Monday, May 28, 2012

Enfilade! 2012 Up Down and Sideways

NHMGS just completed our 21st running of the Enfilade! historical miniature gaming convention this weekend. I wasn't around for Enfilade! I, but I've been to the last 20, although with diminished enthusiasm these last few years.

For a number of years, I hosted several games each convention, ran the painting competition, and for several years straight, I was the convention director. I think I'm just tired, but all my experience has taught me a few things about gaming that affect my outlook on conventions—which I'll return to below.

I managed to psych myself into hosting one game together with Kevin Smyth for Sunday morning. Otherwise, I wasn't sure if I would come at all on Friday and Saturday, or maybe just one of those days plus Sunday. As it turns out, I went all three but drove about 85 miles each way every day to do it.

Friday - reconnaissance

I took the week prior to Enfilade! off, as I have often done in the past in order to focus on all the last-minute tasks needed for running games, organizing things, etc. None of which I did this year. I just relaxed at home enjoying a staycation away from work for the first time in more than a year. So when Friday came around I was raring to go. It was great to see a lot of gamers from all around the Pacific Northwest whom I either rarely or never see during the rest of the year.

As each year passes we are older, fatter, balder, and-—sadly—fewer. Attendance has hovered at about 220 for several years now, but a lot of the grognards are scarcer every year. The reason for that varies from moved away, other family plans for Memorial Day weekend, loss of interest, or sickness and death (we're all getting older). There's also the legendary "lost tribes" of the Seattle area who eschew Enfilade! out of some principle or another.

Friday gave me a good chance to scope out who was there, who was doing what, and what neat new things I could buy.

Saturday - no pancakes for me!

I wanted to come on Saturday because Sven Luger was running a 28mm game using the new Pike & Shotte rules to game one the the battles (Lystra Mouth) from the excellent sci-fi novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. I had missed out on pre-registering for the game. The website to do that was not working... not working... not working...  CLOSED! I blinked during the brief window when I could pre-register and was unsure if I'd make it into the game.

I got up as early as I normally do, i.e., as soon as the cats become too obstreperous to ignore. I thought I'd get on the road and stop for breakfast at Elmer's in Tacoma on the way down. We used to have an Elmer's here in Lynnwood. They had the BEST Swedish pancakes ever. I missed them for a long time and looked forward to having them again. However, when I got to the restaurant, I discovered to my great dismay that they no longer had the Swedish pancakes on the menu. Apparently, lingonberry is hard to come by. I made do with French toast and bacon—but the magic had been lost.

I arrived at the convention at about 8:15, just in time to miss signing up for the last available slot in the Lord Kalvan game. Ironically, if I hadn't stopped to not eat Swedish pancakes, I would have made it in. While disappointing, not getting into the game allowed me to maintain my perfect record of never managing to get into a game I wanted to play at Enfilade! that I wasn't running myself.

I stayed around for a while chatting and shopping, but decided to head home and putter around on various projects for the day instead. On the way home, I stopped by The Panzer Depot (the "lost tribe" HQ) in Kirkland only to find "lost tribesmen" Bill Stewart and Dick Larsen unloading boxes of English Civil War figures for an impromptu game of Pike & Shotte. All the usual suspects were there including Phil Bardsley who games once every blue moon.

Between them, Bill and Dick have a lot of ECW and our first taste of the rules wound up being a fairly big game. Bill, Phil, Mike Lombardy, and I were the Royalists. John Kennedy, Pat Clifford, Steve Puffenberger, and Dick were the Roundheads.

The game went well for a first play. It's enough like Black Powder to pick up the differences easily (plus we had a "these are the differences" cheat-sheet). Nevertheless, we still managed to fumble at several points and muddle through by recalling "rules" from other games or just making things up (until someone said, "No you can't do that; you're just making it up.")

Phil left early, but managed to win in absentia. His battalia of foote had been heavily engaged in a grand clusterf*** with Steve's battalia. Phil kept winning the melee, but Steve's troops refused to break. By this time the fight was on autopilot and shortly after Phil left, Steve's battalia broke and we called the game a Royalist win.

It was a nice kind of serendipity to go from missing out on the Lord Kalvan game (and Swedish pancakes) to gaming Pike & Shotte with the grumbliest of the grognards—which is what I had wanted to do anyway, I just didn't know they were playing until I showed up.

After that I went home to feed the ravenous cats and prepare for my game Sunday.

Sunday - pancakes and iron

After being roused out of bed by the cats, I got going Sunday morning by heading to Kinko's to print and laminate a few more ship charts for the Sail and Steam Navies game I was hosting that morning. That being done, I stopped off at the Family Pancake House in Shoreline for some Swedish pancakes. While quite good, they're not to scratch with the former Elmer's version, but I had to get my fix in any case.

I got to Enfilade! just after 9:00 AM and got everything set up. Naval games are easy that way. Kevin already had a big blue felt mat out. All I needed to do was position some shoals and set out the ships and ship cards.

The game pitted a Confederate force of three ironclad rams against a Union force of mostly wooden ships with a stiffening of a couple river monitors. The Confederate force included the CSS Tennessee, which is a nasty, brutal kind of ship. Good armor, good guns, and a deadly ram. However, like all Confederate ironclads, its motive power was weak and so the ship's best speed was much slower than the slowest Union ship.

