Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gen Con meets Indy: No Time Machine Necessary at Conner Prairie

photo: Conner Prairie, all rights reserved
Every Gen Con, Jim and I work on a mental list of Indianapolis opportunities we wish more Gen Con attendees were aware of. Now, we're not so naive to assume that anyone wants to take a gaming break during Gen Con, but if you're coming in early, or staying late, you might want to take a few side trips before you leave the Circle City and the Hoosier State.

It's a mystery to me why no game company (especially Mayfair) has ever capitalized on nearby interactive history park Conner Prairie. I don't know why steampunks aren't booking every Gen Con weekend flight of the 1859 Hot-Air Balloon Voyage for the photo opportunities alone.

Unlike the musty assemblages of ramshackle relics with "a butter churn for the kids," Conner Prairie is a through-the-looking-glass historical experience.

This sprawling park works to reincarnate periods of Indiana history from a Lenape Indian Camp to an 1836 Prairietown to the 1823 Conner homestead to1863 Civil War journey. Despite a wealth of great buildings and interactive exercises, Conner Prairie's biggest selling point is, hands-down, the commitment of the interpreters. Unlike most historical site guides, these hard-core reenactors are immersed in the period they are portraying. They deny any reality beyond their character's "present day."

One of my friend's fathers, a history buff, spends his entire visit trying to get the interpreters to discuss things outside of their period. He asks about presidents yet to be elected, inventions not yet popularized, and politics not yet transpired. To his conjoined delight and frustration, it is like getting a Buckingham Palace guard to smile, not impossible, but remarkably difficult.

This commitment to the period's atmosphere breathes life and magic into the expedition.

Conner Prairie is also, like actual history, a dangerous place. The candle maker works, in part, over an open fire, as do the visitors who assist. At the trading post, there is a hatchet throwing competition open to visitors. Safe practices are mandated by staff, but the elements and approaches are refreshingly real.

Conner Prairie shares the story of westward expansion and nation-building. Some of the interpreters (like the blacksmith and the soldiers) are quite conversant in arms-making and munitions. The attention to historical accuracy in costuming will also impress. For the Catan crowd, Conner Prairie includes sheep, wood, wheat (grain), brick, and ore.

Conner Prairie abounds with photo opportunities for cosplay, but the true gem is the 1859 Balloon Voyage. This replica airship offers tethered trips into the skies of the Circle City (reservations required). I cannot imagine a better steampunk portrait location.

This is the first in a series of posts about Indianapolis sites relating to Gen Con.

***Baby Toolkit is the opinionated discourse of some Midwestern geek, gamer parents. We have no fiscal relationship with Conner Prairie. We also podcast about board games at Great Big Table.

No comments: