Mike Carr

Shoemaker: Ok, so just to start, can you please tell me your name and how many Gen Cons you've attended. 

Carr:  My name is Mike Carr, and I'm happy to say that I've attended every Gen Con which is 49 and number 50 coming up.   

Shoemaker: That is quite an impressive streak, I believe you are the only person that has that streak, is that correct? 

Carr: I believe so, and I'm actually kind of proud of that.  It's quite an honor to be the one person who has attended every Gen Con, and I really must say I've enjoyed them all. 

Shoemaker:  Great, so after having so many Gen Cons can you tell me if you have a favorite one?  I am sure they blend together over the years but is there any one that sticks out. 

Carr: Yes, I think Gen Con 10, which was right here at Grand Geneva Resort which in those days was the Playboy Resort was probably the most memorable and enjoyable.  I still remember running a Giant Le Mans game, here.  We played for 8 hours, we had team drivers, we had good participation.  It was a great time and this facility is unique in a way and very impressive.  Even more so the younger you are.  So I would say Gen Con 10 at the Playboy Club, Lake Geneva.

Shoemaker: Ok, so speaking of Giant Le Mans, can you speak a little bit more about that game and some of the others that you've designed and maybe your influences that led to their creation? 

Carr: Sure.  One of the interesting and most exciting movies of the late 60s early 70s was the movie Le Mans starring Steve McQueen which was filmed largely at the actual track with camera cars during the actual event.  That really spurred interest in auto racing, but also, coincidentally it tied in with the enjoyable game called Le Mans which was published by Avalon Hill in I believe 1961.  So, that movie prompted me and my friend Jim Barber to make a trip to France to actually be spectators at the real race.  Prior to that, we visited a hobby shop in the city of Tour, which is about 40 miles from Le Mans, and in that hobby shop we saw some model cars that I thought would be ideal for doing a large scale version of the Avalon Hill game, which was what we did.  I purchased those cars at considerable expense.  We were poor, traveling young men, but scraped our francs together and bought more than a dozen of them.  I still have them to this day.  And in fact they did turn out to be ideal for kind of a blown up large expanded version of the Le Mans game, which I conceived right from the start as something that would be ideal to run at game conventions.  Because of the large number of players that could participate, the large track that we made was 8 feet by 12 feet and I created quite a number of extensive mechanical trouble charts that were based on real mechanical troubles during the real race.  And so we kind of created a spectacle in that regard using those model cars and we debuted that event at Gen Con 9 in 1976 which was at Horticultural Hall, Lake Geneva and the Guild Hall across the alley.  We played in the guild hall.  It was a 4 hour event and it was a rousing success.  I knew, I don't know if I should say we had a hit on our hands but it was certainly popular with the players and then we ran it for a number of years.  Including 1977 which I just mentioned at the Playboy Resort and ran it quite a number of years at Gen Con.  Also, at the height of TSR's popularity and the success of The Dungeon Hobby Shop we staged, in 1982, a 24 hour version of the race because people would say this is a really fun game, have you ever thought of doing it for 24 hours like the real event?  So we had about 55 players in the basements of The Dungeon Hobby Shop.  It was in the summer of 1982 and we started at noon on Saturday, ran until noon on Sunday and the cool thing was just like the real race, the drivers would come, everybody was there at the start at noon on Saturday but then, depending on when your driving stint was you could go home and do something else for a while.  One guy I know went to the Brewer's baseball game that evening and came back at 1 o'clock to drive his shift in the middle of the night.  It was really one of the great gaming experiences of my life.  Not only because, you know, I was the organizer of it but it was really just a great fun time as you can imagine with that many players at one event and kind of simulating the real thing, so.  It was a pretty cool deal.   

Shoemaker:  Alright, that's great.  I know you've designed other games that have been a hit at Gen Con.  In fact, you've got the honor of not only being the person that's been there 50 times straight, or will be this coming year, but is the organizer and creator of Fight in the Skies.  What can you tell me about that game and how maybe it's changed over the years since its been run forever? 

