HISTORICON 2013 AAR


HISTORICON is here!

To quote Joey McGuire, “It’s like Christmas time, but for geeks!”

Might as well say it up front.. the reason for all the “broke image” photobucket tabs is that Photobucket wants more $$ for bandwidth.  Should be better in a few days.

Okay, it was here. As in last weekend. Or this wouldn’t be an After Action Report, would it?

The largest domestic convention dedicated to miniature gaming, HISTORICON, was held this past weekend at the Fredericksburg Convention Center, Fredericksburg, VA. As is my wont and habit I worked staff for this convention, and therefore showed up a day early. This is what I saw and did, with a small audio commentary at the end.

WEDNESDAY

I arrived at about 2PM Wednesday afternoon to the usual bustle and activity at the Convention Center, associated with Con Start up– stuffing envelopes, sorting pre-registration badges, hooking up cables and power leads, double checking table layouts, overseeing the dealer hall load out. We must be getting better at this as it all went rather quickly and the workstations were already (mostly) on line when I got there. Not bad at all. We worked at getting the registration computer sites set up in ticket taking windows at the conference center (which ultimately was a bad idea; more on that later), I grabbed some quick chow at the hotel and got back in time for the pre-con pep talk by Paul Delaney. I’ll say this up front, and with no apple polishing, I like Paul’s style of leadership. He assumes you’re not an idiot, tries to work things out in a reasonable manner with no grandstanding and drama. Exactly the kind of con director we (as an organization) require, and a good guy to work for.

Convention Director meeting

Paul running the Pre-con meeting: “be friendly, be helpful, be respectful”

Nothing much earth shaking to convey at this go around other than there was a change with the woman’s restrooms (we converted a ladies room to a men’s room for the duration of the show, freeing up many stalls for a mostly male crowd). Staff was incredibly thin this convention. I had a hard time believing that so few people volunteered for the Big Show.. it might be the new restrictions that staff people have to be HMGS members, or possibly that many potential staff people lived close enough to Fredericksburg and only did day trips.  The end result was that I wasn’t relieved on time every single day I worked; and that gets old, rather quickly.

Walt is holding a Twinkie in his freckled paw.

Yes, I admit it. I actually had someone attempt to bribe me with a Twinkie Wednesday night. The tragic trut of the matter is that it worked.

Ed behind the ticket window, to my right, Wednesday Night

My partner in crime, Ed, with whom I worked for most of the week. Neither of us liked the ticket window idea.. we had to shout at high volume to be heard and the customers had to shout back. It would be pretty comical, except, well, it wasn’t. Let’s not do this one again.

Me holding up a Twinkies box.

Come on, baby… you KNOW you want it…

I didn’t do any miniatures gaming Wed. night, but did hang out and play boardgames in the Homewood Suites lobby, then went out to the Hobby Lobby to get some quick drying epoxy to conduct some field repairs on two of my Big Danged Boats ships for Thursday evening’s game.

Around the convention hall, the tournaments (regular) and Flames of War Nationals were all set up by Wednesday morning, and with some minor adjustments the Exhibit Hall A got set up roughly correctly. The layout was different this year and it worked for me– the Flea Market at the back end of the main Hall, Flames of War Nationals across from that, Tournaments abutting the Flea Market, and then the individual GM tables began.

FoW Nationals Setup.

Row after row after row of tables for the FoW nationals tournament, Wed. night

The footprint is large enough to accomodate even more gaming; what we found through trial and error last year is that ONE large room with no sound baffling is a loser. The Convention center put up drape to segregate gaming areas into little square areas. This helped out, but it’s not quite a solution yet.

A picture of the gaming area partitions at HISTORICON 2013

Sound baffling via Pipe and Drape. On their dime.

This was the first time I stayed at the Homewood Suites– and I really like it. Great location, adjacent to the parking lot. I rarely drove anywhere.

Homewood Suites across the parking lot.

Homeward, Homeward, jiggity jig

Traffic Note: From Northern Virginia (Fairfax area) to Fredericksburg was about 45 minutes. Middle of the day presented no slowdowns whatsoever and I arrived pretty much on time.

