I think I have caught the bug.
Thankfully not the notorious Con Crud (though last September I did fall prey to a virulent strain immediately after exhibiting with my Lost Art Books at the Small Press Expo). And, no, not the Rockin' Pneumonia, either...I seemed to have been cured of that back in 2007 when my last band, The Spontanes, gave up the ghost.
Nope...all of the the symptoms—a growing pile of lead pieces in the shape of fantasy archetypes, subscriptions to YouTube channels dedicated to "terrain crafting," saved eBay search terms such as "oldhammer" and "28mm"—point to a chronic case of the dreaded Miniatures Mania. Perusing the online message boards suggests a grim prognosis for the afflicted: An obsessive preoccupation with "scale creep" and an over-sensitivity to miniatures basing techniques.
Given this diagnosis, it should come as no surprise then that after never having attended a gaming convention in my 47 years, I have now experienced my second one in the span of a mere four months. My first gaming convention was last June's Historicon, which was especially memorable for me as a neophyte exploring my new passion for miniatures gaming. Historicon was made all the more enjoyable for getting to share it with new gaming friends, John Sears and Zach Howard, but this time I would be flying solo, knowing nobody at the Fall In convention.
I rolled into Lancaster, Pennsylvania on a chilly Saturday just before noon. I ducked into the Lancaster Host Resort through a side door, and before I knew it, my pulse quickened at the sight of a long room sprawling with row after row of tables, wargames of all sorts splayed atop them. By the time I left on Sunday afternoon I had played in a couple of games, spent a couple of hundred dollars in the exhibitors hall and flea market, and most important to me, crossed paths with a couple of Historicon acquaintances, making what I hope are some new gaming pals in the process.
Below is a selection of photos I took at Fall In 2017 over the course of Saturday and Sunday (culled from a total of about 400!). Click on any of them to enlarge.
Assault on Denfield Castle
10 players / Rules: Homebrew fantasy castle assault
After spending Saturday afternoon watching several other games in progress, I finally settled down at 7:00 that evening with nine other players for a castle siege game. It seemed that most of the players knew the game master (Mark Young) and each other, but the group was welcoming of me as a newcomer. As the first to arrive at the table, I was given my choice of which side to play, the human/dwarf/hobbit coalition defending the castle or the horde of orcs, goblins, and other foul beasts laying siege to it. Of course, I chose the defenders ensconced behind the castle walls, and as our appointed general I proceeded to divide the troops between myself and the only other player to elect to be on my side. We would spend the next three hours facing off against the other eight players who were commanding the menacing army approaching our doorstep.
Having only played skirmish games up to this point, this was my first experience with a "mass battle" game in which I commanded units of troops (usually in groups of 10) rather than individuals. It was quite enjoyable, and as one would expect, had a much higher body count than my usual games. The painted 28mm units were fun to play with (especially the giants who worked hard to pound our castle walls to rubble), but the highlight of the table was an amazing castle produced by Miniatures Building Authority that one of the players contributed to that session's game. It was an impressive, beautiful bit of scenery to play on, and was many years in the accumulating, piece by piece, from what its owner told me. I would love to own one like it someday (one can dream).
Though my teammate and I fended off multiple waves of attackers, by the game's end it was pretty clear that our days as the castle's occupants were numbered. In addition to a battering from catapults and trebuchets (whose crews we eventually managed to dispatch with arrow volleys), we faced direct assaults on three of the four outer walls. The orcs had managed to destroy the rear gate with a battering ram in the last turn, and waves of goblins and ogres had succeeded in scaling the castle's front walls (a fond moment was seeing a unit of our hobbits successfully stop a unit of advancing ogres atop one of our main towers). I took particular satisfaction, though, with defeating our opponent's Wyvern-riding general with the final die roll in the very last combat of the game, allowing us to reasonably assert that the besieger's victory was ultimately a pyrrhic one.
