Lucca Comics & Games survival guide

Lucca Comics & Games survival guide

The 2014 edition of the biggest and most relevant comics-and-games-dedicated italian fair just came to its end: the numbers, as usual, are way bigger than last years: over 400.000 total visitors around the city and 300.000 tickets sold- 80k more than the 2013. Way more than the city can handle, more than enough to cause serious problems to any staff crew – even the most competent one. The issues are mostly related to the masses who literally storm throughout the entire city (and on the highways around it) and the huge crowd inside each and every exibition stand. The worst part of it all is that anyone who visited the fair at least one time since 2006, the year when it was moved from the convention area to the city centre inside the walls, can’t possibly deny that things are getting worse every year: you start the day running, then you’re forced to slow your pace starting by noon, until you suddenly find yourself stucked in the middle the not-even-so-thin streets and places between the Games and the Comics areas – P.zza Napoleone, C.so Garibaldi, P.le Vittorio Emanuele, P.ta San Pietro – togheter with thousands of visitors who would like to go somewhere as well as pee, eat, drink and rest just like you. Such a scary outcome can really blow out the high expectations of the newcomers, as well as frighten the hell out of those who didn’t expect that.- or didn’t bother to make a decent plan. You don’t want to make the same mistake: if you think you can make it only because you have 3 or 4 days, you got it wrong. During the Comics, moving between the stands, dropping stuff on your car (or hotel), eating stuff or even taking a dump can easily become a matter of hours. Not to mention the fact that – due to crow-management and/or security issues – an entire area can be suddenly closed to visitors for the rest of the day, potentially shutting down your next (and most wanted) stop.

As an attempt to help who never went there before, as well as who had its fair amount of issues yet wants to come back, we tried to put down a 10-step survival guide. They’re not iron-printed rules, just some hints & tips about what you can do in order to reach the city, optimize your time and do the stuff you came over to do while retaining the fun you deserve and the event is still able to give. As a dedicated (yet enthusiastic) visitor since 1993, I feel that they could probably help you around.

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 1. Define your priorities.

LuccaComics & Games is big – at least amongst other italian faires – meaning that there are plenty of places to go and there’s also a lot of stuff you can do. If you think you can do everything and their mothers to its full extent, you simply got it wrong. Even if you plan to go for 3-4 days, you most likely won’t be able to. What you can do is try to set things up to properly experience everything you came for, while still retaining a fair glimpse of everything else. Such results won’t be achieved by wandering around randomly: you’re gonna need to define your priorities in order to be able to prepare a decent plan when the time comes (see step 5). Here’s a non-exaustive listing of what the fair has to offer:

  • Comics. Italian, north-american, european and japanese comic books of all kind & sort.
  • Videogames. See and/or try all the latest goodies provided by the entertaining industry (just remember that you’re in Italy – they might be localized).
  • Giochi di Ruolo. Watch and/or try the demonstrations and test sessions of a wide amount of old and new gaming systems  (D&D, AD&D, Pathfinder, Vampires, etc.)
  • Board Games. Watch and/or try the latest games from Essen’s SPIEL (which usually takes place roughly 1 month before LuccaComics, allowing the latter to inherit most of its best games) and/or test your skill against other players. If you have no idea of what we’re talking about, we’re referring to stuff like Risk, Axis & Allies, Settlers of Katan, etc.
  • Cosplay. Refine your eyes by watching the latest effort of the italian cosplay community (AKA the other visitors) and/or prepare and wear your own costumes. You can also watch the Cosplay competition (and/or participate, if you know your stuff: admissions are generally free, providing you’re willing to take the line). If you don’t know what Cosplay is, take a look here and come back reading.
  • Guests. Watch the interviews and conferences of your favourite authors, have your comic-book signed by their designer/writer/illustrator, etc.
  • Shows and previews. Obtain a reserved slot for the exclusive one-time events planned: most of them are about fantasy/sci-fi/comic-book-based movie previews, as well as TV series, anime, etc.

I feel the urge to repeat myself here: will you be able to do all these things one after another (and sometimes simultaneously)? Yes, you can, as long as you come for 3-4 days and write down a decent action plan, maybe with the help of the following steps.

