Dragon*Con is usually held in Atlanta, Georgia, over Labor Day weekend; for 2010 that was September 3-6. They hail themselves as the "largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe." Wow, that's a big tagline – not to mention possibly offensive to certain aliens.
Memberships usually do not sell out so you may wait to register at the convention. In fact, this year the line was so incredibly long for preregistration that it might even be faster to wait (although next year may see a switch as all those who were in the prereg. line figure this out). I will say that the badges for preregistration are larger and possibly valuable (to those who collect them). On the other hand, hosting hotels sell out very quickly. If you want to book a room in a Dragon*Con block, you should sign up as soon as they open. If you do not get one in a block, you can try to reserve a room anyway. I advise that you do not tell them you are attending the convention since some hotels will not allow you to book a room if they know you are attending the convention. Yes, this actually happened to me. If you belong to an organization like AAA, you can try to get a discount that way, or just ask what specials they have running. Once in a while I get a rate that is better than the convention rate (this may involve paying ahead). You should ask about refund policies before booking.
Fun Facts: (from the Media Relations Handbook) approximate number of attendees 35,000; volunteers 1,700; guests 400; years 24; hotels 5; days 4.
Three of the many Lara Croft/Tomb Raiders at Dragon Con. Note the preregistration size badges.
Fun Facts: (from the Dragon*Con website) 2010 attendance reached 40,000.
If you have never been to Dragon*Con, I highly recommend it. There is a lot to do – in fact, so much that it can be quite overwhelming. To help attendees, Dragon*Con provides the following publications:
Program Book – a full-size 120 page bound soft-cover souvenir book with photos and biographies of guests, performers, contributing artists, and Independent Film Festival finalists.
Pocket Program – a half-letter size booklet with about 76 pages. It contains a ton of information, including bus schedules (e.g. this year on Saturday they had a shuttle bus running to the Georgia Aquarium, the "world's largest aquarium"), panel descriptions/rooms/times, gaming programming schedules, hotel floor plans, a map of downtown Atlanta (including the courtesy bus stops and parade route), a pullout schedule grid, hours of operation (stores, art show, exhibit halls, etc.), special events, and more. Note: many events are organized under specific "tracks" or groupings, for example, Anime/Manga, Podcasting, Star Trek, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Literature, British Sci-Fi Media, and American Sci-Fi Media. Unfortunately the Pocket Program is printed on newsprint and tends to get black on your fingers. It's also the publication that attendees use the most, so get used to having black fingers. Note: the gaming programming schedule contains mainly panels to discuss gaming topics. These can be anything from the history and evolution of board gaming to dungeon design for D&D or even the future of electronic gaming. See the Tournament Gaming Pocket Guidebook for more game-related scheduling.
The Daily Dragon – this official 8.5x11 inch Dragon*Con newsletter contains the most up-to-date information, including changes to the schedule, short articles, award winners, nightly room-party roster, and other news. The Daily Dragon is also updated live on their website.
Tournament Gaming Pocket Guidebook – available in the gaming area. Contrary to its name, this 48-page, half-letter size booklet contains much more than just tournament information. It also contains scheduled board gaming, digital gaming (this is what they call console gaming, including Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution), MMORPG and game programming (more panel information), and schedules for miniatures, RPGs, and LARPs. In the back of the book there is a floor plan for the Hilton (the official gaming hotel) with gaming areas labeled. The back cover of the book also has a map of downtown Atlanta. Happily this book is a higher quality production than the Pocket Program; the black ink does not come off on your fingers. The text is also sharper, making this version of the downtown Atlanta map easier to read.
Okay, so now that you have your publications, the first thing you want to do is figure out your personal schedule. Typically there will be several things you want to attend at any given time. A die might come in handy. You could choose something a few minutes before the time slot – although this is a practice I wouldn't recommend since the lines for some events can be long and you may not get in. If you really want to attend a particular event, some planning may be required, although I've only had trouble with a few of the most popular events (usually involving panels with your more famous actors). Dragon*Con does a pretty good job of putting the most popular events in the largest rooms. Once in a while they miscalculate and assign a room that is too small to fit everyone who wants to attend the event, or possibly the largest room will fill to capacity.
