Event Coverage: The Road to Games Day 2012
Sci-fi/fantasy miniatures specialist Fred Feddeck heads to Chicago to get a look at the latest products offered by Games Workshop at its impressive yearly event.
Name: Games Day 2012
Where: Donald Stephens Convention Center, Chicago, IL, USA
When: July 28th, 2012
As an avid miniatures wargarmer and Warhammer 40,000 enthusiast, myself and a few friends make the yearly pilgrimage to Games Day 2012, which was recently held in Chicago.
What is Games Day you ask?
Games Day is the ultimate celebration of miniature wargaming through the lens of Games Workshop’s three core gaming systems: Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy, and Lord of the Rings. Massive miniature wargaming events like these are really about two things. The first is being able to play with lots of toys that you want to own, but on such a large scale that you will probably never be able to own (and you don’t have to clean up afterwards). Second, is the social aspect of being around and participating in the events with your friends and fellow wargamers.
The day begins early at about 9 AM as one waits online at the Stephens Convention Center with your fellow hobbyists, which in itself is quite a site. Thousands of guys and gals waiting online, all talking shop and discussing rules, games, and miniatures really drives home how big and dynamic the community is. You might play in a gaming club, or even a basement gaming group of a few buds, but you are not alone. As we get closer to the doors opening, a peculiar tradition occurs. Which, if you are new to Games Day and the Warhammer 40,000 universe, can seem quite odd—I digress here for a moment to indulge in a little fluff regarding the gaming universe, key in understanding just what is taking place.
In the Warhammer 40,000 universe mankind has colonized the known galaxy. The vast legions of their elite “Space Marine” warriors and inexhaustible “Imperial Guard” legions order is maintained and the human race is protected from all manner of alien threats, which encroach on their domain. One such xeno race is known as the “Orks”— a brutal and very straightforward race that lives to just make war rather than to gain territory, resources, or honor. In the history of the game, before a big battle or during one, the Orks will do what is known as a “Wagh”—a tide of screaming “WAAGGHHHH!” all at once before attacking (a battle cry). So there you are, waiting online and the word gets passed around to get ready for this Wagh, when suddenly thousands of people scream at the top of their lungs, “WAAGHHHH!”And the doors to Games Day open. Odd, perhaps, but stranger things happen at gaming conventions… Past the gate, the initial concern is what to do and what to see first. Sure we have just over eight hours to enjoy the event, but the day goes fast!
Since miniature wargaming is, well, all about the miniatures, the first thing I like to do is check out all of the various armies on display. In each gaming system (Warhammer 40K, Fantasy, and Lord of the Rings) there are a few dozen armies, and within each army there are dozens of sub units you can take command of. There is a huge selection for you to choose from to help you build your army according to the play style you like the most. Even in the biggest of club games I’ve played in, where dozen of guys pool all their models for an apocalyptic-like battle, there is still so much I’ve never seen in person. And Games Day proves this point. It treats you to not only a display of all the models built and painted for the various armies—many of them are heavily converted with various kits, banners, and freehand painting. It’s easy to kill an hour or two just looking at the armies, fully painted and based, all while getting new ideas for your own army. I’m always telling myself that I’m done collecting. But let’s be real, how long does that really last?
From there it is time to partake in the community aspect of the various Games Day events that take place throughout this extravaganza. Some are very serious and others are not so serious. By far one of the biggest events is the “paint-n-take”. In this event you get to select an infantry model already built and primed, and then paint it with supplied brushes and paints. Some events are a competition where you are timed, and at the end of fifteen to thirty minutes all of the models are judged and a winner is declared for the best model. Other events are a bit more laid back and you paint at your own pace, with staff there to help and offer advice.
Since the visual appeal of miniature wargaming is such an important part of the hobby, it only makes sense that the day should celebrate it. Myself and the guys have a tradition where we all participate in the paint-n-take together, and regardless of the overall winner, whoever has the worst painted miniature of the group buys a round of drinks for the rest of us at dinner.
