Historicon 2022, that was the show that was…

I had opportunity to visit Historicon 2022 from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday morning. For once I had the truck packed early and that was certainly challenging considering I foolishly volunteered to run not one but two games. Let’s just say it was a tight pack. Of course, certain pre-convention traditions must be observed, lest the entire convention be cursed!

The traditional way to start a convention. If you don’t cheer the Susquehanna, all is lost and the con is doomed.

Historicon was held in the Lancaster Convention Center, in downtown Lancaster, the same sight as Historicion 19. I love this site– it is a step up (okay, giant leap up) from the Valley Forge from last year, has a terrific layout for a convention and lots of space. It’s not perfect (more on that later) but as a con space, it can’t be beat. Multiple levels, multiple ball rooms, decent accessibility. Even so you get your steps in at this convention. I caused much wonder and curiousity by spotting this on the way into central Lancaster:

252 Harrisburg Pike
Lancaster, PA 17603

Sadly it appeared to be closed, but I noted it on FB and made a mental bookmark to visit the next day. Turns out they not only sell mead, but they have axe throwing. Hmmm.. Axe Throwing and alcoholic beverages. What could go wrong with that? Turns out the operating hours of Medusaled weren’t really compatible with my con schedule, which was a downer. Myself and Jeff Wasileski had plans to go visit and drink mead, maybe toss an axe or two, on Friday. Turns out they were closed. On Fridays. Hmmm. This was a recurring theme all around Lancaster for the weekend. Every bar I had previous experience with (including Annie Bailey’s) had new hours where they were closing around 9PM. On a weekend. In July. They either roll up the streets at night these days or they must be badly understaffed at most bars in Lancaster now. Oh well, the bar in the lobby had blackberry cider which was tasty.

After Action, Guidebook: I provided Guidebook update and support for the convention so ran about five major updates. Other than that, my volunteer duties were rather light once I got to the convention (99% of the work happens before the convention). I have to say this was an easier con to work than previous mostly because the data import went far smoother than it had in the past. Joby and I talked it through the data export from the Events database in our registration system and it turns out he’s a fellow MS Excel wizard, so we could speak the same concatenation language. I only made a couple of boneheaded mistakes due to haste. I forgot to add the field for Rules and Scale, which I usually do. I’m working on a GB data spec to help with inputs in future conventions so we can respond in a more agile fashion. We are currently using a metered plan, which is pretty stark in terms of features– basically the equivalent of the old free plan we started with– no activity tracks, no color codes, etc. which means a lot of extra work writing some codes like “TOU” for tournaments, “HU” for Hobby U, etc. Remember, everything goes into one schedule– viewing them in tracks is how we see the activities that interest us– like tournaments, seminars, hobby u classes, etc. I had a preliminary discussion with the incoming Fall IN Director about how he wants to utilize GB for Fall IN.

An interesting medieval siege game.

Thursday I was scheduled to run The Tibetan Corpse Racing Olympiad that evening, so I went looking for a few terrain pieces in the dealer hall. Success.

There’s nothing quiet like a river of gooey tar (the Black Blood of the Earth) to make the perfect obstacle for a game that’s kind of a hellscape.

I went over to the Amish Market for lunch for a really goopy Tuna Fish sandwich. I’ll tell them to lay off the mayo next time. Bumped into Tony and Greg from Little Wars TV. I also bumped into Andy Swingle and had a pleasant political discussion with some aging hippies in the little eating area. If you are looking for a decent lunch in Lancaster, you could do a lot worse than visiting the Amish Market (either North or South). Of course, visiting the Amish market means crossing Lancaster public square, which means my favorite distraction, encountering a local shouting nut!

(I muted him out of respect– I’m not making fun of his religion) .

I didn’t get a chance to visit the Little Wars room at the Convention, sad to say. Most of the games they were running that I wanted to participate in. particularly the Invasion of Malta game, were already full up. I admit it; I was a slacker about signing up for games for this convention, which was a pity. There were some awfully great games put on. ALL of them pretty full up. That’s a trend I’ve noticed in recent years.. if you don’t get off your butt and preregister for events, you will lose out. It’s a sellers market by the time you are standing in front of a peg board at a convention. I only wasted the one ticket (for the Thompson Trophy air races), but I played plenty of stuff– most of it board games and demos. There were many, many standouts.