Back to the schedule. Be sure to have a pen or pencil handy and some scratch paper. Maybe a highlighter or two if you want to get fancy. I usually start by dog-earing my pocket schedules and circling the events I want to attend (I don't usually have a highlighter). Then I transfer the events I want to attend to a piece of paper, listing stuff by day and time. Be sure to keep this personal schedule very safe. I misplaced mine once and almost had heart failure. Since I sometimes list a few things in a slot (too many choices!), I keep the pocket schedules with me so I can decide when the time comes. Also, you will likely need the maps as Dragon*Con is spread over five hotels.
One of my favorite past-times: eating! Downtown Atlanta has a lot of choices for satisfying your hunger. The Peachtree Center has a mall and food court with many fast-food chains represented. There are also restaurants around Peachtree Center, apart from the food court, including the Hard Rock Cafe, Benihana, and one of my favorites, Mama Ninfa's – a Mexican restaurant with delicious food at reasonable prices.
The costumes are one of the best things about Dragon*Con. Many people go all-out, creating high quality costumes and amazing make-up. Be sure to bring a camera – just don't stop in the corridors to take the photos, it creates pedestrian traffic problems. Be aware that there may be times listed when you cannot take photographs in certain levels of the hotels because of these problems. One of my favorite people-watching spots is in a hotel café off one of the main thoroughfares – take a break from all the fun, grab a drink or snack, and enjoy the view.
This woman had an incredible costume.
Saturday is the biggest day for costumes since it is the day of the parade. Cylons, Wookies, Klingons, armies of Middle Earth, Steampunkers, Avatars, and many more characters take to the streets, along with a few of the guests, creating what's bound to be a memorable event. To get a real feel for the parade, check out the Daily Dragon Online parade article.
One thing to be aware of, especially if you are bringing children along, is that some of the costumes can run into the R-ratings. This typically happens more in the evenings, but I've seen a few in the day as well (although the people usually get in trouble if they are caught). A couple of examples (sorry guys, I don't have photos!): I saw a young woman walking around in Saran™ warp. Just Saran™ warp. She was stopped and asked to cover up. When next I saw her, she had added a couple of Band-Aids™ to her costume in strategic locations. Another time I saw three young women with fairy wings on their backs and very short gauzy skirts around their hips – on top they were "wearing" spray paint in fancy designs. Don't ask me how the wings were attached; I didn't look that closely.
Guests and the Walk of Fame
Dragon*Con has hundreds of guests, from many disciplines: television and movies, authors, comics, art and illustration, music, and theatre. Some of the 2010 guests included Stan Lee, Mercedes Lackey, Elizabeth Moon, Jim Butcher, Michael Stackpole, Scott Bakula, Dean Stockwell, Edward James Olmos, Mark A. Sheppard, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau, James Marsters, Sean Astin, René Auberjonois, Marina Sirtis, John, de Lancie, LeVar Burton, Ben Browder, Alaina Huffman, Michael Shanks, and Kevin Sorbo (who still looks hot BTW). Dragon*Con asks that attendees respect the privacy of their guests walking around the convention, eating at a restaurant, during a panel, etc. They provide opportunities to meet and get autographs elsewhere.
The Walk of Fame is basically several long lines of tables, set up in an area reserved for fans to meet their favorite guests (mostly from TV and movies) and get autographs, or possibly photos (this is at each guest's individual discretion; please ask before taking a photo). Many of the guests bring along a selection of photographs (from which you may choose) to be autographed. I've seen them run from $20 to $50. Be advised that they may charge to sign a personal item. Apart from the Walk of Fame, there is also an autograph area where many of the authors hang out.
Barbara Eden signing autographs on the Walk of Fame.