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The official play bill of Lucca Comics & Games 2013

2. Locate the “hot days” and choose your dates accordingly.

Lucca Comics & Games comes once per year, usually between the last week of October and the first days of November: it spawns from thursday to sunday, with the 1st of november (national festivity) occasionally adding 1 day when it falls on wedsneday or monday. You need to move as soon as the dates are published on the official site – usually as soon as the latest edition ends – and place a mental red circle around those that will be the most crowded days. We’re obviously talking about Saturday, Sunday and November 1st (if it’s in the batch): two (or three) days across four (or five) total days. Choose wisely when you will want to come and go, taking the following factors into account:

  • Hot days consistently have 200% – 300% more visitors compared to other days (according to 2012, 2013 and 2014 editions), meaning that you will be able to do less things; on top of that, your movement speed will be crippled by the crowd. If Comics, Videogames, Board Games and/or RPGs are amongst your top priorities, you really don’t want to pick these days – if you can.
  • Our suggestion is to simply avoid the hot days as much as possible, unless you’re coming for the Cosplay stuff which is stronger there because the competitions are held on these days. Other good reasons to choose an hot day include Guests and Previews, which are planned to specific days and often placed when the fair reaches its peak. (Not so smart, you might think – and you’re right, since seats are always limited – but hey, it’s still like that). Other than that, just avoid them and choose normal days instead: if you have the time, you could always end your visit with a single hot day and enjoy the crowdy cosplay experience – after you’ve seen, bought and tried all the stuff you came for.
  • As a general rule: whatever your feel like doing, try to avoid visiting Lucca Comics & Games in a single day. Expecially if it’s an hot day. You won’t be able to do what you want and you’re going to ruin your own personal experience.
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Esempio di giorno “caldo”: folla che inneggia attorno al Martello di Thor (Lucca 2013)

3. Choose the right track.

If you’re coming to the comics from outside the Italy you’ll most likely have to choose between coming to Lucca with train, bus or a (rented) car. Choosing the right vehicle is another key move for you to make in order to avoid potential troubles. Here are some useful informations (updated to the 2014 ed.):

  • CAR
    • Timings and costs: High if you’re less than 3. Italian highways are expensive (24 EUR from Rome, 33 EUR from Milan, 5 EUR from Florence: we don’t need to tell you where you should land). Gas is also very expensive.
    •  PROS: Fast, convenient alternative for large groups (4+). You’ll also have some space to drop your stuff, including the things you’re gonna buy.
    • CONS: Gas is expensive as hell; so are the parking in Lucca (free parks tend to literally evaporate). If you’re coming during an hot day you will spend at least an hour on the highway intersections car lines and then around the city walls.
  • TRAIN
    • Timings and costs: 40/60 EUR; as fast as the car.
    • PROS: Way better than car during hot days, unless train stations screw up (sometimes they did in the past, read here for info).
    • CONS: You won’t be able to drop your stuff anywhere.
  • BUS
    • Timings and costs: very volatile, depending on starting city/station.
    • PRO: Very good for quick routes (from Florence, cities in the neighborhood and probably almost every city in Tuscany).
    • CONS: Very bad during hot days due to terribly long waiting queues and the fact that visitors outnumber available seats by far.

Other random info you might want to consider:

  • Lucca train station is 1.1km far from the faire main area (13 min. by foot, source: Google Maps): it’s roughly the same distance between the faire and the car parking lots placed around the city walls.
  • You won’t be able to get into the city with your car, unless you’ve got a reservation with an hotel which will give you a temporary permission to drop your luggages. Also keep in mind that almost no Hotel/B&B provides free parking.
  • Trenitalia (the primary italian train company) usually arranges some additional courses during the faire. Despite this savy move, the hot days are still very troublesome and most train are usually slowed down and/or overcrowded (2014, source: Il Tirreno).

Needless to say, best thing you can do is to rent an hotel inside the city walls or close enough to come by your own feet. We’ll talk about that in the next step.

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Folla di visitatori, molti dei quali in Cosplay (Lucca 2013).

