HISTORICON 2016: Fredericksburg Convention Center, 13-17 July 2016
|Before we begin: Well, I didn’t think I’d have to write a disclaimer since back in the days of a, erm, certain potentially litigious former board member, but it might be a good idea to state this up front. The author of this blog is Walt O’Hara. I am not on the board of HMGS and never have been. I have served HMGS as an unpaid volunteer for several years — from the mid 90s, in point of fact. During that time, I have done most jobs you can possibly do on staff, some indifferently well, some I wouldn’t touch again with a ten foot pole. I have known “the HMGS skinny” in the past, from time to time, maybe, but now is not that time. I generally have a high opinion of the board, they are working in an underappreciated position with high expectations for no pay– which is was true “back in the day” and is true now. I know both Pauls, Mike, Kevin, and Scott by working on the same shows with them, several times (mostly– Mike and Paul D are locals and I see them now and again at Eagle and Empire). I don’t know John and Dave that well, but I have played in games they have run in the past (in Dave’s case, it was a Russian Civil War game, and it kicked butt. In John’s I think it was some Trench warfare thing with Belgians!). I do not, however, really ‘hang out’ with anyone on the BoD and I am not “in the know” by any sane definition of the term. I do take a very dim view of people who castigate a Board of Directors for being “corrupt”, “venal”, “lazy” or “criminal” simply because they chose to perform a thankless job most of us (including ME) won’t take the time or bother to do, though we all seem to have the time to complain about them. I also take a dim view of people that condemn BOD members that make decisions that are marginally inconvenient for them, personally. That’s just stupid, lazy logic. So with that said, I am going to warn you up front. I’m going to voice an opinion about HMGS business in this post. It’s just an opinion. Everyone has one and mine is as good or as bad as anybody’s. So if reading opinions bores you, skip over the yellow part. Fair warning. There, we’re done with that. On to the fun stuff.
Convention Director Delaney addresses the troops and introducing “Will Call”
Gar and I drove down to Fredericksburg in a vehicle we affectionately call “Granny’s Sh*tbox”- an old Ford minivan she bought used back in the 90s. It’s dull blue oxidized paint, but her previous “honest” mechanic conned her into buying a new engine and we feel honor bound to drive this revitalized crapwagon into the ground. On the plus side, it has that snazzy early era Air Conditioning, which is bonus for July in VA. I was actually shivering. It also has a unique automobile superpower– it’s got to be the most anonymous looking vehicle ever created. I couldn’t remember where I parked it, constantly.
Everyone has to show for the staff meeting but that leaves the convention way overstaffed the first night, with volunteers stumbling over each other in an attempt to be helpful. I’ve worked events these last few years, but will do whatever. I like the event desk– you really are helping people do exactly what they came to the convention to do, that is play games. Seeing that we were underemployed, Brenda suggested we set up the events board that evening, and so we did.
The events desk– crazy and non stop until about 11 AM most days, then again when they put out the evening tickets.
Events is good gig, sure, it looks like all we do is hand out tickets, but we’re empowered to help people do a lot of things.. like move tables, run new events, cancel events, finding new tables, etc. Essentially it’s the old “GM Help desk” concept folded into the events board. I like the job because it’s really the last step to getting people into the reason they came to a convention: playing games. Don’t ask me to comment on the registration system. I haven’t used it yet, I can’t compare it to the last one (which I had used and I didn’t hold in high regard). If it has a high learning curve, I can’t comment on it. If one person uses it slower than another, try not to complain too much. Some people learn things faster than others. Besides, it relies on wireless, and every venue we’re in these days has problems catching up to the 21st century in that regard.
You never know who’ll show up to these things.
Gar and I closed the events table for the night, and there not being a lot of games going on, eventually hit the sack.
Thursday was the first “public” day of the convention. Many of the tickets for Thursday had gone out the night before and it was slim pickings that morning. I felt pretty bad for not getting my act together in time to run an event for this convention. For one thing, it would have sold out, easily. For another, it feels like there just isn’t enough events being run for the space.. we could easily add 100 more to the schedule, though I wince a the noise problem that might cause. It’s not like we didn’t start the con with a low number of events– we had 506 by my count, and that’s from the data that the events coordinator sent me for guidebook so it’s fairly accurate. We only had about 7 cancellations and none for any shady reasons that I could detect, like getting a free GM badge. Speaking of events, and as this is one of those topics that everyone weighs in on with their opinion, here are the ACTUAL NUMBERS OF EVENTS IN THE SCHEDULE BY CATEGORY. As you can see here clearly, historical events outnumber non-historical events far and away, again.
