Cold Wars 12 Friday-Sunday: The Treachery of the Ralgard

When we last left our intrepid correspondent, he was starting his Friday shift at the HMGS Cold Wars 2012 Registration area.  First off, a few words on the general state of things viz a viz Registration.  There’s nobody out there that’s a huge fan of the HMGS registration process, and that includes your humble narrator.  Still, the decision was made, the (ruinous) price was paid, and we are doing our best to make it work for us.  When I first started working with it (HISTORICON 2010, if I’m remember it rightly), I thought it was horrendous, poorly designed, glacially slow and and incredibly inefficient for the basic task of quickly moving people through a registration line.  At Cold Wars 2012, I have to admit, it was better– I didn’t feel lost at all and managed to get through most reg tasks quickly.  It still isn’t horrendously intuitive and requires way too many clicks to get basic tasks done, but is getting better.  I must commend Paul Trani for the diligent effort he puts into making this software somewhat workable.  It’s a hard task and a bit of a raw deal for him– he is cast in the role of defending a software I’m not even sure he likes all that much, but he cheerfully is doing his best to make it workable.  Well done, sir.
Friday saw tremendous crowds.  I worked from 0930 to 1430 and it was almost non-stop.  For the most part, everyone was happy to be there and very civil.  There was the typical “can I get in for free just to shop” banter from time to time. I got a very intense young gentleman at the front desk virtually demanding that I give him a free badge.  When I told him we didn’t have a free badge, he got a little melodramatic.  “I’m sure it’s not YOUR decision, your just enforcing policy.. but I want to speak to someone RIGHT NOW who made that policy.  Right now.  I’m going home to blog about your stupid decision…”  Mollifying him in polite fashion, I steered him over to Michelle, stating.. “Heavens, we wouldn’t wish to be blogged about.  There you go, sir.  That lady there. she’s on the board of directors, and she’s as gentle as a lamb.. that’s someone with authority to speak to you, for sure”.   Michelle stuck to her guns, he wasn’t happy, and he departed, shaking his fist, exclaiming “I’ll blog about this! You’ll be sooorrrrrryyyy (evil cackle)” POOF! (sound effect as he dashes out, whirling his cape around himself and twirling his mustachios).   You get this kind of thing from time to time.  The argument is made that “we should just let shoppers in for free, to help out dealers, and in this economy why wouldn’t we make it easier on folks who are struggling to get by to have access to vendors,” etc…  (this is what the young blogging man brought up as a criticism of the day badge policy).  In response to that, I would point out that A) if times are that tough, what in the world are you doing spending your rent money at a convention, anyway?  If 20 bucks is a make or break threshold for you, maybe it’s time to start thinking about a cheaper, stay at home hobby, like going to the library, or something.  I don’t mean to sound heartless when I say that, I certainly am not, but I am concerned with anyone who has to make a choice between eating and painting lead..  that’s someone who needs to prioritize.  and B) People want an organization putting on a convention to “support small vendors by making it easy to go shopping at their booths”, but never seem to want to support the organization that uses its own money, time, effort and considerable expense to rent the facility, draw up the layout and plan the convention.  If you think HMGS is making oodles of cash on these events, you need to make a hard reality check and review the financials.  I’ve been a convention director, and I have a little experience here, so I’m being a realist, not a cheerleader for HMGS.  Income to put on these shows come from two sources: vendor booths and general admissions.  If you raise the price too high, less people will show up.  If you raise the price for vendor tables too high, less vendors will show up.  It’s a balancing act.  One thing’s for certain, there’s no show if we can’t pay for it, and everyone loses.  Not a bad thing to kick in a measly 20 bucks for, I hope?

Anyway, the rest of the shift went fairly easily, except for a net outage that nobody was very patient with.  We tried to implement a paper backup solution, which was just okay.  Fortunately it didn’t last that long, so maybe only a dozen transactions total will have to be keyed in.

