Foggy Lenses and Bad Die rolls: Historicon 2021

Historicon 2021 was last weekend, at the Valley Forge Casino resort in Pennsylvania. Honestly, I had some qualms about going for COVID reasons– yet, I had been boosted two weeks previous and I was more than willing to game in a mask. So I went. I’m glad I did. Let’s start this thing with a time honored classic:

Oh the mighty!!

Travel Tip tangent for people from below the Mason Dixon line heading North. Maryland has gone to non-manned toll booths, and will be happy to mail you a bill for 12 dollars each toll booth. or six dollars if you use EZPass, which I have resisted in the past. This was the trip that made up my mind about getting a transponder– it would have been at least 36 bucks just to do a round trip through Maryland if I didn’t have one. I remember posting that it 11 dollars the last time I drove to Valley Forge and it’s mind boggling how much the cost of tolls has increased. I (obviously) haven’t been doing a lot of interstate travel in the last year or so, so this hit me like a ton of bricks. Here’s the sinister part. I spoke (out loud) rather colorful language about my uncensored opinion on toll booths in Maryland. SUDDENLY, Waze says “we found an alternative route that is much shorter! Want to reroute?”– and it drove me right by the entrance to the Maryland EZPass Administration HQ building. That’s either a very sophisticated algorithm, or kismet. I figured the universe was telling me to throw in the towel and get a new transponder, which delayed me from arriving for another hour.

There might be a way to get to Valley Forge expeditiously AND pay minimal tolls. I haven’t researched it yet.

Logistics: The Site, the Layout, Food…

The site: The Resort is pretty much what it was the last few times we were present– perhaps more shabby in spots, definitely very understaffed during the run of the show. I stayed in the tower to the right, and twice my card demagnetized, and twice, the clerk at the Raddison hotel side I stayed in was off duty and the desk unattended, so I had to tromp over to the Casino side to get a new card. When it’s cold out that will wake you RIGHT up. Add to that a real lack of staffing in the restaurants, bars etc. and it was like the whole place was run by a skeleton staff. The only real food options on site were the food court in the casino, an ala carte table outside the bar in the Radisson (only for two nights) or you drove somewhere.

Everything about the area that I find baffling from previous stays at this site still applies. It’s a warren of many little rooms that games were being played in. There was no single “Distelfink” style room– the largest gaming area I experienced was the Grand Ballroom on the Radisson side, main floor. This was never jammed packed, and that was frankly a good thing. You’re going to see a lot of pictures in this recap and others, and Historicon 2021 is not going to look well attended in them. There’s a reason for that– everything at the convention was spaced out, everything! Many games and people over a labyrinth of halls and rooms and conference rooms makes everything look diluted. If you were interested in getting your daily steps in, Historicon 2021 was the con for you. Numbers, from what I’ve heard, were surprisingly higher than expected. I agree, based upon the parking lot test. If you drive somewhere to get breakfast and you come back and your parking spot has been yoinked, and you have to park out in the back of beyond, that’s a good indication of a lot of foot traffic. Let’s get this straight– nobody expected to match previous attendance numbers under the current circumstances. I never got the feeling we matched previous attendance, and nobody really thought we’d come close. I was really surprised with what HISTORICON did manage under these conditions. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who really, really missed gaming with actual human beings. It had been a couple of years.

At last, we’re gaming over a table again” was a recurring theme I heard expressed over the weekend. It felt great to see a lot of people that I’ve been friends with for years and haven’t seen in a long time. This is a hobby about people, after all. The experience is hard to replicate!

The “Games I played” Section

I resolved I was coming to this convention to play games as my higher priority– you’d think I might have pre-registered, but noooooooo… it was always “mañana” priority with me and thus I ended up signed up for nothing. I’m a past master of showing up at a table with a doleful expression and a sob story, however, and so I never lacked for something to do.

(Note: this section calls out to short video clips I took on Vimeo, and posts on IMGUR that are basically collections of photographs of the game I’m playing at the time)

On Thursday morning, I managed to give the GM the old “puppy dawg eyes” trick and I got into:

T10:188 Mockingbird Hill: The Spanish Civil War- 1938
Thursday, 10:00 AM, 4 hrs, Players: 6, Location: Bryn Mawr: BM-1
GM: Gregory McNally
Sponsor: Age of Glory, Prize: Painted Age of Glory miniature for all players
Period: Inter-War, Scale: 28mm, Rules: Homebrew

Description: The Nationalist forces of Franco are driving on a vital crossroads. Republican units will try and hold them back. Anarchists! Communists! Fascists! Italians! Moors! Canadians! Miners with dynamite! We got ’em all. The iconic almost-Mad Max armored cars of the war will be involved. Come on down and see who will pasaran and who will not. Homebrew rules will be taught. Gaming experience helpful but by no means a must and newbs very welcome. Kids under 12 with supervision. Masks mandatory.