I would advise the Little Wars TV convention AAR for some excellent coverage. Tony’s been working on his FM DJ voice, and his work is really paying off.

Up to their usual high standard!!

We’re still on Thursday. As I mentioned I got some terrain bits in the dealer’s area. I had given this a once over that morning and made some emergency purchases. The black river of tar seems highly specific, and I guess it is. However, I encountered “that guy” — the kind of player that cheats in a race during a playtest, so I wanted to make actual cheating very difficult. I added some swamp and I added the river with forwards at the North and South ends. I’m going to get a couple of bridge pieces for this game, but fords will do for now.

The following game AAR is set in a fictional universe meant as a pastiche of situations or plots presented in pulp era magazine stories set in Tibet in the early part of the 20th century, a common trope in an era that equated “Oriental” as “mysterious, or evil”. I’m lampooning the idea. I have nothing but respect for the people of Tibet, and empathize with their decades long historical struggles.

The Tibetan Corpse Racing Olympiad (TCRO) replay

Why Tibet? We all know everything evil comes from Tibet, right? Of course we do*. A secret society called the Unseen Audience has taken to kidnapping youngsters to participate in their perverted ritual racing events. Each kidnapped child is assigned to a racing team, which is a unit consisting of a Yak, a Cart, a Driver, Bait, and a Ro-Lang (Tibetan version of the Zombie). The objective of the Olympiad is to move your entire team across the finish line to get a Gold Medal (and win your patreon from the Unseen Audience’s bet on your victory).

Important for this replay: A TEAM consists of a Yak, a Cart, a Driver, a Bait (Victorian Child) and a Ro-Lang. ALL of these have to cross the finish line to have a decent hope of scoring. The trick of this game is to keep the comfortable distance between your Ro-Lang and your cart so your Bait doesn’t get swarmed and dispatched. The Bait has a bucket of rocks that it can use to distract Ro-Lang from swarming the cart. Once the bucket is used up, there are other buckets filled with goodies along the track, but the Bait has to descend to fetch them and deal with the Ro-Lang advancing upon them. (spelling goof: I’ve seen both “Ro-Leng” and “Ro-Lang”, I believe Lang is the right spelling).

I was full up in pre-registrations but only 5 players showed, one of them a walk up (the good news was that it was Tom Vielot, who took an interest in the game design, and we’ve compared notes). C’est la vie! My 7 player limit was absolute; I only have 7 yak carts made and I don’t see it getting bigger than 7 players anyway. It’s not scalable– unless I radically change mechanics. I am actually working on doing that. Other players were Brian Cantwell, John and Ginny Montrie.

The race at start. Always a traffic jam. Racers were relatively well behaved early on.
First crash! Side swipe. Bad news for the two teams above as speed drops to 0, allowing their Ro-Lang to catch up to the Bait and eat them.

The Teams rumbled off to a start and discovered the problems of going fast within a very narrow pass. Teams maneuver and turn using Gaslands movement templates. Why? Because it’s easy and works very well. I would consider this design to be “Gasland’s idiot cousin, but with Yak Carts” In a traffic jam, crashes happen. which causes damage (yellow chits) on Yak Carts. You can fix damage, but you have to stop the cart (speed 0) and roll versus driver’s skill to fix damage points– it fixes on an ascending scale (1 point on turn one at speed 0, 2 on the next turn spent at speed 0, and ALL on the next turn– of course, by that point you have a hungry Ro-Lang problem). Note that unlike Gaslands, TCRO doesn’t do things like gear shifts or higher speed skidding and such. Yak Carts just go too slow for that. TCRO, instead, uses a MANEUVER DIE (six sided, homemade), with symbols for Skid, Swerve, Counter, Counter, Hazard and Nothing. Counters are the game mechanics for the carts to accrue damage. Skid displaces the cart left or right, swerve moves the tail end of the cart in a different direction, hazard adds another maneuver dice and roll both again, and Counter adds a Damage, Fatigue or Mystic counter on the cart. Damage is wear and tear, Fatigue is your yak slowing down and being tired, Mystical is you building up some of the ambient mystical energy prevalent on the blasted plain in Tibet where the race takes place, until it discharges (after four counters), summoning a mystical creature that becomes a giant pain in the neck for the player. In summary, one uses the Gaslands templates to maneuver, and the counters/markers to handle all the bad things that usually a factor of Gasland’s speed maneuvers.

