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Historicon 2019: New Digs, Epic Games



Historicon is turning into one of the highlights of my summer. I've developed some fond friendships over the past three years of attending and feel like I'm beginning to be more a part of a community and less a neophyte or spectator. It was at the first Historicon I attended in 2017 that I met future fellow Scrum Clubbers Walt O'Hara and Steve Braun, and the circle of gaming friends has expanded significantly from there to include great guys like Ivor Evans, Miles Reidy, Jeff Allen, Joe Bloch, Eric Schlegel, and a bunch of the HAWKs gaming group (Don, Duncan, Buck, Chris, Greg, Bill, et al.).

The two hour trip up to Lancaster Friday morning made for a lovely drive with the convertible's top down and Spotify blaring out a summer tunes mix. I had found a great Airbnb condo five blocks from the convention, but I decided to go straight to Historicon without checking in (which finally happened a bone-weary dozen hours later and well after midnight).

I spent most of that first afternoon scouring the flea market and dealer's hall, bumping into and chatting with friends I only see at these cons, and watching my fellow Scrum Clubber John play in a Napoleonics game with his son and wife, Rachel, who was particularly amiable company. It was a great way to ease into the con and the massive Battle of Hoth game I had awaiting me that night organized by the Harford Area Weekly Kriegspielers' (HAWKs).

Somehow I ended up taking on the mantle of general for the Rebel forces. It was a great time on one of the more spectacular setups I've ever played on. Only after picking my games during Historicon's pre-registration did I notice that all three on my list were HAWKs-run games, and this was the first of the weekend. I've played in a number of games using rules created by the HAWKs' Buck Surdu, but I think this might have been the first in which he was the actual GM, and it was a lot of fun. The Rebels squeaked out a very slim victory, and it was clearly the dividends from my leadership acumen and inspiring command. Or maybe just the luck of the draw...but, yeah, probably the former.

Epic Hoth Extravaganza

Friday, 7:00 PM, 5 hrs
Players: 14
GM: Buck Surdu & HAWKs
Period: SciFi / Scale: 28mm / Rules: Combat Patrol
Description:
The Empire has located the rebel base on Hoth. This 14- player extravaganza uses the Star Wars supplement to Combat Patrol. Take on the role of attacking Snowtroopers, AT-ATs, and AT-STs fighting through several lines of trenches to blow up the power generator and capture the rebels inside the hangar complex before the heroes of the rebellion escape. Or take on the role of defending rebels fighting trench-by-trench and room-by-room within the caverns and tunnels under the hangar.

The view at the game's start from the Empire's side of the battlefield.

The Rebels staring down the oncoming Imperial Walkers and other assorted troops as they began their march our direction across the 18+ foot table.

The hangar at the Rebel's end of the battlefield.

Is that Buzz Lightyear leading this squad?!?

Power generator in the background that the Empire needed to destroy.

Entrance to the Rebel base.


Destroying probe droids made a big boom, injuring anybody in proximity.

One of our cannons goes up in smoke early...

"Hold that line!"



The battle is heating up...time to send in Luke, Dak, and some Snowspeeder support.

True to script, Luke's speeder gets shot down on the battlefield.


A taun-taun cavalry springs into action against an AT-ST as it attempts to cross over the first line of defense...

...and miraculously they bring it down! Perhaps my favorite moment of the game...well played, Steve Braun! Sorry for giving you grief about waiting in the trenches for the perfect moment!

Joe (me), John Sears, and Steve Braun of the Scrum Club all played on the Rebel side of the battle.

And here's our full team of Rebels. You fought like scrappy champs, and I was honored to lead you!

Me at age 9 in 1979. This is the same model that can be seen in a photo of the Rebel hangar above.

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My next game was on Saturday afternoon, and it was one I eagerly anticipated because it was a massive multi-player dungeon crawl, which is exactly the type of game I've been developing my own rules over the couple of years. I've looked at perhaps a couple dozen rules in this "genre" now, and the game I played on Saturday had more similarities to with what I'm trying to accomplish than anything else I've seen. The experience was instructive and inspiring.

And that inspiration went beyond mere rules and mechanics. What made this dungeon crawler just damn fun to play was the beautiful table the GM set up. I can only imagine how long it took him to craft all of the terrain and buy and paint all of the miniatures, but I am always extremely grateful when somebody goes to the trouble to create such amazing table set ups and then haul it all to a con for the enjoyment of others.