4. Find the right place.

A lot of houses in Lucca tend to “magically” become B&B during the faire. Despite that, finding a spot inside the wall area can be hard unless you move as soon as the previous faire comes to its end. A lot of visitors reserve their rooms year after year or to start chasing them very early, and they are constantly growing in numbers: that’s why most of the good places are sold out by the first days of January. You have to move earlier than that or you’ll be forced to pick the most expensive rooms out there. Some useful advices:

  • Contact the Tourist Office and ask a list of the hotels / accomodations. It won’t be exhaustive, but it’s a good start.
  • Use Booking, Expedia, Trivago, Venere or other italian (or international) booking websites: most hotels and B&B are using them.
  • You’re gonna spend about 100-120 eur for a decent room, 130-160 for a good one, 190+ for a great one. Nothing less than that, excluding hostels. You’re gonna have Wi-Fi, breakfast and (sadly) no free parking lot.
  • If you want to spend a lot less you can find a lot of accomodations in the neighborhood – small cities like Capannori, Porcari, Filettole, Altopascio, etc. – but then you’ll need to find a way to go to the faire (back to step 3).

Quick tip: sleeping outside Lucca can be a pain, expecially if you are new to the whole event. Don’t do that unless you save a lot of money, and also keep in mind that you’ll have to spend some of them anyway in parking and unavoidable time losses.

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Una suite in un noto B&B all’interno di Lucca. Costo: 190 euro/notte circa (2014).

5. Always make a plan.

… And let it be a good one. The space dedicated to the event is HUGE, way bigger than you might expect from an Italian faire. Starting 2006 the event has been brought from a dedicated stadium/exibition hall to the city centre, and it involves more and more places (halls, open spaces, gardens, historical monuments – even churches!) year after year. Don’t even think to go random, picking stands as you run into them thinking that you have “time to see everything”. You won’t. Time will literally fly, expecially during the Hot Days. You won’t be able to move as fast as you think. You will need a lot of extra time to properly find and see what you want to see, taking pictures, wait in the queue lines, etc.: and don’t forget that you’ll also have to eat, dring, pee…

The best opening move you can do is getting the PDF of the event map from the official site and take a good look at it while you’re still at your home.Start by figuring it out and thinking about where you would like to start and, most importantly, what you will want to see during each day of your visit. Keep in mind that the event is generally split upon two main areas (or zones): the Comics and the Games. The Comics area is split into multiple exibition stands, usually placed close to each other alongside the main city streets and squares, in the central/southern part of the city (P.zza S. Michele, P.zza Napoleone, P.zza S. Martino, etc.) . The Games area is usually a single, huge tent placed just outside the southern city wall, alongside V.le Carducci / P.ta S. Pietro.

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Complete Map of Lucca Comics & Games with all ticket corners & exibition stands (2014 ed.)

So, where will you start your journey?

To keep it short: if you plan to go to the comics, always go there first. There are a lot of good reason in doing so.

  • It’s the most crowded one and its population will gradually increase over time, so you better go visit it as soon as you can (before other visitors will come).
  • Sometimes the event staff issues the order to close it to the visitors during the afternoon (for security reasons). You don’t want to take that risk.
  • It requires quite an effort to be reached, expecially during hot days and/or when the crowd increases across the streets. That’s also why, once you visited it and bought the stuff you need, your best move would probably be to leave it for the rest of the day and proceed to the Comics.

Here are a couple more suggestions to help you refine your movement plan:

  • Wake up early: you’re gonna need time to buy tickets (or to exchange them with the daily wristband if you get them online, which you should) and to go in before too many visitors will join you.
  • As soon as you exit from the Games area – or instead of going there, if you ain’t interested in it – try to visit the other tents in a reasonable order. Move keepin an eye on the map, paying attention to visit everything at least once. Missing something is quite easy.
  • Keep unneeed movements to the minimum: you’re going to lose a lot of time going between the various tents.
  • As a general rule, during hot days you’ll want to take pictures, talk with friends, buy the stuff you already checked and choosen. Everything else, including testing, trying, exploring the city, examine and looking for stuff, should be done during the other “normal” days.
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The huge Games tent with its fair amount of visitors (2014). © Lucca Comics & Games.