From the aspect of learning how to paint, and growing your skill as a painter, it is great to have a place you can sit down and network with fellow painters and staff to improve your hobby—literally shaving off weeks of trial and error figuring out how to do things like base coating, highlighting, washing, etc … As a final layer on celebrating the painting and modeling aspect there is the prestigious “Golden Daemon” event for the day. This is where hobbyists enter one or more painted models for staff judging, with the best of the best, with winners taking home a bronze, silver, or even gold daemon trophy. With painting being one half of the hobby, of course the other half is not only playing the game but immersing yourself so much so that for a moment in time belief is suspended and you feel like you are watching a moment of time in an alternate universe unfold before you. All those painted miniatures, terrain, and gaming tables bring the gaming story and universe to life.
This is where the “big games” come in…
Imagine not just one gaming table with two armies facing off against each other, or even three or four, but rather dozens of gaming tables with dozens of armies composing of thousands of models. These figures are all fully built and painted and provided by Games Workshop for you to push around, roll some dice with, and command for glory. Add in a few hundred players at any given time, and some random prizes, and you begin to approach the scope of the big game. Each battle looks to recreate a famous battle in the various gaming universes, ranging from: a giant tank battle on an imperial ice world, assaulting a giant battle line, raiding a long lost city, or holding off the dark forces of “Sauron”.
Of course, as easy as it is to spend the entire day playing in such epic battles, there is still more to see and celebrate. Club tables are also an important part of the hobby since so much of the miniature community revolves around both small and large gaming clubs who meet on a regular basis to build and battle with their armies. Part of the convention hall is set aside for various clubs around the United States to make their own themed gaming board/event and offer it up for play at Games Day. Truly spectacular in their own right, such gaming boards could only be brought to life by the dozens of dedicate—and perhaps insane—hobbyists that imagine, build, and then transport these boards for event attendees to play on.
Much like the “big game”, these are themed and focused on historic battles and events in the gaming system. Every year there is always one that stands out among its peers, this year being a massive cut away section of a spaceship where one side is trying to take control of the ship with a boarding action, while the defenders work to repel the boarders: complete with working lights, moving parts, and sound effects.
About halfway through the event is time for the banner and costume contest. Could any gaming event not include such a procession? Drawing on the right history of the game, the banner contest is the most competitive as participants make life-sized army banners drawing from the variety of banners, standards, and pennants carried by the various armies in the game—of which some can be quite big, easily rivaling actual historical banners in scope and size.
Of course, it’s not just enough to play the various miniature systems available now—we want to know what releases are coming, what new units we can expect to add to our armies, and what to start saving pennies for in the future. Another section of the event hall is dedicated just to this, with various Games Workshop authors present to talk rules, gaming history, armies, and, to a limited extent, what they are allowed to talk about for the future.
As the day begins to wind down, there is still much to see and do. Now it’s time to move over to the open gaming tables for some pickup games. This section of the hall is made up of a few dozen gaming tables with terrain where you can match up against a random opponent or a friend, if you brought your own army to play with. Personally, I really enjoy this part of the event as it is a time to relax a bit from all the tiring activities of the day, and play some new people outside of my local gaming circle. There is also a number of “Games Day” friends that I meet each year to play some quick games with, which again really helps one to appreciate the social aspect of gaming and the wargaming community.
With only an hour or so left, the last event to visit is the specialist game section of the convention—these are smaller sub-games that Games Workshop produces that take place in their three gaming universes. Battlefleet Gothic, as an example, is a mass space fleet game where vast armadas of spaceships and fighter escort craft battle it out in full miniature glory.
This brings me to the closing of Games Day with tales of new glory won, epic dice rolling, and a fantastic day of gaming with both new and old friends. So if you are new to the miniature wargaming hobby, is Games Day and other such regional hobby events for you? Absolutely! Beyond the chance to see and play with so many “toys”, such events will give you a wealth of ideas in modeling, painting, terrain, and scenarios that you can bring back to your own gaming group; making your experience of the hobby even more dynamic.
Article written by: Fred Feddeck
About Fred Feddeck
Fred, “Fritz”, is a wargamer with over twenty years of experience in rolling dice and pushing around toy soldiers. A veteran enthusiast of Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy, and Battletech, he is also known to dabble in ancients and sci-fi based RPGs.
Forum username: FritzFeddeck