Each year, Dragon*Con runs some auctions to raise money for a particular charity. From the Program Book, "Dragon*Con raised over $25,000 for the American Heart Association in 2008 and the Alzheimer's Association in 2009." 2010's chosen recipient was the Georgia Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America. The Stargate Multiverse Track alone raised over $27,000; they reached $40,000 throughout the convention weekend.
Some of the more interesting items up for auction included four tickets to the Georgia Aquarium (with a behind-the-scenes tour), a Twilight: Eclipse mini poster autographed by Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson, and Kristen Stewart, two robes used on location in Italy during the St. Marcus Festival scene in Twilight: New Moon, a Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Family membership worth $250 (included two annual park passes to all 63 Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, as well as other goodies), and a copy of the graphic novel The Walking Dead, signed by writer Robert Kirkman as well as the leading actors of the upcoming AMC series based on the comics.
Every year a few guest actors and authors are invited to help as auctioneers. This year included actor Gil Girard (Buck Rogers), 2003 Hugo Award winner and 2010 Hugo Award nominee Robert J. Sawyer (auctioned off signed copies of his work), and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, author of over 70 novels and numerous short stories. Chelsea was the recipient of the 2008 Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award and is best known for her series of historical horror novels about the vampire Count Saint-Germain.
The annual blood drive was inspired by Robert Heinlein. From the Program Book:
In 1976, only a few years after recovery from two years of extensive illnesses that prevented his final editing "cuts" of I Will Fear No Evil, Robert Heinlein put his own words into action. With the help of other science fiction devotees, including many well-known authors, he organized a blood drive at MidAmericon, the 34th World Science fiction Convention. It was the first of many such blood drives and was the start of a tradition.
2,012 people donated blood in 2009. This year the record was beat by a significant amount, with 2,560 donors. Each donor received a cloisonné pin, originally designed by Heinlein for the MidAmericon blood drive, and a T-shirt.
Exhibit Halls/Dealer Room
I haven't quite figured out the differences between the Exhibit Halls and the Dealer Room (other than location). They are all in the Marriot, with the Dealer Room pretty much in the "basement" and the Exhibit Halls one level up, although still below lobby level. The Exhibit Halls are across from each other. I found board games in the Exhibit Halls (Sci-Fi Genre Comics & Games, Adventure Retail) as well as the Dealer Room (Twilight Creations, Troll and Toad).
If you are looking for a costume, this is certainly the place to shop! There's a lot of Renaissance-wear (of course), movie garb, fantasy clothing, and leather, leather, leather. (I don't think I need to elaborate here, right?) Surprisingly, much of the clothing being sold is really high quality. A few years ago my husband and I purchased some Renaissance costumes for Halloween parties – the materials used and stitching on them are really beautiful.
You'll also find comic books, graphic novels, artwork, weapons (mostly the sharp edge and chain & pointy metal ball variety), autographed memorabilia, fantasy knick-knacks, make-up, jewelry, role-playing books, dice, CCGs, and board games. Note: if you go to more gaming oriented conventions, the board gaming sales here will be rather disappointing.
Richard Hatch on the Walk of Fame.
Board Game Room
The board game "ribbon" is actually a sticker. It costs $5.00 and allows the purchaser to check out games in the library and access unlimited open board gaming in that area. There were only a few free scheduled board games, the rest had various costs associated with them – some were tournaments. I didn't play in any scheduled games this year; it's easier to just find some people who are free and check out a game from the library. Some of the scheduled games included: Arkham Horror, Diplomacy, Catacombs, Dominion, Goa, Le Havre, Cosmic Encounter, Middle Earth Quest, Railroad Tycoon, and Twilight Imperium.
Dragon*Con has its own library of games, although fairly limited in selection. A few of the local board gamers generously brought games from their personal collections as well. I didn't get all the names but I know I played a few of Shannon & Shaunnon Drake's games (it crossed my mind that the "non" in Shaunnon might be a joke – or maybe not).
Some of the games available for check-out.
Formula Dé Tournament – twelve sessions were offered, running throughout the weekend. New players were welcome to play as well. Players could enter in up to three qualifiers to make the finals.
