Monday, November 11, 2013

To Bottoscon and Back

I'm just back from my first trip to Bottoscon in Surrey, BC, home of the world's largest Canadian flag. Rob Bottos has been hosting this convention on his own at various venues in British Columbia for several years and it's starting to get a bit of critical mass. There were 79 pre-registrations and several more people showed up and registered at the door. We probably had just shy of 100 attendees over the three days of the convention. I heard about it for the first time at Dragonflight in August. With my renewed enthusiasm for boardgames, I jumped at the chance to attend a full-on boardgame convention of mostly wargames.

In the following months, I planned four games for the convention and wound up playing in an ersatz fifth. With the exception of Conflict of Heroes, all the games were fairly new to me, having had only a single/partial play or no play at all.

Photography disclaimer: My photographic equipment on this trip consisted only of my iPhone and iPad. Of the two, the iPhone is infinitely superior as a camera, poor though it is. The iPad is truly execrable and I only used it for Saturday night's game because my iPhone was recharging. I apologize humbly in advance for the photos that accompany this post.


I left home about 9:30 AM on Friday and zoomed up in about two hours. Apart from having to sort out having the bank suspend my card because of "irregular activity" (i.e., a cash withdrawal in a foreign land), I was checked in and ready to go by about 12:30. The convention started at 12:00, but I was one of the early ones. Even Rob wasn't there until after 1:00. My scheduled opponent for my first game, also an American from the Seattle area, didn't arrive until about 2:00. I wandered to the bar to drink a rather tasty Stanley Park 1897 Amber microbrew and then started an impromptu game instead against Kevin Deitrich (KC).

Game 1: Poland fights on!

A gallant TKS holds off the Wehrmacht
The first game was a Conflict of Heroes scenario from the Price of Honour expansion. I played the Poles and KC was the Germans. There were a lot of "armored" vehicles in the game, if the term really applies to the wee Polish TKS tankettes, all but two of which were armed only with MGs. I also had two Vickers E tanks as well as two platoons of infantry. KC had a company of German infantry plus some armored cars and a panzer platoon of two PZ IIs and a Pz III.

At first, the Poles held their own against the Germans, but German firepower and concentration eventually proved effective. I was leading on points until KC captured two control points and surged up to just a point behind me.

The first position—held to the death!
My TKS tankettes were all blasted away and one of my Vickers E's lost a duel with the Pz III. I had only my fall-back position, which was held by three squads, a 46mm light mortar, a 37mm AT gun, and my remaining Vickers E. KC had lost only two units by this time, while my dead pool was about a dozen. Grim as it seemed, I was still slightly ahead on points because my points were mostly scored by not letting my control points get taken. I still had two remaining and KC couldn't get to them by game's end. The Poles squeaked out a win on points by delaying their own destruction.

The last stand
Game 2: Manfred und Lothar sind tot!

The Conflict of Heroes game ended about 6:00 or so and a group of us trudged out for dinner. We got back in by 7:30 or so and went back to our gaming. Without a scheduled game to play, I got drawn into game of Wings of Glory run by Mike Owen. Mike is a true aficionado of the game and has collected and customized a large number of the available models, and has also made some paper models at 1:144 scale for the game.

The scenario pitted Raymond Collishaw's Black Flight of five Sopwith Triplanes against four Fokker Dr.1's of von Richtofen's Flying Circus. I flew Ellis Reid in "Black Rodger" and Marcus Alexander in "Black Prince." Rob Bottos flew the other three "tripes" in the flight. Mike and another player ran the Fokkers of Jasta 11.

Reid and Alexander on dawn patrol
I've never played Wings of Glory before, though I've seen it around for years. We played some Blue Max many years ago, but that was my only foray into WW1 aerial combat. I found that being a miniatures gamer gave me an advantage over the board gamers I was playing with. For most of them, all reckoning involves a hex or square grid, or some other demarcation that regulates movement. They regard free-form maneuvering of game pieces like hippies in a commune regard flush toilets: something to be eschewed. With my experience in naval gaming, it's sort of second nature to me to pre-plot free-form movement reasonably well so I don't wind up colliding with friends, enemies, or myself. I was able to keep out of the furriest part of the fur-ball and keep on my guns on my opponents.