And it didn't hurt that it was at least nominally inspired by the old Judges Guild 1977 classic, Tegel Manor, a module I've been curious about for decades now. This may have been one of the most enjoyable convention games I've ever played...a magical mix of great terrain and miniatures, a fun GM, a pitch-perfect tone, and a group of seven other players who completely bought into the spirit of the proceedings!

Dungeon Hack: Caverns of Tegel Manor

Saturday, 3:00 PM, 4 hrs,
Players: 8
GM: Noah Guilbault & HAWKs
Period: Fantasy, Scale: 28mm, Rules: Dungeon Hack+
Description:
A mysterious manor-fortress, apparently unaffected by the ravages of time, has recently appeared where once stood ruins. Its approach is treacherous, but the caverns beneath it seem more accessible. Players control their own adventuring parties (and their opponent's monsters) that seek to cut a path to the manor and the untold riches within. Get powered-up with magical loot, battle monstrous beasts, thwart rival groups, and discover the secrets that lurk below Tegel Manor.

This was a gloriously epic-sized game with beautiful craftsmanship and a smart GM who was most concerned with everybody having a good time in this "fun house" dungeon romp.

If storage wasn't a consideration, I would start making a set of these 2'x2' cavern tiles tomorrow.

It looks a bit barren now because the GM was still setting up, but once the game started, this was chock full of interactive decor and deadly foes.


A very smart way of crating a "dashboard" for players to track their characters.

My beautifully painted band of intrepid dwarf adventurers.

I think I've seen this statue somewhere before...

At first I was completely skeptical of the use of spinners in the game, but they actually worked well at focusing everybody's attention and building tension as the arrow decelerated.

One of my opponent's group of adventurers. I ran the monsters he encountered and managed a TPK (total party kill) before it was over. I felt a bit bad for him and sheepishly apologized a couple of times, but he laughed it off and was a tremendously good sport.



A recent re-issue of the original module this game took inspiration from.

Giant spiders! Gargoyles! Sabretooth tigers! A gelatinous cube would be joining the fray soon. Old school mayhem at its finest!

Enter the gelatinous cube!


A trope of these old school games is the insertion of sci-fi tech in a medieval fantasy world. This game was no exception, and my dwarf cleric spent much of the game using teleporters trying to rejoin his brethren inadvertently left to their own devices.

...and POOF! He's gone again...

Lots of fun loot to be had throughout...

This was a harrowing encounter near the end of the game.

Yep...the game even incorporated the Monty Haul trope, with treasure falling out of the pockets of monsters who didn't even wear trousers!

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Unlike many attendees, I always make it a point to get in a game on Sunday morning, most of which are run by the HAWKs. Last year I played in Duncan Adams' fun Zorro game, and this year I jumped into his Buck Rogers game. Like the Zorro game, Duncan's Buck Rogers game was a beautiful marriage of aesthetics and utility: it is compact enough that all elements fit in a small box yet is beautifully crafted with great attention to detail. As an added bonus I got to play with Scrum Clubber Steve Braun and a couple of his friends from Friday night's Battle of Hoth game. (Note the "Biab" in the game title is an allusion to the fact that this game was expressly built as part of a contest the HAWKs organized called "Battle in a Box" (Biab) to see who could develop the coolest game that fits entirely in a small box of specified dimensions.)

Buck Rogers and the Tower of Biab

Sunday, 10:00 AM, 3 hrs
Players: 6
GM: Duncan Adams & HAWKS
Period: SciFi, Scale: 54mm, Rules: Blood and Swash
Description:
The interplanetary conglomerate Biab, Inc has secretly developed a device that will make them the most powerful entity in the Solar System! But the secret is out and various heroes and villains have set their sights on stopping them or getting it for their own use. Having learned that Biab, Inc is holding the device in Building 17L of their research facility four groups have arrived and intend to be the ones to get it.

This modular structure comes apart and stores flat in several much smaller pieces, exemplifying the "Battle in a Box" ethos.

The figures in this game are cast from decades-old molds created sometime in the 1940s, I believe.





Duncan always does a nice job creating his player reference sheets (in this instance adapting the Blood & Swash rules by Buck Surdu)


Players needed to search boxes stored on the top level of the building in hopes of finding the two pieces of technology that would allow them to escape the building. My character, Black Barney, finds the first one in this box...

This fella's character ends up empty handed when she searches a box in another room...




(left to right): Duncan, Steve, and Troy

A mad scrum in a room on the bottom floor with everyone attempting to wrest one of the two key pieces from my grip.

A space alien, and what he looks like if he gets killed by an opponent's laser gun!