 6. Cosplay or not?

If you want to wear a costume your personal agenda will dramatically change. If you costume is at least decent you’ll probably want to be seen by as many visitors as possible: that’s one of the very few advantages of hot days: the massive audience. And that’s a big one too: the best italian Cosplay photographer will be there for you, don’t miss the chance to be praised for your efforts and to be put on hundreds of cosplay websites, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter galleries that will be put online right after the event.

Just don’t forget the fact that you’re also gonna be slower, carrying stuff will be generally harder: on top of that, there will be a lot of people asking for photos you won’t be able to deny. Try to answer to the following questions while you’re still at home:

  • Will I be able to bring a backpack (or a shopping bag, or any decent wearable container) with my costume? In other words, will you be able to buy something while wearing your costume?
  • Is my costume water proof? There’s usually a 50% chance of rain during the event. In the last few years the odds are even worse, meaning you might probably face some rain. Take it into account. Don’t even think you can run into the faire tents… You won’t be the first to try.
  • Will my costume allow me to go to the bathroom, eat, drink, etc? Dressing like a superhero won’t make you one: you’ll still need stuff like that.

Our advice here is quite simple: wear the costume during the hot days and just don’t do anything else, unless you got a fair amount of friends (or servants) who can handle the dirty jobs for you. Unless you’re costume is a very practical one (jeans and jacket, sailor suit – without staves! – etc.).

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Cosplayers sotto al palco dell’Area Concerti. © Andrea Antoni (2014)

7. Remember the Walls and the Concert Venue

With so many Comics & Games you will be tempted to move your attention away from two very peculiar places: the city historical walls, with their amazing panoramic walk, and the Concert Venue usually placed at its end. You don’t want to miss the chance to go there: there are a lot of tents there too, filled by historical dresses, medieval weapon/armor props, japanese culture memorabilia and a lot of hand-made goodies you will probably love. At the end of the path you will reach the Concert Arena, which is dedicated to Cosplay contests (mostly during hot days) and music show/live performances (during normal days and evenings, after the faire will close its gates). You’ll be able to spectate historical Italian bands such as Oliver Onions and Superobots (TV series & anime soundtracks), as well as independent musicians from Tuscany and Italy.

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Concerto dei Miwa e i suoi Componenti (2011).

The walk around the city walls is probably the best place to find “professional” cosplayers and cosplay photographers, as well as “official” and unofficial cosplay groups of sci-fi/fantasy brands such as Star Wars, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and so on.

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A pack of Cersei Lannister proudly walks togheter with the rest of a huge Game of Thrones parade. © Mr. Tiger

8. Eat, drink and…

Sooner or later you will have to. While there are a lot of choices available in Lucca, the visitors are even more: you won’t starve to death, but you could have to wait for an hour to get served. Be smart and fill your backpack with something you can eat while you go. If you really want to try the local gastronomy (or the japanese ramen they sell), dodge the lunch time or prepare for a rather long queue. As for the restrooms, you chan either go chemical (free ‘n’ dirty) or be willing to pay 0.60 EUR to access those located in the city centre.

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Una confezione di noodles. © Marco Toni (2011).

9. Time is money.

You won’t always be able to use your credit card: many small stands (local stores, private collectors etc.) won’t be able to accept them. Be sure to bring some money with you and/or prepare yourself to use the few ATMs provided by the bank structures located around the city. There aren’t a lot og them tho, and they will be usually crowded as hell. That’s entirely your call, depending on the amount of money you will end up giving away. Try to figure out a number, then double it: it will be probably close to the real thing.

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Cosplayers a Lucca Comics & Games 2014. © Mr. Tiger

10. Think before buy… just not too much.

Don’t waste your money buying stuff you don’t need, yet remember that you aren’t the only customer there. Visitors tend to outnumber the goodies by far, and all the decent stuff ain’t gonna last. If you see something you like, think about it for about half an hour, look around to see if you can get it at a lower price, then come back there and, if you’re still in, just buy it. Fair and square. If you can’t bring it with you, remember you can always ask the clerk to keep it until you come back when you’re ready to take it.

Well, that’s basically it. See you on the next Comics!

About Ryan

IT Project Manager, Web Interface Architect and Lead Developer for many high-traffic web sites & services hosted in Italy and Europe. Since 2010 it's also a lead designer for many App and games for Android, iOS and Windows Phone mobile devices for a number of italian companies.

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