Hobby Games Recce

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Enjoying Historicon 2013
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This past weekend the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS) hosted another fantastic Historicon in Fredericksburg, VA. At less than an hour’s drive from home, I naturally attended to satisfy my own miniature wargaming interests and introduce my three-and-a-half year-old toddler son to his first gaming convention.

Historicon2013This is the convention’s second year in Fredericksburg, VA, after having been in the Lancaster, PA, region of the country for many years (with its sister conventions, Cold Wars and Fall In). Whatever fractious discourse has passed among contentious members of the HMGS about the merits or drawbacks of moving the organization’s -- and arguably the hobby’s -- largest convention to Fredericksburg, I’m glad it’s close enough for me to enjoy without the financial burden of a hotel stay. Last year I managed to attend all day Saturday only, thanks to a sudden stomach virus in the Little Guy that prevented me from attending with him Friday as planned. This year I brought him along on Friday, resolved to stay as long as he’d like or last, catering to his interest and putting off my urges to indulge in gaming and shopping until my full day Saturday to enjoy the con all on my own.

Through the Eyes of A Child

The Little Guy often finds Daddy’s “toys” interesting, knows who Darth Vader and Boba Fett are without having seen any Star Wars film yet, and has picked up a little of Daddy’s interest in history from the excellent, monthly toddler program at the Museum of Culpeper History; but I wasn’t quite sure what he’d think of a gaming convention of Historicon’s magnitude, with the vast and noisy gaming hall, the rows of “toys” offered in the dealers hall, and the general hustle and bustle of a good con. He pleasantly surprised me on all counts.

After arriving and picking up our pre-registered badges we began wandering the gaming hall. The vast expo hall amplified the numerous voices of gamers into a loud din over which personal conversation could barely be heard (though it was more bearable than Saturday’s cacophony of exuberant gamers). The Little Guy didn’t mind the noise, as he usually does…he was too busy marveling at the fantastic gaming table layouts. We wandered from one table to the next. After he contented himself by getting a “ground view” peering over the table edges he usually asked me to pick him up for a better vantage point of the entire gaming table.

He’s quite perceptive, so when I wasn’t answering questions about what certain buildings or soldiers were I was asking him to find various notable features on different tables: the medieval castle, the Viking longships, the Union lines and Confederate skirmishers, tanks hiding among ruined city blocks. Among the favorites he wanted to watch were James Nicholson’s “Into the Darkness” Star Wars miniatures game and Edward Bardill’s “Hot LZ X-Ray” Ia Drang Valley game with the Flames of War: Tour of Duty rules. The downed chopper caught his eye in the latter, and he was thrilled when players finally brought more helicopters in for reinforcements. We stopped to watch several times, though I didn’t realize it was not recommended for kids (as players). The Little Guy was quite concerned with the downed chopper, wondering if they could fix it and what would happen to the guys inside; I glossed over the historical complexities in explaining why soldiers from two different sides were interested in reaching the crashed helicopter….

He seemed quite bored with the dealers room, understandably so since much of the merchandise was too high for him to reach or really get a good look at, and my conversations with old gaming acquaintances seemed too tedious for him, though he was quite friendly with everyone he met. Despite the crowds and noise the Little Guy was (at least to me) very well behaved, refrained from touching anything or running off, and only once got upset and neared the tantrum stage, when he decided he wanted to get the “cow bomber” at one of the booths (a Wings of Glory World War II Heinkel 111 bomber with winter camouflage that, actually, does look like a black-spotted cow). As this was already on my shopping list, we bought it (he promised to share it) along with a host of other Wings of Glory aircraft in a nice deal from Cotton Jim’s Flags. We were there for four hours, way longer than I expected; he finally crashed as I carried him over my shoulder on a pass through the dealers room, so I packed him into the car and drove home.

Overall convention-goers seemed well-disposed to the “miniature wargamer” I brought along Friday. Gamers remain infamous for their sometimes gruff idiosyncrasies, oddities, and strange sense of humor; but it seemed anyone who took notice of the Little Guy had at least a smile on their face, if they didn’t outright engage him with a kind greeting or a cute joke.