I thought the Confederates would tear up the Union, but they succumbed to the dreaded stack hits, which left them dead in the water. I begin to think that it's a bit of a glitch in the rules. Hit locations are determined by a random D10 roll, so there is a 1:10 chance of hitting the stack. Stacks are unarmored, so even pop-guns can score big against them. When the really big guns come into play, they can blow away the stack in a single roll. I'd rather see the stack being a critical hit, rather than a main target location. That way there would be fewer stack hits in the game and ships wouldn't be immobilized so easily. The last S&SN game we played also saw the Confederates done in by getting their stacks shot away.

The Tennessee did manage to sink one river monitor by ramming and disable a 90-day gunboat by blowing up its steam drum. However, it wasn't enough. CSS Baltic had surrendered, CSS Nashville had its stack and paddle wheels shot away, and when the Tennessee's stack went away it was all over but for swimming to shore.

After the game, a bit more chatting and shopping then off to home. The drive up and back each day was a bit much. 170-mile round trips three days in a row will take it out of you in a hurry. I'm happy to have one more day off to recover before I'm back to the grind.

Swag - the goal of every convention

I managed to pick up a lot of neat new things at the convention. There are a few sellers that I only see once a year, so I maximize my purchases, and there's always a few surprises elsewhere—especially at the bring and buy.

Books - I picked up several books from the bring and buy. One two-volume set was a memoir of a French officer who had served from 1672 to 1710, just the exact period for my Pike & Periwig project. I've read through a bit already and it's fascinating stuff. I also found a copy of GDW's out-of-print Combined Arms "modern" rules (i.e., circa 1980s). These are mostly valuable for the TO&Es that cover all the NATO and WARPAC forces. It's good to have as I plan to expand my "modern" micro armor collection to include more Soviets. I also got Kevin Smyth's copy of FGU's Blue Light Manual from the 70s. I'll probably never play them, but I had a copy way back in the day and you never know what insights you may glean from a rule set.

Terrain - Both Monday Knight Productions and Wizard Kraft were at Enfilade! again. MKP has a line of 6mm buildings that I thought about when we started our modern micro armor project last summer. I was determined to get enough for a several town blocks and did. I hope by our next game to have them all done. I'll opt for a quicker and dirtier paint job than usual, which I can get away with because it's 6mm scale. I figure If I can't see anything that small to pick out the flaws nobody else can.

MKP also had some 40mm scale stone walls at 50¢ for an 8" section or corner piece. End pieces were 25¢. I came away with $15.00 worth, but now think I should have gone the full Jackson's worth. Still it's plenty of stone protection for the ACW figures I'm working on.

I got several fields from Wizard Kraft. William is using a new style for his fields and he only had partially finished versions with him. I got these at $8.00 per square foot rather than $14.00 and all I need to do is finished off the rows of crops on them with some Tacky glue and Woodland Scenics flocking.

Ships 'n' stuff - MKP also had on hand a bunch of items from Bay Area Yards. I had tried getting some of these from the BAY website, but several of what I wanted were unavailable. I picked up several models of smaller river gunboats as well as the initial armored version of the USS Galena. Unable to help myself, I also bought their Fort St. Philip model (Kevin snagged the Fort Jackson). It's very nicely cast in resin with metal guns. I can use it as a generic fort. We don't do a lot of ship vs. shore actions because they're mostly just about shooting.

Thoughts on convention gaming

As promised, here are my few coherent thoughts on convention gaming, which generally run from negative to ambivalent:

A crowd's a crowd - I prefer gaming between friends because the camaraderie is always better and there is some communal commitment to the game we're playing. The atmosphere is also less hectic. Conventions draw a lot of gamers who want to participate in a lot of games. While the gamers truly appreciate the work that game hosts do to put on a game, as a game host, I find it frustrating to try to teach people a game they will likely never play again in a single gaming period so that they (or I) can find something enjoyable or meaningful in the experience. All the while the convention hall is teeming with humanity making a dull, yet sustained, hubbub that renders actual communication to an audience of more than one other gamer impossible.

It's the simplicity, stupid - I like games that provide more complexity and depth in the rules. Whenever someone gushes to me about the sheer genius of a two-page rules set, I have to smile politely and back away slowly. However, that's what a convention game really calls for. To me, the idea of developing a set of rules that can be learned in minutes and then working for months on a project to host a game for other people that I wouldn't want to play myself is crazy. The alternative is to host a game of what I'm currently playing and hope people pick it up; but having done that on more than one occasion, I'm no longer sanguine about the success of that endeavor. I've hosted too many games where I ran the charts for every combat action for every player. It's easy enough to do for small games, but games with more people are exhausting. Simple is better, but I just don't like simple.

Schlepp you much - Ever since I got my 350z, my ability to host an away game (and they're all away games) has been limited. My previous cars weren't big, but had much more storage room. The Z is an engine with two seats. The very limited storage space is rendered even more limited by the stabilizer bar that runs across it. I used to be able to load a lot of stuff into tote boxes, but I can't fit the tote boxes in the car. This means that until I get a new (practical) car, which I don't see happening soon, I'm limited to hosting one game that doesn't require too much in the way of terrain, figures, etc. The only alternative would be to rent an SUV for the weekend.

Doctors are the worst patients - Having hosted so many games at conventions, I find that I don't actually like playing them when I'm not hosting. Being one of the crowd of gamers I don't know being taught a set of rules I don't know by someone I don't know just doesn't make for the best experience. I either pick up a set of rules instantly or get dazed and confused immediately. An hour into a three-hour game and I want to be anywhere else. (Sometimes I feel that way when I'm hosting.)

All that aside, I will surely continue to host games at Enfilade! and may even rent the SUV to schlepp more stuff for multiple games.