Carr: Fight in the Skies was a game that was inspired by the move The Blue Max.  Back in those days, which was 1966, 67, etc. Avalon Hill was producing one game a year and those of us in this rather small community of this niche hobby were always looking forward to the upcoming Avalon Hill release that would come out each spring.  And you just had your fingers cross each year that it was going to be some topic, or battle, or campaign that would be some interest to us.  Some years it was, and some years it was less exciting to us personally depending on what your tastes were.  So that was right about the time that the IFW, International Federation of Wargaming, was in full swing.  And one of the principles was Gary Gygax, and I got to know him through the IFW, we corresponded and he encouraged me to come to Gen Con for the first time when it was conceived for Lake Geneva in 1968, which I did.  And that's a separate story, but he also, as part of the IFW, encouraged the creation of what he called the Wargame Inventors Guild, WGIG.  And the purpose of that was to encourage these wargamers who were part of the IFW to bring forth designs of their own so that there would be more than 1 game a year released and hopefully some of the ideas of merit that people within the IFW had could actually see the light of day as publications.  In the interim the WGIG would provide the initial test bed for those games among the membership, and he had heard that I had created a game, Fight in the Skies, that as I said was inspired by the movie The Blue Max, a really elegant and wonderfully beautiful combat scenes of these bi-planes cruising around trying to shoot each other down, and he encouraged me to create a written version of that game as one of the WGIG projects, which I did.  And he played the game, in fact I just recently, in the last week or so, discovered a letter from him dated, I think April of 1968, where he said that Don Kay and some of the people in Lake Geneva had played the real early version of Fight in the Skies and they liked it a lot.  He had some questions, etc. so that's kind of a treasured letter for me.  But that was really the impetus of Fight in the Skies and at Gen Con number 1, August 24th 1968, according to the IFW magazine that was published a month or two later, after Gary's opening remarks of welcome to everyone, Mike Carr ran the first event at the convention which was a Fight in the Skies game.  We played in the Horticultural Hall with 1:72 scale models right on the square tiled floor, so that was quite an honor to run the very first event at the very first Gen Con, too.  Ever since then, every year we've always run Fight in the Skies games.  Now the game is called Dawn Patrol, has been since the early 1980s, and we have quite a slate of events at Gen Con.  The Fight in the Skies Society, which was another IFW organization still exists.  Part of the IFW was to have and promote a following for certain games, so if you had a particular game that you liked and were an avid player of you could form or join the existing society.  There was a Stalingrad Society for the Avalon Hill Stalingrad game.  There was of course the well known Castle & Crusade Society, which was tied in with the history of Dungeons & Dragons, later on etc.  And we formed in 1969 the Fight in the Skies Society, which, to my amazement as well as a lot of other people's, still exists and we're publishing our newsletter The Aerodrome, the first issue was June, 1969 and as we speak I'm working on issue 175, which will be the first new issue of 2017.  

Shoemaker:  That's great.  OK, so speaking of, you've run Fight in the Skies for a long time.  Is there a favorite event that you look forward to every year?

Carr: I'd say, I look forward to playing Fight in the skies, or Dawn Patrol as we call it now, at Gen Con because I get to see so many people who've played it over the years and we've members of the Fight in the Skies Society who play and so there's not only the fun of the games themselves, and the scenarios that are created for the convention, but also the camaraderie that we have through this group and its been around for a long time.  It's not a big group, probably less than 90 members, but that keeps it manageable and they're a very avid group, it's very gratifying to me to know that some of these players that who enjoy that game are just in love with it and have continued to be so over the years.  So its a joy to meet with those people from near and far and play those games and sit down, take a few shots or get shot down occasionally as certainly occurs and just have fun with it.  So I always look forward to that every year.  Because of this organization I don't have to run all the events or do them all myself.  In fact my friend George Henyon from Milwaukee is the organizer of that and there's a full slate of games every slot of Gen Con Thursday through Sunday there's a Dawn Patrol game going on.  If anybody is interested in that they're always willing to take in new players and teach the game and get people flying within 15 or 20 minutes and hopefully they'll have a good time.