Reid on Lothar's tail, givin' it to 'im proper!
I got a bead on Lothar von Richtofen early on and kept peppering him. I hit him several times, and Rob got at least one burst in him, but the damage was minimal all along—no explosion or heavy damage cards. It took several shots, but he eventually went down in flames after I got a last burst at him.

A few turns later it was Manfred's turn. The Red Baron had been hit more than a few times by Rob's planes, but I got a few in myself and got the last burst in that put him down.

Reid downs another Richtofen
We called the game just before 10:00 PM. I was about to turn into a pumpkin, having been up very early cleaning the house so the cat sitter wouldn't think I lived like a feral beast, then on the road for two hours.

As a bit of serendipity, Mike awarded me a Wings of Glory Duel Pack with Richtofen's Dr.1 and Roy Brown's Sopwith Camel in recognition of my success in my first game. The 1:144 scale models are very nice. I'm not sure if I really want to get into this system any deeper than my duel pack, but the quality of the already-assembled-and-painted models makes one think...


I got up earlier than I wanted to on Saturday because I still needed to trim out some counters for the Chariots of Fire game I was playing that morning. I spent a good deal of time trimming little cardboard counters in the run-up to the convention. Every game has hundreds of them and it can take hours of tedious work with an X-Acto knife to get them game ready. After about an hour of trimming, I went downstairs and had breakfast with Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, my opponent.

Game 1: Arrows everywhere!

As it turned out we decided to play Devil's Horsemen instead, so I might as well have slept in. Both games are part of GMT's Great Battles of History (GBoH) series. They use similar rules—with which we were both largely unfamiliar—so switching from one to another was no problem. We played the Ayn Jalut scenario. I was the Mamluks attacking the rear guard of Prince Ketbugha's army.

Initial face-off of Mamluk advance guard and Mongol rear guard
The Mongols were fully deployed at start, while I had only a small advance guard. Though technically defending, Wilhelm attacked my advance guard of light cavalry right away to little effect. The game system allows for return fire and as he drew up his light horsemen to shoot at me, my light horsemen shot back to better effect. When I started bringing on the rest of my forces, Wilhelm used Mongol feigned flight tactics, which drew only a few of my units in—but not to ill effect. It turned out that he really just got his backs to me and I could shoot with impunity as unit after unit of bow-armed Mamluks came on the board.

The Mamluks come on
Wilhelm made a strong counterattack with his heavier units (all bow armed as well) that took out a few of my light horsemen. However, weight of numbers started to tell a bit and after two turns, I was starting to turn the Mongol flanks.

The GBoH system, like a lot of GMT tactical games, uses a continuation mechanism (called momentum in GBoH) that enables players to reactivate a group of units for another go in the same turn. Momentum can stretch a single turn out to multiple activations if both sides are successful in getting it. I was able to get momentum multiple times for my light cavalry, which enabled me to do a lot of shooting and maneuvering to bust open the Mongol right flank.

Arrow fire was significant in this game. Both sides are almost entirely armed with composite bows and we spent a lot of effort whittling away at each other. Rolling a "9" for shooting results in getting a Missile Low counter, which gives you one more shot before you're out of arrows. You can re-load your quivers under certain conditions, but while marked with a Missile No counter, you can't return fire. That, in turn, allows multiple arrow attacks with no possibility of reply. Units can wither and rout quickly that way.

We called the game at about 1:00 after just two turns—but a long play time, due to unfamiliarity with the rules and multiple momentums (momenta?). It was a good introduction to the system and has me more eager to play Chariots of Fire. I also have the Chandragupta game in the GBoH series.

Game 2: Bork! bork! bork!

After Wilhelm and I concluded our game, I laid out the board for my next game and went up to my room to chill for a bit. The game was scheduled to start at 6:00 and I planned to get dinner at about 5:00 in the hotel restaurant then meet up with Dan Owsen, my next opponent for our game of Nothing Gained but Glory. However, when I stopped by the game room around 4:30 I found Dan setting up the scenario, so we just played.

I was eager to try the Fehrbellin scenario. I'd read about the battle many years ago, but with the limited information of the pre-Interwebs age, I really didn't know much about it. That mystery made it all the more intriguing for me. To my knowledge, this is the only game to feature this battle, which marked the beginning of Brandenburg-Prussia's rise to great power status.

