One of the biggest draws at GenCon, the largest hobby gaming convention in the U.S., is the gaming hall. Thousands of square feet of space in the Indianapolis Convention Center are given over to table top gamers of all stripes, who play around the clock for four consecutive days every August.
This year, some of the biggest crowds gathered around Aaron Jenkins' sessions of A Game of Thrones The Board Game, featuring his table-sized, hand made 3D recreation of the map of Westeros.
Jenkins spent more than 150 hours making the game board and associated miniatures. He first got permission from the publisher, Fantasy Flight Games, and then had a massive copy of the commercially available game board printed at a local copy shop. He then carefully built up the topography using poster board before covering it with flocking (granules of synthetic foam).
The end product is a three-foot by five-foot game board, a single massive piece so large it has to be rolled into place. Its custom case even includes a pair of sturdy U-bolts that allow it to be locked to the table overnight.
The hardest part, Jenkins says, was hand-crafting the miniatures and other embellishments by hand.
"The little keeps and the castles and the little symbols and crowns and barrels — those are fun to make," Jenkins says. "But they're also a real pain."
Jenkins cast them each from resin by hand, basing the molds off of sculptures he created himself.
"The hardest ones were the ships, because I couldn't find any ships at all that matched the scale that I needed, or that matched the descriptions of what ships are supposed to be like in the Game of Thrones world.
"I've been doing this stuff since I was 13, so pretty much making something like that I know how it goes now. ... The motivating factor was I knew I had people who would play the game with me."
When he's not making elaborate game experiences, Jenkins is better known as the Catholic priest who serves the congregation at St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in Bright, Indiana, a church of more than 2,300.
"I have all kinds of pursuits," Jenkins said. "Gaming and hunting are probably the biggest. With gaming I enjoy running games and putting games on as much as playing. Maybe even more so."
Of the seven games he ran, he says that the outcomes were in favor of each house once, with a disgruntled player leading to a somewhat sullied second victory by House Lanister. Sessions proved so popular that next year he hopes to run as many as 12. Tickets for his sessions will be available through the GenCon registration site in 2015.
You can read more about the making of his game board on his blog.