It’s a nice conga line by the time the enter into the first turn..

There’s a balance in this design– you are always mindful of certain data points, like the number of counters of any given type, the distance between your Ro-Lang and yourself, and where to navigate your cart for the next turn. Even though this is very much a silly concept, I do want it to be a challenge for the players.

The terrain opens up, but not before we invented the Brian Cantwell rule (which will go into the next revision of the rules as the Brian Cantwell Rule), which means you can whip yaks if they are directly next to you. That can make the
Here you can see one red Wear token on Team 8 (second from top) and one yellow Fatigue token. I like the chips as a random “Pull from the hat” mechanism. However, as markers that will travel with the cart, they are big and slide around somewhat.

There were many helpful suggestions to fine tune the game. The biggest concern I had was speed. I think we had some good suggestions from players. Here’s one I took to heart– ditch the counter chits except as a way to pull a random color out of a hat, and maintain team status like so:

The alternative I thought of was to design a tiny dice frame that could attach directly to the base for the teams. The dice (yellow, blue, red) would maintain status and replace counters. If you want the STL contact me.

Team 4 (center) is pretty exhausted with all that fatique. He may have to slow down a bit to regain energy. Fortunately his Ro-Lang (see bottom of picture) is keeping a healthy distance.

Team Five (Right Side) is in sad shape here. 3 Damage(red) hits, 1 more and the yak cart only goes slow (as in, short movement templates). He also has one Mystic (blue) token. At this point in the design we need 4 to summon a mystical creature. Yes, I repurposed a Mussolini head for this hellscape.

The First Summoned Mystical creatures started appearing on the board by the time they were crossing the Northern Fords. Here are two Hopping Vampires. They were after Brian’s team, I think.

Everyone wanted to summon a magical critter so we made it easier to do so mid game. I’m on board with this, so I changed the threshold from the Rule of Four to the Rule of Three. Three supernatural (blue) counters summons a creature. I do random entry points so it took a couple of turns to reach their target. They did some damage to the Team Cart and got vanquished in hand to hand melee.

You can see a large black Maneuver die on the right. They are homemade

Summary: We played until about 11 PM and declared a winner. I think everyone had fun. Everyone playing expressed an interest in tweaking the rules to make it play faster. I actually got some great suggestions, most of which I’m implementing. Here are the main ideas:

  • whipping other people’s yaks 😉 *aka The Cantwell rule*
  • no Ro-Lang damage
  • card activation for carts instead of rolling initiative
  • deck of fun events/wear instead of black dice, or alternatively, try different mechanics for wear on the carts * working it *
  • eliminate chips, replace with little dice on the carts * already done *
  • “Rule of 3s” 3 damage means no fast moves; 3 more damage immobilizes cart; max 3 fatigue or must do slow; 3 magic pops off a ~magic event~; 3 health for the baits.
  • don’t use the d20 for attacking, use d6s
  • make both hit and damage one roll (on a table?)
  • make the magical problems more generalized; less laser focused, more causing lots of problems or environmental changes
  • Summoned creatures on their own cards
  • driver vs driver whip fights!
  • buckets of meat to make Ro-Lang go faster! (Genuinely though, given the push-pull nature of the game, there should be ways of getting the Ro-Lang to go faster as well as the existing “throw rocks to slow them down.”)
  • generally make the pickups more varied and fun – think mario kart 🙂
  • rocks push zombies instead of stunning them
  • no more sheets
  • give people a chit each time they repair so that they can keep track of how many turns they’ve repaired

All of these are reasonable but I will have to make a mega ton of cards for it. Tom is sending me some ideas. I have no aspirations for this game beyond being a silly midnight kind of convention game, but I want to make it the best I can.