I played the Brandenburgers and Dan played the Swedes. The Brandenburgers have two commands: one small left wing under Derfflinger holding some small hills where the Brandenburg artillery is placed, and a huge right wing of all cavalry under Hesse-Homburg and Frederick William the "Great Elector." The Swedes were in three commands: two small cavalry wings under commanders sine nomine, and a center, under Waldemar Wrangel, consisting of several infantry regiments.

I came on strong maneuvering my right wing cavalry against Dan's left wing. There was a small gap between the Swedish left and an impassable bog. I shot for that gap with the hope of turning the Swedish flank and attacking the infantry line from the rear. It went well mostly for the first turns, but Dan was successful a few times in trumping my attempts at continuation, so I wasn't able to get as much into single turns as I wanted.

After about four turns, I wound up a victim of my own success. In GMT's Musket and Pike series, every combat results in a formation hit to both sides regardless of other outcomes. Winning two combats in a row, or getting a pursuit result for cavalry, renders a unit Formation Broken. Broken formations can't move and are penalized in combat. The only cure for a lot of broken formations is to rally. I had broken cavalry formations blocking any possible exploitation of the flank. I had to change my orders from Charge to Rally.

At this point, Dan changed his orders to Charge and the Swedish infantry smacked into the Brandenburg cavalry. It was a fright to begin with, but his attacks petered out and left him with a lot of shaken and broken formations.

The Swedish right attacks Deflinger's artillery
I returned to the attack after on turn of rallying to smack into some of the shaken Swedish formations. Attacking infantry frontally is a bit worrisome. Their firepower is formidable and cavalry, who can take only a few hits before they're in trouble—or gone, can be wiped out before they come to blows. I had hoped to avoid this, but I was mostly successful in pushing back, routing, or destroying several infantry regiments. However, my losses were too great. I wiped out the Swedish left wing cavalry and badly beat up the Swedish center, but I lost a lot of cavalry doing it. When the points were counted at the end of the game, it was a decisive Swedish victory.

Broken field in the center
Dinner was a Big Mac and fries delivered by Ralph Shelton and eaten in situ while the cardboard battle raged. We concluded about 8:00 and after wandering the game room a bit, I went upstairs and to bed before 10:00.


After a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I set up for my last game. I played Wilhelm again in a game of Sun of York. I'd only played solo prior to this, so I was eager to see how a game against another player would go.

Game 1: "A Warwick! A Warwick!"

We played two games of the Tewksbury scenario. I was the Lancastrians and Wilhelm played the Yorkists. The first game ended quickly when I took the Yorkist center by storm. We wrote that game off as a learning experience and re-played the scenario.

Lancastrians push The Yorkist center and left in game 1
In the second game, I tried a few things to see how they work. I focused on outflanking the Yorkist right, but got bogged down. My attack resulted in a repulse and the death of the Earl of Devon. Being down one leader would require me to rely more on drawing orders cards to get anything done to resume or repair that battle.

Imminent disaster on the Lancastrian left
Wilhelm drew the "A Warwick!" card, which let him play a treason attempt at one against my unengaged leaders. The attempt was successful against The Duke of Somerset and not only did he turn coat, but all the units in his battle did, too. In one fell swoop, my entire right wing disappeared.

Note: My only exception to this is that the system has some leaders that are considered "true blue" and can't be effected by treason cards. Somerset should be one of these. Three Dukes of Somerset, father and two sons, died for the Lancastrian cause. As Beauforts, they were blood-tied to the Lancastrians and never wavered, even after the Yorkist triumph at Towton and during the long years before Warwick's treason gave the Lancastrian cause a brief resurgence.

Wilhelm advanced his left battle and won initiative on the following turn, which let him capture the battle before I could respond. At this point, he also came on with his center against my only viable battle led by the young Lancastrian Prince of Wales.

I played it badly and my center battle was taken, which lost me the game.

The end of Edward, Prince of Wales
Post-game analysis was split. Wilhelm is unimpressed with the game. I like it and think it bears a lot more play. The system has the advantage of being endlessly re-playable since no two games, even of the same scenario, will be the same. There are also, I think, a lot of yet-undiscovered nuances. In retrospect, I could have played better at the crisis point of game 2, which might have repulsed the Yorkist attack on my center, although the loss of my right battle would effectively pin my center battle to the rear protecting against a flank attack from the captured battle. I might have resumed an attack with my left. A lot depends on the cards.

