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Convention Coverage - Historicon 2012

Jim Zabek, 25 July 12

Jim's in-depth ethnographic study of the ecology of the "minis-gamer" is chock full of... oh hell, it's HISTORICON!!!!

For years I’ve heard about the fun at Historicon but events conspired against me in getting there. This year the stars aligned just right and I managed to find Saturday wide open. At 6 AM I found myself as wide awake as a kid on Christmas morning. One of my daughters had a sleepover the night before and I crept around the family room so as to not disturb them as I opened my laptop and checked last minute driving directions and details, sipped on some coffee and inventoried my journalistic necessities.

Typically I will hit a con like the “light” infantry: a backpack loaded with laptop, power cords, camera and the like and often am toting upwards of 30 pounds. Hardly light (and nowhere near what a real light infantry load looks like), but ready for almost anything. This year I decided to move out essentially with nothing. A camera, a very small note pad, wallet, and keys. This was going to be a day trip. I didn’t want to be forced to find a base to store anything I couldn’t carry. The lack of backpack also meant I wouldn’t be coming home with 50 pounds worth of gaming purchases. Call it a compromise – I get some phat loot, but not so much that my wife has a problem with it. A quick shower and I was out the door.


A Passage Through Time

Living in central Virginia I am fond of saying that you can’t throw a rock without hitting a civil war battlefield. That’s not far from the truth. Along the drive to Fredericksburg I passed at least three national battlefields and probably have driven by many more. Fredericksburg, of course, but I passed through Spotsylvania County, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness…Bull Run is just to the north, and Richmond is an hour south of Fredericksburg. It is impossible for me not to at least briefly contemplate the history around me. The drive is beautiful. I pass through mountains, fields, and forests of vibrant green. The path is largely rural and the drive is restful. Some folks traveling more populous trails may not share the same experience but for me this is a real treat.

Arriving in Fredericksburg, the first thing I notice is the weather. It has been overcast and misty for my entire drive, but as I approach the city I note the temperature is rather pleasant. We had been in the grip of an unmistakable summer, with days typically in the mid-90s and a few topping 100. But today it is barely 70. I reflect that if you don’t mind some mist and light rain, it isn’t a bad day at all to visit some of the battlefields I passed. But I have more pressing things to attend to. The battlefields are always here. Historicon is not.

I drive right past a game store with a healthy Flames of War gaming community (amongst other miniatures gaming groups). I then pass what seems like several miles of nothing but retail shops. Turning north onto the final road taking me to the convention center I have to drive past a least a mile of more name brand retail shops and restaurants. Few gamers have entire families who share their hobby, but I know of equally few wives who wouldn’t be pleased with the retail shopping available in Fredericksburg. As for me, I have to wonder at the decoration around each entrance. They are unmistakably similar to the dragons’ teeth seen during the Second World War. Whoever the developer was, I can’t help but feel he must have been inspired by history.



Then, suddenly I am here. There are a number of hotels very close by, and in chatting with folks at the con I learned that a shuttle has been set up so folks don’t have to walk. This will yield several advantages. First, the parking lot at the convention center is nearly at capacity. Arriving at 10 in the morning there are a few hundred spots left (and the hotels are glad to accept the overflow) but it’s not easy finding a space. I reflect that I probably should have left earlier. No matter. I’m here now. There is a line of about 30 people waiting to register and get into the con, but the line moves quickly. In perhaps ten or fifteen minutes the fast and friendly staff has issued me a new badge and I have joined HMGS for the first time.

Although I’m chomping at the bit to get in and see some gaming and do some recon through the vendor room, my journalistic instincts override the kid inside me and I spend my first hour trying to get a handle on the success of the con. As I do so I ran into a number of old friends as well as made some new ones, but the picture I got was universally good. Historicon has run through a couple of rough patches as an organization, and its venue has changed thrice in three years. Understandably some rank-and-file members were said to be unhappy, but while I was there that didn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind.

Instead what I found was that the city of Fredericksburg had dispatched representatives to Historicon to help ensure gamers had a great experience. Hotels offered special rates, aforementioned shuttles were running past midnight, caterers were on hand until 1 AM to meet the needs of guests hungry and thirsty guests (alcohol was definitely on the menu, and several small bars had been set up in the convention hall and were ready for business during daylight hours). The shuttle service was intended to let gamers enjoy themselves at gaming and drinking and then drop them off at their hotels at the end of the night. I didn’t stay to test the execution, but it sure seemed as though every detail had been thought of to ensure Historicon had the best hospitality possible.

