My husband and I will be attending our first GenCon this summer. Trust me I have read all the first time posts asking for tips and I have collected most of those already. What I am asking more for is things to do. We are HUGE fans of the DC Deck Building Game (owning every expansions and set) we also love games like Hail Hydra and Secret Hitler. We are also huge escape room fans with me having done over 50 across the US and my husband at about the 35 mark (and I am already looking into Real Dungeon). We are coming in from Iowa side of Illinois so we will not know anyone or the area whatsoever. Our hotel is about 15 minutes away from the convention center. I am super excited and fear I will be spending a lot of time (and money) on the vendor floor. I am not sure if I would bring any games with us to the convention center as I think I will need all the space I can, however, I have read that there are a few game libraries and we would probably be down to playing games with people. I don´t want to set anything in concrete as the long days walking the floor might drain our energy.
Stuff to do...
If you're into big crowd games, there's the National Security Decision Making events. They're big - 20 players would be a small one, no kidding! - and while they technically classify as a LARP, there's no costuming or swordplay. It actually runs much more like a huge, dice-less RPG where you spend the vast majority of your time interacting, cooperating and (not or!) competing with the other players, while just going to the game masters for certain things. I've read it described as a "Model UN", but that doesn't come close to doing it justice. I've yet to see a Model UN deal with aliens, nuclear weapons, massive disease outbreaks, or genetic engineering with coups, defections, and Great Power diplomacy. :D
In reference to the vendor hall: You won't have to spend a ton of money. So much of it is given over to demos that it is honestly possible to spend nearly the entire con just doing those. It's that extensive. I don't recommend doing that for the whole convention (you can't, since the hall closes at dinnertime every day), but I'd happily suggest an afternoon of it.
Don't shy away from non-game stuff. They're great. I've loved the panel discussions, author Q&A's, and other things. There's a totally non-game event called "Hacking in Fiction" that I attend regularly (infosec's my career, so it really appeals to me). I've also read that there's both a "haunted walking tour" as well as a brewery tour. The point here is that there's so much to do that doesn't involve games, but are still very well worth engaging in.
If you'd like to help an aspiring game-creator, there's the First Exposure Playtest Hall. That's sort of a beta-testing setup of games or game add-ons. Yes, it's entirely possible to run into a rough experience with one that's not well designed or thought out, but I've yet to see that happen. Most who create games are already well versed in running them, and their offerings play very well, practically fully polished in the few experiences I've had.
There's even more, but that's enough for a starting point.
Oh I don't shy away from many things. :) I usually just tend to get really excited about the first time going to things like conventions and I try to get as much info as I can before hand. I am really excited to get promos and what not for the games we play but I have seen that many companies will sell games before they street to other companies and that is where I have been budgeting for for a while. :) Thanks for the advice I heard a bit about that game as well as werewolf.
Sounds like you have read a lot of general tips, so I'll just recommend some specific games.
Not every event is for everyone, of course. But, based on your expressed interests, I would suggest the following:
True Dungeon (Somewhat costly, but worth trying at least once to see if it is your thing. Definitely of interest to gamers who are into escape rooms). Multiple different options here, try the "Redux" one, which is a repeat of a prior year event, but that won't be a downside in your case.
Escape Rooms - One thing to understand is that there are a couple different providers here. One of which, while listed in the Gen Con events, is actually located down the street at their normally facility. At least one or two more who come from out of town and bring their setup into a hotel.
Are You a Werewolf -- Since you're into Secret Hitler, you should check this out. At the Convention, this is unlike what you can get elsewhere for this game. Runs something like 6 or 8pm until like 3 or 4am each night. Can buy access for an hour or two, or a wristband for play all weekend. Lots of different "tables" (actually a circle of chairs). Once you're done with one game, you can jump in another without having to wait for the one you were in to finish. Super easy to learn if you haven't played before.
Giant Robo Rally -- Robo Rally with programmable robots on a large mat. If you don't play, watch it for a couple minutes. But an event is only 1 hr, so it isn't a big time commitment. This event will sell out. So, if interested, be prepared to try to get tickets as soon as event registration opens.
Some games are better at a convention than at home due to playing with different people who you don't know as well. These include: Are You A Werewolf, Diplomacy, Illuminati If you are into any of these generally, try them at the convention.
My general rule of thumb for Gencon is this: Don't do anything I can do at/close to home.
For me this includes escape rooms, D&D, a few other tabletop RPGs I'm into, non-tournament play of any boardgame/card game I own, arts & craft events, and video games.
