|Norman measuring a shot from the fortress|
In a sense, Historicon preparations this year started over a year ago. It has been the custom of Ross and myself each year, during our visit, to take some time to discuss what collaborative project we will attempt for the next year. Last year, at Cold Wars, I obtained (as noted in the blog at the time) a copy of Christopher Duffy's Fire and Stone, with the Charge-derived wargame rules for sieges as an appendix. Having just finished a five game Charge! series, the idea of adding a fortress and sieges to our repertoire was irresistible. The practical aspects of implementing that notion in wood and foam have been dealt with in this blog previously. I was relieved to reach the end of the final pre-convention with a completed fort and enough artillery in hand to be sure of the ability to run the game. (I try, in general, to avoid signing up to run games which are not yet ready at the time of the signup. I have an unpredictable schedule, on top of which I find working to a deadline to be demotivating in a hobby context.)
Ross arrived safely on Tuesday night, and I had arranged to take the day off on Wednesday. As it turned out I had a couple of vital errands that limited my participation in the Wednesday playtest game. Nevertheless, with some assistance from me, Ross and Norman managed to work through about 20 turns of a siege, from the digging of the first parallel (on a map due to the limited table space) through the breaching of a bastion and the repulse of the first assault on it. We finished up the evening by ensuring that all of the materials needed for the convention were staged for rapid loading in the morning.
We were on the road by a reasonable hour in the morning, given the time that we were on the schedule for our first game, but, as has been recounted elsewhere, we experienced navigational difficulties which cut into our time margin considerably. Our first scenario was a warm-up, designed to make sure that we had our gamemastering properly in order, and was therefore planned months ago to be a straightforward Charge! scenario making only limited use of the fortress. It was also our excuse to have some cavalry action during the weekend. The scenario, #32 from C.S. Grant's book Scenarios for Wargames (usually referred to around here as "The Green Book"), is very flexible, and features a randomized entry procedure for the attackers, so no two runs are ever quite the same. I don't like to randomize things on the spot at the convention, so Norman, in his capacity as the official GM for this game, randomized things in the car on the way up. The attacker entry times and places came out looking relatively coherent, so we went with it. As Ross noted, the one peculiarity was a lone gun which entered alone from the north side of the board. Although unsupported, it acquitted itself well, causing considerable trouble to the advancing Wachovian infantry regiment before it was finally overrun by the convoy's light cavalry escorts. Ross notes that one cavalry regiment was inadvertently removed from the roster. This was an unintended oversight, though the random entry procedure gives a 1/6 chance that a unit would not appear, and no other Northern Alliance unit failed to appear, so the overall balance was not particularly affected. As usual with a Charge! game, there was no problem reaching a conclusion within the allotted time. We could have done it a little more quickly if I had finished the magnetized movement trays for companies or squadrons I had Duncan cut for me after the St. Michel raid, but this was the only one of the five games in which this tool would have been useful.
It helps to have a HAWK as the convention events coordinator, and, in this case, it wasn't just any HAWK, but "Duncan of the Saw", so we had the felicitous arrangement of being on a well-located table for all five games, without any need to pack and reset the whole scene between games. That left us with the opportunity to check out dealers and flea markets as appropriate. I'll summarize the shopping results at the end. We had also built some possible gaming time into the schedule. I spent Thursday evening in an August 1914 Command Decision game run by Duncan, as previously reported.
On Friday morning we were able to sleep in comfortably and have breakfast under no time pressure, since we had set the schedule up to start our first siege game in the afternoon. Ross has already given a thorough account of the actual battles in his blog, and Norman thoughtfully took the aerial pictures of the development of the siege works for each game. Therefore I'm going to limit my commentary on this to noting that I was a little disappointed with the turnout we had for the three siege games. We threw ringers in to ensure that they ran, but I think that our actual sign-up amounted to 2, 2, and 1 for the three games. Everyone who played looked like they became immersed in their roles, but perhaps the topic was too intimidating for the population at large? Personally, I've been interested in sieges in a range of periods for so long that I don't even remember if there was a particular origin, so I was thrilled to finally be able to put a workable one on the table, but I've often been a bit non-mainstream in my interests. On the bright side, we now have it built and it's available for some NQSYW campaigning, starting later this year, I hope.
In any case, by the third time we ran the siege on Saturday morning, we had a pretty good idea of what advice to give the players. I begin to see the basis of some of the comments attributed to Vauban about being able to glance at a fortress and estimate the date of its fall; the game tends to proceed in a very orderly way.
We changed pace on Saturday afternoon with a field battle using Charge, which we basically laid out on half the 6x10 table farthest from the fortress. We had five players show up for this one, so we grouped the veterans against the recruits (or the old guys against the young, if you don't mind a little political incorrectness). We had a few thoughts on how we might run this depending on the number of players, but our fatigue level factored into it as well, so we ended up running it as an advance guard skirmish, with about one Charge unit per player. I estimated that this would give us about six turns to a decision, and it turned out to be seven, so it was a nice fast game, fought to a proper conclusion. After that we took a quick turn through the flea market, where Ross scored his shopping coup of finding the Elastolin figures he's been using for his Prince Valiant game, and then we packed away the fortress and the armies.
My younger son, William, had watched an Iron Paintbrush competition a couple of years ago, and urged us to sign up as a family team, which we did. I had no idea how that might work out. I have every confidence in the overall painting and modeling ability of my sons, but none of us have tried working under time pressure. As it turned out, I was pleased with how well we worked together as a team. I did the main painting, Norman did the figure assembly and the rest of the painting, and William worked the diorama scenery. Just to keep this entertaining, the organizers will attempt to distract you throughout, as when they demanded that all the tables sing a round. Luckily for us, we sing when painting anyway...They also threw in a figure about halfway in and required that it be included in some way. Norman quickly shifted gears and replaced it's ray gun with a crossbow from our bag of bits so that it looked more like it belonged in our fantasy scene. Despite the time pressure element, it was relaxing to sit and do some painting after a series of games to be run, so it was a good way to wind down the convention. We had the good fortune to win some gift certificates, so our last convention action was to head down to the dealers and invest them.
Over the four days, trips through the flea market and dealers left me with five new-to-me books. The prize, as I've noted, was the Wesencraft I have been missing from my collection. I also picked up Cruickshank's study of the Elizabethan army, a book on medieval sieges (I already have a modest cardstock castle suitable for 1/72 plastics), a biography of General Wrangel for my stalled Russian Civil War project, and a Rhodesian book on the Matabele wars for possible inspiration for my Darkest Africa project. I should note that the latter, oddly enough, was found on Friday morning, just after we had been discussing African colonial books in general, and the Matabele in particular over breakfast. I also saw, somewhere in the dealer's area, a new range of 28mm Matabele. If I could have found them again, I'd have bought a King Lobengula, at least, but I was unable to find them a second time. Some Google work suggests that they are a range by North Star, and that Brigade Games must have been the shop that had them. Oh well, next time...I am trying not to add too much stuff on speculation anyway. With that in mind, other than the books, I ended up with a board game and a roleplaying game from the flea market, a few boxes of plastic for the Russian Civil War, and Greek/Persian projects, neither of which is proceeding very quickly at the moment, and some scenery elements to use up the balance of the painting prize money.
Overall, it was a good convention, with the exception of attendance in our games, and I was glad to be able to stay for the whole thing; we've been limited to one day cameo appearances since Cold Wars last year. I'm now energized and ready to work on some miniatures, and to play some games.