(quick note on methodology, I used the database from events, sorted by category in Excel, did a COUNTA function on the categories, then totaled the resulting subtotals. These are the categories HMGS uses in our program books and to schedule games, not mine. I counted borderline subjects such as “Pulp” as non-historical, but Westerns and Pirates as historical, so you can juggle numbers if that doesn’t fit your particular prejudices) (edit: yeah, I know. I screwed up the count above and “Colonial” is in twice, but it only a matter of maybe 10 events total, if that. I’ll fix)
A lot of people get a lot of mileage out of saying the Society is going to the dogs for running non-historical games at our conventions– that we are somehow “losing our brand” for doing so. The actual numbers tell a very different story.
Wednesday night sightings:
Setup, not running
Setup, not running
Thursday was incredibly busy. This is the morning most of the weekend visitors arrive and the parking lot out front jammed up pretty fast. Most people want registration over and done with as smoothly and painlessly as possible. This year, to whittle down the lines, HMGS introduced “Will Call”.. essentially using your smart phone to bring up the website in line and printing badge labels directly- so you could enter with a credit card while standing at the back of the line and then cut over to Pre-Reg and find your badge made, just like a pre-reg person. I’d like to get feedback on if it worked or how it worked, but that’s how it was described it would work. If we go full bore on Will Call ticketing.. my only question is, why do we shut down per-registration so early, then? This is essentially the same thing, but the day of the show, isn’t it?
Hey, if working registration was EASY, anyone could do it!
Dinner was with Gar at BONCHON chicken Fredericksburg, and it is quite a meal. Bonchon is a Korean style of cooking chicken with amazing results. See below:
Portions are HUGE. We had to bring back leftovers.
Meanwhile, back at the convention, I was getting into my first official game of the convention:
Jutland – Day of the Dreadnaughts; GM: Brian Dewitt; World War I; When Dreadnaughts Ruled the Seas. The British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet showdown fought in misty North Seas conditions on May 31, 1916. The battle opened with the six British Battlecruisers chasing five German Battlecruisers. The German Dreadnoughts are out numbered but the battle is very even with both sides claiming victory.
I took many pictures of this game which took some time to unfold. Posting them to this post would be tedious, but you can go HERE to see the slideshow.
Brian DeWitt is a local boy from Northern VA, and I’ve played his naval games many times, including these rules, When Dreadnoughts Ruled the Seas. They are reasonably comprehensive, not “Fear God and Dread Nought” (Clash of Arms) by any means, but they play fast for all of that. Instead of measuring THIS armor thickness versus THAT gun caliber, the rules generalize a certain threshold of firepower into categories (about 14″ or higher if I’m remembering it right). This makes figuring out the firing sequence fast and simple. For the JUTLAND scenario we were under some constraints that really changed the rules substantially, making the game more about hidden movement and random initial placement. Essentially both the Germans and the English have ships on the map at start, but they are all represented as tokens with arrows on them, indicating what direction it is moving. Both sides have many dummy counters. As the tokens move and come within spotting distance of each other, the ships appear on the water, sometimes (as happened to us) extremely close to the Grand Fleet! I was an honorary Briton for this game and led two squadrons led by the Iron Duke and the Benbow.
Things didn’t go swimmingly for the British from the first moment. There were six flying squadrons coming in from the Northwest (including mine) that only fired an odd angry shot at the end of the game. British gunfire was just okay, we piled on the drubbing but it wasn’t good enough to sink much of the German capital ships, though we did nail some destroyers and lighter cruisers. In return, the Germans plastered the Germans into next week. Every roll, it seemed, got a critical hit somewhere on the deck near the ammo bunkers of an English ship, and then Bang, Zing! another dead modern ship killed by an aging German tub. Life seemed stacked against the Grand fleet that day.
I took a lot of pano pictures as well, they are also in the SLIDESHOW. Click on the picture below to see the dispositions when Brian called the game. It’s a large (wide) picture and you’ll have to scroll to see all the enemy..
Click to see larger button, enemy distribution. It will blow up to original size (and it’s a large picture).
Thursday ended with a resounding defeat for the Royal Navy, which I blame on our inability to get our line in decent shape fast enough to pound the Germans, and also terrible dice rolling. The Germans must have rolled the “Deck Critical Hit” result 4 times. Maybe 5. The game ended.. even though we lost, I greatly enjoyed the chaotic nature of the Jutland game, especially the hidden/semi-hidden setup, which made for some real surprises.
