Historicon 2017 – Farewell to Fredericksburg

By Bill Gray 19 Jul 2017 0

My 2017 sojourn to wargaming Mecca, Historicon 2017 (sponsored yearly by the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society), has come to a close, and with it a chapter in the melodrama of where to call home. This year was the last with the Fredericksburg, VA Convention and Expo Center, with next year the familiar digs of the Lancaster Host, Lancaster, VA. Many will disagree, but overall this was likely a good thing.

The convention moved to Virginia from the Host six years ago under . . . unique . . . circumstances, and it never has really worked out.  Moving three hours south of the Chapter’s population center saw attendance by both gamers and vendors drop from a high of close to 4000 down to around 2700 plus or minus. Some new folks came from down south, but not enough to balance the loss. Likewise, the middle of July anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line is just plain hot. We’re talking 95 degrees Fahrenheit (as in 35 degrees Celsius for all you EU lads) with 80 % humidity, or 12 degrees hotter than the same day north in Lancaster. Seriously, lead melted. The drive was always atrocious given the most direct route was I-95 - Washington DC Beltway. Backroads helped little because I’d swear there isn’t a single road in the state of Virginia not under construction or clear of an accident. And the Expo Center simply never got the hang of providing for a clientele 95 % male that games well after Midnight.

Not that the Host was perfect by any means. Management had allowed the facility to fall into disrepair, so much so the Health Department once closed down their restaurant. However, there are new owners with lots of cash determined to become a Wyndham franchise, and that means major improvements. Thus the Host could become Historicon’s forever home, not a one-year temp, but that’s the future. Let’s turn to Historicon today.

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Events 

It’s tough to get numbers soon after a convention, but based on parking lot analysis I did not see either a major increase or decrease in attendance. Call it around 2700, which is about standard. In terms of “participation” games (we Colonials don’t do demos), the program had 49 pages of listings and at 14 games per page that comes out to around 686 games. This is an estimate only, but anyway, a whole bunch. The games were typical in variety and numbers with science fiction or fantasy accounting for their allotted 10%, and World War II, Napoleonics and American Civil War leading the pack of historical events as usual. Also as usual, some games were spectacular eye candy, others not so much. IMHO, games put on by the likes of Dave Bonk, John Snead, Nigel Marsh and others match and surpass anything from the Motherland (OK, Nigel is a transported Brit, but still). Otherwise, however, American efforts overall seem to be a little less thereof. In particular, while we demand first rate, painted figures, there seems to be a concurrent tendency to simply let board and terrain slide by the wayside.

But if such games didn’t interest you, there were also tournaments to include the following – NASAMW Ancient and Medieval, Art de la Guerre (Ancient), Warrior (Ancient), Triumph (Ancient), Warhammer 40K (I am so ashamed (ED: No you're not), Team Yankee (Modern Cold War), Flames of War (I-95 Gamers), Flames of War National Championship (Battlefront sponsored), Bolt Action (World War II), Lord of the Rings, SAGA (Medieval), Wargods (Aegyptus Campaign) and By Fire and Sword (Polish Renaissance). One thing noticed was the continuing trend to match historical opponents rather than Patrician Romans vs Aztecs, common not long ago. Instead the Warrior tournament featured a Bronze Age theme while the Flames of War Nationals featured modern Team Yankee style armored warfare. I knew about the Soviet v NATO expansion, but I gotta admit it was kinda weird not seeing King Tigers and T-34’s on the table.

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There were also a couple of ways just to get smart on the hobby. The Historicon War College featured 11 different seminars by subject matter experts on a variety of topics. Dr John Dunn of Valdosta State University held a seminar on the Polish – German Naval Campaign of 1939, while Dr Gregory Dryanski followed with a similar offering on the Polish air force and so on. Mike Dunn’s seminar supported the convention theme of Tanks – 100 Years of Combat. He spoke on US Army training using the Dunn-Kempf miniature wargame system, followed by three hours play of the game. I remember long tours at the Dunn-Kempf table when I was on active duty, but as an intelligence officer commanding T-72’s and other Soviet nasties.

Also available was the Historicon Hobby University, to include the team oriented Iron Paintbrush speed competition. Otherwise the University offered not less than 57 events on how to paint properly or construct terrain. Obviously there were sessions for beginners, but also more advanced fare such as how to make MDF based terrain or twisted wire trees, as well as painting horses or painting flags by “cheating.” Good stuff.

Finally, Decision Games – yes the cardboard counter wargame company – was on hand to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Strategy & Tactics Magazine, complete with cake and a series of wargame design seminars. The firm also provided free copies of many of its games to HMGS as a lending library for the duration of the convention. I spoke with Chris “Doc Decision” Cummins at his dealer’s booth to ask why a toy soldier convention and he said there was enormous crossover between the two genres, making Historicon exceptionally lucrative. Sales were always strong here.