I love to read about Spanish Civil War History, as you can see by this reading list I put together on Goodreads. The battles are always interesting because you are NOT dealing with elites, or wonder weapons, or new technologies. The SCW took place in a world that had lost an entire generation in the Great War and now was populated by the crazy fringe. The Spanish Civil War was like a little breeding laboratory for every “ism” that had grown to prominence in the power vacuum left over after WWI– Socialism, Communism, Nationalism, Arch Conservatism, Capitalism and more all came to blows in an orgy of colorful fratricide. These weren’t enthusiastic guardsmen and panzer troopers fighting each other– that was a few years out. The SCW was largely an infantry war, punctuated by some home made armored cars, experimental tanks, and WWI surplus that broke down more regularly than they performed adequately. There’s a certain freedom in being saddled with the dregs for soldiers.. at least when EVERYONE sucks, nobody in particular sucks. And so this game demonstrated!

Roughly the center of the battle, showing the vicious fighting in the Marketplace, which was to the knife hilt at times.
My Command was the Civil Guard, or as the GM described them, “the dirty cops”. They were armed, they were paramilitary, and they had cool hats. They managed to inflict some casualties on the Anarchists before folding like a dollar store tent in a windstorm.

I loved the Mockingbird Hill game. It used (I think) some variant of Flames of War, but much pared down to essential nuggets of movement, fire and morale. More or less a homebrew system. There were about 8 factions active on the board simultaneously and replacements for units that routed off the board. Our objective was to take a certain house and occupy it. The odds were long due to the terrain– we had to charge across an open space in full view of a couple of houses with Anarchist squads to get there so I advanced using the cover I had. We still got the shit shot out of us, and eventually, my Dirty Cops fled. I did get a busload of Assault Guards (Assaultos) to replace them with but the game ended before they got in a position to strike. To counter our bad attack factor, I was in charge of the air assets for this battle (Nationalist side). This was a flight of 1-6 Italian Falcon 42 biplanes. They were singularly effective against crowds out in the open, less so when they took cover in buildings. We did not make sufficient headway to call this a smashing victory, but at the very end, the POUM attacked the Stalinists! We just leaned on our shovels and watched them go at it. General musings below.

My Italian Ace looking for more Anarchists to bomb.

Eventually the Nationalist attack stalled a bit, particularly on Mockingbird hill itself at the far end of the line, and in the marketplace, both of which being strategic objectives. My end of the battle was more of a sideshow that prevented the Anarchists from advancing to the main fight in the center. I took a lot of pictures of the game and you can find them here. If I keep posting tons of pictures per game played this is going to be an awfully long blog post. It was kind of a draw, but the victory in terms of objectives went to the Republicans. Greg did a superb job of presenting this game and he clearly is a fellow devotee of the period. I appreciate his efforts to make this game work as well as it did, and even more so for giving me a spot to play.

Thursday may have been the busiest day of the convention in terms of events. There were some beauties on display.

Test of Honor: Yamashiro
More Yamashiro. This deserved an award.
Jeff Wasileski’s excellent eye candy Leonardo game
Wars of Ozzz
Armada demo

There’s much more that I could add pictures for but I don’t want this to be six miles long.

After the Mockingbird game I went to the Dealer’s hall for the first time. I don’t recall getting anything except maybe some plastic Saxons. I have a ton of Vikings but not as many Saxons. I would like to play Ravenfeast (which LWTV did a fine job of publishing and distributing for free as a real book at HISTORICON). I didn’t get much else at that trip, so got my one meal somewhere and came back. I’ll tell you the saga of a town without 24 hour diners some other time– I’m still in shock over the whole affair.

T19:579 Star Wars Pod Racing

Thursday, 7:00 PM, 3 hrs, Players: 9, Location: Buchanan: BU-2
GM: Brian Dewitt & NOVAG
Sponsor: None, Prize: None
Period: SciFi, Scale: 1/144, Rules: Pod Racing
Description: Pod Race with players selecting special enhancements to either enhance their speed, protect their pod, or impede the other pods. Zone movement system so no rulers needed. Innovative game mechanics.

