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The Slow Road to Recovery: Historicon Returns in 2021


I braved the pandemic and the five-hour roundtrip for a one-day excursion to Historicon this year. Two of my fellow Scrum Club mates (Steve and Walt) went for the entire affair, but John, Francesco, and I drove up to Valley Forge Saturday morning, arriving shortly before noon and leaving the convention by around 6:00 for the Washington, D.C. metro area. Four of us (sans Walt) grabbed a mediocre burger at Habit Burger Grill near the Valley Forge Casino before we drove homeward into the night.

Francesco kindly drove the entire way there and back. The morning trip was quite lovely, with the tree leaves nearing peak fall intensity.

Earlier in the year I had booked a hotel room for three nights of the convention, when the vaccine was initially rolling out. Never would I have imagined at that time an anti-vaxxer movement could be strong enough to leave us struggling to achieve reasonable vaccination rates all the way into November, but the past four years should make absolutely nothing a surprise anymore. About a month out from the convention, the grousing by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers on the online message boards discussing the convention made me decide to cut my attendance from the usual four days to just the one day, in-and-out. And even then I only attended because the HMGS convention organizers wisely mandated masks in all convention spaces. If they hadn't, I wouldn't have gone at all. But even so, I simply could not imagine sitting around tables gaming for hours with folks who did not want to take this health crisis seriously enough to protect their own families or mine.

All in all, the HMGS board had an immense set of challenges to pull this convention off, and I applaud the way they handled things. If I had a quibble, I would have appreciated a bit more diligence on their part when it came to the occasional person flaunting the mask mandate. The rule was clearly stated months in advance, and if somebody disliked it enough to disregard it or only half-heartedly abide by it (everyone knows masks are supposed to cover noses, too, at this point), then they should have stayed home. I was frustrated enough with one attendee that I said something to him myself. I had seen a photo of him online on Thursday without a mask, and when I saw him in person and maskless on Saturday bellying up to a game table full of players who were wearing masks to spectate on their game, I couldn't abide it any longer and walked over to tell him he needed to put one on. He feigned dumbness and started patting his pockets as if he had misplaced his mask, so I told him to go to the convention desk and they would provide him with one. He returned 15 minutes later properly masked, but it really should have been somebody else's job to enforce the rule. Fortunately, 95% of folks (maybe more) were abiding by the mask mandate.

With such little time at the convention, I didn't bother to sign up for any games. My plan was to meander through the gaming halls and do some shopping in the flea market and vendors' area. I ended up being able to hit both sessions of the flea market on Saturday and scored a few nice things (more on those below). I also picked up a nice little middle eastern building for half price from the Miniatures Building Authority fellas (I usually find a close-out deal I talk myself into at their booth each convention).

The best part of the day by far, however, ended up being all of the folks I serendipitously crossed paths with, something I didn't want to bank on given we'd all be masked up and harder to recognize. I didn't expect to see Joseph McGuire (This Is Not a Test, Reality's Edge), but we had a great conversation about game design, future projects, and having him over soon for some games at Scrum Hall. I also had a chance encounter with Zeb Cook; his welcoming hug and easy manner make him one of my favorite people to catch up with at these things. We parted company with similar promises to schedule a game at my place sometime in the coming weeks. I also ended up bumping into Tony Marano of the Little Wars TV crew, a kindred spirit I'm glad this hobby brought into my orbit.

I expected to see other pals, like Miles Reidy and Jeff Wasileski, because I knew ahead of time they'd be running games that I was determined to watch in action for a while on Saturday afternoon (see pics below). They both, without fail, put together my favorite games at these conventions. Fortunately for me they were set up nearly side by side in the Grand Ballroom, where I ultimately camped for the last couple hours of the day, taking photos, watching cool games, and catching up with all of the awesome aforementioned folks.

Leonardo Da Vinci and the Prince of Foxes

The best game masters at these shows are not coincidentally some of the more personable ones, easily donning the mantle of showman and ring leader, designing and running their games with the clear intent of making them as entertaining as possible for the players. Jeff Wasileski was born to the role, and his games are known for being some of the more inventive and theatric at these conventions. On top of it all, he creates some of the most beautiful games you're likely to find, which made him a much sought-after game master for us as we put together the last in-person Scrum Con we organized back in 2020. His massive Elizabethan occult mystery game in a lovingly crafted neighborhood of London near the Globe Theater was one of the highlights of our convention that year.

At this year's Historicon I got to see his latest game, set in a fictitious past involving contraptions straight out of Leonardo DaVinci's notebooks. If I was going to play a single game at this year's Historicon, I guarantee it would have been this one (though Jeff's game from the previous evening recreating the final showdown from the first Die Hard movie looked like great fun in its own right). Below is Jeff's description of his game from the con's program:

Leonardo Da Vinci and the Prince of Foxes

Time: 4 hours, Players: 8, Location: Grand Ballroom
GM: Jeff Wasileski
Period: Fantasy, Scale: 28mm, Rules: Dragon Rampant/Pikeman's Lament modified

Description: Artist turned imposter nobleman, Andrea Orsini has been sent by Cesare Borgia to undermine Marc Antonio Verano, lord of Citta Del Monte as part of his plans of conquest. However, Orsini has turned away from villainy and now sides with the good people of Citta Del Monte. Using the notebook of his former master, Leonardo da Vinci, Orsini has fashioned a host of amazing war machines to defend the city. Borgia has decided to fight fire with fire and hired the great Leonardo himself. 

