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Historicon 2017: My First Gaming Con

Despite spending hours poring over the GenCon insert included in the first Dragon Magazine I ever bought (#49, with the Hildebrandt dragon cover), it has taken me over 35 years to make it to a gaming convention. I dropped out of the hobby for most of my adult life except for the occasional board game and a handful of role playing game sessions hosted by friends who never gave up the hobby.

After rediscovering in my basement a little over a year ago my box of old D&D miniatures from the early 1980s, I've been experiencing something of a gaming rebirth, developing a special enthusiasm for the miniatures war gaming I never had the opportunity to explore as a kid. In those days, a lack of funds to invest in the giant armies required combined with simply not knowing any grognards as a teenager kept tabletop miniatures gaming dangling in the distance as a tantalizing pastime that I never got to explore.

Now I feel like I'm making up for lost time, acquiring rule sets and amassing miniatures at a fevered pace this past year. I was excited when my new gaming friend John hipped me to Historicon's upcoming convention, but I was also a little worried about whether the enjoyment I was experiencing around my dining room table gaming with friends would translate to a convention setting. 

I'm happy to say that, though gaming at a convention with thousands of attendees in a giant expo center with more than 100 games taking pace simultaneously is not exactly the same kind of relaxed, intimate pleasure I've had up to this point rolling dice on my own little three-foot square battlefields, the opportunity to try new games, make some fresh gaming pals, and see the massive amount of amazing work folks produce in this hobby was an invigorating experience that I look forward to repeating in the coming years.

It was also fun getting to spend some time with my new pals John and Zach, rolling dice and making pretend war for a weekend of good-natured fun. They really are the kind of gamers who I enjoy playing with the most: like me, their good time hinges less on winning and losing and more on whether or not everybody at the table had a good time with perhaps a fun story to tell after the dust has settled.

Below are a selection of the over 400 photos I took over the Friday and Saturday I spent at Historicon this weekend. Click on any of them to enlarge.

[Note: Link at the bottom of this post to my pal John's blog entries on his experiences Friday and Saturday. Lots of great photos and commentary by John well worth checking out.]


Although I wasn't attending to play this sort of board game, one of my old favorites, Shogun, greeted me at a table when I first walked into the game hall, which was somehow comforting.

 Conan: Down and Out in Eruk

Crom! rules, 10 players

My first convention game, played on Friday night. Although all 10 player slots had been reserved, a couple of no shows allowed John to sneak in at the last minute. As luck would have it, I got to play the Conan character, and seven of the other players took on the role of various characters in my entourage. John played a priestess with "Diplomacy" as a special trait, so she ended up negotiating on Conan's behalf a couple of times in the game when words would achieve our ends better than swords. Another player dubbed her Conan's publicist, which got a chuckle. When diplomacy didn't work out, though, as to be expected Conan started throwing bodies out of second-story windows.

Two of the 10 players took the roles of the city guards constantly patrolling the streets (whom we quickly ran afoul of) as well as a gang of sell-sword Vanir looking for employment from seemingly everybody we needed to shakedown for information or items of import to our quest. One of Conan's gang was quickly snagged for shenanigans by the city guard and dragged off to jail until we could break her out several turns later.

I'll sheepishly admit that one of the most enjoyable parts of the game for me was the fact that whenever the gamemaster announced it was my turn, all of the other players would erupt in a shout of "Conan!" inspiring me to spring to my feet with a barbaric yawp! For the rest of the weekend, whenever a player from that game spied me across the floor at the convention center, I was greeted with a shout of "Conan!" I couldn't have felt more at home...

Below is the description from the con program:

Down and Out in Eruk
Fantasy; 7 PM; Length: 4 hrs; Hosted by: Philip Hartzog; Scale: 28mm;
Rules: CROM (Lite); No. of Players: 10.
Conan and his company have hit on hard times in Eruk, their gold has run out after too much wine and pleasures between contracts. Looking for work, a cloaked man offers gold for retrieving what he called a trinket. Conan accepts with no other prospects, but it seems a little sketchy and too low pay. Lucky for you there was also a side job you were able to pick up. Come get in touch with your inner barbarian and play a slayer, archer, thief or wizard in the Hyborian Age of Conan.