Friday I had a pretty easygoing day. I had every intention of playing in a Thompson Trophy air race game at 10:00 AM. I like the GM and his rules. I had played the same system (earlier era) at Valley Forge but there was something about staying awake until 4AM in the lobby playing board games that made me feel less that peppy the next morning, and I missed the game. I can’t believe what a slug I was at this con.

I could tell you, “Yeah, I really got out there and visited every room!” but that would be, you know, lying. I spent most of my time near the Heritage rooms, but caught the action in the other main ballrooms. Some amazing layouts. I spent more money in the dealer’s room on Thursday and worked on some terrain bits for Mad Maximillian 1934 in my room. I got hungry and visited the Honey BBQ Chicken place across the street. Immediately the company logo summoned forth an ancient memory.

Lancaster is Cluckalicious!

I had to run after my greasy dinner experience to get to Brian DeWitt’s game. I had a ticket, thankfully, because he was already giving me the gimlet gaze and pronouncing “full up!” as I walked up, but I manage to wheedle a spot at the end of the table, next to my arch nemesis from his game at last Historicon, Roxanne Patton (see Peloponnesian Game). This was another fine naval game.

The Naval Battle of Trincomalee

Brian Dewitt is a local guy and a great rules designer. He puts a lot of thought into developing systems with easy mechanics that can play well as convention games. I like his Greeks at Sea game so much I was happy to buy it off him (at a modest price, on a CD!), and will buy the Pod Racing game (see last year’s Historicon AAR) when it gets done as well. The Battle of Trincomalee was fought between a British fleet under Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and a French fleet under the Bailli de Suffren off the coast of Trincomalee, then Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), on 3 September 1782. It was the fourth in a series of battles fought between the two fleets off the coast of the Indian subcontinent during the American Revolutionary War. As a latecomer (see the chicken situation) I was assigned the North end of the British line, operating two 74 gun Ships of the Line– HMS Hero and HMS Exeter

At start.. the British tried hard to stick with their time tested linear tactics. It didn’t last long
The French line turns in a syncopated fashion that does not reflect their historical performance one bit.
Hero and Exeter try to hook around the North part of the French line, and fail
Don’t fire until you smell the stink of garlic, boys! Seriously, don’t. Chances go way up at two-three hexes. I did middling damage to the leading French warship, forget the name..
Brian endures my helpful comments like “What?? HERO was captured on a roll of a six? That’s it, this game is broken! ” with his customary patience and sang froid.
I don’t have a good picture of it, but the stately battle lines went all higglety pigglety very quickly. Already there are 3 distinct smaller battles in the North, Center and South ends of the line.
As you can see by my wince, things the British are once again having one bad day. At least we’re emulating history!
After the wind shifts and puts the majority of the British line in Irons, Exeter reverses course and heads back down the line to support Roxanne’s ships which are sore beset now.
This gives you some idea of how poorly things were faring for the British. I give up on trying to get round the French line and start a long range gunnery duel with my as yet untouched ship Hero. Exeter has taken some damage but has done pretty well for herself.
.. and then, the Hero, my best ship, was boarded by French maniacs. What the actual heck? Great Neptune’s beard! That was frustrating.

I didn’t take any more pictures, but you get the idea of what kind of bad day the English were having. We ended up losing more ships than the French, and the ones that were left were battered all to hell and gone. The French took damage as well, but ultimately they had more ships and we called it like gentlemen. It was a great game and a highlight of the convention.