Yes, doing the things you know you love is fun, but there are thousands of events at the con and only 4 days. There's so much opportunity to try out new things and I'm paying a lot of money to be there. I'm going to try new stuff, go to some interesting discussion panels or live podcasts for shows I'm interested in, spend time in the library and hot games room trying out new and new-to-me games, play large group games I don't get to do at home, etc.
I also just devote a fair amount of time to wandering the dealer hall and looking at demos there.
I love the dealer hall, but I agree with aldctojc that you definitely don't have to feel resigned to spending a lot of money there. There are so many free demos to do and so much to take in that shopping is really a secondary reason for being there for me. I usually buy an indie game to play at the con with friends and maybe a couple gifts, if that. Unless you're a collector of some sort and are looking for something specific or want an early release or you see a REALLY good deal, most everything can be bought online after the fact, which also gives you a minute to consider if you really want to spend the money.
Speaking of good deals- the consignment store and auction are worth checking out.
In addition to the game libraries, there's the entire hall where you can learn and play a full-length playthrough of tons of games, as well as gaming rooms sponsored by the big publishing companies. Unless you have a game you have your heart absolutely set on playing with people at Gencon, there's not really any need to bring games from your hotel IMO- just more stuff to haul around. If you're looking, you'll definitely find a game somewhere. :)
I personally like to do at least one "excursion" type activity outside of the main Con. Nice to get a breath of fresh air. There are event activities like drink or city tours (varying cost) that get you together with other nerds to do something non-gaming related, or even just walking to Fountain Square or up Massachusetts Ave to have a meal in a different part of town.
The Auction and its attached Consignment Store is the best place to go for deals at the entire convention--I mean, it is also the best place to go for buying valuable collectibles, but the deals are certainly why I recommend it, as it is a way to come home with lots of cool stuff without spending a lot of money.
I agree with Kellishaver's general point about trying to exclusively do things you cannot do at home, and that is actually why I never even sign up for events anymore; there is always so much going on that you would never know about until you get there that you might find yourself skipping ticketed events even if you sign up for some!
A lot of good suggestions here, but here's one that's been overlooked: don't overdo it. Pace yourself, and plan in some downtime, or you'll be burned out by Saturday. The Con simply has so much to offer that you won't even get a fraction of it all done in 4 days. Get adequate sleep; I know it's tempting to spend 20 hrs a day gaming, but don't. :-)
I find the best mix for me is a few hours in the exhibit hall, an event, then a few more hours in the hall, then events once the hall closes. Schedule your TD events as early as possible; they tend to sell out quickly, and the rest of your Con schedule might revolve around them, especially if you're doing more than one.
As others have said, the Con is a great place to play games and do stuff you can't do at your FLGS or close to home, but there's nothing wrong with doing a few RPG events that you can do locally to see how they play run by an "official" organization. NASCRAG is good if you're into roleplay, Paizo has a gamut of PFS & SFS games, and Baldman runs dozens of D&D events.
Virtually all the demos in the exhibit hall are free; you could spend the entire Con there just going from booth to booth running games. Since it's your first Gen Con, I'd suggest a mix, plan some hall time, some events, and some leisure time. See what interests you so you'll have ideas on things to focus on for next year.
It's too soon to tell but you may want to see if Cryptozoic will have any new games out to add to the DC universe.
Check out some of the escape rooms. I did one that was dragon themed last year and it was a blast. True Dungeon can be twice the price of an escape room. If you are willing to REALLY blow some money look at "playing with" games. A variety of groups and celebrities play games for charity.
As others have already stated, do those things you can't do at home.
And don't be afraid to ask "dumb" questions. We all get surprised when we suddenly realize that we are in a different time zone or that the hotels charge a 15%+ sales tax.
The BGG Hot Games Room has quickly become my favorite thing to do at Gen Con. Judging from your interests, I think you'd guys would love it. It's in a nice big air conditioned room in the Hyatt only about a 5 minute walk from the convention center. The library consists solely of new games but the folks who run the room make sure to stock lots of copies of the games with a lot of buzz along with a plethora of smaller releases. The crowd it attracts are very laid back and enthusiastic so finding folks to play with is usually super easy. That room has produced some of my favorite con moments whether it was getting Spirit Island to the table for the first time or just laughing like goofballs playing the Kenny G board game. The first floor of the Hyatt also has a Subway, a Starbucks, and a decent pizza place so I found it's easy to spend half a day there.
The dragon-themed escape room from from last year was great. I've done three escape rooms with that company (CU Adventures in Time and Space) and I've enjoyed them all.
+1 for the First Look Exposure Hall. Its a lot of fun learning a game not published yet and then giving feedback to the ever grateful creator/s that taught it to you! You get tickets for it, but you can also just show up and usually get in.