Below is the description of the game from the convention program:
Assault on Denfield Castle
The Orcish army of Ogrut the Foul finds itself in front of the final human fortification in the Fair Lands, Denfield Castle. Lord Harold Highworth, Marshall of the Purple Banner, leads a small but determined human and dwarf garrison against the green invaders. Can they successfully defend the castle from the green invaders?
|Denfield Castle in all its glory!|
|My general and his field marshal in the courtyard of the inner castle.|
|These giants had me worried as they charged in front of their army straight at my castle walls...|
|Lots of troops carrying lots of ladders...|
|A storm on the verge of erupting.|
|Those siege engines would be parked against our walls by the next turn...|
|These dwarf axemen along the rear wall fought well...but ultimately not well enough.|
|This side of the castle would see many goblins attempt to scale over its walls...|
|Our hobbits would surprise these ogres later in the game, stymieing their progress...|
|I'm not a big fan of mixing black powder weapons in my fantasy games, but these dwarf gunners were a welcome part of our slowly dwindling arsenal.|
|We had a small cavalry of Pegasus-riding warriors that would prove crucial in the last round.|
|Flying in and flanking the goblins along the wall allowed us to thin the enemy ranks considerably...but alas, not enough.|
|The hobbits kept the Ogres at bay long enough to be reinforced by a garrison of human spearmen on the next round.|
|It was only a matter of minutes before the orc's trebuchet would overshoot the castle wall and land right in the middle of these cavalry in the courtyard, decimating most of them.|
|When the invading army's general alighted on his Wyvern upon my inner tower, all of my winged mounts swooped in to meet him.|
|The general and field marshal joined the fray, ultimately dealing the blow...|
|...that sent the Wyvern and its rider toppling to their death.|
Into the Doowder Forest
8 players / Rules: Blood & Swash adapted for fantasy genre
Most attendees had seemingly left Fall In by Sunday morning, but some stalwarts remained to play in the handful of games on the schedule, including eight of us (in addition to three game masters!) who gathered for a highly enjoyable adventure game of exploration, monster fighting, and loot snatching.
I couldn't have been more impressed with the amount of care and attention that went into all of the materials prepared by the the game master, Eric Schlegel, who set out about a dozen four-character adventuring parties for the players to choose from. Once everybody settled on a party of heroes that was to their liking, he then distributed custom spell cards for the spellcasters as well as a couple of pieces of random equipment and magic items for us to assign to characters in our party. A lot of thought went into tailoring the mechanics of the pirate-themed Blood & Swash skirmish rules, and Mr. Schlegel's homebrew adaptation was obviously informed by a love of OD&D tropes and themes.
My experience with this game embodied two of the things I've grown to love about this new hobby of mine. First is the spirit of invention that guides so many players as they take ideas from games and use them as jumping off points to create something new, fresh, and inline with their personal vision. The second is the fact that after the game, when I mentioned to Mr. Schlegel how fond I was of it and admired all of the work he had obviously put in, he generously offered to pass along all of his materials in an email after the con so that I could recreate the experience for my own group of friends. That sort of camaraderie really endears me to this community.
The game's objective for the players was straightforward: Enter the expansive forest looking for loot while fighting the forest's denizens and the other players' characters. The player with the most victory points at game's end wins. The smooth gaming experience very much benefited from the two assistants who spontaneously jumped in to help the game master move things along. I subsequently learned that this game fell under the umbrella of those organized by members of the HAWKs (Harford Area Weekly Kreigspielers), and it was obvious that the game master and his assistants had played many games together over the years and were thoroughly familiar with the mechanics of this one in particular. If I ever try to run a game this large at a convention, I will almost certainly integrate this lesson and recruit one or two fellow game masters to help keep the action flowing smoothly.
In the end even I was a little surprised to learn that I emerged as the winner with 12 victory points (the next closest being an affable player named Chuck sitting across the table who squeaked out 10). Lesson? Kill enough mushroom men, orcs, and skeletons, take their treasure, and you too can leave Doowder Forest with head held high!