Shoemaker: Sounds like a blast.  So, when Dungeons & Dragons was starting to take off in 1974 and 75 and 76 when it was starting to build momentum, how noticeable was that transition at Gen Con? 

Carr: It was quite noticeable.  And it really brought in a crowd, so to speak. Once that game started getting traction among, first of all, the hobbyists, that brought in I think a certain amount of excitement.  It was, roleplaying itself, was still quite a new concept and excited a lot of people as it still does.  They started coming to Gen Con to enjoy that, and then, subsequently, when it started to be more of a mass market product, which was always the goal, to get this in front of more people so that they could experience this and enjoy it as a different type of game, you know then things really took off in terms of attendance at Gen Con.  People wanting to come and play it, meet Gary Gygax or Dave Arneson and talk to the people who were creating the modules at TSR, and so I guess that was a little later, but none the less, it really infused Gen Con with a lot of excitement and a ton more of events.  It really broadened the appeal.  Gen Con had started out as kind of a board game and miniatures affair, which was great, and unfortunately that aspect has been overshadowed a bit by subsequent popularity of other games.  But, I'm glad to say there's still plenty of miniatures games and certainly board games at Gen Con and also at Gary Con in Lake Geneva.  That's a part of what goes on and if anyone listening to this is more of a true roleplayer and really doesn't or hasn't enjoyed the other types of games, the earlier types and things, I would certainly encourage them to play some miniatures games and certainly consider board gaming, and that sort of thing because it’s a little bit different flavor and certainly enjoyable.  Some of these games are as fun today as they were 40 years ago I'm glad to say.  Gen Con, because of the 4 days and the tremendous number of events, it’s a tremendous opportunity to really expand your horizons in gaming and it’s certainly overwhelming.  Just go through the dealer area and see how many new games there are and the popularity of different kinds of games and stuff.  Certainly we don't have time to play them all, but it’s a great opportunity to try something outside of your normal sphere.   

Shoemaker:  Speaking of transitions of games, there was another big one that happened in 1993 when Magic the Gathering came.  Did you notice any similarities or anything of the time when Dungeons & Dragons was released at the convention? 

Carr: Yeah, I think we saw a little bit of the same phenomenon where a whole new crowd of avid players, in this case of Magic, descended upon the convention and, again, increased the attendance but also ramped up the enthusiasm as well.  I think that was certainly a good thing.  And when the Magic people came in, hopefully enough of them were enlightened to see the other opportunities and other kinds of games there were, so in that area there were a lot more hobby shops springing up that were offering games and that sort of thing, so the whole hobby and area of interest really got a shot in the arm from first of all the Dungeons & Dragons phenomenon and then later the Magic phenomenon.

Shoemaker: So those are just 2 of the large transitions that have happened at Gen Con.  Are there any other major transitions that you've noticed over time? 

Carr: I think just that the convention itself has grown.  Its stature has increased, its renown, as well.  I think it's an event that people, the more they hear about it, and read about it, want to attend themselves.  So I think that's a cool thing.  They want to make the pilgrimage to Gen Con and experience it for themselves.  Obviously that's brought in 10s of thousands of new people over the years and I believe the convention is pushing 60,000 attendees in recent years.  Which is a cool thing.  Now some people say oh it's too big and I don't go any more because of this and that and, ironically, can't get a hotel room downtown and etc. but you've got to see it to believe it so if you've never attended Gen Con you've got to put it on your list and its something that you've got to see it to believe it and experience it and its 4 days of gaming.  I believe they call it the best 4 days of gaming? 

Shoemaker: That they do.

Carr:  And that's no exaggeration, it really is.  And I can speak with authority on that. 

Shoemaker: Along that same line, is there anything you miss about Gen Con that just doesn't happen any more at the recent shows?

