I’m a little late in getting this out, it being a couple weeks later, but anyway, here it goes. I attended HISTORICON 2010, HMGS’s landmark summer convention, second week of July. HMGS is the organization that produces three conventions a year dedicated to military history and wargaming– Cold Wars, Fall-IN! and of course, HISTORICON. This was a little early for HISTORICON, and in a new location, Valley Forge, PA. The move did not occur without attendant drama.
Historicon Moves to The Valley Forge
HISTORICON has been put on in many venues, the most recent having been the LANCASTER HOST convention center in Lancaster, PA. Many people have been complaining that the Host is getting too old and limited to support the “big show” at least, and we should secure a new spot for our largest and most well attended event. I was on the fence. I didn’t think we needed to move the show that badly, but when the motel that was supplying our extra parking spaces for HISTORICON got knocked down to build a strip mall, I knew a move was inevitable. Unfortunately the perceived need for a move led to a potential disaster of mythic proportions when an agreement with another venue was entered into. More cannot be said on the matter as i’m sure it will be kicking around in the legal system for a long time yet. Suffice to say that the move to the Valley Forge Center was a great relief to many.
I drove from the suburbs of Washington DC to the Valley Forge mall area in Pennsylvania. Google Maps took me up what is likely the most direct route; DC to Baltimore through Delaware to PA and Philadelphia area. Three hours, a third a tank of gas, ten bucks in tolls. There may be a better way of getting there; I haven’t figured it out yet.
Valley Forge Convention Center, the facility
The Convention center is pretty huge by the standards of the Lancaster Host. Two hotels, the Raddison and the Scanticon. The convention facilities proper are located under the Scanticon and the Raddison is at the end of a long series of hallways connecting the two buildings. I was staying at the Raddison. No complaints about the room; it was your standard hotel room, clean and well cared for.
The Raddison has two restaurants, Chumley’s Steakhouse and Soleil. Chumleys is the only one I ate in. The food (served food, in a restaurant) was very good, but not cheap. I paid ten dollars plus for hamburger and fries Wednesday night. The best deal, from what I am told, was to hit the Grotto’s breakfast bar which was set up in the mornings. The Grotto was the Scanticon’s restaurant. There were several stands set up to vend food to us. Points to the convention center for “getting it” and keeping them open. However, this stuff was at least on par with the fare at the host and even slightly worse. And maybe twice as pricey. Oh, we ate it though.
On the subject of food, be prepared to take a hike to find an eatery anywhere around the hotel. VFCC is in a very decent suburban neighborhood, but it is located in an industrial and technical area– no fast food in sight. Indeed, the surround neighborhood has many restaurants, but almost all of them are sitdown affairs. Not bad when you have the time, I suppose, but gamers on average like to spend as much time as humanly possible at the convention, not dining. I ended up getting off shift quite late Wednesday night, and then lost in the surrounding neighborhood. Not a Taco Bell in sight. There were a lot of restaurants surrounding nearby King of Prussia Mall (which is gigantic) but I didn’t’ see many, if any, drive through fast food or even diners. This isn’t encouraging. I suggest, strongly, that people bring stuff to make sandwiches if you are on a budget. maybe a cooler with soft drinks and fruit and some dry snacks. You will stretch you convention food budget a lot this way. I improvised and went to WalMart (near the Mall) and picked up some stuff to make PB&Js as well as some fruit. My wallet was glad I did.
While you’re driving around the environs of Valley Forge, a common sense investment in a GPS might be helpful. I made a few (what I thought were) simple turns, and ended up 20 miles away in another town because I got on a highway that wouldn’t let me off. This can be frustrating.
I worked staff this con, and that entailed working five hours in a stretch, every day. I didn’t mind the chunk of time spent on this activity. Hotel rooms for staff are expensive, and likely the biggest chunk of a con director’s budget. The previous labor commitment was four hours, five just about makes staff come in around ten dollars an hour, which is probably a generous guestimate considering how many actual hours are worked. Again, it’s a good thing, I didn’t mind putting in the hours and I enjoy working with everyone I work with on staff duty.
Wednesday was spent constructing swag bags for convention attendees.. thousands of them. This was a bag of free “Swag” arranged by Bob Giglio, the convention director. I’ll say this about Bob: the man has connections.. the swags were full of figure sprues from the Perry twins, model tanks, software, magazines galore, all of them either donated or exchanged for an affordable consideration. We had to put together quite an assembly line to construct all of them.