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Shopping

In many respects the crossover phenomenon defined the vendors’ area and the Wally’s Basement Flea Market area as well. I have always noticed a lot of science fiction, fantasy and board games for the latter year after year, but this year the former also seemed less historical as well. There were 70 dealers and the stalwarts of the hobby, all history oriented, were on hand to beguile customers out of their hard earned shekels, me included. Belle and Blade Video, Doug Kline and Battlefield Terrain Concepts, Old Glory – Blue Moon Manufacturing and Eureka Miniatures USA made the trip, but there were also new comers such as Penguin Empire (I have no idea) Wargaming Company LLC promoting their line of Napoleonic rules and figures. The By Fire and Sword Polish crew returned for more mercantilism, and obviously Flames of War had a huge area.

Yet the growing sci-fi and fantasy crossover presence was very real. Some of this came from hobby shops such as Your Hobby Place, Martinsburg WV (of truck thru the front door fame; seriously you cannot make this up), where non-historicals were by far the main emphasis. Other companies, however, were 100 % sci-fi/fantasy, to include Crocodile Games with their Wargods line, Iron Wind Metals (think Ral Partha) and Ironclad Games with their very popular All Quiet on the Martian Front publications and models. Given most games I saw remained solidly historical, this commercial trend is intriguing and deserves continued attention.

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Me? I purchased about half as much as I usually do. Alas, many of my favorite vendors no longer attend the convention, and it simply looks like there isn’t a whole lot I don’t already have. And here we’re talking enough lead to make my basement nuclear apocalypse proof. I did pick up a few paints and brushes, a terrain piece here and there, but mostly figures from the new Blue Moon English Civil War line. That conflict had small battles to begin with, and as an Old Glory Army member ($ 90 annual membership fee) I get 40% off retail for anything I buy anyway, so this was a no-brainer. Two specific new products did catch my eye, however. The first was Rich Hasenauer’s much anticipated Brigade Fire & Fury 2d Edition American Civil War rules, and the other was the Blue Moon (yes, them again) Boxer Rebellion 15 mm series. In the latter case figures aren’t that new, but the firm has now issued complete model kits for all the western legations within the city of Peking, and they look fantastic. Seriously, you can buy the entire French, American or whomever embassy ground, buildings, gates and walls. What next, the Forbidden City maybe? Charlton Heston? Regardless, expect in depth reviews on these two tabletop additions in the near future.

And in the “I really don’t know how to classify this” department, everyone adored a new series from the Polish crew named “Hot and Dangerous.” This product line features several buxom, historically uniformed lasses in “semi-dress” (yeah, that’s a good word for it) attire, sorta like pinups. I don’t know how yet, but I swear I’m gonna work them into a game, somehow, some way, somewhere.

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Politics

Thankfully there wasn’t a whole lot, or not that I know of anyway. I’ve not been to a membership meeting since I left the Board of Directors many years ago, recovering my sanity as a result.  Instead, the newly elected Board was introduced and updates were given on a variety of subjects such as the move of Historicon back to Lancaster. On Friday night likewise my Legion of Honor colleagues inducted two new members and awarded the coveted Scruby Award to the Perry Brothers of metal and plastic figure design fame.

Yet all was not jolly in tabletop land, as two more of our best departed. From the election committee, long time member Mitch Osborne announced a retirement move to Colorado, while the recent passing of Dr Todd Kauderer due to pancreatic cancer left very “big shoes to fill” in the cash management position. Todd has been an HMGS volunteer and registration desk Grognard for what seems like centuries and his helpful, pleasant demeanor has always received positive comments. If there is any silver lining it’s forcing all to remember that despite the rules, toys and terrain, ultimately this hobby is about people, and the lasting friendships thereof. HMGS has taken some hard hits in this regard over the last few years, so perhaps it’s time to cherish the present and the people who populate it a bit more than in the past.

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Going home

Overall I had a great time. I ran two games back to back, one Friday night and then the same game on the same table Saturday morning. The 1870 Franco-Prussian War battle of Spicheren was my offering, and the event worked so well I think I’ve just found my permanent traveling demo game. Bolstered by a delightful crew that included chaps from both the UK and Belgium, victory went to the French this time around, though I suspect all the players were winners whether they knew it or not. It’s the people, dammit, and congratulations to Convention Director Paul Delaney and staff for reminding us so well again this year.

Now it’s time to prepare for Fall In, November at Lancaster, where I understand “the Yanks are Coming!” So I’m packing up my troubles in my old kit bag, smiling and getting ready to march.

Click here for nearly 400 more pictures of Historicon, to include the author’s game as well as the convention overall.

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