Last weekend, 16-20 July 2014, the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS) put on their big convention for the year, HISTORICON. This was an anniversary convention– HISTORICON has existed 30 years, depending on whom you ask. HISTORICON, is as you might guess, primarily a convention for playing games with toy soldiers. It is and has always been historically themed and historical based games are usually encouraged over all others, such as SF and Fantasy. That doesn’t mean that the latter aren’t represented at the convention, as we will discuss in due course.
Tragically (though we didn’t know it at the time), one of the earliest collaborators who created HISTORICON and was a founder of HMGS itself wasn’t going to attend the 30th Anniversary. Mr. Bob Coggins, famous to many as the co-creator of Napoleon’s Battles, suddenly passed away Wednesday night as he was getting ready to attend HISTORICON. Sad news indeed, and tragically ironic, considering Bob’s past experience with HISTORICON.
The facility, the Fredericksburg Convention Center, has worked very hard to address problems with the main hall’s oppressive acoustics. Anyone who ran a game in the main hall in 2012 remembers the ear-splitting din on Saturday night. The hall is essentially a great concrete box, with no sound baffling– thus sound has nowhere to go but up, where it ricochets off the ceiling contributing to very loud crowd sounds. Last year HMGS put up draping and cloth area dividers, which helped a lot. THIS year they managed to get the center to put out cheap carpeting, which helps even more with sound abatement (and tired feet). I conducted no analysis on sound levels (not being equipped to measure it correctly), so I can’t say HOW much better it is, but to use an anecdote to illustrate, I was able to hold a normal conversation with Leo Walsh, the GM of the game I was in, on Saturday night during prime time, and I could hear him just fine even with a 40% hearing loss. Contrast that with two years ago (no room dividers, not carpet) and I had to speak at a high volume just short of shouting in order to be heard at Howard Whitehouse’s Cairo game (20 + players), and I ended up with an ear splitting headache from the din on a Saturday night. Good job, FCC. Oh, and the chairs were very nice and accommodating of a gamer’s generous frame this year.
This was a good year for community outreach efforts. The City of Fredericksburg is, from all reports, delighted to have HMGS in place in July, as we fill the place up and have a healthy economic impact on the surrounding area, particularly the area restaurants. We saw some quid pro quo arrangements with Price Club (Free Anniversary cake), Krispy Kreme (free doughnuts) and some other vendors. This kind of arrangement can be invaluable in building up a community that supports a convention, and I think we’re making great strides.
I worked staff for HISTORICON, events desk for four days, early shift, and creating Guidebook, which isn’t a staff job at HISTORICON.
I encountered two consistent issues working the events desk this year: for one thing, people were complaining about just how few games were being put on at this event. Most games were already filled up with pre-registrants before anyone set foot in the convention hall. The remaining history games were snapped up very quickly, leaving a familiar hodgepodge of “history-ish” games (pulp, wild west, VSF, etc.) and lots and lots of Battletech. So, from my 1000 feet up perch, if your game was historically themed, and you brought it to HISTORICON 2014, and you didn’t get any players– you’ve only got yourself to blame. It was a Seller’s Market to be sure. Where were all the History Games??
I have to fess up here. I was a slacker due to illness in the family and work issues. I just didn’t have my act together to run my game, and spent an inordinate amount of time re-writing a confusing rules section for Friday’s game on Thursday! So I won’t belabor you with 1000 pictures of historical miniatures, but I will mention a few that I thought really did a great job.
My game, THE MAD QUEST FOR THE ORB OF POWER, a Big Danged Boats game, did get run and went off very well indeed. I’m very happy with how everything worked. I’ve already posted on this elsewhere; take a ticket (click on the picture below) to view the AAR.
The Spectacular Martian Front game run as a demo on the reserved table spaces in Exhibit Hall A. This game was astonishing eye candy, beautifully executed, and well deserving of a PELA, which I heard it received. Hey, I certainly was encouraged. You can see more pictures by clicking the Tripods below.
Duncan MacFarlane ran a visually stunning Battle of Arklow (set in the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1798) all weekend long. He admitted to me it was his first event at a HMGS convention ever.