I got a lot of compliments on my pimped-out game board for Sun of York. One gamer described the system as a card version of a miniatures game. That has me thinking about a way to represent the units in play as stands of figures. For example, knights, bellmen, etc. could be a stand of two or three figures with two square wells that would fit two small dice: one orange die for cohesion and one black die for ability. Missile units would have three dice wells: combat ability for battle and long range, and cohesion. As cards are drawn and units deployed, the stands are used instead. Leaders, too, would be on bases with a die each for leadership and ability. It would look great, but I would have to have a strong commitment to the game system to go through the work to pimp out the game even more.

Post mortem

I enjoyed Bottoscon immensely. Rob does a great job organizing the convention by himself. I registered, booked a room, and scheduled games in a burst of enthusiasm after Dragonflight. I went through a bit of waffling in early October, but pressed on nevertheless.

There were a several multi-player games at Bottoscon, which makes sense because you can draw a bigger pool of potential gamers. At miniatures conventions or events, multi-player games are de rigeur. However, board gaming is largely a 1:1 proposition. Except for the Wings of Glory game (which is basically miniatures), all my games were against a single opponent. I didn't fully wrap my head around that for Dragonflight. When hosting a game at Enfilade!, I design a scenario for "x" players and submit it. The game will fill through pre-registration or sign-up at the event and we'll run with however many players we get, even fudging things to get in more. In most cases, I won't play myself, just run the game for others. In the months before Bottoscon, attendees arranged multi-player or 1:1 matches beforehand. I went in knowing what and who I would play. It's a bit different from what I'm used to, but I like it.

It was ironic that almost all the gamers I played at Bottoscon are Americans from the Seattle area, which let me connect with a pool of local board gamers. I'm well aware of the miniature gaming community, so I'm glad to get more involved with a surprisingly large board game community, too.

The next boardgaming convention is Game ON! in February. Game ON! is another one-man show, run by Jeff Newell in Issaquah. I played World at War with Jeff at Dragonflight. Jeff's a big WaW fan and there will be a WaW tourney at Game ON! that I plan to participate in.

Getting involved in boardgame conventions is looking like it will double my convention time. I think that's a good thing...


Apart from the aforementioned Wings of Glory duel pack, I picked up a used copy of GMT's Crown of Roses. This game adds to my growing bloc of Wars of the Roses-themed games. It looks quite involved, but I'm eager to give it a go. I also pre-ordered Blood & Roses from GMT's P500. Ralph Shelton, the game developer, is a Bellevue local who was at Bottoscon. He says the game is "in-production" and will be released soon. Blood & Roses is game 3 of GMT's Men of Iron series and covers seven battles of the Wars of the Roses. I think this game is the first to actually treat WotR battles in a hex 'n' counter format, so I'm looking forward to it. I've seen images of the game boards and counters and it looks very promising.

Breaking news! I've just heard that Arquebus is the next new title for the Men of Iron series after Blood & Roses. I'm not sure what exact period this will cover, but my guess is that it will be the late, late 15th c. and early 16th c. I suspect we'll see Gonsalvo de Cordoba make an appearance.


Yes, the cats endured. They were well cared-for and happy Sunday afternoon to have their warm-blooded furniture/bipedal humanoid cat-minder unit back to love and torment. This is the first time I used a professional sitter instead of badgering family or friends into caring for the little munchkins. I see it as the future and the sitter from Fetch Pet Care was great.


  1. Mark,
    you might want to look at these dice and frames for your excellent idea about adding minis to the look.

    You already have done the terrain, using Perry plastics, being very light weight, will further the interest factor of this game.

    take care,

  2. Thanks, Doug. I'll need to get some of the dice frames. I may not use them for Sun of York, but they have value for tracking hits, pins, etc. in other games.

    I can't bring myself to do plastics. Kevin's laments over his Victrix Nappies only confirm my aversion. Plus, I'm prone to sneezing. I'm afraid I'd blow my figures off the table if they weren't metal.