Carr: Anybody who's been around for a while, whether they're in the world of baseball or gaming or anything else usually waxes nostalgic about the good old days and I guess I am no exception to that.  I think the large size of the convention, it's lost a little of its hominess, but I don't think that's a bad thing.  We've got Gary Con now, which also started pretty modestly and in its 9th year it's got over 1000 events on the schedule.  Thats a small scale event that's grown into something quite remarkable, and again another event that I would encourage people to consider coming to Lake Geneva to participate in and see the place where it all began so to speak.  I guess I miss a little bit of the small time nature of that from the early days, but that's not a major thing.  You know, life goes on, progress occurs, and we all have to adapt.  I miss it, but it's not something that I think is really otherwise lacking or detract from the caliber and the quality of the event because its great on so many other levels.   

Shoemaker:  So now, looking towards the future more, do you have any thoughts on how Gen Con should progress? 

Carr:  It's interesting to note that when Gen Con left Milwaukee it was because, at least my understanding was, because they maxed out on the number of hotel rooms downtown.  It was the largest convention in Milwaukee at the time.  So moving to Indianapolis was a real plus, it was just a larger convention facility.  Much better than the one in Milwaukee.  There is a lot more hotel rooms in downtown Indianapolis, and they're closer to the convention itself.  I mean you can walk from the half dozen hotels that are right in proximity right to the convention.  However, Gen Con now has grown so large in Indianapolis that getting a room is sometimes a concern.  At least getting a room downtown.  I've heard people bemoan the fact that "yeah I'm going to Indianapolis I'm going to Gen Con, but gee, I can't get a room anywhere near close by." That's I guess the problem of great success.  So I don't know what the answer to that is, I consider that the convention is still expanding.  I believe they are going to have some events at Lucas Oil Stadium, which is I think 3 or 4 blocks from the main area.  I mean, they're in the old train station, which is like a civic building now and their, as they have, expanding into the various hotel facilities right nearby, so its just kind of taken over the place.  Thats a good thing, I think, in a good way.  I don't really know what the future holds except hopefully it will stay as popular as ever.  I suppose at some point you just reach the physical limitations of the environment there, and how many hotels and meeting rooms you can find in proximity and etc. but again I don't see that as a major problem, I just think it's a challenge.  Again, I would urge anyone that's never made the trip to Gen Con to certainly do so. 

Shoemaker: Gen Con, as we know it today, that is in Indianapolis, is not the only Gen Con that has happened.  I know when you were working for TSR you were all shipped off to Gen Con East at one point.  Could you talk a little bit about what that was like and how it was different from the main event that was in Wisconsin at the time? 

Carr: That's an interesting question and one of the side notes of the history of Gen Con I think is the fact that TSR tried to use the Gen Con name and encourage groups, or I think it was probably more likely that groups in other areas; Jacksonville, Florida had a Gen Con South, and they asked "could we call our convention Gen Con South?" and could somebody from TSR make the trip to Jacksonville, which I did at least once.  Then Gen Con east was in Chester Pennsylvania for several years and that was a good thing.  It was a success.  Again it was a relatively modest affair in both cases, but, you know we're talking hundreds of people rather than thousands of people.  But it was a success, so I guess it was inevitable that as time moved on those events faded and at some point stopped.  They were emulations, I guess, of the great Gen Con and TSR certainly did support them by sending people to them.  We made a journey to Gen Con East, Brian Blume insisted that we drive straight through.  It was 14 or 16 hours, endless trip, we had to drive through Chicago of course and past Cleveland and all the way to Baltimore without stopping or sleeping other than some quick meals.  So I don't have a fond recollection of at least the road trip portion of that.  When you get out into other areas, and especially in those days, going to Jacksonville to meet people in Florida who loved D&D and other games and going to Chester, Pennsylvania near Philly and again meeting people who, you know, didn't have the wherewithal to come to Gen Con in Lake Geneva, usually because they were young and they were college students and nobody had any money just to meet them and, you know, see their appreciation for people from TSR making the trip to their backyard and having these events.  It was very gratifying.  The cool thing I think, even now, all these many years later is just the genuine interest and enthusiasm and excitement that a lot of these gamers have, whether your favorite game is D&D, or Dawn Patrol or anything else.  Just meeting people at these events is just a wonderful treat because they express their appreciation and many times I've had people say "Oh, I've played your B1 module, In Search of the Unknown, it was one of my first experiences with Dungeons & Dragons, I just had the greatest time and I just want to shake your hand." and how cool is that.  I talked to a guy yesterday who said that he's run the B1 module many, many times for decades.  I said well, how many times do you think you've run it? This may sound crazy but I've probably run it 100 times.  I've got 5 different versions of it, riffing off of what you've created just to kind of keep it fresh so that people will play it again.  So its not the same for them and they've got a few surprises along the way.  Just meeting the gamers and stuff at these conventions is great.  Not to mention the camaraderie of interacting with your fellow gamers or meeting new people and again I talked to some people that said "Oh I met somebody at a convention, you know, 30 years ago and we've stayed friends ever since."  The friendship aspect and the social side of this activity is wonderful, and really conventions promelgate that and offer the opportunity to mix with other gamers and make new friends.

