Playing at War in the Time of Plague
As doubtless a few of you know already, the HMGS Cold Wars 2020 show was held last weekend. Cold Wars 2020 was, allegedly, the last HMGS show to be held at the facility that was once the Lancaster Host Resort and is now the Wyndham Lancaster Resort Hotel. As an organization, HMGS has a long and storied past there. I can’t say I’m going to miss it that much. The thing is, the owners have certainly spent big, big dollars renovating the Host into a rather passable hotel.. one that acknowledges the ADA, for instance, and one where they anticipate their members being able to see what they are doing without squinting (in most places). More on that later, because we can all agree the renovations aren’t the real story behind Cold Wars 2020, can’t we?
For point of reference.. last week started relatively normally. My wife, two adult children and her mom were in the Carolinas while I toiled at work, dog sitting at night. I was informed that I would have to “give up Cold Wars because the dogs need someone to take care of them while we are on vacation”. Hmm.. Well, when the laughter died down we started looking for a pet sitter. I had hoped to be up a day before the show but I took what I could get. As I drove up to the show the whole world knew about the Coronavirus outbreak. I certainly knew. I kept to myself, didn’t hug strangers and washed my hands often. By the first day, the situation was changing swiftly. Shortages were (and still are) everywhere on basic items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Stores have been denuded of certain items. Finally the state governments were lowering the boom on large gatherings. We expected to be shut down, but the governor was using discretionary language at least on Thursday and Friday. So, with safeguards in place, the show went on. More like with a wimper than a bang. On Friday, it became very evident that attendance was low. Not disastrously low, but very low. I thought the show was going to tank, for sure, setting up the cancellation board Friday night.
I posted the picture above to the HMGS page on Facebook Friday and actually caught a little grief for this from a former luminary (nothing serious, btw, just an offhand comment). My point being “how is telling the truth going to harm the show?” Lots of people stayed away. That’s truth. It’s hard to make them the bad guy for taking precautions for their health.
I volunteered for events which was kind of like volunteering for a long nap. We rarely had more than two people in line the entire time. All through the day we’d have dudes informing us of this or that cancellation. There were a ton of those. How can I blame anyone for that, though? Most gamers are in the prime target group of the Covid 19 virus.. older, not the best of health, some of them immuno-compromised.
Despite the doom and gloom scenarios playing out all over the place, there WERE games being run. Even games that I would have loved to play in. I got a ticket for The “Thompson Trophy Air Races” but sadly this was cancelled. Bummer, man. I was looking forward to that one. As both of the games I picked for Friday were cancelled, I played in Buck Surdu’s WARS OF OZZ game. I found myself enjoying this quite a bit. Not for being particularly Oz-like. We were essentially doing a playtest for an imminent set of rules from the talented Mr. Surdu that he is finishing for Old Glory, who is on the verge of producing them. I’ve always like the four kingdoms of Oz and read the books in the series well into my middle school years, even the Ruth Plumly Thompson ones. I kept imagining the same things that drove this design. I’ve often thought the Winkies mixing it up with the ** Quadlings would make for a fun miniatures game. The rules that Buck created were very fun, in a Lace Wars kind of mindset. Essentially the game is about formations, fire combat, melee, and morale. There’s certainly more to it, but the chrome is there to support and amplify the basic combat mechanics for movement, formations and fire combat. Things I liked: every formation has a leader that governs how it will handle either ‘movement, formation or fire combat” differently. You determine the leader’s characteristics with three dice rolls: the First Name, the Last Name, and an adjective that explains the bonus the leader gets. So there were at least three “Dirty Dicks” in the game– mine was Dirty Dick the Obstreperous or something like that. He got to charge into combat whenever he got shot at. Yikes. I loved the morale rules which were very clean. Fighting and movement were both very simple affairs based on number of bases in the unit. ** note: my Oz lore roll was very low. Swap Gillikins for Quadlings throughout. Sorry.
Friday night conclusion: I enjoyed the Ozzz game. The mechanics can fit on a Single page, double sided. That’s elegant. Even though the side I was on got our butts kicked royally, I didn’t mind. It was a fun game and I like the system.
Even though the Distelfink (now named the Lancaster Ballroom) looked desolated, that was mostly because the Lampeter had taken the games normally scheduled for the Distelfink. Tournaments were in the ShowRoom, much to their grumbling. Flea Market was in the last two rows of the Distelfink. It was a weird layout but I thought it worked. I remember visiting the flea in the Showroom last year and getting a headache from all the squinting we had to do to see stuff in the dark.
Some more Friday games:
By Saturday, the world was definitely becoming a scarier place out there in the big wide COVID 19 infected reality. I woke up thinking CW2020 was going to be the worst failure in the show’s history, and was shocked to see attendance was going up. It’s true, many people cancelled games, maybe the most I’ve ever seen. That’s okay. Nobody wanted anyone to risk their health. AND many people who were at risk because of age, or a health condition, did not attend. The ones that did attend were becoming cautious. There was a dynamic going on in the show that was very interesting to watch.. social distancing was already setting in. Less hugging. No touching. A fist bump or elbow bump instead of a handshake. All with the usual gallows humor that wargamers favor. Oddly enough the early counts were encouraging. I thought we might be lucky to have 800 people. It was closer to (and maybe just a little over) 1000 attendees. Most of them on Saturday for a day trip. Not good numbers for Cold Wars, but not the disaster it felt like early Friday, either. The show came under fire on social media here and there, and perhaps that’s justified criticism. Still, precautions were made, discipline was kept and social distancing did occur.
The Lampeter, in contrast to the Distelfink, was jumping for most of the weekend. A lot of scheduled games were run there.
one dynamic that was evident. Less games on the schedule, even with fewer attendees, games were getting played. Some people had to beg for a seat, like I did for the two games I got into. Most games were full, which is an unexpected benefit of the viral outbreak. Saturday night, I got into a Test of Honor game from a young lawyer fella from New York city. Sharp guy, and he had some absolutely wonderful terrain pieces. I enjoyed this game, as well, but kept getting my butt kicked. Oddly enough our side won on points. It was a freaking slaughterfest. I say that respectfully.
In the end, I was down a lot of units. My opponent was pretty good and knew how to take advantage of newbie mistakes, and I made a few of them. I was pleased to pull off some extra VPs y killing his last samurai late in the game. We only won by three points… so maybe I contributed something. It was a great time. A little frustrating at times because the dice were not with me all evening, but I enjoyed the game for all of that. I was off to bed early that night, and up really early to get out the door. I stopped at the Dealer’s Hall on the way out. I actually did some decent shopping while there.. I got a lot of Crooked Dice figures, the New Wacky Races game, A Rolling tank from Gaddis Enterprises, Some Dwarves, and a few other things. I was pleased.
Sadly, the real world intruded as soon as I hit the Weis Market, searching for Whoopie pies for my family.
Image and Video Files
Here are the raw photos and video for this post. I didn’t post all of it, for space reasons. Feel free to use anything, but acknowledgement would be a nice thing.