Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Friday, July 19, 2019
Over the years I have learned, and in some cases relearned, several lessons that I will now bore you with. You'd better go get a coffee as the caffeine jolt may be needed to get through this meandering discourse.
First a word on scale - when I say big, I mean BIG - this year's game, To Catch a King, was played on a 6 foot by 19 foot table and had 2,417 figures in play. The game was designed for 8 players but I mostly played with 10.
1) KNOW The Rules (and when you don't, fake it)
Nothing detracts from a good game like a rules dispute. All of us have a hidden rules lawyer just waiting to get off the chain and it's your role as Game Master to ensure it doesn't happen. I put a lot of effort in knowing the rules but state clearly at the start of the game that I will make mistakes but my decisions are final. After running a few games, you'll also be able to develop the skills to spot budding table top Clarence Darrows and a quiet word prior to the game start goes a long way in heading things off. The worst thing a GM can do is loose control of a rules debate. Even if you're unsure. make a call quickly and move on. It's OK to be wrong but be wrong decisively. At least I hope being wrong is OK, because I'm wrong a lot.
2) Get Players into the Action Fast
I try to design scenarios where all the players are into the fight no later than turn 2 - a bored player either becomes disengaged or contemplates rules questions. An engaged player has fun. In other words, the devil does find work for idle hands. All of my players have units the are on the tabletop. Where there are off table reinforcements - they are additions to existing player rosters not a player waiting in the wings.
3) Limit Upfront Rules Lectures
Don't spend 30 minutes explaining all the rules in detail and then start playing - no-one will remember your rambling and likely boring diatribe. Just hit the high points and use the first turn or two to walk through the rules. For To Catch a King, one end of the table (the Austrians and French I Corps) whas set up close to one another so there was some contact on turn one, while the rest of the table required at least a turn of movement before contact. Having actual on table top examples while blathering on about the rules is very helpful.
4) Allow some do overs (at the start)
No one likes to like dumb and players can hold back out of fear from appearing so. One way to alleviate that is be generous allowing for do-overs if players make a really dumb move. One just needs to be even handed for each side. I typically have a count of three per side and always mention something dumb I've done in a past game when the player needs a break
5) Speed is your friend
Find ways to speed up play, especially if there are lots of miniatures to move. A few easily learned tips
- Bellow out the turn order and essentially act like a carnival barker - gotta keep the game moving. One really can not be shy and be a good GM.
- Every player should have there own QRF (Quick Reference Sheet) for the rules. Don't go cheap on the printing. I give each player a clipboard to organize all of the player aids. Gamers LOVE clipboards.
- If a players wanders away from the table, (it happens) step in, as the GM, and play for them until they get back. DO NOT hold up play for absent players. The one caveat, if a player has some medical issue or disability you do need to accommodate them and I will hold up play for that type of issue. That's just common courtesy. Make sure you announce that you will step in for absent players at the start of the game.
- Have 3x the number of dice you need. Dice love to hide on the table top BUT dice hide and seek shouldn't be a recurring feature of your game. Dice are cheap, go buy a lot more.
This is a bit of an alteration of my past rule that Kids Win, Always. I've learned that forcing a game outcome to favor the side that a child plays on can be off-putting and doesn't really teach sportsmanship. So I no longer overly tilt gameplay in favor of a kid (see item 4 above). I still try to make the experience memorable and positive by awarding a medal of valor to any child players at the conclusion. I found a source of inexpensive replica WW2 British medals and now always have some on hand. I gave out two this year and it seemed to go over really well, as young master Andy demonstrates. Andy's side lost the game and he had to put up a stiff defense with his one British division against THREE French ones but it still looks like he enjoyed the game.
Napoleon was right about medals.
7) Stuff Breaks - Don't Whine About it.
If you choose to go down the path of participation games, you must bear in mind that your toys will get used and some will be broken. It happens. Don't get mad, don't look hurt, don't act like a diva. Just laugh it off and fix it. I always bring a hobby emergency kit - paints, brushes, hobby knife and super glue with accelerant and can repair just about any mishap. I also bring a terrain repair kit with loose flock, matte medium for glue, terrain paint and the all important hot glue gun w/ lots of glue sticks. Also an extension cord. I probably could pay for my convention travel expenses by just renting out the hot glue gun to other GM's. I'll repeat the main point again STUFF WILL GET BROKEN - not a lot but don't act like an ass when it does. If this point rubs you the wrong way then maybe being a convention GM isn't the right path for you.
8) Don't Go Solo
Putting on convention games is really a lot of work - find some friends or a club to help. I've joined Army Group York (yes the guys who put out the LittleWarsTV channel) and being part of a club at a convention makes doing all this stuff both easier and a lot more fun. I'm still surprised the club lowered it's standards to let me in.
