Day One: 21 Jul '05
Dallas, 1:43 AM: Two thoughts are keeping me awake at this late (early?) hour. First off, I am so relieved about getting away from the daily grind. Second, I am really excited to think that I will be playing games for the next four days, not to mention meeting friends and buying cool stuff! This is my second time at Historicon and this time around I will be in attendance on all four days. Most of it, to be precise as I will not reach Harrisburg until 11:30 AM EST. It should then take me another hour or so before I actually hit the beaches. This time around, I will be driving myself from the airport to the venue. I was humbled last year when fellow (and veteran) hobbyist Dennis Cunningham (aka Bad Painter at TMP), whom I was meeting for the first time, turned up at the airport in the middle of the night and drove me to my hotel through the rain. When Adolfo Laurenti (with whom I was sharing a room) was delayed, Dennis even offered to accommodate me. (Thank you, noble sir!) Luckily, Adolfo turned up an hour or so later (he had been delayed by the rain) and I was able to catch some much needed sleep. This year I will reach Lancaster during the day which means that I'll be able to jump into the fray right away.
My arrangements for this year's trip were made at too short a notice for my taste. My fluctuating work schedule is mostly to blame. I forgot to pre register but experienced gamers assured me that games are plentiful and I won't lack for a seat at the tables. Also, Peter 'Gonsalvo' Anderson has promised me that there will be a command or two to spare at his games. Cool!
Side note: I played a Renaissance game organized by Peter last year. The game was a blast, and we unintentionally managed to play test some very interesting tactical scenarios for Piquet/Band of Brothers II (BOB II). If I remember correctly, two Pike blocks were really dominant in the game, one even forming a hedgehog to resist the advances of enemy cavalry after manoeuvring itself very near the enemy's start lines. Thanks to dedicated work from Peter and numerous other "bobbies", BOB II is ready for release in August 2005. Don't forget to check out Peter's site for a preview and some neat battle reports.
Lancaster, 5:43 PM: Thanks to my newly resurgent interest in comics I had picked up some brand new Batman comic books yesterday night. I did right, as tales of Bruce Wayne's alleged crimes saved me from the monotony of air travel. Surprisingly enough the afternoon proved to be quite suspenseful as the comics as I tried to sign up for game after favourite game, only to be told that all of them were already full. These include, in particular, Peter Anderson's Piquet/Napoleonic game 'Austerlitz - Davout's Desperate Defense' scheduled for 07:00 PM tonight, Tom Anderson's TSATF game 'Battle of El-Teb 1884' scheduled for 08:00 PM tonight and a bunch of others. Even the Friday games are already full :( The good news is that I managed to wander over to the table where Antonio Portilla had organised his excellent WW2 skirmish level game using a fun set of rules. The Americans wanted to recover a bunch of looted paintings while the Germans wanted to stop them from getting away with the loot. In the end, the Americans managed to recover the paintings, but found their getaway route blocked. The game was almost won by the Germans but turned into a draw in the very last dice roll of the game! All of us a had a blast, and our Game Master won a "Battle Streamer" award for his spectacular efforts. I have taken some pictures which I will post online as soon as I get a USB cable to move them from my camera to my PC ...
Next on the list: con, er .., "persuade" some game master into letting me into a game as an extra player :)
6:30 PM: I have been amazed yet again by the nice people in the hobby. To be specific, by the likes of George Carr. George and started a conversation over dinner. When he heard about my problem, he gave me a quick conspiratorial look and offered to share his command with me at the 'Battle of El-Teb 1884' game. Cool! This means that I have a backup if I can't get a seat at Peter's game.
Day Two: 22 Jul '05
9:55 PM: My fears about not getting to play games turned out to be unfounded. I got a seat in Peter's Napoleonic game yesterday and his Renaissance game today. It was a combination of good luck and good will. I wish I could say the same about my die rolls though! The Austerlitz game turned out to be very different from the real battle as the French chose to concentrate their forces on the smaller village of Tellnitz rather than drive for Solkonitz. As one of the the Russian commanders, I tried to make the best of the lousy Russian Sequence deck (reflecting the poor command and control of the Russians). The battle ended in victory for the Austria-Russian alliance.
Today's Renaissance game was similarly undecided. We ran out of time before the battle could be decided, but after having a LOT of fun! The "domino" system worked like charm and I am keen to use this system for our own BOBII games. Thanks a ton to Peter for putting on the games!
I am planning to try and make it to two games tomorrow morning. There is Peter's Napoleonic game in the morning, and Jeff Simpson's Crossfire game in the afternoon. I am really looking forward to playing a 'Crossfire' game under the guidance of an experienced game master. In fact, I plan to stay and watch the game even if I don't get a chance to play.
Side note (1): Even though I did not have to get another player drunk yesterday, I did managed to get myself drunk :) Veteran gamer Dennis Cunningham gave me company as we talked shop over several bottles of beer.
Side note (2): Here are two interesting Piquet rules that we have often overlooked : (a) Renaissance era 'Regular' troops can use the 'Elites Reload' card. This is to reflect the scarcity of 'Regular' rated troops during an era when the bulk of armies were made up of 'Militia' rated troops. (b) When Crossbow armed troops fire at Cavalry, armour modifiers are applied only for the horses. i.e., negative firing modifiers apply only if the horses have barding. This somewhat makes up for the poor performance of crossbows against the heavy and extra heavy cavalry of the day compared to Arquebusiers or Musketeers.