Friday, I did a Flea Market and Dealer’s Room run after my shift.  I was hitting JOHN CARTER that night, and didn’t have time for a game, but I had time to shop.  I got a great deal directly from Richard Borg for COMMAND AND COLORS: NAPOLEONICS The Spanish Army Expansion.   I also got a pin vice and a few other assorted tiny things from Jeff and Monica Hobbe’s booth before heading up to see JOHN CARTER.

(for a review on John Carter, the movie, see the previous post. Aside from taking up a big chunk of my Friday evening, it didn’t have much to do with Cold Wars).

Had to go directly to work the next day and it was another grinder.  You are probably less interested in the volunteering bit than I am, so I’ll just say it went well.  I did a little more shopping and caught a few games.  Sadly, I couldn’t get in to the one I wanted to, because it started at 2 and ended at 8, when I was scheduled to start my game.  I did take a few pictures of dubious quality here and there with an Ipad2.  My camera is broken so I had to use what was on hand. Sorry about the fuzziness, the Host isn’t particularly well lit.

From the Battletech room.

The Battletech room had a nice range of activities for beginners and experienced players.

One of Ben “the Iron Man” Fornshell’s many tiny format games that he ran over the weekend.

Ben Fornshell and Del Stover put on, no kidding, something like 19 games at COLD WARS 2012. Before you start counting your fingers, realize that they were mostly 1 hour games designed to be changed out or run on the same set of terrain tables. Genius! I complimented them on their insane dedication to GMing in the bar Saturday night. They were pretty modest about the whole thing, and went into their idea of modular terrain tables that are designed for small, short discrete wargames for less than four players. They are getting it down to an art.

Shucks, it was nothing!

Cog Wars, run by Brian Whitaker, demonstrating that there’s never enough time or money to do all the historical periods and scales one would like.

Giant multiplayer Tralfalgar

Spraying terrain with liquid from an atomizer. That’s a first.

Rollerball, a game I’d like to play but have yet to enjoy, usually from mundane scheduling conflicts.

Scenes from the HAWKS room. They had the usual Paradise Room space and were pimping their new BARRAGE convention (which has moved, apparently) to anyone who would listen.

That’s about it for usable pictures. I strongly advise visiting Richard Mataka’s websiteto view his Cold Wars gallery when you get a chance (and when it is complete). Richard gets a press badge to HMGS events for the express purpose of photographing miniatures events, so you might as well check it out– you kind of paid for part of it. In any event he took 600 or so pictures so pretty much everything you could imagine is in there. Or will be.

I did another run through the dealer’s room with a lot more leisure time on my hands this time. I bought some quickset glue and DullCoate, got an obscenely good show special on the boardgame STRIKE OF THE EAGLE from Academy games, picked up some Old Glory 15mm ancients (Windsword distributors), Some resin boats from Merrimac/Old Glory and Foxhole Terrain, various miniatures from Splintered Light and Rebel Minis, and maybe my favorite discovery of the convention, these neat little plastic tanks with a very steampunky look from a new vendor, Proxie Models. They are clean, dirt cheap, and 100% made in the USA. SUPPORT THIS VENDOR!!! He’s working on expanding the line and will take suggestions.

Convention food was no better or worse than always, so I wolfed a meal down on top of my setup for the 2000 hrs. game I was running, THE BATTLE OF THE STEAM PLUME. This was scheduled for 8 PM on table D-25 in the Distelfink. I arrived to discover that the fellows playing on the surrounding tables (D 26, D 15 and D 16) had essentially dismantled D 25 without asking anyone and added the tables to their setups. Worse, they were games that were in full swing and difficult to interrupt to reconstitute my space. I was pretty angry about this, it was a blatant discourtesy, but you can’t dwell on it– I’m not going to be a bigger jerk than these guys and destroy their games out of pique. Fortunately the Events guy, Bob Van Der Kamp, gave me a great solution that worked out just fine– I set up in the lobby area. This set me back timewise, and kind of ruffled my feathers a bit. I was off my game a little, but did my best. Fortunately my errant players who signed up for the game found me and I picked up a couple of walkups.