From the convention program:
Into The Doowder Forest
Groups of adventurers are heading off into the Doowder Forest seeking fame and fortune. Will they succeed? Will they even make it back? And what will they encounter? Orcs? Trolls? Dragons?
|Doowder Forest (or a good portion of it, at least)|
|My band of adventurers! I'm guessing these early 1980s Grenadier minis have served their owner well for decades.|
|Attack of the Mushroom Men! (I guess it is their forest, though...)|
|My ranger unleashed an arrow from his longbow, missed the mushroom man and instead hit his own halfling compatriot in the back, sending poor Pimpin running away from the melee.|
|A wandering chimera showed up to harrass my neighbor's party. Too bad!|
|I got to choose the location of this wandering monster, a Whirlwind elemental-like creature, that I positioned to blow right into another player's party, dispersing them quite nicely.|
|The orc captain goes down under my 4th level fighter's long sword.|
|His buddy would fall, too, before game's end.|
|What a cool game!|
As some of my friends know, I was not a fan of Mad Max: Fury Road (despite having great fondness for earlier installments in the series). That, however, did not stop me from being wowed by this great looking game inspired by that movie's mayhem. I would play this at a future convention if given the chance (I think the game master runs a session fairly regularly at the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society conventions). I got to sit with my new pal Jimmy Cox for about 45 minutes as he and others played this game. I had previously had the pleasure of playing with Jimmy in a Conan-inspired game at last summer's Historicon, and he is one of those immediately welcoming gamers who I was hoping to cross paths with again at Fall In. My understanding is that this game used a simplified version of the old Games Workshop Gorkamorka rules (which were undoubtedly inspired by the Mad Max movies).
|Success for the grappling hook!|
|Somebody got yanked out of their vehicle and is now on foot, soon to be roadkill.|
Roman Chariot RacesThis is the kind of table setup that leaves you gobsmacked when you get up close to it. Didn't get to play on it, but given a chance in the future, I'll jump at it.
|The stadium contained literally hundreds of tiny painted spectators in togas.|
Battle ValorThe only reason I didn't jump into Ed Spettigue's demo game of Battle Valor is because it happened to run concurrent with the Assault on Denfield Castle game I had already signed up for. I got to chat with Ed for a few minutes at his booth and was profoundly impressed by seeing his 15mm miniatures in person. I'm no veteran at this hobby, but they are easily among the best miniatures at this scale I've seen yet, ranking up there with (even surpassing?) Mark Copplestone's 15mm fantasy miniatures. Not sure who Mr. Spettigue commissions for his sculpting, but he needs to hold on to that artist.
I backed the recent Battle Valor Kickstarter campaign at $200, deciding it was going to be my entry into "mass battle" gaming. Now that I've seen the figures up close, I can't wait to receive the armies I still need to pick out so as to complete my Kickstarter pledge.
World WarsAs always, this is one of the dominant genres at the two cons I've attended. I usually only snap pictures of the games that really catch my eye, like the ones below.
|This young fella had a charming intensity.|
|Simple but cool looking...|
|Tiny military madness (10mm scale maybe?)|
|Finally, a proper 25mm scale battle...|
|Back to the tiny scale...|
|This was one of the more amazing boards set up at the convention, filling several tables with trenches for a WWI battle scene in 25mm. The woman I spoke to at the table couldn't have been more excited to be playing on it.|
|Loved details like this crashed plane in the middle of the battlefield.|
FantasyIf I had one disappointment about Fall In, it was that there didn't seem to be as many fantasy-based games on the schedule compared to Historicon. Here are some pics of one game in the genre that used the Advanced D&D Adventure Game rules (the recent board game line). I would have played it, but again, it conflicted with another game I signed up for.
Kong!The write ups for some games sound cheesy in the program, but then you see them and kick yourself for not jumping in. This King Kong-inspired game is the perfect example. Everybody looked like they were having a blast flying their biplanes around trying to shoot down Kong. The game master even employed a touch I like to incorporate when I host games: He had a great sound effect loop playing out of speakers hidden in the Empire State Building of biplanes flying around shooting machine guns with occasional giant ape roars. Hope to see this on a future con schedule!
Sky Galleons of MarsAnother cool looking game, with lots of handcrafted sky galleons. I love passion projects like this.
|Always appreciate when the game master bothers to put a sign up that lets folks know what game is actually being played at that table, helping gawkers like me who are wandering to and fro and not always sure of what they are looking at.|
Aerial CombatThis genre always looks fun. I'm going to have to sign up for a game sometime.