This table was something like 6'x18', and was crammed full of buildings, alleys, plazas...filled with characters, animals, and other city denizens.

The gamemaster crafted a bunch of cards that fit in Zombicide trays. A nice touch that helped keep every character's info well organized.


Roaming gangs of Vanir looking to sell their swords to the highest bidder and generally aggravating Conan and his efforts...







City guard protecting a merchant we intended to "persuade" to pay his debt to the head of the thieves' guild...


This never came into play, but as I casually looked at one of the buildings sitting in front of me, I got the distinct impression it was a brothel.


Open any building's roof, and you would find some scene like this one. The candle on the table was a flickering LED light. I love this kind of stuff!


After settling the merchant's debt with the thieves' guild, we were told that the amulet we sought was likely in the sewers, which this is an overhead shot of. Conan in the top right corner is about to skewer a...you guessed it... giant rat. 


The night ended here after defeating all of the undead foes in this chamber of blood.
Somehow I had accumulated the most "Fame" points throughout the game and "won." My prize: An early '80s Ace paperback. I used to have this as a kid, but had lost it when I lent it to a friend. Nice to have it back...

What Is Best in Life?

Zach got to participate in the other Conan game at Historicon, playing Thulsa Doom with a coterie of snakemen to do his bidding.




On the Seas of Tekumel

On Saturday I managed to get into a game of Tekumel with Zach. It was a combination of fighting ships, looting ancient artifacts, and melee between crews. It was a fun game in a setting I had only passing familiarity with. The gamemaster did a great job keeping everybody on point and the game moving at a fun clip (something the Conan gamemaster struggled with). Below is the program's description of this game:

On the Seas of Tekumel
Fantasy; 3 PM; Length: 4 hrs; Hosted by: Steve Braun; Scale: 28mm; Rules:
Homebrew/Savage Tales; No. of Players: 8.
Tekumel is home to many non-human races and the high seas are a great place for them to meet up a settle their differences! See what happens when the insect-like Hluss bring their ancient Lightning Bringers to fight ships made of wood and iron. Join in the fun as the frog-like Hlutgru storm aboard your vessel.

Preparing the game for play....

My band of Dhow pirates.
Zach playing some race of lizardmen creatures (don't remember their Tekumel name).

Zach's crew searches an island for loot that could be useful.

My crew of pirates searching an abandoned temple.



Loading onto my ship some ancient laser tech retrieved from the abandoned temple ruins on the island.

Zach and his son Xander who was playing a pirate game designed for kids a couple of tables over.

Life Lesson: If you're going to try to use the ancient tech you've never seen before, roll high. My hero immolated herself trying to fire the laser artifact I found on the island. I ill-advisedly had my ship's captain try to fire it next round, but escaped without incident.

Zach pulled up alongside another island and sent a search party to look for cool artifacts, which gave me the opportunity to rush in along side with my ship and board his. My plan was to steal his ship, but a rival player's submarine surfaced behind me (owned by the planet's indigenous people), and tried to steal my ancient artifact from the back of my ship with a net. In the resulting tug of war, the artifact exploded on the deck of my ship, causing it to start taking on water. Alas, it was the final round of the game, but it wasn't looking good for my ship and crew.


DAK & Dragons

This looked like a blast, but I didn't get to play it. John and his son however got in on the action of WWII armies vs. hordes of beasts from other realms/dimensions. Even though I didn't play this one, here's the cool program description:

DAK and Dragons
Theme: 
World War II; 10 AM; Length: 4 hrs; Hosted by: Miles Reidy; Scale: 28mm; Rules: Donnybrook (modified); Prize: Beyond the dreams of avarice; No. of Players: 8.
It’s October, 1942 and in the remote Libyan desert strange new Egyptian ruins have been discovered via aerial reconnaissance. There’s something ominous about these ruins as it’s got both the Axis and the Allies sending teams racing to discover what lies hidden there. DAK and Dragons is THE historical simulation that answers the age old question, can a Panzer III take on a dragon? You’ll command a team of crack troops that will explore both the ruins and the catacombs under them. Sign on for fun and adventure. Kids are welcome if accompanied by a parent guardian.