THURSDAY

Thursday dawned bright and early for me, since I had to be on duty at 7:30 AM. The registration system must be rubbing off on me. I had almost zero problems with it on Thursday or any other day. I guess you can get used to anything. This was our first day working actual con conditions; we learned that the acoustics were very, very bad in that ticket taking window. It got a little comical, both sides yelling at each other like that. I felt like a police inspector in a Third World country. We requested to remove the metal circular things in the center of the window so we could hear better. Not surprisingly the Convention Center wasn’t enthusiastic about that idea. Despite the frustrating element of conducting transactions this manner, the lines moved forward quickly. I think we’re just getting better at doing this– what took a long time in the old days gets done pretty efficiently these days. We had a line Wed. night but not Thursday (more than maybe 5 people). at any time I could see. Most of the slow downs are the same old, same old problems one gets at registration. “Why CAN’T I come in for free, just to look around?” or “I’m just here to shop. Do you have a special badge for that?” or “Fifty DOLLARS for a weekend pass??? (on Thursday, mind you) You can just FORGET IT!” (Stalks out dramatically). People don’t seem to get that RENTING THESE PLACES COSTS US MONEY. IF WE’RE IN THE FREE BUSINESS, WE WON’T BE IN BUSINESS FOR VERY LONG. Oh well, keep smiling and nodding, smiling and nodding.

Problem: the T-shirt shipment was a no-show, both Wednesday and all of Thursday. We lost an entire day’s worth of T-Shirt sales, due to the production company not shipping them until Friday. And they arrived in a state where they had to be sorted out and put in size piles and such, so that took most of a day between doing other actual con stuff. I think this vendor might owe us a little consideration if and when we ever use them again; they were late, we lost money, and frankly, I wasn’t that impressed with the transfer. They had great art to work with, but the transfer looked muddy and washed out on the Berdan’s sharpshooter shirt, and that’s the one I wanted.. Waugh, waugh, waugh.

Now that we had full load of people the noise was more of a factor in the big hall, but less than last year. The toilets became a non-issue when they decided to open up a gigantic ladies room for us dudes.

alternative restroom

After the three holer (with one busted seat) that was the largest bathroom in the facility last year, this is a virtual paradise of “Seats of Ease…”

We spelled each other going to the flea market during shifts, it was the typical scene.

flea market

(Cattle herding sounds)

I actually found some single fantasy 15mm figures, enough to do another boat in BDB, but certainly not by Thursday night. The boat will have to wait. I was going to sell some stuff on a friend’s table; I had to scrap it when it become obvious they had no free space.

Hi Todd!

Hi, Andrew!

Aside from a frantic visit to Rebel Minis to pick up some barrels to represent Boom Powder barrels on ships on Thursday, I didn’t play anything or do a lot of shopping, I just got my game ready to run.

(separate post on BIG DANGED BOATS AAR will be done later, in the meantime, click on the picture below to see a collage of BDB-inspired fun)

BDB-First-Convention

After I got back from a succesful run of BDB I hung out in the lobby of the Homewood, but I was too tired to play any boardgames.  Got to bed at 2 AM.

FRIDAY

Another morning of shouting through the ticket window for Registration duties.  My impression was that attendance was light, but who knows?  The parking lot was jammed, the gaming rooms were packed, and there certainly was a ton of people there.   I got my chance to do some shopping.. I bought some stuff for my MAGI game, mostly from Acheson creations, and a few other things from Splintered Light and Rebel Miniatures, and a new Ship from Old Glory shipyards.   Not a ton of stuff, but I didn’t really see a lot of new stuff that I wanted to buy, either.  Vendors were thin on the ground, and booth space was small so vendors that did show up didn’t bring everything they had.  A lot of heavy hitters I associate with Historicon were absent, such as On Military Matters.  Too bad, I had money to spend, too.

I played a great game on Friday, an alternative naval game where the South did not lose the Civil War and it was now the 1940s.   Essentially I played a Union destroyer group leader, commanding 2 rows of 3 WW2 era destroyers.  Our overall mission orders were to drive off the Confederate force, which we proceeded to do, but not without losses.   To quote the GMs, a Major Victory for the Union, but not an overwhelming one.  If I had time, I would have come back for the sequel game the next day, The Devil’s Triangle to Pay, which featured much bigger ships– cruisers and battleships.    I had to attend my daughter’s birthday party, so that was out.  Here’s a slideshow of KILLER ANGLERS (click on the picture to see):

KillerAngles

Games, Vendors, the rest of it!

The games were really a step up this year.  I’ll break out a few that I really liked and found visually striking here, but I’m not going to clutter this post up with tons of pictures; it will load slow enough as it is.  I prefer to host slideshows on Photobucket instead.

With that said, games that I really thought looked great:

John McConnell’s amazing 28mm Brother against Brother River Assault during the ACW game:

ACW River Assault game

It has to be seen to be believe

John took some better pictures of this game, which are in this photobucket.

Jeff Wasileski’s Res Mechanica: The Long But Single Year game (check out the stuff he makes.  He posts on the game in his AAR here)

I didn’t sit in on this one but I loved the cool stuff Jeff makes out of models and found objects.