Did I mention I got the historical Admiral Jellicoe killed? Yeah, he was on the Iron Duke… sigh.
Ruefully, I had the first beer offered, which as “My Imaginary Girlfriend IPA”.. and it was tastier than the ashes of defeat.
Thursday was a busy day and night for gaming. There was a lot of action in the side rooms, which hosted discrete gaming groups that submitted blocks of gaming events– there were games from NOVAG, HAWKS, a group of individuals that play Battletech (which my son is somewhat addicted to), a group of people who play Colonial era games, and some local gaming groups I couldn’t identify. I like the side rooms, you can hear better and they really put on a show.
I found a HUGE Roman gaming on in one of the side rooms during Jutland:
I’m really enjoying the Panning option in digital photography. I wouldn’t recommend it for every setup of course, but it’s a handy method of capturing those really huge setups like this one. (Click on picture above to see Pano).
Garrett’s current fixation, Battletech.
So Thursday ended with Garrett and I in defeat, him in Battletech, me at Jutland. So it goes. Friday, a new day dawns and this is where we have our greatest influx of walkins, by my estimation. We reported to our shift early and were in a steady state of demand until 1 PMish. Not to polish my own apple any, but I found that the Guidebook app I built for Historicon is incredibly handy for solving problems at the events desk.
“I don’t know where this event is”
“okay, tell me something about it”
“It had Rommel in the title” (Walt brings up SEARCH, types in Rommel…)
“FOUND IT! that’s table EA09. Starts in 20 minutes.”
“Great! Um, where’s that?” (Walt brings up room layout maps, finds EA, points out table)
“THERE.. right through those doors, about 30 feet up on the left.”
“Wow, great! Thanks! How did you do that, are you in league with Satan?”
“No Worries, mate.. I use… GUIDEBOOK!”
Okay, maybe a little embellished but you get the point. It was faster than taking the guy there and faster than looking it up in paper books.
After my Friday shift, I went directly into:
Reds vs Whites: Retreat to the Crimea!; GM: Jared Fishman; Inter-War; FOB2 Modified. Deniken’s 1919 push on Moscow has failed. With Baron von Wrangel in charge now, the White forces are in full blown retreat towards the Crimea. In this battle, a desperate White rearguard, entrenched along a rail line, attempts to hold off combat ready Red troops who are beginning to shine on the battlefield. 15mm, lots of variety (tachankas, armored cars, White officer battalions), using modified Field of Battle 2 Rules. Can the Whites hold back the Red tide? Experience with FOB is helpful!
This was a great game. I have zero experience with Piquet, which I am assuming this “FoB system” is built upon. However, once I got the hang of it, it was pretty great. The card system isn’t just a “Sword and the Flame” like means of activation, it has a larger role– creating and managing the chaos factor on a battlefield. I really enjoyed the cerebral aspect of planning how to advance my forces using the card system. Mr. Fishman, the GM, was both patient and enthusiastic, and knew his period well.
My left flank command, mostly cavalry, veteran to crack troops, two armored cars and two tachankas. I lost the use of both fairly early.
I took a lot of risks in that game.. you never know what your opponent might draw, and most assuredly it won’t be good for you. Since I was cavalry I knew I had to react aggressively for the left flank to accomplish anything. I lost my tachankas early and my A/Cs were “silenced”.. I never drew the card combination to get them from being in a buttoned down state again. Still had men with horses, though, and I drove up the left side, supporting an infantry attack to my right. The cavalry were the glory boys that day, routing the enemy’s entire right flank thoroughly, and taking out most of his artillery. The game ended when it did, and it was kind of a draw.. we had done some damage to the enemy’s line that he had to react to, but he wasn’t dislodged in the center and our right flank didn’t accomplish much of anything. So it goes. We might have accomplished more in a few more turns, sweeping right and driving in from the enemy right flank, trying to roll him up his line, but we ran out of time. Great game!