John and his son playing a troop of Axis soldiers. The Allies started on the other end of the table, and the referee controlled all of the monsters everyone encountered as they pushed toward the pyramid at the center.




Some of the troops in waiting to the side of the table's action.


Yes, those Germans are fighting a giant axe wielding cyclops.

Well...it is right there in the title of the game.



Tank vs. cyclops.


Frostgrave

This table was my favorite of the entire convention, and I would play on this table every weekend if given the opportunity. It's huge, detailed, and has something going on in every nook and cranny. Eight wizards and their henchmen got to raid this necropolis a couple of times over the weekend. Some of the below photos were taken during a game in progress, while others were shot after the table had been cleared of miniatures.
















































Awful Green Things From Outer Space

Somebody took the flat Tom Wham classic board from 1979/80 and made a three-deck 3D replica of the entire ship. I think Zach sneaked into this game at the last minute when a no-show opened a spot, so I'm curious to hear what he thought of it. Looked very cool, and obviously a lot of love went into this design.



















Agent Carter

This was one of the most beautiful tables I saw over the weekend. It was more akin to a very finely crafted diorama than it was a game board. The game's organizer was originally going to use the 7TV rules, which I have some curiosity about, but the gamemaster swapped those out for the Pulp Alley rules at the last minute, which I own but haven't had the chance to play yet. The dice mechanics in Pulp Alley are unlike any other game I've encountered, and the gamemaster took a few minutes to run a quick tutorial for me, despite the fact that I wasn't able to get a ticket for his game.









Ambush at Grammichele

This WWII skirmish game had a beautiful set up. I would play this at a future convention just to get to move my guys around on this table. Another example of a truly massive table; pulling off a table this large and having the whole thing look amazing is quite the feat.







Martian Invasion

I presume this game was using the All Quite on the Martian Front rules, but I don't know for sure. What I do know is it looked beautiful.







Bob Murch

I am so enamored with Bob Murch's line of pulp figures, purchasing in the past year about 100 for my own collection. These displays were in the vendors hall, and though I already own most of these pictured, the paint jobs here are exquisite.





Pirates!

These photos are likely from a variety of pirate games...I know at least some of them are using the new and very popular Blood & Plunder rule set.




The amazing Caribbean water board the Blood & Plunder designers were using to demonstrate their game in the vendors hall. It was a work of art, and these pictures don't do it justice!



Various Naval War Games













Victorian Sci-Fi games













Space combat




Song of Drums and Tomahawks

Based on the popular fantasy skirmish rules, Song of Blades and Heroes by Ganesha Games.




WWI biplane aerial combat and trench warfare







Miscellaneous Games That Caught My Eye









She clearly knew her way around a tape measure. Hope she gave the boys a wallopin'.






Not sure how the clouds come into play, but...cool!






This table was an amazing 6'x25'. There were a few like this.


Although the convention was packed with middle-aged men, you did see a few women playing war games.

I didn't partake this year, but there were quite a number of tutorials and sessions devoted to painting miniatures and terrain-making techniques.

 Final Thoughts

It was great getting to share this weekend with my friends Zach and John. Having some familiar faces to turn to in this overwhelming sea of newness helped keep me from feeling totally adrift at times.

As a newcomer to this hobby and the entire war gaming scene, I didn't know exactly what to expect, but I was prepared for the worst stereotypes to be confirmed. And if you engaged with this event on a superficial level, you might have left with those dim preconceptions unaltered. 