Experimental Pod Racing Game: Thursday night I had a free evening so I went to the event board and found a ticket for Pod Racing. Now, normally I don’t go out of my way to play games from some movie or TV but I noticed the GM was Brian Dewitt, whose games are pretty clever and I enjoy playing. So why not. Turned out to be a great experience.

Instead of a giant terrain layout of the Boonda Classic, the game was played on a series of six grid charts with a grid usually numbered 1 through 21.. 3 rows of 7. These grids represent the relative positions of the pod racers during the race. Each chart is rated for TURNS and HAZARDS. The GM rolls against the chart numbers, and applies it to specific boxes on the grids. The result usually moves the racer back or to the side, which changes the order of the entire pack.

Note that Brian Dewitt was using the old Galoob Micro Machine Pod racer toys. I own these too and have wanted to create a pod racing game myself for a long time. I like Brian’s approach, which is still a very recent COVID project.

One feature of this design that I really like is planning every turn. Each racer gets two 1D6 racer dice and four 1D10 system dice. A turn is processed in this order–> 1) Hazards 2) Turns 3) Make your Move 4) Dirty Tricks and 5) Repair. The last three can only be accomplished with Driver (six sided) dice, and you only have 2 of those. So each turn you are making decisions. You can put a dice or two in Hazards or Turns, and roll against something nasty. You can put 2, 3 or more dice of either kind in Make your Move.. where you actually MOVE your racer. You can put a Driver Dice in Dirty Tricks (bumping, ramming etc.) or use it to activate a special card you get issued in advance of the race. Lastly, you take damage points in Chassis and Engine (see the chart) and Repair removes them.
Yes, that’s ME in dead last place. I couldn’t catch a break if I paid for it during this race.. but one feature of a good design is that you can lose and still have a fun time.

Summary: I think this is a great design.. it’s still early yet and I think Brian wants to include the damaging impact of physics of a high speed vehicle going into a turn. In a lot of respects Brian has created a game that seems influenced by his earlier Chariot Racing game design and that makes sense to me. Similar dynamics are in effect. More pictures and video from this game are below (IMGUR for pictures, Vimeo for Video).

This is the kind of action that was being simulated in the pod racing game, in a very abstract way.

F19:583 Peloponnesian War Naval Battle

Friday, 7:00 PM, 3 hrs, Players: 10, Location: Buchanan: BU-2
GM: Brian Dewitt & NOVAG
Sponsor: None, Prize: None
Period: Ancients, Scale: 15mm, Rules: Greeks at Sea
Description: Trireme battle from Peloponnesian War. Use a mix of ramming, boarding, and shooting tactics. Rules will be taught.

Peloponnesian Wars game: Friday I slept in late as my neck and shoulders were killing me. My mattress was like sleeping on concrete. I was going to try to get into a day game but honestly I wasn’t feeling that great, and the killed my resolve. I did visit the flea market and dealer’s room again, and got a demo of the game of Armada (Mantic Games), which I own the starter box from. Friday night, however, I did get in to a game of GREEKS AT SEA 2, run by, you guessed it, Brian Dewitt. I’ve played this one before at a NOVAG GAME DAY back in 2016. Click here for some pictures of that. This is another great, elegant system. I like it enough to pay Brian for a CD of the rules at the show, as I plan on running it with my fleet of 3D printed greek galleys. This was a fun contest. I was up against (mostly) Roxanne Patton on the other side of the table– I was on the Spartan side, and we were fighting the Athenians.

The counters you see are SPEED and COMMAND counters, which are an integral part of design.
This is where the game gets complicated!

So we were getting our butts handed to us as the Sparrrrrtans. Those Arrrrrrthenians were tough! Yet, late in the game we managed to turn things around, sinking three in quick succession. Unfortunately we were one hull too little in terms of victory conditions, and the Arrrrrthenians pulled it off by a squeaker! Fun time! More pictures and video from this game below.

and the images from this game:

A little melodramatic, but you get the idea!

S14:142 Thompson Trophy Air Race — Theme
Saturday, 2:00 PM, 3 hrs, Players: 6, Location: Grand Ballroom: GB-6
GM: Greg Harding
Sponsor: None, Prize: None
Period: Early 20th Century, Scale: 1/144, Rules: Go Fast, Turn Left!
Description: Maneuver airplanes around the closed course 1932 Thompson Trophy unlimited class air race in Cleveland, Ohio. Players must push their planes as hard as they dare without blowing up the engine, cutting a pylon, or blacking out in a high G turn. You can’t win without taking risks but you also can’t win if you don’t finish.