Frank Chadwick’s Mars Needs Science Game (I played this at Cold Wars, but it still looks great)

Brian Whitaker’s Giant Ship of the Line (28mm Scale) combat game (but not the giant pirate game mentioned later)

54mm Chariot Racing game, played at various times at HISTORICON:

Joey McGuire’s great THIS IS NOT A TEST game. Magnificent Post-Apocalyptic Terrain.

Simply splendid.

I might as well get to the 500 pound gorilla in the room, the GIGANTIC Pirate game put on by someone in a segregated roped off space. Clearly this was with the cooperation of the Old Glory Corporation as they provided the ships. I didn’t catch the title but did get some pictures. This is the Gold Standard for Historicon 2013.

Click the picture below for a slideshow called “Big-Ass Pirate Game”

Click me to see the Pirate Game!

Rest of Friday was a pleasant muddle.  I only had the one ticket and missed the games I wanted to get into; I played  a few boardgames and went to bed earlier than usual at night.

SATURDAY

Saturday was non-entity for me, con-wise, until the evening.  I worked a shift at Registration and then drove up to Burke Lake Park for my daughter’s birthday (There may be something on this elsewhere, but it isn’t convention related, so moving onward).

I got back in time (this time in terrible traffic going and coming, I was very delayed) to sneak into Jeff Wasileski’s SONGS OF ANGRY MEN game, which was essentially “Les Miserables: the Wargame”.   This was a hoot of a game– the funniest game I played at the convention.  The GM dictated that players  couldn’t communicate in plain speech.  We had to sing every line, even if singing talents were absolutely absent, and rerolls could only happen if you quoted a line from a musical.  We had a great crowd, many of whom I recognized from Jeff’s Roman game I played back at Cold Wars.  Jeff’s victory cup went to a player with an encyclopedic knowledge of musical lyrics (not surprisingly) and Runner up to a guy with a knack for improvising lyrics on the spot.  Musicals just aren’t my metier, but who cares, we had a lot of laughs.  Well done, Jeff and Nick.  Read Jeff’s account of Les Mis: the Wargame here. And some background on the idea itself

Le Mis: the Comic of the Wargame of the Movie, follows:

Sod it, if that doesn’t work click the picture:

Click to read the comic

Click to read the comic

Cleaning up the post a bit, I have a lot of game pictures left which I’ll post as a “Slide Story” on Photobucket:

The rest of the games

SUNDAY AND HOMEWARD, HUZZAH!

Sunday brought me to a very quick visit to exhibitor area for one last check, then breakfast and the drive home..

Summary:  HISTORICON 2013 was a very good convention and attendees owe the staff for this one, since a lot of backbreaking labor went into it.  Many of the previous year’s kinks with the Convention site are worked out or they are making progress on solving them.   The convention on whole was lightly attended from visual evidence, but I have no numbers.  From a procedural standpoint, we have improved a lot.  We are doing some things right as a matter of course, now, such as using the GUIDEBOOK APP (I have written many posts on the subject lately, go browse downward if the term “Guidebook App”  isn’t familiar to you).   By my reckoning, at least a quarter of the attendees accessed Guidebook for Historicon 2013, at least that is what the metrics appear to say and the anecdotal “Great Idea” comments tend to support that conclusion.   I wish there were more vendors, but it is what it is.  The HEAT was oppressive and had an impact on attendance, I think.  I did not want to go out much.  The food at the site was so-so, but the real hero of the con was the guy working in 115 degree heat in his food truck out front (Bela’s Bites).   Great food at a great price.

In my judgement, these items are still in the “needs improvement” category:

  • Trash cans were often full to the overflowing and not emptied very often.
  • It would be nice to have an open wireless signal– they offer it, why not let us use it?
  • The front hall was still littered with beer bottles and trash when we walked in in the morning.  Not sending a good sign.
  • I heard several complaints about the food inside the hall.
  • We might wish to invest in some traffic management dividers for registration.
  • The Sound solution is about 40% there.  Something needs to happen at the roof level.
  • Traffic and heat sucked; not much could be done about it.
  • The ticket taking booth we had to shout through thing?  BAD idea.
  • T-Shirt vendor was sub-par.. he had great art to start with and dorked it up, delivered way late an cost us $$.  If we use this guy again, he gives us a HUGE break on the bottom line.

Yes, I’ll be here when HISTORICON 2014 is held here again.  I like this place.

My specific comments follow in these audio reports (embedded)

Audio Reports:
Saturday Morning

Sunday Returning part 1

Sunday Returning part 2

Sunday Returning part 3

Related:

Enjoy!

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2 responses to “HISTORICON 2013 AAR

  1. Brian Cantwell

    Thanks for doing to Guidebook App data again Walt. Fantastically useful.

  2. As just another random attendee, thanks both for this report and your service at the con.

    Bathrooms were better this year, but again, I think there’s room for improvement.