Sunday, 4 November 2018

CRISIS 2018: Impressions

I already posted about CRISIS 2018 before (our own game, and da loot), but here I will give some general impressions about the show. I have attended all CRISIS show since 2001 (and one in 1997, I missed 3 years because I was living in the US at the time), and our gaming group has run demo- and participation games every year since 1997. So, my views are mostly through the eyes of a participating club member, and not a trader, a visitor, or a member of the organization.

As we have come to expect from the organizing club TSA, the organization was very professional and flawless. From the time I entered the parking lot around 8.00 till the time I left around 17.30, all members of TSA were friendly and helpful. This is often visible in small things: pointing out where you can park the car to unload, a small friendly chat during the day, the staff manning the bar, or the people running the food stand. Especially the food stand is something many other conventions should be jealous about: pies, sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, ... and this year even a classic Belgian dish, vol-au-vent with fries! So a big thank you to all people involved in the organization.

As for the show itself, there was a good mix between traders and games. There was a good atmosphere, and overall a very friendly setting, as it should be. However, there were a few things I noticed (and these are personal impressions, so other people might feel differently):
  • A big show such as CRISIS tends to become a shopping mall rather than a meeting point for wargamers. As someone told me: "It seems more and more people are here to pick up their pre-ordered stuff, and then they're gone." And someone else: "People were already leaving around noon - I never saw that before." I also noticed this in my small circle of wargaming friends. It used to be many of them would come and hang out for the day (sometimes even helping out with the game we're running), now most of them come by for an hour of two, do some shopping, say hello, and that's it. Perhaps this is an unavoidable trend, but it makes you wonder what the real purpose of a wargaming convention is. Don't get me wrong, it's still fun to talk to many old friends, but somehow, the intensity of it has changed. I also felt there was less of a "buzz". Attendance seemed lower compared to previous years (especially Hall 1 felt less crowded), but that's perhaps due to a better lay-out plan?
  • As a side-effect of the above, it becomes more difficult to talk to other visitors. We always try to engage with "strangers" taking a look at our gaming table, but over the years, I have noticed that people are not really interested in chatting anymore. They simply want to take pictures (which is ok) without interacting (which is less ok), and then they're quickly gone. Of course, there are still people who want to chat, but again, the focus and intensity has shifted somewhat.
  • It's very interesting to see how gaming interests shift over the years. This year, I barely saw any GW games, as opposed to let's say a few years ago, where you could still see Warhammer or 40K games. It seems people have moved on from GW, although many traders till have piles of GW stuff for sale.
  • The demo and participation games have reached such high levels, that it is almost becoming ridiculous. We have run games for many years (and have won a few prizes), but what some gaming groups are showing, well, that's something we can never accomplish given our time budget. On the other hand, it's also clear that some demo games have so much money invested in them, that they cease to become a wargame "you can play at home". I always felt a wargame at a show should be something you have designed and built yourself, not something you simply bought off-the-shelf by throwing a lot of money at it. There is a grey zone, of course, but it's obvious some gaming groups are putting huge amounts of time and money in their games. Now, such games are a joy to look at - so much detail, so many figures, so much work - but they really are dioramas, moving dioramas at best. It's hard to imagine such games are something you can try at home.
    There's of course a philosophical issue here - what's the purpose of a show game? Showing the best hobby as to offer visually? That certainly makes games gravitate towards the visually spectacular. Demonstrating lesser known game systems? Or showing novel and original gaming mechanics? The latter becomes very difficult at a show were people only want to spend a few minutes at your table (however, see our CRISIS 2013 Red-vs-Blue game which was designed around the idea of micro-participation!). I guess only the future will tell.
Personally, this CRISIS did not feel like a top year to me. Overall, it was a still a positive experience, but somehow, I didn't have the same positive vibes I had in previous years. Bart and I (our 2-man gaming group) were pondering whether we should still run a game next year - maybe doing it 22 years in a row has been too long, and we are experiencing CRISIS-fatigue? - and I want to experience the convention from the point-of-view of a visitor one day: spending enough time at each of the booths, spending time at the other game tables, doing everything at your own pace rather than having the pressure of manning your table all the time ... something to think about!