Shoemaker: Speaking of that kind of camaraderie people have, Gen Con has a lot of volunteers that help make it run.  Do you have anything you wanted to talk about the volunteers that have helped the convention and keep it go?

Carr:  Yes I would.  Back in the earliest days it was really a handful of people, starting with Gary himself who, you know, came up with the idea that we should have a get together in Lake Geneva and he rented out the Horticultural Hall. I think at his own expense, of course it was under the banner of the IFW for a number of years, but it was really the volunteers.  Not just the people that offered to run game events, which are extremely important, because that's what really makes the convention great is offering a variety of activities, people stepping forth to spend hours preparing a game for total strangers quite often.  But also the people behind the scenes who are manning the door and doing the preregistration and just kind of all of the behind the scenes, back of the house sort of stuff that makes these things a success.  As the convention, as Gen Con itself and other events like it have grown in size the number of volunteers required to make it happen has to increase exponentially or its going to flop.  I know there are many hundreds of volunteers who are involved in Gen Con today, and I just want to put a shout out to them, of appreciation to the sacrifice that they make.  People take vacation, they use their valuable vacation days to come to Indianapolis to run events or to help out even just watching the door or whatever it happens to be.  There's a hundred different tasks that need to be done and my hat is off to those people for their sacrifice and their love of this hobby and their unselfishness in wanting to make it a great experience and event for everybody else.   

Shoemaker: So those are all of the questions that I have for you, but I would love to know if there is anything you just want to tell us about Gen Con that I forgot to ask about or did not ask? 

Carr: I think that Gen Con is quite remarkable.  Not only in its longevity, but just the broad wealth, the cornucopia of events and experiences that you can have there.  And I really think that anybody who says they're a gamer should go out of their way to come to Gen Con.  Maybe not every year, but as often as they can and certainly come at least once if you've never come, and experience this for yourself.  You've got to see it to believe it in a way, it's certainly true now because it's as big as ever.  So no matter what your interest is, whether its board games or collectible card games, roleplaying games, miniatures, whatever it happens to be, I would certainly encourage you to make a trip to Gen Con in the future and come often if you can.  Be a part of it all.  And if you are so inclined, sign up to run an event.  There is always a need because of the great number of gamers there are to offer activities of all different kinds.  So whatever your favorite activity is you can come and be a part of it.  Meet the people behind the games and its such a great opportunity to do that.  I mean there's seminars and there's movies and the dealer area is a spectacle unto itself, you know, it's the size of a football field I think.  In terms of what's there, it takes hours to go through it, but what a joyful few hours that is.  That's just on the first pass.  There is just so much going on, you've got to see it to believe it so I guess my call to arms, so to speak, is for people to make the trip and be a part of this and to see it for yourself and bring your friends.

Mike Carr