I worked Thursday morning rush, which was grueling. That evening I played a game of Russo-Japanese War Naval run by Brian DeWitt. Brian has come up with a new pre-dreadnought rules set called, I think, WHEN DREADNOUGHTS RULED THE SEAS. I played a small Japanese armored cruiser force that were essentially there as speedbumps for the advancing Russian line. We eliminated some Russian destroyers and got pretty badly shot up by the lead battleships. At this point, I turned to my fellow commander of the light division and we determined.. we could pull back in our damaged state and have not much more to do with this battle, or we could take a gamble and run in with our torpedos. Now, a real commander would have retreated, but I wanted to accomplish something other than a pinprick with my ships, so we formed line abreast and charged the forming battle line. It was a short, glorious attempt. In the end we ended up winning 5 Russian battleships sunk to 4 Japanese Light Cruisers. Not a bad trade off!!
My cruiser force having hari-karied trying to buy some time for the Japanese line to set up to blow up the Russians to kingdom come, I was footloose and fancy free for a bit.
An evening’s worth of Johnson Jokes
I walked over to see Jon Paul Colegrove setting up his BLAZING SADDLES game, and managed to sleaze my way in. I like Jon Paul’s gaming efforts; he put on a great game based on the old computer game DOOM if memory serves, or something like, which featured a giant hidden “reveal as you go” map that the players interacted with. It was only run a few times, sadly, I did not get a chance to play it. So I was eager to jump into another game. This one was based upon the Mel Brooks movie of the same name, the game ‘simulated’ the climatic battle of Rock Ridge, as Hedley Lamarr’s army of “rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists” descends upon the innocent town of Rock Ridge to wreak havoc. I wasn’t sure what the alleged victory conditions for our side were.. I heard something along the lines of killing both Sherrif Bart and the Waco Kid would cause a “win” for the bad guys. Really, it wasn’t about that.. it was about running around, mugging and acting the part. I had a gang of rustlers in the Lamaarite army, we killed a few folks, managed to get within spitting distance of the Waco Kid, and the game ended. A great game, run by a consumate GM, with just the right crowd of people (most of them old friends). I had a great time! The only thing I would have added, and apparently Jon Paul ran out of time to create, was to somehow add the surrealistic bit at the very, very end of the movie where the movie crashes through the “boundary” and into the set of the movie being filmed in the next studio, causing an altercation with Dom Deluise and a gang of very swish male chorus dancers. I’m hoping we see this one again.
Friday, I worked and shopped (soon as the pictures are ready I’ll put some up). The vendors were in full swing– 90 or so of them, which was a good turnout considering the price increase. I noticed that some vendors that were vowing up and down that they would not attend HISTORICON at Valley Forge did, indeed, show up. VERY fortunately for me, I managed to snag another blue felt ocean map (which was doing duty as a vendor’s tablecloth) right off of his table, a feat of vending that impressed me, as he had to go through a lot of acrobatics to make it happen.
Saturday, I worked the morning shift which was surprisingly busy for a long period.. I’m not sure what our attendance was like but the day trip boost on Saturday was very high from my perspective. Whatever venue the reduced admission coupons for newcomers were published in, it seems to have worked. I personally processed several of these… and “suggested” them to newcomers who had absolutely NO idea what historical miniatures were or what our gaming hobby was all about. It felt good to finally get off shift, and walk around various places in the convention, seeing these reduced price newbies, STILL THERE, still having a good time, and to walk up and ask if they are enjoying themselves. A strong suggestion to convention management: do this every year.. we’re not going to break the bank offering up newbie offers, and we build such great goodwill it is an investment we should repeat. Great idea, Bob.
The Doomed Convoy!
Had to work fast to finish off a couple of extra orc ships and some more imperial human ships for the pickup game of Uncharted Seas I ran on Saturday night. The scenario was for a large colonization fleet of Imperial humans to get a certain amount of victory points for moving a group of convoy/merchantmen ships past a rock in the center of the table, which would grant (above and beyond any VPs for sinking enemy craft) a certain amount of VPs per each merchant hull past the rock when the game was called.
The forces were as follows:
Humans: 1 Battleship, 3 Cruisers, 6 frigates, 3 martyr frigates, and 5 special merchantman craft.
Orcs: 1 battleship. 1 assault ship, 1 battlecruiser, 6 frigates, 3 cruisers
Dwarves: 1 battleship, 3 cruisers, 6 frigates, 2 heavy cruisers, 2 submarines
Bone Gryffons: 2 fleets of 1 battleship, 3 cruisers, six orcas (undead whales).
I’ll be the first to say this is asymmetrical, and would require a skilled human player to bring all resources to bear effectively, and coordination amongst the eivil players. Since most of my takers for the game were teenaged boys (and their dads), coordination was NOT what I got. That was just fine. The game became a free for all as Orcs attacked the Undead, the Undead attacked humans and the orcs and OTHER undead, the dwarves tried to stay out of things until they were attacked by the orcs, and so on.. we ended up being fast and loose with the rules, but we had a great time. The Orcs were the actual victor. I will start the fleets a tad closer together next time, as the humans had too great a distance to go to achieve victory.
