Husaria – a Fall In 2016 Convention AAR

By Bill Gray 09 Nov 2016 0

The Historical Miniatures Gaming Society’s (HMGS) Fall In convention painted the Lancaster Host Resort and the city of Lancaster, PA a vibrant red and white from 3rd thru 6th November 2016. White eagles were everywhere, recalling such noble deeds as the relief of Vienna in 1683, the courage of Napoleon’s Vistula Legion and the troops of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw in 1812, the thundering hooves of Imperial Guard Lancers at Somosierra in Spain, the 1st Airborne Brigade at Arnhem, World War II and the list goes on forever. Yes the theme of this year’s con was Poland through the Ages, a celebration of the Polish military at war.

And yet, despite this rich history, when tabletop gamers ponder on Polish arms, only one word comes to mind – HUSARIA, the dreaded winged hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. No, these are not the dorky Polish cavalry of Tony Curtis and Yul Brenner’s Taras Bulba. Here we are talking tanks on the hoof, fully armored knights packing an 18 foot lance, broadsword, two daggers, war hammer, four pistols and a carbine, all mounted on what looks to be a Budweiser Clydesdale on steroids. And then there is the pair of wings mounted on the back. While sources vary, it seems they were used to present a larger and more imposing appearance, counter lassos from Ottoman cavalry and make an eerie, banshee from the depths of Hell clapping noise. This is not a bad thing for Christian forces fighting the legions of Islam, and little wonder that the common folk referred to them as husarskie anioły, or hussar angels.

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This year the convention and just about everyone from vendor to player pushed this theme. Belle and Blade Video always kept a Polish or Russian produced movie on the hussars playing, whether it be the real Taras Bulba, or the film adaption of The Deluge, part of Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz’s The Trilogy, covering the Russo-Swedish invasion of the Commonwealth that lasted from 1654 until 1667. Now these are films that show what the Curtis-Brenner film dare not – actual, historically accurate husaria. Can’t grab a copy? OK, so whet your appetite on this related YouTube video (music Heart of Courage by Two Steps from Hell).

And speaking of the Deluge, how about a vendor making yet another long journey to Lancaster all the way from – seriously, not kidding – Poland. The company is called Historical Wargamer and they produce both a set of rules with supplements, as well as a complete line of 15 mm miniatures based specifically on Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy. This is very high quality stuff covering every nation at war during the period. The books are hardcover while the figures are nicely boxed and come complete with movement stands, wire lances and all the flags necessary for building your army. I’m not into this period myself, but their Ottoman range is truly exquisite and I always pick up a few boxes to use in later periods of history given their appearance changed very little. And oh yes, they were giving away free DVD copies of the Polish film The Deluge, all 185 minutes of it, to anyone who made a purchase.

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There was even a Polish winged hussar living history formation in residence, bringing all of the accoutrements of one of these mounted devils might carry into battle, much to the “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” of all who stopped by. Meanwhile in the Hopewell lecture room, Polish scholar Dr Greg Dryanski presented talks on the 1410 battle of Grunwald and the Polish II Corps in World War II. Add to that Kieth Rocco’s painting Avenging Angels which adorned the program booklet, along with Dave Bonk’s spectacularly colorful games on the subject, and you just knew this was going to be a good weekend, a grand time to forget about our election and reconstitute the mind.

And so it was. Convention Manager Dan Murawski told me there were 1830 attendees this year, a very good number for the smallest of HMGS’s three cons. There were also 61 vendors, a number that completely filled the Dealer Hall, as well as 249 historical games and 53 non-historical. Of the historical events, the big draws again were World War II with 77, Napoleonic with 29, ACW with 23, while Modern and Medieval had 19 and 14 respectively. In the non-Historical bracket, we had 24 Science Fiction, 18 Fantasy and 3 Gnome (don’t ask). Tournament play must be added to that number, and while the number of contests might be unknown, there were a lot of tournaments this year. These included DBA/DBM, Warrior, the new Art de la Guerre, Triumph, Wargods, SAGA, Bolt Action, Warhammer Ancient/40 K/Battlefleet Gothic and of course, the ubiquitous Flames of War.

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There were games on other topics of course, and one that really caught my eye was a well done recreation of the final battle scene from the movie the Wind and the Lion. This is a great little action film starring Sean Connery as the Berber outlaw Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli who kidnaps American Eden Pedecaris and her children, William and Jennifer, to counter European influence over his homeland. The table was a spectacle to behold, with a complete fortress, camel and stallion riding Arabs, Germans, French, US Marines and even the Raisuli himself. Surprisingly, Eden and the kids were not present.