Day Three: 23 Jul '05
11:21 PM: I am still recovering from the excitement of the day. Not only did I get to play the Crossfire game but I also managed to get a seat in a pick up game organized by Brent Oman to play test his new set of rules 'Field Of Battle'. AND I managed to buy most of the AB figures I wanted from Nic Robson of Eureka Miniatures. He was a couple of packs short, but he is going to send them to me free of charge! Awesome!
Did I mention that George Johnson gifted me an excellent painted terrain piece (a whole bunch of drums) yesterday? Well, he did and today I went back and bought a beautiful stone bridge and an outhouse from him. It also turned out that George and Dennis are friends. It is a small world, and an even smaller hobby. My wallet was howling but I managed to drown it out long enough to buy some cobblestone road pieces and some Vallejo paints to paint my AB figures.
My Crossfire game turned out even better than I expected. Crossfire has the same 'ebb and flow' feel as Piquet does. The mechanics look so deceptively simple that players may not immediately see how a badly thought out action can quickly turn the tide of the game. I learned not to close assault until my target had been "softened" enough and the odds were overwhelmingly in my favour. Crossfire also expects you to use your armour carefully - they are support troops and can only do so much. Think of the last scene in 'Saving Private Ryan'. The tanks did create problems but most of the losses were inflicted by carefully placed and well lead Infantry. Another aspect of Crossfire that I liked was the quick pace of the game. We had six players in all who were split into two teams of 4 and 2 respectively. None of us were idle for more than a few minutes at a time and the whole game reached a decisive result in just about four hours. I call it pretty good timing for a WWII game involving three companies and four vehicles. It would be true to say that all of us had fun, something that does not happen that often in multi player convention games where some of the players are not familiar with the rules. Our game master Jeff Simpson did a god job of briefing novices like me about the rules.
Crossfire rules stress the importance of having a high density of terrain on the table. I understood this but did not quite perceive the importance until I saw the table layout and played the game. High terrain density is a MUST.
Brent Oman's Field of Battle is currently in play testing. In Brent's own words FoB is Piquet and yet not quite Piquet. Piqueteers will immediately recognize the familiar yet different sequence decks, morale chips, multiple die types and so on. And yet the game is not Piquet as the game "initiative" system is quite different. I was told that it had many similarities to Command PK in particular. In any case, the game - which features ten players in two teams was fun to play. We had some interesting situations and managed to put some of the less frequently used rules to test. I would recommend it to Piqueteers and all gamers who are looking for a rule set to play large scale games in the Napoleonic era.
Tailpiece: As I write this from the lounge of the "Good Spirits" bar, there is a long line of wargamers waiting to be served by the haplessly busy barman. It doesn't help him a bit that most of them have been drinking and are "talking shop". Topics of conversation ranged from the dearth of wargaming shops in New York, to the "positive aspects" of the "Evil Empire", to the need to bar wargamers younger than 35 from drinking at the bar. All in all, a lot of post gaming fun!
Day Four: 24 Jul '05
11:40 AM: All good things must come to an end; Historicon is no exception. The game halls are mostly empty as the gamers spend the last few hours shopping. I think the gaming ended a little too early this year compared to last. There were more games being played at the same time of the day last year.
I did some additional last minute shopping, mostly terrain pieces to experiment with. If all goes well, I'll be back next year for more gaming fun. Until then, it is adieu to Lancaster.
I am back in Dallas after an very painful return trip. Things started going bad when my flight from Harrisburg to Chicago started descending. My ears hurt badly and for a while I could not hear anything. There was a painful encore of events when we landed in Dallas. As I write this, one of my ears is completed blocked, and the other one is only partially open. My physician informed me that I am suffering from what is known as Barotitis Media, an ear condition caused when the Eustachian tube is not functioning properly thereby creating a difference in ambient air pressure and the pressure in the middle ear. As the ambient air pressure goes up when the aircraft descends, the ears starts to hurt. There are varying degrees of this condition and in my case there was even some blood in one of the ears.
There is nothing much to do except wait for the contrition to clear. In the meantime I am taking medication to clear my nose. I was wondering why my nasal troubles had flared up over the weekend until I read that consuming alcohol causes nasal and sinus membranes to swell. There! Now I know why it was a bad idea to drink at the Host virtually every night!
The venue, Lancaster Host, provided free wireless Internet for all guests. You needed a computer with a wireless card and be near the Good Spirits bar to access it. I found this really useful, not only because it enabled me to "report" from the venue, but also because it meant I could look up my bank account (which was on fire, though for no fault of the Host :P), my travel itinerary and send some urgent e-mails. Someone at The Miniatures Page half jokingly asked about running a web cam from the venue. This is indeed possible with existing technology and infrastructure. I hope the organizers will think of putting up web cams in the future, especially to cover the theme games.
It was a bit difficult to find a game organized by a given Game Master without going through the entire program brochure. An index listing games sorted by Game Masters' names would be helpful. I am sure that at least some attendees can also use an index listing all games by rule set. If printing would drive up the costs, these could be made available at the Historicon web site.
I think I am the only person affected by this, but the Historicon web site does not clearly list the address of the convention venue in the front page. Last year was my first Historicon and I ended up booking a flight to Alexandria, VA after looking at the "Convention Info" so prominently displayed on the front page! Luckily I found out in time to switch destinations although it cost me to get my tickets changed. Silly me, but I suspect that it would be a good idea to clearly state up front where the convention takes place.