Here’s some pictures:
We stole Dale Dye’s Liquor.. and he liked it
I packed up my stuff and just moved it out to the van, and ambled on up to the hotel I was staying in, the Radisson. At that moment, I just happened to bump into Andy, and Grant, and PJ O’Neill, and Patrick and a few other chaps who were sitting outside the Radisson and smoking and drinking.. apparently too loudly, as the hotel courteously told us to take it elsewhere almost immediately upon me showing up. Fair enough.. we went to one level down and hung out next to some form of disco that was a retro revisit to the 80s blaring music. Andy produced a giant bottle of rum, courtesy of HISTORICON guest of honor, Dale Dye, who had apparently been walking out for a smoke break constantly and genially berating my pals for not having anything to do… little did he know that at a HMGS convention, hanging out and drinking beer and yukking it up IS a major thing to do. Anyway, somewhere in there he offered up a bottle of Captain Morgan, which was gratefully accepted. We had the usual long, funny, rambling and somewhat drunken conversations I always treasure on a HISTORICON Saturday night, replete with genteel leering at the passing parade of pulchritude going through the improbable disco in the basement.
(andy swears, pictures forthcoming..)
Sunday loomed, I woke up sans any hangover, feeling quite fresh, and I shuffled out gradually to pack up, resolve a bill dispute, and do some frantic last minute shopping runs. I got packed up and got direction on how to get back to I-95, and shoved off, making even better time on the homeward journey rest stops included.
I had wonderful time, I really did. Valley Forge is a different experience than the Lancaster Host. for one thing, it’s a more spread out and roomy experience. For another, we finally seem to have the room to do WHAT we want WHEN we want to.. our WAR COLLEGE program was top notch, and I have to commend both the organizers and all the volunteers supporting that. THE PAINTING UNIVERSITY was in full swing, as usual, and I suspect fully attended,though I did not get a chance to drop by during operations, as I was usually working when they were. There was plenty of room for gaming, though I suspect the Club rooms suffered somewhat by being located in a very obscure corner of the complex, in the basement of the Radisson. Christin Sciulli is now in charge of HMGS’s Awards program, and I can say she impressed the heck out of me with her drive, creativity and the energy she gives to this task. Staff operations were pretty smooth overall, a factor of having so many old hands working it. I cannot say that I am ever going to be a fan of the HMGS Registration system– a more poorly designed piece of software I’ve never discovered– it is counter intuitive, multi-stepped, and riddled with errors. I can’t believe we seriously spent money on this product– it’s more of a beta release than a product. Attendance was brisk from my perspective, as I’ve said, but I didn’t get the impression that pre-registration numbers were huge. Was this a factor of price? location? Fear of the new? Hell, I don’t know. I THINK we are in the black after this one, I certainly hope we are. The important questions, really are these: I attended as a convention volunteer, and thus, some of my expenses were paid. Would I come back voluntarily, speaking only as myself? The answer is yes.. with this caveat. Incidental expenses are high for Valley Forge. I would pack a cooler with food and live off of it. I would share a hotel room with another gamer. There ARE budget hotels in about a five to ten mile radius, but NOT close by.. all of this must be carefully mapped out and planned for. In summary, the best compliment I can give HISTORICON 2010 was that it felt like a mix of the old and new; old faces, the same friends I get to see about thrice a year, and a new opportunity, with plenty of room for expansion and new programs that could added to the HISTORICON venue. I think we need to promote HISTORICON as THE family oriented convention in the HMGS line up, especially if our long range plan is to stay at the VFCC. Valley Forge is very close to Philadelphia– with many attendant museums, shops and distractions for a family. There’s also the Valley Forge historical park nearby. I think we have a chance to grow this intelligently, and stay inside the budget. Would that we had put this much thought into the Baltimore disaster! Oh well, water under the bridge, unless we end up losing our shirts– then we’ll never hear the end of it.
Lastly, I always end a con AAR by thanking the Convention Director and senior staff for their outstanding efforts in bringing us a great show. This goes doubly for 2010. Thank you, Bob, Neil, Jon Paul, Kathy, Duncan, J.T., and all the other assorted big chiefs and little indians that TRULY worked their butts off to make this event happen. This was no mean logistical feat– shifting gears from the Baltimore Convention center to the Valley Forge created many, many hours of labor for all involved. It is greatly appreciated by this attendee.
And thus we are at an end.. I promise I’ll add all the pictures that nobody ever looks at when I have all of them (Andy, kaff kaff).