Thompson Trophy Air Race: Saturday, I had a stroke of luck. I had wanted to get into a game that was cancelled at the last Cold Wars, the Thompson Trophy Air Races. Lo and Behold, there was ONE TICKET LEFT for that very game on the event board. That’s great! What are the odds that this niche subject (1930s sport aviation) would have a game made about it, and that there was ONLY ONE ticket left for me, because someone returned it a few seconds prior to me walking up? It’s like God himself wanted me to play, right? Right?

Right out of the starting gate.. I’m the silver plane, third from the top

Greg made this design from scratch and got the miniature planes from Shapeways. The terrain sheet was hand painted. I was very impressed. The game is all about planning your move, acting aggressively, and taking chances. You race around a series of pylons, cutting it close and avoiding the traffic jams as several planes try to inhabit the same place at the same time.

Every turn you log your speed and moves.. WITHOUT MEASURING. Then the fun begins!

Three planes, one of them mine, attempt the approach to the pylon
Cutting it close to the first BENDIX pylon. My plane is the silver one.
Things were easier to navigate when we spread out a little

Sadly, although GOD HIMSELF wanted me to play this game, He didn’t bless me with any skill in it. I misjudged another pylon and ended up crashing right into the yellow plane and down we went. Sayonora. Oh well! It was a pleasure to play this and it might have been my favorite game of the convention. I loved it. More pictures from this game are below.

More Gee Bee Racers.. this one being piloted by Jimmy Dolittle, who was represented in this racing game.

Last Game: Frostgrave– an invitation to Plunder!

S18:624 Invitation to Plunder

Saturday, 6:00 PM, 4 hrs, Players: 8, Location: Radnor: RD-2
GM: Robert Schaible & Yellow Worm Gaming Society
Sponsor: None, Prize: None
Period: Fantasy, Scale: 28mm, Rules: Frostgrave
Description: News of a recently unearthed dungeon complex has made its way to several wizards guilds. As warbands scramble to the location in search of fame and fortune, one must wonder. Was such a discovery shared in earnest, or is there a more sinister reason for such a leak? There’s only one way to find out.

I wanted to get another game in for this convention, and I found a game using a system I really like, Frostgrave. This is the second version of the game, which is a big improvement. Robert Schaible did a great job with the terrain, it was mostly HIRST ARTS dungeon tiles. The game was setup and optimized for eight players, but the GM got four players, myself included as a walkup. I played a Summoner, which was a new one for me. I didn’t particularly care for this spell mix, but I made do with what I have. I just didn’t have a lot of big offensive spells. I did summon a major demon (sacrificing hit points to do it), which was a welcome addition to my hitting power. I started next to a Witch warband and had to deal with a lot of wandering skellies and the Witch Warband, who got all kinds of aggressive.

My Warband
Witch Warband
Yet another warband
Battling the Witch Warband to get into the Big Boss Treasure room (top right)
The Big baddies turned out to be shockingly easy. I admit I rolled lucky.

The main objective was a prominent boss treasure room in the dead center of the dungeon (see above). I ended up exterminating the Witch warband (except for the Apprentice) in stand up combat, but I was also delayed a lot by fighting her and having to wait until my heavy hitters were healed back before going into the room. By the time me and the other survivor broke into the room (I was first, I killed the monsters therein), it was pretty late and I didn’t want to put in another hour at least fighting in the treasure room. So we called it a draw. Great time, a night playing Frostgrave is not a night wasted. More pictures below.

So that was pretty much it except for a few late night beers in the bar.

To Sum up Historicon 2021…

I’ll be real here. I know I tend to be a cheerleader about conventions but I’m not going to be that way in this post, because, frankly, I don’t need to be. Against the best predictions and my own sense of things, HMGS pulled off a win here. HISTORICON 2021 had tons of issues and the planning team hit the ground at a disadvantage, but they totally came through. Nobody is going to claim the attendance was stellar compared to other Historicon conventions in the past, but still the attendance was pretty fantastic for an organization that had come out of a two year dry spell with NO conventions, the challenge of a global pandemic, and local restrictions about public gatherings in effect. I spoke at length with the Convention Director and even he wasn’t sure what attendance was projected to be. Everything was compressed and uncertain literally right until the last couple of weeks. Considering that HMGS wasn’t even sure they could throw the convention until rather late, I think the execution was superb. HMGS had to deliver on a few needs.. Momentum, Confidence, and Capability. As well as make it all a good time for everyone concerned. You can’t please everyone, of course. Still HISTORICON was a great effort for all of the negatives.

