activity that everyone can enjoy. We play card and (occasionally) board games like Bang!, Fluxx, and Catan variants.
– Arrive a day early, and leave a day late. You miss the rush (and stench), and everyone gets to hang out together before the insanity starts.
– Get together for a group event, even if it’s just dinner. This year, we went to [6], a Brazilian all-you-can-eat steakhouse. I’m still full.

#4 Comment By grieve On August 27, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

Aren’t you required by law to post an image (front and back) of the GreenShirt. I mean you have to know that we all want to see it now.

#5 Comment By Martin Ralya On August 27, 2008 @ 4:17 pm

@Grieve: Yep — and he’s required by the Gnome Code to post a picture wearing his Gnome Stew shirt, too.

Chop chop, Phil! 😉

#6 Comment By Martin Ralya On August 27, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

In all seriousness, though, this is a great post. I’ve always admired how you handle your monster group at GenCon, and now I can see the inner workings of that machine. Thank you. 🙂

#7 Comment By DNAphil On August 28, 2008 @ 6:10 am

As for the pictures…I will get some ready for posting tonight. It was so crazy coming back from GenCon and right into work, that I am still sorting through my GenCon stuff.

#8 Comment By grieve On August 28, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

@DNAPhil: I guess we can cut you some slack this time, since you seem to have a valid excuse. 🙂

#9 Comment By Scott Martin On September 2, 2008 @ 11:35 am

I haven’t tried to travel with such a large group– I’d ordinarily try to split it into smaller groups for ease of coordination. It sounds like it takes more work to keep a large group together, but that it’s well worth it. Thanks for the advice– it sounds useful for any large group planning.