Daddy’s Saturday Off

I returned early Saturday to enjoy a Bill Michael’s “Bloody April (1917)” Wings of War/Wings of Glory game with an affable group of players. I wandered around the gaming halls, ballroom club rooms, and Wally’s Basement flea market before grabbing some lunch and then catching two interesting seminars: the Osprey Publishing title preview featuring several interesting authors (who demonstrated Osprey authors not only know their subject and conduct meticulous research, but are also passionate about their writing); and the “Civil War Rules and Scenarios” seminar with gaming luminaries Glenn Kidd, Duke Seifried, and Frank Chadwick; the discussion was not quite what I expected from the description in the convention program but was intriguing and engaging nonetheless.

I did some additional shopping in the dealers room: in total my acquisitions included two Armies in Plastic sets (Zulus and 24th Foot); a small folio game, Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain, a map and chit wargame from Decision Games (one of my favorite historical subjects); the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game base set; a handful of scarab dice for me, some flamingo dice for my wife, and a cow die for the Little Guy (to go with the bomber…); the Wings of Glory: WWI Duel Pack - Fokker Dr.I vs. Sopwith Camel; two Wings of Glory single aircraft packs; the Wings of Glory North American B-25B Mitchell (Doolittle); and the aforementioned “cow bomber.”

Positive Impressions

Historicon succeeded in making a positive impression with me for a second year running.

The game offerings covered nearly every period, with a number clearly marked as appropriate for kids or children teamed up with parents (though one still had to search through the program to find them). Many games also invited beginners or mentioned game hosts would teach the rules. In addition to gaming in the main exhibition hall, several carpeted rooms formed by partitioned ballroom space offered clubs and other organizations a more intimate environment with slightly less noise to highlight their activities and showcase games.

As before the dealers room offered a wide spectrum of gaming materials from vendors and publishers; this year several military transport vehicles also occupied space in the dealers hall offering extra visual appeal and good photo opportunities.

The convention staff was extremely friendly, as were the hordes of wargamers (though some seemed gruff more out of their focus on playing or getting to games than anything else). The convention attendance seemed to reflect an increase in children of all ages as well as families with kids, and everyone seemed quite willing to involve them in the action, from kid-friendly games to children’s painting activities at the convention’s Hobby University. Numerous game descriptions in the convention program noted they were “kid friendly” or “for beginners,” and several events -- notably Guy Gormley’s “Wargaming 101 - A Kids Game” and Jim Reynolds’ “Rorke’s Picnic” (complete with figures of Zulu teddy bears wielding plungers and British bears firing plunger rifles) -- catered specifically to children.

My first year attending for a day I spent enjoying the wargaming sights and shopping in the dealers room; my second year I finally brought my son, played in a game, and sat in on some seminars; next year I’m hoping to fit all that in and try my hand at a Hobby University painting class, maybe even with the Little Guy.

A Few Encouraging Suggestions

My experience exposed a few areas that could use improvement; they’re not problems to solve, necessarily, but issues which might further enhance the overall experience for convention attendees:

Online Pre-Registration for Games: I pre-registered for my badges (something I highly recommend everyone does to avoid lines on site and take advantage of free spouse and child badges), but the one game I thought I pre-registered for online didn’t show up on my badge (which serves as an event ticket for pre-registered events). Maybe the pre-registration website wasn’t working right, probably I didn’t click something or follow the proper protocol online. The event registration staff helped me out on-site and, in fact, my event still had a pile of tickets 30 minutes before the game, so it wasn’t a huge issue. Perhaps online event pre-registration might offer more instructions and a more clear, concise interface for those seeking to sign up for games in advance. Most likely I’ll take more care next year in registering for events.

Promote Kid-Friendly Activities: Historicon is already headed in the right direction in this regard, but it might do more to really emphasis and publicize the children’s programming angle. Perhaps, in addition to listing events in the general gaming section, the convention program and preliminary events listing might set aside a page or two highlighting games specifically for kids and/or beginners, even just a simple list with event number, title, and historical period. Could the con set aside one club room specifically for kids’ games to offer a less noisy, confusing environment than the main gaming expo hall? Just a thought considering my own advocacy of involving kids with gaming for fun and education.

Save the Date

Historicon is ready to return to Fredericksburg again next year -- much to my delight. The convention’s planned dates are July 17-20, 2014. Watch the convention’s website for updates and pre-registration.

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