9) Have Fun
Being a GM is a combination of two roles I've always aspired to be - a Big Top Circus Ringmaster and a Carnival Barker. You can't be shy and you need to be able to read people to gauge their personality types. These are good life skills and ones that pay double as a convention GM. You do have to be comfortable being the center of attention and getting the odd quizzical / judgmental look from passer by's. Ignore them, they're just jealous they can't get into you game or they think you're an idiot. I can live with either as I'm having a blast and they look like they're not. As the great philosopher and social commentator C Sheen once said, "WINNING".
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
The sides are fairly balanced with the French having a slight advantage in numbers 32 infantry, and 11 cavalry brigades plus 9 artillery batteries opposed to 28 infantry and 10 cavalry brigades plus 8 artillery batteries. There were 2,417 figures on the table.
The setup was intended to allow some initial skirmishing on the flanks to help teach rule mechanics and then have everyone in some form of contact by turn 2.
The fighting was furious and this was the only game the French heavy cav really was decisive as it charged over the hill and cut the road. Victory to France!
That's correct, Master Andy is the recipient of a genuine replica Victoria's Cross.
I was really pleased with how the game played but there was a lot I can do to make the game better.
As I indicated at the beginning of this post, I was more than a little nervous putting this game on as I was using a somewhat detailed set of rules (General d'Armee) and its scope was pretty big.
General d'Armee - the rules actually worked well and players picked up the key concepts by turn 2. I do think the 4 pages of QRF sheets are hard to process for a new player and I need to make some custom ones that reduce some of the complexity. These remain, by far, my favorite Napoleonic rules but do need a "lite" version for convention play.
Naval Aspect - My original game concept had a naval aspect with frigates and house rules. After seeing how big the game really is and the noise in the convention area, I decided to just focus on the land battle which was still a bit of a bear to GM. For future games where I want a naval aspect I think I'll go with the format I used for "Decision in Delmarva" in 2015 where a morning naval battle sets up the afternoons land battle. The ship's did serve as nice eye candy!
Napoleonics - I'm hooked - I think this game looked great and was playable so one can do Napoleonic in a convention setting. I'm pretty sure you'll see another Nappy themed game at Historicon in 2020. What's the scenario? I'm still trying to figure that out.....
I do want thank my club mates who were really helpful over the course of the con. I find myself very fortunate to count them as friends. Also thanks a lot to Chris Hecht who drove up Saturday to help - maybe one day we can lure him back to the dark side of Historical gaming. Maybe.....
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
OK, at least that incident of mis-information and fake news has been corrected. I am sure there are others lurking......
Sunday, July 14, 2019
The convention "vibe" felt a lot more active and positive to me - I know that's a pretty subjective measure but it's an important one. Also contributing to my very positive experience was this convention was the first I attended as a member of a club (with Little Wars TV) and that was a blast. It also made running the games a lot easier and I'm very grateful for the all the help I got from the club.
As with past Historicon's, I focused on running my game multiple times and didn't play in any other games - I was just too tired- being a GM can be taxing. It's also a great fun as one gets to pretend to be both a big top circus ringmaster and carnival barker all rolled up into one. I ran my game "To Catch a King" 5 times and had an average of 10 players per game. A majority of my players were people who have played in past games I've put on and it's always very gratifying to see them come back for more. I really couldn't have asked for a better group of players during the con.
How did the Marriott Hotel and Lancaster Convention Center do as venue? As indicated above, it was a big improvement over any of the past venues I've attended a Historicon at (The Host, Valley Forge and Fredericksburg). The Hotel food was good and there were a ton of dining options within a 5 minute walk from the facility. Off-loading and then loading all the stuff I need to put on a big game was very easy. Parking worked (I used the Hotel's valet service). Lighting was good and I didn't get exposed to killer molds, food poisoning and/or asbestos - you know, the standard "Host Experience".
There were some issues that could be improved on:
1) For some reason the up escalators from the first to the second and second to third floors were not working. There was adequate elevator service for those who have mobility issues but if you were in a hurry you needed to walk up the stationary escalator. I think the hotel, after seeing the condition of the average convention attendee, made a decision we all needed a bit more cardio in our daily lives.
2) Better maps for finding the loading docks. Maybe this is just me, but I struggled to find the loading area to unload when I first got there and ended up doing so at the hotel entrance. It wasn't a problem as I was valet parking and gave the attendants a nice tip but it would have been easier if I could find the GM loading ramp. Lets chalk this issue up to a 50/50 between unclear instructions and my stupidity. OK 49/51
3) About midway through my last game on Saturday, one of my club mates mentioned we all needed to be packed up and out of the gaming room we were in by midnight Saturday. I had originally planned to do the game take down Sunday morning and never noticed the time restrictions. In the end, it wasn't a big problem and I had a lot of help from the club to get packed up but the instructions on when we needed to be out should have been better communicated.
That's it for issues - Please HMGS make the correct decision and stay at this facility.
I'll do some more detailed posts of the game but I was really pleased with how it played. I'm pretty sure next years Historicon game will be Napoleonic also!
Coverage of the Game:
OnTableTop (aka Beasts of War)
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Heading out for the third day and 2 more runs of the game!
Friday, July 12, 2019
The game moved along fine but there are some things I can do to improve playability.