In chatting with the folks who were running the event, they were quite pleased. Not all the numbers were officially in (the convention had yet to complete Saturday and still had part of Sunday to go) but overall it seemed as though there were more registered HMGS members at the convention than any of the last several years, the local hotels were booked to capacity, and every vendor I chatted with was satisfied with turnout and sales. No one was ready to officially confirm that Historicon would spend a second year in Fredericksburg, but the word was that negotiations with the city were underway, were moving positively, and that hotels were already accepting reservations for next year’s event. In other words, it wasn’t a “done deal” but the expectation was that it would soon be.


Hitting the Reset Button

For the last few years real life has intervened and kept me from attending any big conventions. Origins and GenCon – even E3 back in the day - used to be regular stops for me, but aside from Prezcon (really fun, but not especially large) I haven’t made any conventions of note. One thing I have noticed is that whenever you hit a big convention for the first time there is a huge rush of sensory overload. Attending cons regularly helps to manage the sensation, but because I hadn’t been to a con in several years after a couple of hours there I found myself briefly overwhelmed by all the stimuli. It didn’t take long for me to reorganize my thoughts and figure out how to digest it all, but it was both vexing and refreshing to realize that I wasn’t so jaded that I couldn’t be overwhelmed by even a modestly sized convention. It was like I had hit my convention reset button and had to relearn how to navigate all the fun. I suppose the sensation is in some respect similar to the kid-in-a-candy-store scenario, only for grownups.

After a couple of hours I decided to turn my brain off and let my subconscious help me sort through what I’d found so far. This wasn’t my first con. Old instincts, while rusty, would kick in. So I headed over to one of the many food stands in the hall and ordered lunch. Concentrating on my fried chicken fingers and Sobe Green Tea allowed impressions to organize themselves. I sensed my brain already starting to write this article as phrases about observations were being crafted behind the curtains and fed into my thoughts.

So what was I seeing here? My initial recon and discussions with the HMGS organizers – along with follow up discussions through the day – confirmed that this Historicon was well underway as a success. No event this large is without a few hiccups, but no one was hung up about those. The overwhelming message I was getting was that the change in venue over the last couple of years was a bit rocky but it appeared as though hosting in Fredericksburg would see no stumble in attendance or fun, and the plan was to renew the location for next year. Let’s check that off the list and move on to the fun.

My strategy in reporting on cons is two-fold: troll the gaming halls looking for both the typical and atypical games being played, then hit the vendor hall to see what was on offer. Repeat a couple of times. Inevitably I would miss details (more on that in a moment) but it tends to give a good sense of the overall state of the convention as well as yield some good info on new games hitting the shelves.


Lets Go To War!

Historicon’s theme this year was Empires At War. The purpose is to highlight games that showcase the century that we typically consider the height of the colonial period: from about 1836 to 1937. And a showcase there was. Walking into the main gaming hall the first thing I saw was a recreation of a battle near Borodino. I was not envious of the charge up the hill, but had to admire the craftsmanship poured into the map.



Moving on through the gaming halls, some organized games, some open tables, I noted more than just a few steampunkish games on offer. A personal favorite of mine, I’ve been playing Dystopian Wars for a couple of years now, but many of the games I saw were not Dystopian Wars, although a number of vendors had plenty of Dystopian minis for sale. My enjoyment of steampunk is the combining of sci-fi with Victorian-era steam technology. The results are never believable, but almost always tickle my curiosity from a visual and scientific perspective: exactly how might that work? Could it? There is something visually appealing about putting the improbable on top of the plausible and declaring it real. I can’t say why, but I do love it.



The visual appeal of miniature gaming isn’t limited to the details of the models or the map. At conventions gamers and GMs are highly motivated to pull out all the stops. The Borodino terrain is just one such example of the effort poured into making a miniatures game all it can be. This goes beyond painting the minis to historical accuracy. Terrain, of course, is well sculpted, but there is also the sheer scale. At home in my local gaming store most of our battles are conducted on a single table about four feet by eight feet in dimension. Rare is a game where we push several tables together to form a larger battlefield. At a gaming convention like Historicon it’s common to find multiple tables moved together to form oversized battlefields, be they a simple blue ocean or a highly choreographed recreation of a specific historical battle. In fact, it’s not just common, it’s pretty much the rule.





With the room to actually spread out and not cramp other gamers’ styles as might be the case at a local game store, Historicon offers a rare opportunity to break out not just a standard force or scenario, but room for maneuver. Need a couple of days to work through a particular scenario? Not a problem – conventions offer tons of space and several days with which to use it, which is especially welcome to miniatures gamers whose battlefields, scale, and time limits can be considerably varied.

