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.


  1. Phil, some interesting observations. I wonder whether the tangible sense of lack of communication from / with punters on the face-to-face level is simply what we are seeing in society as a whole (a topic in its own right).

    As for game presentation, I really do think you have a point. A show stopper or two at a show is good, it showcases the hobby and gives you something to admire, but I have always seen gaming tables at shows having a prime function of inspiring the punter to wanting to 'do that' and them then going off to find the traders with will sell the necessary bits. The essential ingredient in all of that is that the game MUST be something that you can envisage being do-able at home or perhaps the club if you are a club member.

    For home games, I suspect that most gamers lack the luxury of storage capacity that can handle diorama style set-ups. The bread and butter show games should in my view fall into the category of 'kitchen table gaming' if they are to inspire spend. Over the years, I have been amazed by a few games, but only actually inspired by a handful.

    There is a balance between seeing things that makes you want to improve your own game presentation and the functional of actually doing some 'real' gaming.

    The 'doing everything in 28mm' has certainly hit the scale diversity and game size presentation of the show circuit.

    1. Norm,

      I used to think that a con should show "the best the hobby has to offer", in order to inspire wargamers. But we have indeed to be careful that such games don't become an unattainable goal. Otherwise, there will be a rift between the home games played with cheap plastics on a vinyl mat (:-)), and the things you see at cons, which almost look like a different hobby. Perhaps this is also tied to the shorter time people spend at a con. If people want to shop, and look at a few games for an hour or so, you want to see spectacular stuff (after all, you paid an entrance fee as well :-)).

      it is a subtle balance, and it would be foolish to try to impose rules or guidelines on what a convention game should look like. It is a hobby after all.

  2. I agree with most of what you have said above. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but what struck me was that not once was I approached by someone at a gaming table to tell me what was going on. Many games did not seem to have any action going on whatsoever, sitting tight and looking awfully pretty... That being said I was happy to have more room to walk between games tables and trade stands, and yes, I too, collected some orders placed beforehand. It seemed to me that there were really a lot of WWII games, and also lot of WWII goodies on sale. And yes, the predominance of 28mm figures (preferably in large numbers on crowded tables, but very beautifully done). Nevertheless, I think the TSOA did a sterling job and I am already looking forward to next year- when I promise to drop by to say hello!

  3. I pretty much agree with all of the comments made so far. Whilst there are some wonderful tables to look at, with looking being the operative word, there are few that inspire me to give it a go at home. One that did this year was a 6mm Operation Market-Garden game at Colours, nice and simply done, but beautifully executed and, importantly, something you feel you could achieve at a club or home.