Which Brings us to…


I had four players, Jeff Ewing, Jim Arnold, a guy named George, Harry Kogelshatz and another player whose name I did not record. As someone had to play the Dwarves to balance things, I picked up the Dwarf fleet. I prefer to either run it or play it, but we had to make do.

The map above represents the basic dispositions at start and the general route of sailing. The wind was coming from the general direction of the bottom right corner and blowing upward and slightly to the right, which favored almost nobody except for maybe the Elves, and hindered the Ralgard movement something fierce.

The Scenario: The Western Coalition, led by the Humans, is allied with a somewhat reluctant Dwarf fleet and even more reluctant Elf fleet. They are attempting to colonize a very lightly held island that is very rich in iron and nickel ores in the Darnok cluster. Even though the Dragon Lords do not have a colony there, they will not stand for the impudence of these younger races and sail to meet them in the lee of the Fist of God, a local (very active) volcano. Along with them come their client race, the Shroud Mages, and surprisingly, a mercenary fleet of Ralgard ships towing their signature huge Jarak Balloon battery. The Humans have a largish convoy of troop and provisioning ships that are going to be the bulk of the invasion force. The Coalition Fleet’s victory condition is to get them past a point on the board. The Dragon Lord Force is there to block victory.

View from the Ralgard perspective at onset of battle
The Dragon Lord Admiral commands the Ralgard Mercenaries to take station on his starboard flank. They bridle a bit under his imperious treatment.
Humans sail for the center passage between many rocky islands, perhaps unwisely as it turned out, as this would be the convergent point for three hostile fleets.
The Elves were lagging behind the Humans and did not contribute to the battle in any substantive fashion. They had too much ground (water) to cover to get to the fracas.
Meanwhile, the Iron Dwarf Admiral was hampered by the weight of his iron fleet, furiously churning sea water in an attempt to catch up with the swiftly sprinting Human fleet. It is one thing to have some of the most powerful ships on the table, but not much use if you can’t come to grips with the enemy.
The Troop Convoy of the Western Coalition
The Eagle (battleship) of the Human Fleet took station to block the swiftly advancing Dragon Lords. Bringing his mighty port broadside into play, he would show the Dragon Lords that these upstart races know how to fight.
The frigate screens suffered terrible loss on all sides, as their plucky crews attempted to disable and stem the advance of the opposing forces.
Somewhat typically, the Dragon Lords allow the hired hands and subject races (Ralgard and Shroud Mages) the chance to gain a little glory early as they maneuver their forces for the “Hammer Blow”. The Ralgard, in particular, object to being used as speed bumps, but move in to engage at a distance with the Dwarves. The Dwarven admiral, seeing the opportunity, slips a squadron of frigates in to tail the Ralgard squadron and rake from behind.

The results are inconsequential.. those Ralgard fleets are TOUGH. When the Ralgard returned fire from their Battleship, the end frigate blew up in a critical hit that really rattled the Ralgard squadron (to say nothing of the Dwarves).