Descent Tag Team Marathon – the posted duration was 8 hours. Throughout the session, the organizers had several "Overlords" engaging players in a complex game of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Players were free to enter and leave the game. New players were especially encouraged to join but experienced players were also welcome.
Munchkin Gauntlet – Lots of times were listed on the schedule and all versions of Munchkin were offered. Players could gain points each time they played a new version. The player with the most points at the end was declared "the most munchkinly," whatever that means (but hopefully it came with a game).
Pod People – well, maybe not pod people per se, but there were pods, and there were people. Across the room from the board game area, MechCorps set up a group of pods (I didn't count them but I believe there were eight since eight players were allowed to play at a time) that provided a virtual arena for players to command giant robots. The sessions begin with a short training period, followed by a game of "seek and destroy." The game takes place in the 31st century. Each player controls a thirty-foot tall, 75 ton walking tank-like BattleMech® robot using seven display screens, over fifty controls, foot pedals, throttle, and joystick to compete against the other players. Adjustable skill levels allow novices to enjoy the experience as much as veteran players.
Settlers of Catan North American Catan Championship (NACC) Qualifier
The following information was either provided by Bill Fogarty, Director of Marketing for Mayfair Games, or taken from the Tournament Gaming Pocket Guidebook. Photos provided by Dan Decker. The NACC is a tournament process where one winner can claim the title North American Catan Champion and go on to represent North America at the Catan World Championships to be held in the US in 2012. Dragon*Con is a co-sponsor. The winner of the qualifier will travel to compete in the NACC Finals.
(Left) Preliminary round. (Right) Final Table.
The four finalists (pictured in the photo below, in order from left to right) were 1st place Paul Hakken, 2nd place Karl Henderson, 3rd place Jamie Lane, and 4th place Eric Burleson. Players won prizes at the tournament, more in the semi-finals, and even more at the final table. Paul also won a trip to Gen Con Indy 2011 (travel courtesy of Dragon*Con, hotel and badge courtesy of Mayfair Games). He will compete with 31 other NACC qualifiers from around North America for the title of North American Catan Champion 2011. Dragon*Con is planning to run a 2012 Worldwide Catan Championship Pre-Qualifier at the 2011 Dragon*Con.
The four finalists.
Collectible Card Games (CCGs)
There were quite a few CCG tournaments running during the Con. Magic: the Gathering had the most scheduled times and varieties, and many (if not all) of the tournaments were sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast. It surprises me how strong it still is after so many years. I usually try to play in a sealed deck or booster draft tournament – I don't collect the cards anymore but I still enjoy playing – but just didn't get a chance this year. There was quite a smorgasbord of tournaments and games running: booster draft, sealed deck, highlander, melee, king of the hill, two-headed giant, theme deck, constructed, and even a Dragon*Con convention league. Some of the tournament prizes were be pretty amazing. One tournament, an Eldrazi Rotisserie draft, was offering a complete set of Rise of the Eldrazi. Others prizes included booster packs or promo foil cards. For beginners, they offered "Learn to Play" sessions where each player received a free demo deck, completed a demo, and could enter a four-player "Learn to Play" event.
Other CCG events included Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, Battle Spirits, Yugioh!, Pokemon, Star Trek, Star Wars, World of Warcraft, and Marvel Ultimate Battles.
Although not collectible, Dominion was listed under this section in the guide book since it is a deck-building game. Tournaments were run continuously throughout the weekend. It cost $10 each, with a four person sign up, to play. The winner could keep the game. The choices were: Dominion base game, Intrigue, Seaside, or Alchemy. Both beginner and advanced formats were offered. There were other prizes awarded as well.
I had the chance to play some new games while at Dragon*Con. You may read more about them at Opinionated Gamers – hopefully sometime in February 2011.
As you can see, there is quite a lot to do at Dragon*Con. Although the board gaming is better at other conventions (BGG.Con, Origins, Gen Con, to name a few), Dragon*Con offers more of an experience. And the gaming isn't bad either.
David H. Lawrence XVII, a very scary character in Heroes but a nice guy in real life.