There were a lot of rumors flying around the convention about the convention moving.. Many, many people came up to me for an opinion or comment on the issue, and I admitted I knew nothing about it. Read the disclaimer above. I don’t travel with the hip crowd. I was told that tonight’s membership meeting would be important, so after going and discovering the tasty treat that was COOKOUT FREDERICKSBURG (I could write a whole post on how great that place is), we sat in the meeting. Not that there were many seats, it was well attended. Scott Landis presented the convention relocation reports, and he did a good job with the analysis. The familiar scattershot diagram was presented. Cost of tables, and Room rates were discussed. The conclusion was that Historicon operates close to the margin. Okay, we got that. Then we went over some of the other options and his (Scott’s) Stoplight chart for ranking them. Some options were brought up in the Pocanos and New Jersey. I didn’t care for either one of them, but the undercurrent of the conversation was that they seemed to want to move Historicon for the reasons that “it was too much like the other conventions, nothing stands out any more” “it costs too much to run H’con in Fredericksburg”.
|Okay, back to the opinion part, and it’s JUST MY OPINION, not that of the BOD, HMGS or any other body. I think the hue and cry to move Historicon (of all conventions you could move) is ridiculous. Sure there are many issues with the Fredericksburg site, there will always be issues with sites– this place is Nirvana compared to the Host. Is there something wrong with the idea that we could have a geographic spacing of conventions in a North, Middle and South arrangement? Who CARES about the concept of “Flagship” conventions, anyway.. if that’s your issue, make Fall-IN! the Flagship, it’s doing relatively well these days. I personally believe this move is a response to people who find Fredericksburg inconvenient for them personally, because they got used to driving 45 minutes from PA or NJ to get to the cons when ALL of them were in one state. As was emphasized time and time again, when you move a convention, attendance drops off. So why move H’con? Doesn’t that sound stupid to anyone? Buehler? Buehler? Yes, I admit that the margins are tighter on the Fredericksburg location, but isn’t the proper response to that to GROW THE CONVENTION IN PLACE, instead of retreating all the time? Everywhere I looked at the convention, there were signs we had a lot of people. I couldn’t get a parking spot to save my life on Saturday. The games were great, people had a good time– but almost all games were full up. We’ve had conventions that were tight on the budget before– Fall IN! at Gettysburg comes to mind, immediately. Yet, we kept them in place in the hopes they would grow, as Fall IN! DID grow. I find the analysis competent (good job, Scott, I’m serious), but I disagree that the conclusion is “We must move a convention now”. I found the room rates discussion of the Jersey location alarming.. it appears we’re getting into another Baltimore situation,with very very expensive hotels, and middle aged or older attendees with fixed incomes who chose not to bother to show up. I know I’d have to put a lot of thought into a convention that cost me a thousand bucks in hotel before I stepped one foot into the dealer area. Only, unlike Baltimore, I couldn’t manage a day trip visit to New Jersey. I’m not that unique– I think tons of potential Southern guests that attend can manage the same kind of math. Frankly we’re looking at the wrong problem here.. aren’t Fall-IN! and Cold Wars the big risks here? It truly remains to be seen whether or not the Host can be rebuilt to code or not. So I have to ask, isn’t that where the Relocation committee should be focusing right now? We have two very fragile eggs in that basket, and all it could take is one more burst pipe to break them. I’ve spoken with the FI convention manager, who is up next, and he remains confident that the new owners will spend the necessary monies to get the place fixed up. I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, but one thing’s for certain, the Host will go up in price as well. Betting future convention success on the well being of the Lancaster Host hotel is starting to sound like a fool’s bet… and I used to be a big proponent of the place back in the MOVE HISTORICON NOW era. Remember that? It took a lot of fail for me to get here. Moving Historicon also seems like a bad move. We’re ensuring a large attendance drop (according to Scott Landis, about 200 attendees, more or less). To cut the throat of convention that might not be doing spectacularly, but at least is doing steady state (and perhaps improving) just seems .. stupid to me. In one stroke of the pen we will lose ground we’ve made with attendees from farther South. I was speaking with two rather pleasant gentlemen from Tennessee volunteering with me (walk in volunteers btw), and I asked them if they would go to the convention if it moved up to New Jersey or Northern PA. “Nope, can’t afford it”, was the honest answer. Rather than try to serve the center mass of the attendance diagram so a smaller PA-NJ-VA-MD set of people can got to three conventions in PA, why not forge ahead with the locating one in the North (NJ/NY), one in the Middle (PA) and one in the South (VA)? We’ll at least pick up outlyers from other regions that way as well as a lot of (but not ALL of) our core attendees. We have to understand that not all dealers will be happy with that idea and some stalwarts will not be at every convention– which is pretty much where we are at today.