Frank Chadwick’s MARS NEEDS STEAM game (a reworking of his great old Soldier’s Companion rules) looks bat-shit steampunk crazy every year. I think they went above and beyond with the terrain and vehicles this year.
Tim Broome and (I think) Bill Rutherford put on a great D-Day game that focused on British Beaches. The scale was somewhat attenuated but who cares, it was great fun.
It really warmed the cockles of my heart to see this game being set up and included in the schedule. Many years ago, I ran a game series that focused on racing conveyances in a VSF universe. It was called LE GRANDE CIRQUE. It’s heartening to see the younger generation running with a similar idea.
The games that were put on were the standard range of wonderful, professional layouts to guys putting felt cloth on the table. As I’ve stated, there was a fair share of big beautiful alt-history games or history-ish games– more so, I think, than history. Which could explain why the Mars game won our PELA award. Why not? It was well deserved.
The standard boardgame stuff crept into the convention as well, and the crossover games. All a good thing, I think.. I think of them as stepping stones.
As far as events were concerned, the ones that ran were of a decent quality overall and visually appealing. There did not seem to be a lot of them, in my opinion.
The Other Stuff
The hotel I stayed at, the Hampton Inn, was overall just fine to borderline mediocre. Nothing at all wrong with it except, perhaps, for the wretched breakfast. The actual phrase “Wretched Breakfast” dropped by to lodge a complaint that the kitchen was making it look bad. Still, why whine about a complimentary breakfast? It was what it was.
The bathrooms in the convention hall were less crowded than the first year, but the floor gets truly disgusting. I’m not sure what can be done about that. My friend, “Spastic Joe”, apologizes in advance for next year.
The Weather was the big surprise this year. Meaning, it was lovely. Last year, I think it might have crested the 100 degree mark. That made walking even a short distance outside sheer misery– a gasping, sweaty affair. This year a recent rainstorm had cooled things down somewhat and the temps hovered in the 70s. For the entire weekend.
Food: I ended up skipping said wretched breakfast after the first day and eating (most days) at Wegmans, which was within an easy, n0n-gasping, non-sweat drenched walking distance.
Most of my meals were quick affairs as I ate by myself mostly. Even being in an area with dozens of restaurants within easy distance, it proved to be easy enough to eat healthy or quasi-healthy.
If you’ve been reading along, I did the Guidebook app for this convention, and had excellent support from Mr. Bill Rutherford, Ms. Heather Blush, Mr. Dudley Garidel and Mr. Scott Holder. About one quarter to one third of the attendees used or downloaded guidebook, and then we went over our “free” threshold so Guidebook (the corporation) froze our downloads at the show by Thursday. It happens. So if you tried to download and were denied, that’s what happened.
To be honest, I didn’t buy much, and what I did buy was fueling my Gaming Camp for Kids I’ll be putting on in a few short weeks. I was severely tempted by Alien Dungeon’s Mars game. It’s just so wonderfully well thought out from a visual perspective. I have no idea how it plays, but the toys, they are special (see above for pictures from the big demo game).
My two favorite places to stop at any HISTORICON is On Military Matters (who appears to not be servicing shows in Virginia) and Belle and Blade. Belle and Blade had a great selection of newer films. None of which I could afford, but that is as may be.
I did end up buying JUGULA and two of the card decks after finding out what Tomahawk studio’s latest scheme to make money is. That’s really irritating– the game is virtually unplayable without special 12 dollar (a piece) card decks. that are literally symbiotic in the rules.. you can’t play the game without them.
Wally’s basement was spacious and not too crowded. After the initial rush I visited most sessions. I’m profoundly unimpressed. Everything that was there I could find for cheaper prices in other venues. No great bargains for me.
I think it was a very pleasant convention. Somewhat low in games played but who cares.. a very huge thank you to Paul, Kevin and everyone on the team.
So until next year, I leave you with this Youtube from someone who dragged a camera round the event. See you next year.
Photos: This is most of what I shot (about 119 pictures overall) for the whole shooting match, unsorted, which should have some new pictures I haven’t posted in this narrative, visit here.