My own game was in the Marrietta Room, reserved for the Carnage & Glory PC moderated rules and the club that uses them. Club rooms are something relatively new, but one of the requirements is the need for the club to fill all the tables all of the time, so as friend to Dave Bonk (yep, same guy), Nigel Marsh, John Snead I sorta have a permanent invitation though I do not use C&G. My game used my own commercially published set of rules and covered the battle of Skalitz from the 1866 Austro-Prussian Seven Weeks War. Outside the trashing of their cavalry, the Austrians did quite well, until, that is, the Prussians got close enough to use their needle guns and their God awful Schnelfeuer tactics. Then it was pretty much over. As a playtest, I was pleased to see the Austrian artillery pound their Prussian counterparts senseless nonetheless. Yes, historically the Prussians had the superior technology in the form of Krupp breechloaders, but their logistics doctrine was abysmal and fear of losing even a single gun often caused the Picklehaubers to vacate the area when rounds started falling close. The rules covering this worked so well that one Prussian player actually withdrew his guns voluntarily vice having a combat result dictate the movement.

Some folks, of course, get tired of gaming; though my British friends are astonished at what they believe the endless stamina of us Colonials. But there are alternatives, one being the HMGS Hobby University run by Heather Blush and party. These are essentially painting classes designed to not only bring new blood into the hobby, but provide an environment where even the most grizzled Grognard can learn a thing or two. Sure there are classes for beginners, but a look at the program also indicated classes on weathering techniques, another on painting faces and flesh, another on painting bay colored horses and yet another on chestnuts.

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Walking up was also the theme of the several days in Wally’s Basement, the HMGS flea market named after the late Wally Simon, one of the founders of HMGS. Here folks pay a very small pittance for a table and session where they can sell their new and used hobby paraphernalia for whatever price they can negotiate. I always go through the Basement at least twice, though I rarely find anything of interest. Not this year, however, and in fact, outside my normal stocking up at Doug Kline’s Battlefield Terrain Concepts dealer booth, I spent more at the flea market than elsewhere. What caught my eye was a box containing 54 packs of 15 mm Napoleonettes. These are true 15s, not the 17 mm of today and were what I first painted when I joined the hobby so many years ago. They are small by today’s standard, but exceptionally well sculpted and have some of the best poses I have ever seen anywhere. One I especially like is a Prussian Landwehr cavalry set standing ground in Schirmutz. Bottom line was that when the firm finally went out of business I think they were selling close to $ 7.00 a pack. I offered $ 2.00 per, and away I went with a very heavy box and a particularly broad smile.

This was a smile that continued throughout the convention BTW, not only for me, but for nearly everyone else. I don’t know exactly what it was, but for some reason this convention just seemed a bit lighter and more trouble free than in the past. Everybody seemed quite happy as to how the con operated and there was nary a complaint to be heard. Even on The Miniatures Page (TMP), notorious for its sharp criticism when even a stitch line doesn’t match, there was pretty well nothing but praise. Obviously part of the reason has to be Dan M. and his hardworking staff. These guys have worked and learned over the years, so my guess is they have process and contingencies down to an absolute science.

I also wonder if the venue, the Lancaster Host Resort, might also be part of the equation. The Host was once the brightest jewel within the Dutch Amish Country lodging crown, but has fallen on hard times of late. The facility is old, in disrepair and even had to cancel a couple of events when their in house restaurant was briefly shut down by the health department. Put up for auction, the Host is now under new ownership, and this has blown a little bit of fresh air into what many thought a stagnant situation. Sure there are still a few problems. Prices for food seemed to have increased; selection is down and because of a switchover to a new billing system, credit card payment was not available at most of the small eatery booths servicing the convention in various locations. But one also noted new signs popping up, old CRT televisions gathered for disposal after being replaced by flat screens as well as facilities constantly being cleaned and looked after. It seemed to be indicative of management that now had a genuine interest in the old gal and were determined to restore her luster once more.

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Now the irony - HMGS has contracts for 2017 with the Host for both its smaller conventions, Fall In and also Cold Wars held each March. However, there are no contracts in place for 2018 and what may have seemed a sure thing is no longer near so certain. Evidently the new Host management wants to see how successful HMGS conventions really are as regards return on investment, and only then will they decide to do business or not. We’re obviously not the droids they’re looking for, but one wonders if we will not be the clientele they are looking for as well. No one knows for sure, but I for one am happy that we now seem to have venue management that is serious about success and backing it up with a massive renovation project. One hopes the train is not moving too fast for HMGS to jump on if that is where the future takes us.

So in closing, pictures are worth a thousand words, and for those who are interested I do have a good 100 + additional images of the con on a Facebook public album for your perusal. More than a few of my own are included, because hey, it is my camera after all! 

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