The Dwarven Admiral was finally in a position to affect the battle; he took advantage of Dwarven strengths and positioned his airship to broadside into the Ralgard fleet, bringing down a frigate, while the bulk of his fleet remained untouched behind a rocky outcrop.
The Dragon Lord Admiral again urges the Ralgard mercenary admiral to step up his attack, this time in words less charitable and increased use of the phrase “beheaded”. The Ralgard is a bit fed up at this point.
Help arrives from the Elves at last, but it is too little and too late. The Humans are greatly beleaguered in the center, facing a Whirlpool Spell by the Shroud Mages, and losing frigates right and left. The Eagle, which had masked the convoy, is now shot up and gradually taking on water.
The Dragon Lord “crosses the T” of the Human Fleet, but doesn’t have the fire power to do much but continue battering the Eagle and destroy a few frigates. To add to the chaos, the Volcano belches out a Steam plume right on the tail end of the Dragon Lord fleet, sending an entire cruiser to the bottom!
At this stage, the long suffering Ralgard fleet had had enough. They savagely turn on their Dragon Lord employers, launching broadside after broadside into the Dragon Lord capital ships!!! The Dwarves, who have engaged the Ralgard on the starboard flank, are speechless. The Dwarven admiral chews his beard in puzzlement. The Human Admiral, much beset on the Eagle, cheers at this assistance from an unexpected quarter!!
The Dragon Lord Admiral cannot contain his fury, and he signals to the captain of the Dragon Carrier, keeping station on his port quarter: “Launch all Nogdras! LAUNCH! REND THEM TO PIECES!!!!”
With the Dragon Lord Cruiser squadron shattered and drifting (or at the bottom of the ocean), the two capital ships and some frigates are the soul remnant of this once proud fleet. The Ralgard launch into their weakened one-time employers with a vengeance. The Nogdra dragons launch at the Jarak Balloon, creating a swirling melee of Ralgard Airmen and Nagdra Dragons 100 feet above the battle.
At last, the noble Iron Dwarves meet their detestable cousins, the Lizard-eating Shroud Mages, in battle. It is only a skirmish between the Shroud Mage battleship and the Dwarven War Zeppelin, but the demands of honor have been met.
The Nogdra dragon launch is ineffectual as one of them gets shot to pieces in Defensive Fire.

At this stage of the battle we had gone more than four hours and were chugging through the fifth hour. It was still not decisive.. The Humans had lost much in defending themselves and were losing the Eagle to the constant battering. Due to the Ralgard defection, the Western coalition suddenly had a very powerful ally in place that was blocking the Dragon Lords spoiler attacks. The Shroud Mages were very effective and almost unscathed. The Dragon Lords had borne the brunt of the fighting in the center and were now chewed up pretty bad. The Ralgard had only lost a couple of frigates and one cruiser, and then only after hard fighting. The Iron Dwarves had lost some frigates but for the most part their capital ships had held firm in the face of a pounding from the Ralgard. The Elves were (suspiciously) untouched, and arriving in time to shout victory.

DECISION: This had to go to the Western Coalition fleet and particularly the Humans, who managed to get their convoy past the choke point by the end of the battle. It wasn’t a decisive victory in retrospect; the Humans could manage a landing but would not have had the capital ships to protect their settlement had they decided to make a fight for it.

OBSERVATIONS: I was a little angry and rattled about having to drop back and punt over setup after my tables got stolen, so setup was rushed and frankly I could have done a better job of GMing. My instructions about combat confused people and we had to constantly describe the combat process, which was a surprise because I don’t consider Uncharted Seas too heinous to pick up. I’ll try to be more clear the next time I run a Uncharted Seas game, which will probably be Historicon 2012. Thanks to Harry Kogelshatz for helping out on a few key points. Thanks to all the players, too, this was a great game!

SUNDAY: well, not much to say here. I did a final run around the dealer room, picked up a few items from Harmony House, a couple of Ironclads from Thoroughbred Figures and a new copy of Shipbase III in the flea market (only to discover it had 5.25 and 3.5 inch diskettes!! YARGH!), and not much else. I said my goodbyes to everyone, pointed my car Southward and bid Cold Wars Adieu until 2013.

A very decent COLD WARS 2012, I thought. It went by far too quickly for me. I didn’t get in all the gaming I wanted to, and it seems like I did more drinking and BSing with people than gaming this time, but some conventions are just like that. Thanks to Frank and Michelle for putting so much work into Cold Wars 2012, and thanks to all their staff, especially Bob Van Der Kamp, the events wallah. He helped me get my stuff together to make the GUIDEBOOK thing happen. And for the first time since I started doing guidebooks, we had it out well in advance of the convention. Good job, sir!

In closing….

“Poor soul. He was just overwrought.”
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