ZombiesSince I had just hosted my own Halloween-inspired zombie game, I didn't want to commit my limited time at Fall In to playing another one so soon. That said, these games looked awfully fun. My pal Jimmy got to play in the first one below, and from his description of it, it sounded like it had some fun cinematic moments of action.
I spied these gents playing a late night game as I was leaving the convention hall around 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night; they seemed to know one another, and I deduced that most of them were members of an area gaming club. After a few minutes of scrutinizing their game in progress, I wondered aloud if it was a homebrew or variant set of rules. Indeed, it was, and to my surprise the player who crafted the rules took a moment to jot something down and then stuck a piece of notepaper in my hand with a URL from which to download them. Again, this is the kind of spontaneously generous community spirit that I love about this hobby.
Medieval and Ancient BattlesAnother very well represented genre of gaming at these cons. I'm sure it makes me a blasphemer, but if I'm going to march a bunch of ancient Romans or knights around the table, I'd prefer to throw some monsters and magic in the mix.
|(This photo and the one below): There were a lot of demo sessions for this game, Triumph. Was curious about the fantasy variant, but never got the chance to sit down for a spin. Maybe next time.|
Science FictionThere were probably more sci-fi than fantasy games at the convention, but still seemingly fewer than at last summer's Historicon.
|This game with giant robots and tanks looked like it could be fun.|
|More crazy 6mm madness. The human figures just disappear, but those ships look pretty awesome.|
HistoricalLots of tables in this genre could be found throughout the convention, too. Always enjoy seeing the craft and artistry that goes into the better ones being played.
|This looks like a stirring in-game moment!|
Fall in? I think I done fell in...
While I'm far from a grizzled grognard veteran (the guy parked next to me on Sunday said he'd been coming to this convention for 30 years), I did feel more comfortable at this convention compared to my baptism at last summer's Historicon. I definitely missed having my compatriots John and Zach to game with, but my initial impressions of this community were only reinforced by this second convention experience: Most everybody I crossed paths with was congenial and hospitable, whether it was at the tables playing games or in the flea market scouring for hidden treasures.
Speaking of treasures, here is just a sampling of a couple of things I did (and didn't) pick up in Wally's Basement (i.e., the flea market):
|My last purchase on Sunday morning. I have such a weakness for some of these old miniatures lines, and at $3 a pack, they were cheaper than if I had bought them with my allowance in the 1980s.|
|Fortunately, this bit of nongame-related weirdness was an anomaly at the flea market. I got the hard sell from the fella offering a set of three of these Budweiser Great Kings of Africa framed mirrors that came into being in 1976 (read about them in Jet magazine). I can only imagine what stories these pieces could tell about whatever neighborhood tavern they were "rescued" from.|
|Saw a few Amish riding about Lancaster in horse and buggy over the weekend.|
It was an interesting comparison playing in Lancaster, Pa. this time as opposed to Fredericksburg, Va. All of the moaning and groaning I heard online when the organizers announced last summer that Historicon would be moving back to Lancaster made me quite leery about what horrors Lancaster's infamous Host Resort facility had in store. While it wasn't as horrible as my low expectations braced me for, it definitely felt like a bit of a step down from Fredericksburg (which, to be honest, the convention center there is no jewel either). Everything I heard about the rooms at the Host Resort led me to book one about a mile down the street at the Comfort Inn, which I'm quite glad I did as they turned out to be nice and reasonably priced. (As an aside, I am quite tired of the hotel trend of placing multiple head-to-toe mirrors in guest rooms. How am I supposed to maintain an appetite and avail myself of the free waffle bar in the mornings when I have to countenance my full bodied reflection at every turn?) As for future cons, my selfish hope for where to locate them would be in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, where there are plenty of nicer facilities that aren't anywhere near as worn and rundown as either the Fredericksburg or Lancaster options.
But no matter where they hold the next one of these gatherings, I'm almost certainly going to attend.