After our gracious defeat, I had opportunity to bump into John Sears and Joe Procopio coming down the escalator. We went in search of an operating bar, which was difficult to find in Lancaster even on a Friday. One of the hotel staff overheard us and suggested the Exchange, the best rooftop bar in Lancaster, and that we should ask for her husband Zack, who worked there.. he’d set us up. We get to the elevator lobby which has access controlled by security guards in sunglasses (at night), a velvet rope barrier and lots of walkie talkies. Very Studio 54. “Roger, do we have any free seating up there on the patio?” “I’m only counting 1 open seat” (us) “We don’t need a view, it’s fine” “You guys will have to wait.. what, no, you can go on up!” Our repeated use of the Zack password were met with blank stares. We come out of the elevator to find a room at best 1/3 full. THIS was the cheek to jowl crowd they were referring to on the radio? Huh? Where’s Zack?

Saturday I got up relatively on time but really didn’t want to spend too much time in a game in the AM because I needed to do some “Frontier medicine” on my Mad Maximillian Game I was running that evening. Some vehicles needed repairs and I wanted to add some terrain features to support the scenario narrative. Very fortunately, I found some decent terrain bits in the flea market (morning shift) as well as some budget bin items from The Miniature Building Authority. There’s no telling what you can find in a Wally’s Basement session

I had heard good things about the South Market (right out the door from the Flea Market and across the street) having some Moroccan food, so I visited. It’s like a big food court.

That’s a nice place. Mostly ethnic food from a variety of cultures, including American Soul food. I got some Shwarma and bumped into my friends Meggo and Jeff there.

Panning, panning… Hi Walt! YOW! Oh hi, didn’t see you there…

Returning to the convention from lunch, I quickly visited the saintly folks at Hobby University to borrow a paint brush and a rattle can. I needed to paint up some items quickly. I took the resin barrier bits out to the parking lot and sprayed them on a piece of cardboard, and returned with the still tacky terrain bits. I bumped in Virginia Montrie on the way up and she volunteered John and herself to assist me in getting ready for the last painful bits before the Mad Maximillian game. I am indebted to them for their help– John and Ginny are some of the nicest people you’d care to meet.

Mad Maximillian 1934 rules: “Running the Gauntlet– the Gasoline Kings of the Wild Frontier”

It’s been a while since I ran a Mad Max 1934 game at a convention, but I’m still quite taken with this rule set. I like racing and fighting games, that’s kind of a trope of mine, but I tried to structure this on a smaller table (out of necessity) without it being just another giant loop. The idea was that there were three missions: 1-2 to Bullet Town to trade petroleum for Ammo (North) 3-4 to Greenville to trade petroleum for food and 5-6 to go to Klank to trade petroleum for machine parts. It is important to note that the players can play the ruthless gasoline kings (the local oil producing oligarchs) or a band of plucky freedom fighters (or bandits, depending on your point of view) that seek to reduce the profit margin of the Gasoline kings. The Kings have two oil trucks and an old German Armored car left over from the Great War. The Freedom Fighters/ Bandits have a mixture of motorcycles and Buggies. It’s case of behemoths being attacked by gnat bites, as the motorcycles mostly have rifles, pistols, shotguns and the occasional spar torpedo. Again, I was sold out in pre-reg and only four people showed up, but that’s the life of the GM. I removed one of the fuel trucks for balance.

Home base of the Gasoline kings. Oh, your recognize the terrain, do you? Well of course!
Quick pan of the seedy looking Gasoline Kings complex. All these plasticville buildings (including tower and Shell fuel tank) I found in the Flea market THAT MORNING. I 3D Printed the oil pumps and smaller tanks.
The German Armored Car escort for the Fuel Convoy. Yes, I’m getting a lot of mileage out of that 3D printed Mussolini head, I know. It just looks like it fits.
Plucky Freedom Fighters marshall their resources…
The Oil Oligarchs are not worried. Not the Mussoliniesque guy on the right.
The Convoy sets off for Bullet Town, the hardest destination of them all. Bandits abound!

Now this is MY version of Mad Maximillian 1934 which has some of my touches incorporated. One of them is a random events deck. I use an initiative card deck, which really moves the game along, but adds some period bits that I think add a lot of fun to the game. You’ll see some of them in the following series.