After taking in many of the games on display I headed over to the vendor hall to see what was available, how much, and what was new. Invariably I knew I was going to miss something. I had made a mental note before leaving to try and see a few things in person that I’d only read about, but I ended up finding other things which soaked up my attention. Equally inevitably I’m sure I failed to discover a number of great games that deserve to be found. Both of those issues are entirely my fault – I simply wasn’t able to personally budget the time to take everything in. That said, what I did find was great, and I have every intention of spending more time at Historicon next year.

Trolling the Dealer Hall

One of my first stops was to see Mark Walker at Lock ‘n Load Publishing. Lots of things have been happening recently, from the second publication of Band of Heroes to the third publication of All Things Zombie. Recently released is a game I have been excited about for a while, Nuclear Winter ’68. All Lock ‘n Load games were on sale for a special convention price of 20% off and I jumped at the chance to have a copy of the game personally sold to me by Mark Walker. One of the other neat things Lock ‘n Load is doing is hosting miniature versions of its World at War and Forgotten Heroes. The response was so favorable that Mark indicated that they were working on presenting a new game for upcoming conventions. I also got some scoop about the upcoming PC game, Heroes of Stalingrad. Yes, it seems like it’s been in development for years (it has) but Slitherine has finally assigned a top flight project manager to it and publication is now scheduled in time for the holidays this year. I wasn’t able to get my hands on any preview code yet, but I was assured it would be coming in the next couple of months. Lock ‘n Load is also working on some handheld games, and we’re going to be chatting with them soon about those, too. Pleased to have filled up on the happenings at Lock ‘n Load, I wandered around the vendor room seeking more updates.

An aisle over I spied Byron Collins of Collins Epic Wargames. He momentarily had a pause in the crowd around his booth and I dropped in and said hello. The most recent product is an expansion to Spearpoint 1943, its tactical card game set during the Second World War. The expansion is a village and defensive line map expansion that offers two new maps, 24 new terrain tiles and many more goodies. One of the things I found really interesting was how this is presented. Along with each rules explanation and quick reference card this is also a QR code. Players who have a smart phone with a QR code reader (typically a free app) can scan the QR code next to the rules and it will bring up a YouTube video where a visual explanation will walk the player through the rule in question. It’s a highly innovative use of existing technology and one I would expect other boardgames to copy as word gets out about it.




The next game in the works by Collins Epic Wargames is Polyversal, a 6 mm (1/300) mass combat game. Being developed by Ken Whitehurst, one of the interesting things about it is that it uses existing minis manufacturers for its units. Collins Epic Wargames will create unique units for the Polyversal, but any existing 6mm scale units will work for it. The artwork for Polyversal was done by Bruno Werneck of Filmpaint, the same guy who worked on Tron Legacy. As the game is still in development details about the gameplay are sketchy, but we’re working on getting some more information as soon as we can. Another game in the works we don’t have a lot of information about but are excited to hear is in development will be a submarine game where the player will take on the role of a US commander attempting to Japanese shipping. Research is being based upon primary military sources which were only declassified a few years ago. While there aren’t many other details that can be shared at this time I was almost salivating at the news and can’t wait to see what this will look like as it develops.

A trip to Historicon wouldn’t be complete without a stop by to chat with the folks at Battlefront Miniatures, and I made sure that was on my list. While many vendors at Historicon had Flames of War miniatures for sale, some at up to 20% off, the Battlefront booth offered two things selection and knowledge. I arrived at the booth with two questions on my mind. First, I was looking for the exact book with the US Devil’s Brigade army list. I’ve nearly filled out my late war German army, and in keeping with the tradition of any minis wargamer, I immediately set my sights on building another army, in this case a late war US list. The second question on my mind was simpler – did they have the SdKfz 251/1, aka the “Stuka zu Fuss?” In both cases my questions were quickly answered, and in no time I had both products in my hand for purchase.

A good chat with several of the folks there and it was clear that Historicon 2012 was a great success. The recent expansion from one national tournament to three had instead of watering down participation had instead expanded the number of overall players. It was great chatting with the guys who make Flames of War happen in the US and I was happy to have picked up some new product to add to my game.

What else can I say? While there were a number of other vendors I wanted to meet with my personal time allowances prevented me from doing everything I wanted. Instead I made a mental note to be sure to budget more time next year so that I could dig even deeper. And in the mean time I have taken a bunch of pictures to share.


Tell Jim how much you love it!


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