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My time outside of playing games was spent wandering around the halls shooting photos of some of the other cool games being played and recording some interviews with folks for a video I'll edit and post in the coming days. Below are photos of a small sliver of the games to be found at this year's Historicon. There were literally scores of games I never even got to see, but the below provides a sampling...

The next several photos are of the game that my friend Miles Reidy ran several times over the course of the convention. My schedule just didn't work out for me to jump in one of the sessions, but I know it was brilliant because Miles is known for putting on some of the best games at Historicon year after year.

Miles (standing) providing a player with some guidance...

John Sears with his wife and son in Miles' game...



15mm isn't always my bag, but it sure does let you create some epic battles, which is Miles' forte.

The delightful Sears family.

Scrum Club representing! (left-to-right: me and John)

This game was just being set up. I heard it used the 7TV rules, which I really want to try sometime.


This photo and the next couple are from a session titled "The Seven Samurai Sisters," which won an award at the show.




Not sure I've ever seen a giant hex board like this...this level of abstraction isn't my thing, but somebody put a lot of effort into it.







This Too Fat Lardies-run game actually had a evocative table that these photos don't do justice.


This looked like pulpy fun...

These massive zombie apocalypse games always look cool...and that's some real dedication painting the hundreds of zombies needed to fill such a big table.




This gladiatorial combat game using the new Sons of Mars rules completely won me over. It used a painted up Playmobil Colosseum toy set for the arena. Upon arriving home I immediately ordered one (and the Sons of Mars rules). 


I love this sort of thing...red food coloring added to the sand as gladiators suffer grievous wounds! I guarantee I will be running this game before the end of the year...





Not sure if it was a coincidence, but at the neighboring table an impressive chariot racing game was in progress.







My pal Ed Watts playing a game on Saturday. He ran one of the more visually striking games at our Scrum Con last February. He's one of the most affable guys you could hope to cross paths with at this convention, and it was a real pleasure interviewing him about his game (as featured in the upcoming Historicon recap video I'm producing for our YouTube Scrum Club TV channel).

If you aren't already completely impressed by the HAWKs' dedication to this hobby and all of the fun games they host at every HMGS convention, then I defy you not to become a fan after seeing the kids games they host every year, especially this one in which the HAWKs paint two armies (yes, two!) for each kid participant to take home with them after the game (along with some terrain and other gear). Talk about paying it forward and trying to cultivate the next generation of gamers for this hobby. The HAWKs really are goddamn heroes.





Another ridiculously epic zombie game...














My pal Peter Megginson put on a Star Wars: Battle of Endor session on Saturday night that looked like loads of fun...

Peter Megginson on the left.







This charming young lady was both a gamer and terrain maker. She was selling a lot of her hand-crafted pieces in the flea market area.

On Saturday afternoon these were the last of the used games left at Richard Borg's booth in the dealers hall. But, man, what games! I love the old Yaquinto album game series from the late 1970s. Alas, I already own Swashbuckler, and I literally just bought a new-in-shrinkwrap copy of French Foreign Legion for about three times this price last month on eBay. Borg said that earlier in the convention he had sold two copies of my nostalgic favorite Yaquinto game, Attack of the Mutants. A couple of customers are in for a good time with that one!

Loot!

As always, I found some fun stuff to take home with me from the flea market. I got up too late to hit it again on Sunday morning, which is when I often have the best luck. I bought mostly figures this time around, although I did pick up this great Aliens-esque set in 15mm complete with cool plaster corridor and room tiles. 







Some sort of Dracula/Vlad set. I picked it up mostly because I don't remember seeing miniatures of impaled victims elsewhere, and it seems like they would make atmospheric (if gruesome) scatter terrain. 

I've been slowly amassing lots of giants of various sorts for a planned campaign of games. The one with the boulder is a cyclops, and the Ogre Shaman will give the giants in any upcoming scenarios I devise a bit of spellpower to throw at adversaries.

I love old-school sculpts like these, and I needed some sentries for the dwarven fortress I own...

Strangely, I have never bought Chessex dice before, but these seemed really cheap. And my obsession for 40+ year old games still in shrinkwrap continues unabated. The gentlemen I bought this from once owned a mail-order hobby business, and his table was filled with unsold stock that consisted of boxes and boxes of games from the 1970s and 1980s in perfect, unopened condition. If his prices weren't a little high, I probably would have bought a few more on impulse, but I settled for this fantasy microgame I was unfamiliar with as my sole purchase. 

Can one ever have enough Oldhammer skeletons? No!

Eureka's miniatures are always so interesting and characterful...