Well, that’s my .02, worth what you paid for it. I rarely speak about HMGS policies on this blog any more, because it’s not worth the effort– I’d rather spend my time commenting on the positive. This will be an exception. To sum up: 1) Moving Historicon bad (losing 200 attendees immediately and attendees from South and Southwest of VA), 2) Moving Cold Wars and/or Fall IN! farther North good (don’t put our eggs in one basket). 3) Geographic Attendee spread farther North and South good. 4) Astronomical room night rates bad. Rant OFF.
So our good friend Ed Watts was also experiencing his birthday at the convention and both Gar and I were invited to the tiny con-within-a-con that was his birthday party. There was cake and candles and soda and Sword in the Flame and Western Skirmish gaming.
This was such a good time.. old friends (I despair to say how old) coming together for nosh and good times. I was sort of the British commander for Ed’s Sword and the Flame game, which appeared a little hopeless at first but things were changing up by the time we had to end (early). For more pictures, go HERE for the slideshow.
Saturday dragged a bit in the morning at events but was brisk at reception. The parking lot was jammed to the gills. We were on until 5 oclock but really didn’t have to work too hard after 1PM. We broke down events at the end and just laid out the tickets. Saturday night was fantastic.. I got a ticket for Steve Braun’s Tekumel game:
On the Seas of Tekumel; GM: Steve Braun; Fantasy; Homebrew/Savage Tales. Tekumel is home to many non-human races and the high seas are a great place for them to meet up a settle their differences! See what happens when the insect-like Hluss bring their ancient Lightning Bringers to fight ships made of wood and iron. Join in the fun as the frog-like Hlutgru storm aboard your vessel. This is one of the five gamaes on the HAWKS Tekumel track.
I didn’t realize the HAWKS even had a “Tekumel track” but that certainly is intriguing. For those of you not in the know, Tekumel is a reference to an ancient, dense roleplaying & combat system called “Empire of the Petal Throne”, set in a fantastic setting 60, 000 years in the future when mankind has colonized other worlds, in particular the setting for this game, Tekumel, a somewhat tropical planet that is host to not only human colonists but several intelligent and bellicose alien species vying for control. Steve Braun’s game imagined that the races of Tekumel would carry their conflicts onto the ocean with them, and he spent a lot of time building up boats and weird watercraft fitted to the alien races. I got to play the Hluss, which are kind of insect like, kind of reptilian. Best of all, my faction had an organic submersible of sorts. This led to all kinds of hilarity when we surfaced underneath the frog-like Hlutgru’s spiffy new war canoe!
Now that’s non-stop hilarity. The Hlutgru player had another opinion, of course.
I loved the game, loved the rules.. and if they are going to be running this at Barrage I need to make a point to come to that event. I love naval games and remember having a lot of fun with this material when I was all of 17 years old. It’s heartening to see that the Petal Throne is staying alive through the volunteer efforts of lots of dedicated people. For more pictures of this event, see the slide show HERE.
I was in no more events for the weekend, I reckon I had my fill. Let’s see, lots of historicals (see the analysis up top). I only played in one “fantasy” game and I could hardly resist. There were no standout extravaganza games anywhere at this convention that I could see, but plenty of excellent work by dedicated gamemasters. I loved the games I played in. Shopping wise I didn’t get a ton of stuff but I did put down some serious support for vendors (first) and flea market (second). Got some frostgrave stuff for camp, got a new maori war canoe, go some bulk pewter for Iron Wind Metal (mostly treasure chest tokens). I did not start a new period “just because”. We discovered two new eating places down there (BonChon and Cookout), and slept well at the Homewood Suites, which is becoming my favorite of the three adjoining spots. I saw a lot of old friends, got to jaw with them endlessly and even went to a party. I’d say this convention was a bucket of win for me and my son.
Observations: There were plenty of games, numerically, but it was a seller’s market.. competition for tickets was fierce. Lines at registration were long, but seemed to move– I didn’t hear about any WIFI disasters. The parking lots were full all the time. The Vendor Hall was light, but we are just going to have to accept that that is the new reality now. The Call Ahead ticketing idea seems like it’s way overdue, but I haven’t tried it yet. Guidebook, yet again, has proven its value. Many people approached me to tell me how valuable the “paperless approach” is to them.
So that is that. As the sun sets slowly in the West, we will leave our attendees, clustering around one last round of beers, re-fighting old wars..
See you all at Fall-IN!
For every picture from the weekend, and a lot of them weren’t posted, go HERE to see the slideshow…