Monowheel Freedom Fighter with spar torpedo, plus motorcycle with sidecar (L) on the right more motorcycles are hurrying to the attack after fording the Black Tar River.
The first brave Freedom Fighters/Bandits hurry up to inflict some gnat bites by pistol. The Doodlebug (Texaco truck) is a more or less to scale model of an actual historical truck from the time period, designed by noted industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes.
The Creepy Petroleum Kings are just their to add some pistol return fire if the bandits get too close.
Some local paid thug militia have a LMG in the guard tower.
The Doodlebug is a tough nut to crack, with welded on armor plating, A Pintle LMG up forward, a Cupola Swivel LMG back in the rear and a Flamethrower pointing away and down from the truck itself.
The Spar Torpedo on the monowheel does some damage to the front left side of Doodle bug, chipping off armor points and some internal damage (critical damage). The Sidecar wizzes by firing a SMG and another motorcycle drives by firing a pistol. You can see the handy dandy turning template to the left there.
Wider shot.. the trucks are taking damage and the Armored Car has lost control and spun out. Even so, the Doodlebug is approaching the river to cross the forward over to the road to Bullet town.
At this stage the random events are kicking in, including one of my favorites, the Fighter strafing. This is basically a GeeBee racer with twin 30 cal bolted to a wing.. maybe the last plane in the world you’d want on this mission!
Anyone with a pintle mounted weapon, ore a hand carried rifle or pistol, can shoot at a Plane. In the foreground, one of the monowheels gets flame broiled by the flame thrower on the German armored car.
Another fun Random Event– the False Waif. The bandits encounter a little lost child with a teddy bear. They roll, and react by slowing to a stop offering assistance. Too late! They discover it’s a murderous dwarf in children’s attire and they are reaching for a pistol inside the teddy bear!
.. So they just rammed her. Problem Sorted!
They are getting across the river!
Doodlebug is passed by Fan Dancer, a fan powered buggy that kicks up a giant cloud of filth. Fan Dancer wants to blind Doodlebug and slow it down a little so it can swing round and attack with spar torpedos.

At this point most of the bandits were having a bad day, but the day was far from lost quite yet. The surprising Bandito player was the Monowheel. He got his torpedo used early and didn’t miss. He was repeatedly rammed head on by the Doodlebug which only caused him to get pushed backwards (picking up speed). Eventually (around 11:30) we called it a Gasoline Kings victory. The Doodlebug was shot up but still intact, even if the Armored Car was looking pretty shot up at that point. It was a great game and the players got into the spirit of the thing.

That was more or less Historicon for me. I departed in the morning with no fuss despite arguing about the 300 dollar hold on the room. This was a return to form for HMGS. I consider this facility to be head and shoulders above Valley Forge and even with post-COVID service levels we managed. In hotel food was less than stellar, but unlike the Host and certainly unlike Valley Forge, one is not spoiled for choice in downtown Lancaster when seeking food.

The Cleo Project

As has been widely reported, including on this blog, Cleo Hanlon left us recently. We all cherished her and some of us had our tribute moments on Friday when we all wore Hawaiian shirts.

It was the closest thing I had in the closet, honest.

My wife Audrey is capable of monumental acts of kindness, and the day before I took off for Historicon, baked up a ton of cookies. They were great. I’m sure Bob Leibel doesn’t feel threatened as chocolate chip doesn’t come close to the chi chi gourmet cookies Bob and Cleo were capable of back in their heyday, but the spirit was there, and I appreciate Audrey’s kind gesture, as I’m hoping the many people I gave cookies to did.

Thank you, love.

We miss you, Cleo.

And that’s my Historicon, sorted! I had a fantastic time, met some friends I haven’t seen in an age, hung out with more friends, ran some games, saw tons of great games, and hung out in Lancaster. Thanks to Jody, Anna, Brenda, and all the various staffers that make a game convention possible, but also thanks to the GMs who busted their ass to put on wonderful game events. It really showed this time, folks. That is no idle compliment. I guess we only have this one ritual left, don’t we?

Farewell, Noble Susquehanna! Farewell! (Play audio)

I’ll see you all at Fall IN!