Guidebook for Historicon 2021

I have to apologize for a lot of errors that cropped up in the first publishing of the Guidebook app for HISTORICON. I built the loader correctly and never saw any error out messages when I published it. That’s the problem with doing something that challenging in a short time space. The result was a lot of very hard labor auditing the events track line by line by bloody line. In eleven years of working with this app, I haven’t experienced something like this, and I plan on feedback to the company so that we go over in intricate detail where the imports exploded. Thanks to Ray Frandsen for helping me audit the file after the show started. Fortunately I brought the laptop to the convention and was able to edit it on the fly and mad many edits to it to post cancelled gaming events. Turns out the folks in charge were pretty happy we had Guidebook around as a backup because the program books (printed) ran out on Friday.

Games at Historicon 2021

There were some excellent games run at the convention– and a preponderance of cancelled games. Some of them were cancelled, en bloc, a day before the convention and we had to scramble to move things around. I did track this on Guidebook– if you have copy, look at the second item in the FAQ feature.

Exhibitors and Flea Market

None of the standard heavy hitters came to Historicon– no Old Glory, No Brigade Games, etc. Some old names showed up in a reduced space. Even with this in effect I thought the vendor area was better than I could have predicted. Flea Market, maybe less so. I think I only bought these cool hand tokens from the Flea Market on Friday.

A word about Masks and Mask Policies at Historicon 2021

For everyone who is challenging posted pictures of gamers without masks on– yes, there were a few, but don’t assume this was a trend. It wasn’t. Every game I played in had masked gamers. Did it increase the ass pain factor? Yes. Did it make my glasses fog up constantly? Of course it did (thus, the title of this rambling screed). It was still the right thing to do, and I appreciate the leadership for standing on this.

So .. that was HISTORICON 2021 for me. I had an unexpectedly fantastic time– not for the stuff. Not even for the games. Certainly not for the accommodations and lovely atmosphere at Valley Forge. It was for all the people I haven’t seen in two years, except on Social Media. That part was great.. it was as familiar as putting on an old pair of shoes and just as comforting.

Future Shows?

Yes, there are shows that will happen in 2022, and I’m glad to hear of it. Historicon seems to be locked in but Cold Wars (at this juncture) appeared to be doubtful at the convention. It will be too close to Adepticon to get a meaningful response from Vendors. Last I heard the CW date was being negotiated, but it might come down to “lose a little or lose a lot” with the Ocean City contract. I have no idea if Fall In will continue at this stage. I’m sure I’ll see you at one of the future shows that does happen!


  1. if I had been there, this would have been the only game I would have been in. Very nice. Looks like your acft was a 1932 DGA-5. BAC, do you have the GMs web site or email address? Would like to get a set of those rules.

    • I am embarrassed. How in the heck did I missed that, as that is actually Ray Moore’s No. 131, Keith Rider’s San Fransisco 1!!! Doh. Golden age of aircraft racing, before the federal government ever got involved.

    • I’m pretty sure the rules are “Go Fast, Turn Left”.. Honestly, i don’t know how to contact the guy but both I and another player voiced interest in getting a copy ourselves. The plane models are on Shapeways, I had seen them before and was contemplating running a similar game. He did make some offhand comments about putting the rules up for sale as a PDF on Wargamevault, thowever.

      • LOL, just like NASCAR! High Flying Dice Games has, with what seems to be a lack of Air Racing games, September’s Eagles. Pretty playable and covers from 1929 to 1939. Sorry, not meaning to put a plug here. It was my first purchase from them. The only thing missing is the ladies Air Derbies from 29 to early 30s. Especially needed is Pancho Barnes (my Grandmother was a pilot from 1935 and knew her as most of the other lady pilots) Maybe one of these days that will be added.

        There is an add on to cover the restart of the Thompson Trophy races from 1946 to 1949.

        Yes, thank you, found Shapeways. Now to look for those rules. Here’s to ya, Happy Thanksgiving.

        “When you have a choice, choose happy!”
        — Pancho Barnes

  2. The GM of this event owns a copy, and made his own counters based on some of the tokens there. The mechanics are very different, however. I’ve idly considered getting that game for a while, myself. Paul Rohrbaugh, the president of High Flying Dice games, posted a link when I posted pictures of this game on FB.

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