Jeff helping move the action along.


My pal Miles Reidy is one of those amazing "marathon man" game masters who runs giant games a couple of times a day for the entire length of these conventions. This time he took everything one step further by creating an interlinked seven-game campaign in which each game picked up from and built on the events from the previous game. A fella I chatted with at Miles's table proudly claimed to have played in six out of the seven of those games, to which I quipped that he hadn't even attended Historicon but rather MilesCon.

Here's the descriptions from the convention's printed program:

Stalingrad Campaign

Time: 4 hours, Players: 8, Location: Grand Ballroom
GM: Miles Reidy & Little Wars TV
Period: World War II, Scale: 15mm,
Rules: Company Commander (homegrown)

Description: This campaign will re-create the savage fighting in Central Stalingrad between elements of the German 71st Infantry Division and the Soviets 13th Guards over the course of 6 games. The ending point of one game is the starting point for the next. Each player will control a reinforced company and will fight over a detailed reconstruction of Central Stalingrad at 1" = 25 yards. These games will be featured in an upcoming Little Wars TV episode, so this is your chance to be in a LWTV video! Kids welcome with an adult or guardian

Miles (left) chatting with fellow Scrummer John Sears (right)

Miles introducing the final game on Saturday evening of the epic Stalingrad campaign.

It has been enjoyable watching Miles craft this game over the past year or so over on his blog, Lair of the Uber Geek.

Other games in the Grand Ballroom

As I mentioned above, I basically camped in the Grand Ballroom for the last couple of hours I was at the convention. The Valley Forge Casino is huge and warren-like, with game rooms, workshops, lectures, and vendor halls spread across multiple levels. I was laden with new acquisitions from the flea market and vendors hall, and was frankly done walking for the day.

This turned out fine because the Grand Ballroom is where I ended up seeing the coolest games at the convention and crossed paths with multiple folks I wanted to see. Below are photos of some other games that caught my eye in the ballroom that I heard were quite fun from those who had played them.

This was an amazing looking Vietnam-era game. I hope the game master brings this to a future convention so I might actually get to play it.

My fellow Scrummer Walt O'Hara had a grand time in this game recreating the Thompson Trophy Air Race held in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932.

Don't know much about this game other than it was a beautifully recreated 19th century British colonial conflict in Africa (I presume).

The Little Wars TV fellas seem to have upped their sartorial game for this convention, with most of them wearing monogrammed bowling shirts and fez. Here they are running a beautiful game of Saxons vs. Vikings using the Ravenfeast rules the club released for free around a year or so ago. 

The Spoils of Historicon

I rarely go to these conventions with a list of things I'm looking to buy. I like the treasure hunt aspect of browsing through the vendor booths and flea market tables, stumbling across amazing deals or items I never knew I needed until seeing them at the convention. I always intend to drop a chunk of change at these things, and this trip was no different. In fact, if I drove all of this way and didn't find some booty to drag back to Washington, DC, I was going to be bummed. Here's what I came home with...a small haul, but some useful pieces for my future games.

My best deal of the show was picking up these knights--12 mounted and the same 12 on foot--for a total of $5 a piece. Now I'll have some more cavalry to contribute to some of the Scrum Club's mass battle games.

Picked up six mounted Goths from the same dealer as the knights. I feel bad because Steve Braun walked up 30 seconds behind me looking to buy them.

My buddy Mar is currently painting four small armies in 15mm for me, so this bit of terrain will work well after I get it quickly painted. Another deal for a mere $10.

Spoke to Richard Borg in the vendor's hall for a few minutes and decided I needed to walk away with these flying creatures, originally meant for his game BattleLore, but I'll put them to use in in one of my other games.

I often walk away from one of these conventions with a stray building from the Miniatures Building Authority company. Got this for $25, and it'll go well with a couple of desert-themed games I've been contemplating. Added a couple of goblins to the pics because they were handy...

Parting Shots and Closing Thoughts

Glad to have had the chance to attend another Historicon, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. The organizers are to be commended for pulling this together and doing their best to keep everyone safe. We all owe them our thanks.

Sadly, I learned a whole slate of scheduled games got cancelled at the last minute. The reasons are still murky, and there's a lot of speculation out there as to what happened. A lot of players were left in the lurch who had signed up for those games. Hopefully we'll see a lot less of these sorts of cancellations going forward.

In the end, however, Historicon does what it does so well: reinforced for me my love for this hobby and those who put so much time and energy into sharing their passion and creating a good time for others. Even one abbreviated day at Historicon allowed me to chat with folks I hadn't seen in two years and to marvel at the creativity on display in the games I saw. Hopefully the world continues to move in the right direction, and future HMGS conventions can be free of pandemic drama.



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