Saturday, July 22, 2017

Musings on running con games

I've been running convention games since 2011 at HMGS conventions.  The total game sessions is close to 60 and most have gone well.  Except Fall-In in 2012 when I ran a Lundy's Lane game that was really just wasn't that good.

The learnings from these games are probably somewhat subjective but there are a few trends

1) The Gamers are the Most Important Part: Managing the player group and keeping them both interested and having fun is the single most important part of having a successful game.  It sounds really basic, but it really is the key to a fun / successful event.  This aspect requires the GM to be a bit of a showman and a bit of a consular.

2) Scenario Design is really important
The structure of the scenario is the next most important aspect of a good con game.  Incorporate hidden goals / unknown reinforcements.  They're fun when "revealed" and can be used to keep a game balanced and flowing properly.  I really like the canard of the "somethings coming over the horizon" to keep my players guessing - it can be the smoke from a distant ironclad, French reinforcements or a Giant Red Dragon, which was used in my historically accurate DAK & Dragon games this year.

I also prefer a three-way fight vs a standard 2 way contest - Having the players need to fight both each other and a GM controlled force creates a very dynamic game and allows for player faction negotiations.  It's also a lot easier to keep the game balanced.  If you have too many players if also give you the option of letting then control the "bad guys".  Again this worked really well this year in DAK and Dragons as I had player controlled axis and allied factions (4 players each) and a GM controlled "monsters" faction.

3) Playtesting is Overrated But KNOWING the Rules isn't
Some my find this an odd statement but I find deep play testing to be counter-productive.  Why?  The personality profile of the gamers has a bigger impact on game dynamics and since players choose my game, I can't really control that variable.  I do find that when I've play tested too much I've got an almost pre-wired set of assumptions of how the game should play out and can try to direct to achieve that outcome.  When I've done this my players have picked it up and become a little frustrated.

While play testing may be overrated, knowing the rules cold isn't and some play testing is required just to make sure you know the rules.  If you have to refer to a rule book you've failed.  It's really important to be consistent in your application of the rules (except for kids, see below) and some playlets is need to get a handle on the mechanics.  It's also useful to help you figure out how to strip down the rules for a con game.  Simple is a.ways better.

My infamous (to me) Lundy's Lane game at Fall In in 2012 didn't go that well because I didn't know the rules well enough

4) Set the rules of conduct early and enforce them
Wargamers are an interesting lot.  By and large they are a genial group of people but in certain circumstances some individuals can become a pain in the ass (rules lawyers, hyper competitive, whiners).  Set out the rules of conduct at the start of the game and enforce them in a genial manner.  I do so using self deprecating humor but always make the following points:

- we're all here to have fun
- it's just toy soldiers
- No vile language / aggressive behavior

In the approximate 500+ gamers I've had at my convention tables I've only had to ask two to leave - one for being so intoxicated he couldn't really speak clearly and the other for wearing a SS-themed T-Shirt that was like a rock band concert tour T-shirt except the concert dates/locales where battles where that SS division fought (and committed atrocities.  Free Speech allows that individual to wear the sad shirt, just not at my table.

5) Kids win, always
If you get a young person at your game (under 18) they win - ALWAYS.  Sometimes you don't have to intercede as kid luck dice rolling can take over.  Other times you may have to -another reason why it's good to have a flexible scenario design).  I'm clear to all my players that all of us are playing for second place.  The vast majority of players get this and agree. A few don't and I remind them that there are a lot of other games at the con they may enjoy more.

6) Visual Appeal is your best marketing tool:
Having great terrain and mini's is critical to generating interest in your game.  If you want players put the effort in to make the game "pop".  It's also fun to talk to people in-between games - it's kind of like a grown-ups version of "show and tell" from grade school.

