I spent the last weekend spottily attending the Dragonflight 2013 convention in Bellevue, WA. I've been a few times before, mostly to check out the miniatures scene, which is minimal. Dragonflight is primarily a boardgame and RPG convention. The latter just doesn't draw me in, but I am an aficionado of boardgames in general and of hex 'n' counter wargames in particular. So, early this year I pre-registered for Dragonflight and set myself to go and focus on the wargames opportunities.
My first game (on Friday) was the Ascalon scenario from GMT's Infidel. This is the second game in GMT's Men of Iron series. I have the first game in the series, which I quite like. The game sequence uses a variable bound approach where a player activates a command and, after completing movement and combat for that command, can go on to activate another command and so on as long as they remain successful. I've resisted purchasing Infidel, but now that I've played it, I'm re-thinking that resistance. I have to admit up front that I played the Fatimids and got completely slaughtered by my opponent, Ken Cassidy. Ken played the crusaders and his knights just ate my lunch. Obviously I made mistakes, but in my own defense I have to state that Ken got five activations in a row right at the start. At several other points he got multiple consecutive activations, while I typically got only my free activation after Ken, rarely, lost an new activation attempt. Nevertheless, I thought it was a good game and the Men of Iron system plays very well and fluidly--even when you're just sitting there watching Godfrey de Bouillon mercilessly slaughter your elite Mamelukes.
Rob Bottos from Vancouver ran the Men of Iron event, which featured other players tackling the Bannockburn scenario from the original 2005 release Men of Iron. There was a possibility of playing a playtest version of the upcoming Blood & Roses. I've been a dilettante student of the Wars of the Roses since reading my father's copy of Winston Churchill's The Birth of Britain way, way back when. Instead, we played the Infidel scenario. I need to trouble Ralph Shelton, who helped run the Men of Iron event and was the producer for Infidel, for a Blood & Roses playtest opportunity. The game is scheduled for release in 2014 and I'm eager to give it a shot before then.
Men who shop
The rest of Friday was spent connecting with gamers and browsing the dealers. Since wargaming is a minority presence at Dragonflight, most of the wares brought by the vendors for sale were Eurogames, RPGs, and such. In my wanderings, however, I ran across the Greenlake Games booth and discovered IRONDIE.
Saturday, The War that Wasn't
I connected with Jeff Newell on Friday and arranged to play Lock 'n' Load Games' World at War series on Saturday. I ran across this series a few years back and it became an instant favorite. I used to play SPI's MechWar '77 back in the day (i.e., the 1970s) and this is an elegant upgrade to the Cold War hypothetical wargame. The game system is very playable and smooth.
We played two scenarios with me as the Commies both times. Jeff, being a former Army tanker, has an aversion to playing Ivan, which I was happy to indulge. Russian armor dies off like flies, but, like flies, there just seems to be a lot. It's a bit heady to set up a game with stacks of armor against a few platoons of Abrams tanks--even if by the end of turn 2 there are many fewer stacks of Russian armor and the Abrams are still there ready to knock you silly again on turn 3.
The first game was a small five-turn scenario from, I think, the World at War Compendium. It turned out to be a pretty tight game, which I might have won if I hadn't stuck my chin out by advancing my T-62s into a victory hex (one of three hamlets that the NATO player had to hold) while an Abrams had a bead on it.
Game two was scenario 1 from Eisenbach Gap, the first game in the series. I've played this before with disastrous results and I was eager to see if I could do better. I did, even though I didn't win. I was able to use my smoke and artillery to better effect and managed to take the larger of the two towns required for victory, knocking out a good bit of Team Yankee as I did. However, Jeff retained a nice kill-stack in the remaining town that I couldn't get to. The game board was littered with wrecks from both sides. Given the high death rate of the T-72, I call the result a morale victory.
I already had three of the games in the series (Eisenbach Gap, Blood and Bridges, The Untold Stories), but I was so inspired after Saturday's games that I ordered another three (Death of the 1st Panzer, Paris is Burning, World at War Compendium), two of which have already arrived in the mail (quick service!). I have a lot of counters to trim...
Gadgets and Gamers
One big advantage to attending Dragonflight was connecting with area gamers. Being a miniatures gamer, I'm not plugged into the board gaming community. There is less crossover than I would have thought.
I was able to get information about other events held in the Pacific Northwest that focus more on hex 'n' counter wargames. Rob Bottos runs Bottoscon in Vancouver, BC (Surrey, actually) in November. It's been going on for seven years and pulls in a lot of people. Jeff Newell runs Game ON! in Issaquah, WA in February. Game ON! features a lot of World at War play. I joined the Bottoscon Yahoo! group and am hoping to get connected with a regular, i.e., weekly or bi-weekly, gaming opportunity. I have a lot of games that need playing.
The hard-core gamers use large tweezers to manipulate their counter stacks. It looks pretty geeky, but when you've got stacks of counters in close proximity, it's pretty easy for fat-fingered gamers to knock everything asunder while attempting to move their pieces. The tweezers help. I haven't succumbed to lure of big tweezers yet, but Jeff Newell pulled out a gadget that got my attention. Behold the wonderous vacuum pen:
Using this wee suction device, you can easily pick up counters amidst the densest stack of cardboard heroes. I was so impressed, I whipped out my iPhone, searched the interwebs for a vacuum pen, found one on Amazon.com for $5.99 and ordered two. They arrived in the mail on Wednesday. O brave new world that has such technology in't!
I've also ordered more counter trays from Chessex and GMT. This assumes that I will follow up my new game purchases with the energy of actually trimming out hundreds of counters.
Even though I didn't spend a lot of time at Dragonflight, the experience was rewarding and I will attend next year and run an event of my own.