I took some pictures of the games (but certainly not all, and sorry, I didn;t write down the club names), but for a very extensive photo report, see Tomsche's blogpost.

Crisis 2018: Da Loot!

A show such as CRISIS is always a good opportunity to get the wargaming juices flowing again, and buying new things is definitely part of that.

So, here's my pile of loot I hauled back home:

In no particular order of importance:
  • Black Powder, version 2. We have played a lot of Black Powder games over the years, so it was sort of a given I would buy the new rulebook. However, as I explained to many people I chatted with when we ran our game, we don't really care about an 100% correct interpretation of the rules. We modify all our rules according to our own uninformed opinions anyway, so I have no clue how "true" we still are to the BP rules as written. But anyway, nice book!
  • Refighting History, vols 4, 5, 6. Once you start a collection of books, it's hard to stop. I really like these books, they are a tremendous source of inspiration for the gentlemen-wargamer. In due time, they will be added to the Magazine Index.
  • Strontium Dog, starter set. I posted about this before.
  • Wargamer's Annual: same remarks as Refighting History ...
  • Naval Secrets of Wargaming Design: the 8th volume in a series that reprints the artcles written by Wally Simon. Very inspirational, especially if you're more of a wargamer-tinkerer rather than a wargamer-consumer.
  • War Games through the Ages, Don Featherstone: picked it up for 13 Euro, and a nice addition to my library of classic wargaming books.
  • 2nd hand scifi minis: great for our Antares campaign - which reminds me that we should get this fired up again.
  • Some minis from Brother Vinni ...
  • And a bunch of blisters with old fantasy miniatures. I'm a sucker for the classic fantasy lines, and if one can pick up a bunch of blisters for 2 euro a piece, I'm always there to scoop them up.
I also sold some things:
  • An unpunched version of Avalon's Hill Afrika Korps.
  • A bunch of old roleplaying materials, mainly Runequest,  ICE, and Pendragon stuff.
Selling such old and classic gaming materials always results in fun conversations filled with nostalgia and stories from the good old days.

Battle of Landshut at CRISIS 2018

Yesterday we ran a demo-game at CRISIS 2018. The game was based on the battle of Landshut between Austria and Bavaria, 1809. This was our 22nd consecutive game we staged at the CRISIS show.

I'll write up my show impressions in a future post, but here are some pictures of our own game. The theoretical pan was to run the game using Black Powder rules, but in practice we kriegs-spieled the game, suggesting developments and then jointly attributing a probability to it tod ecide the subsequent flow of events. This is usually a better format for a non-participation game at a con, since the game is meant as a starting point for discussions and conversations about wargaming, and not a classic game as you would play at home.

The figures and scenery are all from Bart's collection, apart from a few small scenery items and animal figures which came out of my "farm scenery" drawer.

Initial setup
Austrians trying to cross the bridge - defended by Bavarians.
An overview of the Isar river.
Another overview of the initial setup.
A view from the Bavarian lines.
Bavarian columns marching towards the battlefield.
Bart explaining the game.
The game is proceeding at a leisurely pace.
The windmill was a central piece of scenery on the gaming table.
Austrian reiniforcements marching across a pontoon bridge across the Isar.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Crisis 2018 coming up

Coming weekend will be CRISIS 2018 - the highlight of our wargaming year. Our little gaming group will stage a game for the 22nd consecutive year. This year our game will feature 25mm Napoleonics in the battle of Landshut.

There's a funny thing about convention games. They never really turn out the way you imagine them. Perhaps it's because we like to talk other attendees and friends too much, such that the game never really progresses. Perhaps it's because sometimes our participation games are too successful and end up with a bunch of fanatics around the table. Sometimes it's because the game is only so-so and we also lose interest ourselves in the game after the first 30 minutes. But let's be realistic. The purpose of a convention game is not the game itself. The game is only there to serve as a starting point to talk to fellow wargamers and have an enjoyable day. And yes, I know this is different from the American convention scene, but at most European conventions, games are there as focal points to have lively conversation, not necessarily to play all day long (although that sometimes happens as well).