My Games though the years:

2011 Historicon
"Rome on the March"
Rules Hail Caesar

2012 Historicon
"A Dacian a Day Keeps the Romans Away"
Rules: Hail Caesar

2012 Fall In 
Lundy's Lane
Rules: Ernies home grown rules
War of 1812

2013 Historicon
"Sink the Tennessee"
Rules: Uncivil Wars
2013 Historicon
"Prelude to Vicksburg"
Rules: Black Powder
2014 Historicon
"Sink the Tennessee II"
Rules: Uncivil Wars

2014 Historicon
"Battle Along the Mississippi"
Rules: Black Powder

2015 Historicon
"British Intervention in the ACW/Naval "Decision in Delmarva I"
Rules: Sail and Steam Navies

2015 Historicon
"British Intervention in the ACW/Land Decision in Delmarva 2"
Rules: Longstreet

2016 Historicon
British Intervention in the War of 1812
"Grapeshot on the Chesapeake"
Rules: Longstreet
War of 1812

2016 Historicon
"A Madmans Steeple Chase"
Rules: Musket & Tomahawks

2017 Historicon
"DAK & Dragons"
"SOCOM & Sorcery"
Rules: Homegrown

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Historicon 2017: Final Thoughts

WARNING: Self-Reflective drivel ahead, proceed with caution.  There, all the legal notice requirements are out of the way.

The 2017 version of Historicon was the 8th consecutive HCON I've attended and the 7th I've run games at.  I really enjoy the con and look forward to it every year.  The 2017 version seemed a bit bigger than the past few years and definitely felt more "alive".  While the FCC isn't a perfect venue, it did well this time out and I'll miss not having HCON there next year (more on that topic below).

One of the best things about the con is seeing old friends like Ivor and his son Jacob plus meeting new ones like Dave S and his wife, Kalissa.

It was also great to see a lot of my regular players so up for repeat runnings of my games.

I also got to catch up with Ed Spetigue, who is doing really well in his post "Architects of War" life.  Please check out his new gaming company Battle Valor Games.  The minis are really cool and the game seems to be gaining lots of traction.  We did catch up on old times and the debacle that was Architects of War - what a mess that was.

I also got to catch up with Rich Hasenauer, author of the superb Fire and Fury rulesets.  Sadly, Rich is leaving the Maryland area to move down to his place on the NC coast but I'll get to see him at the cons.  He's a class act and the Fire and Fury rules are the best for ACW gaming.

Some Thoughts on the con:


1) "The Convention Vibe"
This version of Hisotricon in Fredericksburg felt more "alive" to me than past versions - the attendance seemed a bit bigger and people were a lot more active.  I know this is a rather subjective comment and might be influenced by my games going well but 2017 really was one of the better Historicon's that I've attended.

2) Game Quality
The quality of the games this year in the main hall seemed to be higher than usual with some of the standouts including:
     - Ivor's Agent Carter game (second picture)
     - Dave and Kalissa Seibicki's "Ambush and Grammichel" game (this was the best game of the con)
     - Ben Franklins War steampunk game
     - The huge (ok huuuugggee) Team Yankee game
     - Frostgrave Treasure Hunting in the Frozen City (amazing table)
     - By Fire and Sword Campaign games (I really like this system and need to get back to playing it more)
     - Captain Henry Morgan raid Maricaibo... (the giant pirate game at the back of the main hall)

     I know I missed some other great games but this year just seemed well above average

3) The FCC venue
While not perfect, I thought the environment was really good and the noise level a bit lower than previous years.

4) My games went well:
Again a subjective positive but I was really nervous running such a big/complex game on a set of home grown rules.  The rules can be improved but they worked pretty well with 80+ plus play-testers.  By the way when I say homegrown rules, I really mean stolen as I took parts of various rule sets, the largest donor being the superb Donnybrook ruleset.

I was excited to get another PELA award and appreciate some of the board members coming over to chat with me about game running and how to improve the cons.

5) Cigar Box game mats:
These worked extremely well and really reduced the wear and tear in transportation.  Terrain boards are really nice to look at but are a real pain to transport.

6) The convention staff
Always a pleasure to work with and everything ran very smoothly for my vantage point.

7) My Players
Yet again I had a great set of players for every game - it's the players who make a game successful, not the GM.  It was great to see some returning faces and meet new friends.  I look forward to having them at my table again next year.

Opportunities to Improve:

1) Extra GMs:
I need to enlist more help putting on these games.  Mike was able to join me on Thursday which was a BIG help but I need to do a better job coordinating others to pitch.  Hopefully I can convince Ivor to lower his gaming standards and pitch in with me for next year

2) Switching out miniatures:
I ran what was essentially the same game with two sets of miniatures (ww2 and then moderns).  Next year I should stick to one set as the time taken to switch out the troops is a bit tedious

3) Simplify my rules:
 Keep the one page but also set a font limit of 14.  I realized I could have streamlined the rules even more (and did so as the games progressed).  More on this point in another post.