This was the freebie from Historicon to all attendees...not sure I'll ever have a use for it.

I needed some oriental bad guys for a planned pulp game.


There's a fella in the flea market at every show with boxes full of Foundry and Copplestone minis for a buck a figure. I end up making impulse purchases like these every time...these vikings are cool, and you rarely see a mounted female viking, such as this one.


Monks and supplicants are very versatile...they can be used in many genres and time periods as good guys or sinister baddies.

I'm working on a steamboat for a pulp game, and needed some river crew-type minis.

Do I need any more pulp minis in my collection? Who asked you, bub!

Got this 1930s photographer gratis from the Crucible Crush folks for supporting their current Kickstarter, Dark Sun 1968 (a "Weird" Vietnam War setting).


Final Thoughts & Parting Shots

One strange bit of recurring happenstance was the number of people I met from Ohio, and even more specifically, from Dayton, my birthplace and hometown for quarter of a century. I must have crossed paths with over half a dozen citizens of the Gem City. I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise that a couple of fellas had even done time in the employ of Dayton's only bona fide hobby store for many years, The Tin Soldier; I used to eagerly await the opportunity to play in their fund-raising D&D tournaments (reminiscence here) with guest of honor Dr. Creep, Dayton's own late night horror show host.

Like many folks who have opined on the subject, I am decidedly in the camp that feels the move to the new downtown Lancaster Convention Center is a quantum leap forward for Historicon (and hopefully all other HMGS conventions going forward). As I've noted in past posts, I had never attended any sort of game convention before the summer of 2017 (yes, I'm a late bloomer in terms of convention going). When the Fall In convention rolled around later that year and I experienced the horrible conditions folks were willing to settle for at the justly infamous Lancaster Host Retort, I couldn't help but be disappointed that this is where my fellow gaming enthusiasts gathered. And I couldn't help but wonder if the embarrassingly bad environs reflected a collective low self-regard among wargamers in general. Were people really content to settle for such miserable conditions? Was I willing to travel and spend money to game in such a depressing space? I brought a friend to Historicon in 2018 and was instantly embarrassed to find it had gotten even worse in the intervening year. I reflexively apologized to him, and we ultimately muddled through. Gaming at the Host felt like meeting in somebody's half-finished basement or leaky garage.

The Lancaster Convention Center/Marriott, on the other hand, feels like a place where self-respecting adults gather to spend a weekend in a pursuit they look forward to all year. And the number of actual families (i.e., wives and kids) in attendance seemed significantly higher this year. I would have never subjected my wife to the Host, but I would have no reservations about her tagging along for the weekend at the new location. Even the area of town is far more interesting and vibrant than the miles and miles of strip mall hell the Host Resort was nestled in. If HMGS organizers ever revert back to holding the convention at the Host, I'm afraid I'm out...with a heavy heart, but out all the same.

Hopefully this is the last time I'll ever have to devote space on this gaming blog to the choice of venue for a convention. It's a boring topic for anybody other than those of us who attend. Enough said!

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the entire convention, though, was the number of times I was stopped by people who had attended our Scrum Con last February. I easily had a dozen such encounters, and to a person they enthusiastically expressed what a good time they had had, and how they were looking forward to the next one. Many of them even pitched games they wanted to run at Scrum Con 2020, and from some of the photos and videos I was asked to look at on their phones, I can say with confidence even at this early stage that we are going to have some really cool games for folks to play.

The power of a cool t-shirt...

For information on last February's inaugural Scrum Con and to sign up for the email notification about the upcoming registration for Scum Con 2020, please pop over to our con's web site. Our last outing sold out a week ahead of time, so sign up for the email announcement to ensure you get your ticket and first pick at games!





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Comments

  1. Excellent post Joe, and it was really great to sit down and talk for a few moments - next time we'll be sure to make it a bit longer though 😃

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed! Let's make it a point to share a meal and/or a drink together next time. And remember my offer to put an impromptu game together with the Scrum Club if you find yourself passing through the area.

      Delete
  2. Lots of great looking games there,it is funny the lure of games you wanted as a youth,I'd say you showed remarkable restraint! Decent collection of loot too,it's funny but I had noticed on the various photos I have seen of this year's Historicon that there seems to be more women and children,so maybe it's a thing!
    Best Iain

    ReplyDelete
  3. Always good to hear from you, Iain! The new location is far friendlier and more conducive to including spouses and families. It's a far nicer convention center and hotel. I certainly felt like I saw more families this year, which was great.

    ReplyDelete

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