I've been attending gaming conventions since the late eighties and I have seen some changes over those 30 years.
  1. There is a trend that conventions become more about shopping, and less about socializing. This has been pointed out by many people on various forums before, so it's not a new observation. Whether this is a good or bad thing I don't know, but I do miss a bit of the camaraderie that was more prevalent during my early gaming days. But perhaps I am wearing rose-tinted glasses.
  2. There is more diversification in games than ever before. I don't think that at a large con such as CRISIS, with over 50 games, you will find 2 games that feature exactly the same period with exactly the same rules and exactly the same line of miniatures. That used to be different. I still remember cons in which half the games were Warhammer (has almost disappeared completely from the general cons), or DBx, just to mention a few household names.
  3. The standard of games goes up every year. We had our fair share of awards for our games over the years, but the games we displayed 20 years ago (some won a "Best of Show"), would not even receive a minute of attention these days. On the one hand, that's a good thing, but on the other hand, it's putting the bar very high for any new blood in the hobby. Also, I feel many of the excellent showgames are more about visual spectacle, and less about the game itself. I always felt that wargaming should be a blend of visuals and mechanics, but mechanics are much harder to show off when people walk by your table and don't take the effort to look more closely, because they have to spend their time shopping :-)
  4. Many years ago, conventions were still covering many aspects of the "gaming hobby", along with some peripheral activities. I really enjoyed conventions were you had roleplaying games, classic hex-and-counter wargames, miniature games, along with a few LARPers, some re-enactors, and the local Tolkien fan club thrown in for good measure. Perhaps this was because gaming was still a small niche back then, and most gamers were interested in many things, but it seems gaming has balkanized in many different subniches, which each have their own conventions, and don't mingle anymore. Again, this might be good or bad. I certainly was not interested in all of these things (I still think LARPing is silly, don't get me started ;-) ), but it provided an eclectic mélange of related interests.
Now, don't get me wrong! I still enjoy conventions very much, and I'm certainly looking forward to this weekend.

And here's an unrelated picture, me in front of the famous mosaic of Alexander the Great in the Archeological Museum in Napoli, which I visited a few weeks ago:

Thursday, 4 October 2018

ACW game: A fickle flanking force

It had been a long time since we played our last ACW game, but we managed to play one this week. We used our house rules, but with the modification of trying out a new mechanism for activating units, as decribed in this blogpost.

The new command mechanism worked quite well, and both players (Eddy and Graham, I was umpire) seemed to like it, so I will include it in the rules sheet in due time.

As for the scenario, we used the "A fickle flanking force" scenario published in WSS 95.

Without much further ado, here are the pictures. All pictures were taken by Eddy using a smartphone, and are unedited.

Initial deployment. Confederates are defending the ridge (bottom), the Union (top) has to attack the ridge. Reinforcements on the left side of the river will try to outflank the Union, but are ambushed. Graham obviously is not paying attention :-)
Reinforcements on the Confederate left flank, ambushed by Union units.
Overview of the right flank.
Reinforcement column slowly crawling forwards.
Defensive line.
Action on the left flank.
Action on the right flank.

The first Union units have reached the ridgeline.

Final action of the game.

And some more photos, covering the same game of course, taken by me:

Friday, 14 September 2018

Strontium Dog

Warlord has released its new game, Strontium Dog. Strontium Dog has always been one of my favourite 2000AD comics. It always had the right blend of good storylines, nerdy and quirky humour, and a good scifi setting. Along with Rogue Trooper, it was obviously one of the main influences for the original Warhammer 40K Rogue Trader game.

My Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog volumes in my personal library.
Other than Judge Dredd, probably the most famous 2000AD character, I think Strontium Dog lends itself very well to a miniatures game. Actually, our own Antares 2401 campaign was started with the Strontium Dog universe in mind. Strontium Dog has always been very much mission and adventure oriented. We once tried the Judge Dredd roleplaying game back in the 90s. It was not a success - everyone was using Judge Dredd quotes all the time. That was it. No plot, no game, and I still feel bad for the GM who was a huge Judge Dredd fan at the time. It might be different in the combat-oriented Strontium Dog universe.

So, will I be getting this game? Hell yeah! If not to play it, just for haves. I'll probably buy a box and some other stuff at Crisis 2018.