4) Finish the Terrain Earlier
I usually set a goal of having all the minis painted before entering the game into the PEL (3-4 months before the con).  That's worked really well the past few years.  I think I need to set a similar goal for terrain as I just ran out of time.  The terrain set up used for the game was good but didn't have all the finishing details and LED lights that I had originally planned.  Going forward the new goal will be minis done six months before the con (I can dream) and the terrain before the PEL system opens up.  Lets see how that works.....

Concern for the Future - The Host:

I am less than thrilled with the pending move of Historicon back to Lancaster and the the Host "resort".  It's not really an issue of travel as both locations are just 2+ hours driving from my home.  I find the FCC and surrounding area to be vastly superior to Lancaster and the decrepit Host in terms of dining choices, venue, you name it.

There have been some minor positive signs with the recent change of ownership in the Host, but my most recent personal experiences with the place have been abysmal.  I'm trying to keep an open mind and will both attend and run games in 2018 but I'm not excited about the location.

Please don't read my concerns as a negative comment on the board and the convention staff.  It was clear that the dwindling attendance at HCON over the past 5 years warranted a change.  The Board was dealt another blow when their NJ plans fell through but it still kind of feels like circumstances have forced us to go back and live in our collective parents dark/dingy basement.  It's nice to have the refuge but it also sucks all-the-same.  Maybe one of the other cons will switch to the FCC in the future.

I will be going to Fall-In this year, which will give me a chance to re-evaluate the Host.   I'm hoping the new owners have worked some magic on that decrepit beast.


I failed my Willpower test roll on spending discipline this year (yeah, I rolled a 1) and left the con with a good bit of "loot".

- A lot of pirate stuff from the new "Blood and Plunder" game system - I really like what I've seen and am leaning towards a Pirate theme for next years Historicon game....
I really blame John over at the 1000 Foot General blog for getting me interested in this game - at least that's what I'm telling my wife

- A renewed interest and new Swedish troops for the 15mm "By Fire and Sword" game system.  The rules are really elegant and the minis a lot of fun to paint.

- Some reinforcements for my 28mm DAK forces in the form of a box of Perry plastic DAK troops and a german halftrack from Rubicon

- A revived interest in Flames of War / Team Yankee.  I may have been too quick to write off version 4

Thanks again to all the volunteers who organize and work at the con - I try to do my part by running games but without their herculean efforts there would be no con at all.

Despite my whining about the Host, I'm looking forward to HCON in 2018!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Historicon 2017: Days 2 & 3

 Friday and Saturday were very hectic days and I ran the game 7 times.  What follows is a picture dump from this games.   I had a great group of players for each outing and really had a lot of fun.

 German Recon takes a hit from a Red Dragon

 Catacombs breached!

 Get the professor!

 a group of happy players and Connor, my GM'ing mascot
 The next game saw more of the same silliness

 Gnolls were really tough (2 melee attacks per fig, 7+ armor save on a D10)

Group 2 form Friday.  This time Connor and his father got to a actually play and he won!  His Aussies grabbed the professor and got him out giving him the official title of MVP!

 Last game Friday was with Malcom and his friends - a great group of gamers who have played in my games in the past and are a real pleasure to game with.

 Happy faces

 Saturdays games started at 10am and I was dragging a little bit and rather hoarse

Italians in the caverns

 What a great group of players!

 The 3:00 Saturday game was a lot of fun and went fairly quickly.  Apparently people were talking throughout the con on what the best strategy was to win the game!
 John and son seemed to be having a great time.  John is also from Maryland and runs the 1000 ft general blog.  Super nice guy and fun to game with.

 Hmmmm, do any of you see a family resemblance?  I had 8 sets of fathers and sons play in my game over the weekend which was really neat and made me a little jealous my son couldn't attend.  Maybe next year...

 More dragon mischief.

The group from game 9 - yet another great group of players.  I forgot to take pictures of game 10 and ended Saturday exhausted but really satisfied things went well.

You may notice that in addition to a lot of father/son teams there were a large number of player who played multiple versions of the game.  I think that's a good sign that it was fun, which is what I'm aiming for and really makes all the work that goes into pulling one of these things off really worth it.

I was very fortunate to have great players for every game - that's the most important aspect of gaming success!