But I will say that playing in a couple of four-hour games and chatting with several fellow hobbyist selling their excess terrain or miniatures in the flea market area, I came to find how warm, welcoming, and downright generous everybody I interacted with turned out to be. Over the course of Friday and Saturday, I engaged with dozens of attendees, and though their social skills might not have always been sterling, their hearts all seemed made of gold, and it felt like I had been welcomed into a tribe of passionate folks who loved the aesthetic side of gaming as much as me and enjoyed chucking dice and moving their soldiers around in the hopes of having a heroic story to recount at the end of a few hours sitting around the table with friends and strangers. 

I wouldn't have had it any other way.

For the perspective of a veteran gamer and attendee of these conventions, read my friend John's posts at his blog, 1,000 Foot GeneralFriday post and Saturday post



Comments

  1. A lenghty report, but worth going through to the end. You managed to catch so many details of the boards present it's almost uncanny and quite a source of inspiration for someone like me who can't attend the convention.

    Good to hear you had such a great time.
    I must admit I hadn't heard about the ticket system before.
    At the conventions I visit over here in Europe you can either jump in or wait for someone else to finish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Woulter. Glad you enjoyed it.

      I won't pretend to be any expert, given it was my first con, but at Historicon it seems that if you pre-register, then you can sign up in advance for a "ticket"/reservation for one game per day listed in the program's schedule. As a result, the occasional game seems to fill up before the show even starts via this pre-registration system, but it the vast majority still had slots open when the convention starts. After the convention starts, you can claim a ticket/reservation for one game each day, and those tickets become available around 4:00 pm the day before at the registration booth. I had not pre-registered, so when I showed up on Friday afternoon, I claimed a ticket for the Conan game taking place later that night (there were still a couple of slots available), and then when 4:00 pm rolled around I went over and claimed a ticket for the next day's Frostgrave game (snagging the last of eight seats).

      I did notice, however, that if you simply stood around a table before a game was scheduled to start, you could often get a seat due to a player with a reservation not showing up.

      Hope that helps a little...

      Delete
    2. It's the difference between European conventions and North American ones. If I understand correctly, most European conventions are demo games where the rules and/or figures are displayed and the game is played by the game master just to promote them, while in North America the games are put on for the people to play.
      At least that's my belief, I've never been to a non-U.S. convention.

      Delete
  2. The Awful Green Things was my game, thank you for taking pics. Zach got in at the end after the crew decided to abandon ship (they had tried a couple of untested area affect weapons on a zone with several aliens, and got fragment results). So I had Zach run through the Epilogue of the game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bill...thanks for getting in touch! I loved what you did with the game and was bummed not to get to play it (though I'm glad Zach got in for a piece of the fun). I'm in Silver Spring, Md., and if there's ever an opportunity to play it in the future somewhere, I hope you let me know! I'd drive up to your guys' stomping ground to give it a go!

      Delete
    2. I'm going to run it for a couple friends who couldn't make it, probably in a month or so on a Saturday or a Sunday at Games & Stuff in Glen Burnie. Send me your email and I'll try to remember to send you an invite.

      Delete
    3. Games & Stuff would be perfect! Shoot me a line when you get the game organized!
      Joseph dot procopio at gmail dot com

      Delete
  3. Awesome report Joe! You managed to take far more photos than I was able to, and of many tables I totally missed in my wandering across the hall. I had a great time, glad you enjoyed the games!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, John. You're one of my unwitting mentors in this new hobby, so the compliment is much appreciated! In terms of photos, I may have the quantity, but your Historicon photos have the quality and are beautiful, friend!

      Delete
  4. Joe, Jimmy the Vanir sellsword, here. Great gaming with you and welcome back to our glorious hobby.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you got in touch, Jimmy! Was just thinking about you earlier today and was hoping we'd cross paths again! You were one of those gracious souls at the con that made me feel welcome. Hope we have future opportunities to game together, at a con or otherwise!

      Delete
  5. Outstanding! Love the pictures. Glad to see that you have jumped back into our little niche of niche hobbies. I was the enemy in the submarine-- the gloriously xenophobic H'luss in the Tekumel game. Nice to meet you there and we should get together for some Frostgrave at least!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Walt! Enjoyed your blog's recap, too. And glad we crossed paths. Looking forward to some future gaming with you!

      Delete
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