A Tabletopper Goes to War - Packing for Cold Wars Con 201715 Mar 2017 0
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these wargamers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” And that includes Winter Storm Stella which has dropped a good two feet of snow on my driveway. But in the greatest tradition of the Persian King of Kings, ole Stella must be dreaming if she thinks that will stop me from making it to the HMGS Cold Wars Convention this Friday. So let me peruse my checklist: miniatures packed – check, scenario written – check, car gassed – check, bivouac reserved – check, cash disbursed – check, budget formulated – check, snow blower ready – check, bazooka loaded (because if that municipal snow plow pushes the wet stuff into my driveway just one more damn time) – check.
Seriously, not a problem, because like most attendees the reality is I’ve been planning for this convention for at least three months plus, this a process started before the previous convention came and went. After all, and as noted last week, this is not a lazy man’s hobby. So grab a mug of your favorite winter-cutting libation, and let’s talk.
The Conscription of Armies
HMGS (Historical Miniatures Gaming Society) conventions are entirely run by volunteers who really like a lot of lead time. To this end, registration for games and other events at the next convention actually opens before the previous convention starts. This is a good thing for me IMHO, as I always host games at our conventions and I always try to replicate battles I’ve not done before, needing miniatures I’ve not yet painted, and in some cases haven’t even bought. This forces me to develop scenarios that I can also use commercially, and also mandates that I paint a few more of the 18,000 figures I have on the shelf. OK, half are already done, but that still leaves 9000, all under the watchful eye of my accountant wife who actually made a spreadsheet listing what I have and so on. I swear I had no idea I had more 15 mm French 12 lber cannon in 1 to 1 than marched with Napoleon into Russia, but evidently I do. I try to explain to the spouse – I did mention she’s an accountant, right? – this is such a cottage industry that I grab stuff when available as I don’t know if it will be around next time. I also remind her of the old adage that if you have one pack of lead in the closet, you can’t die. She responds we have enough lead in the basement to stop all radiation from a nearby nuclear blast and wonders why I would want to live 672 years. She isn’t helpful.
Nevertheless, I do have a schedule for such things. First, I register games and then reserve billeting about the same time as I register my games. I use credit card points from a specific hotel chain to bring the cost down to a pittance, and seek a worthy comrade as a roommate to lower the cost even more. Such rooms go fast, so the earlier the better. Then moving backward, I plan to be finished with all miniatures related preparation 10 days in advance of the day I hit the road, kick my hamsters on the exercise wheel and drive to the convention in my new Kia Soul. I then calculate painting for two hours a day six days a week, knowing that this will allow me to paint 18 infantry figures, 12 cavalry or 6 cannon with two man crews each day I sit down and take brush to hand. The seventh day of the week, as well as the 10 days prior to the convention, are cushions for the unexpected such as, you know, the little jerk of a groundhog that lives in my state and the winter storms he dreams up from time to time. I add another three days at the end of the cycle for flocking (painting the bases Geohex Green then dragging them thru Woodland Scenics green turf mixture for a grassy look), sorting and labelling miniature command stands.
It’s the classic reverse planning cycle and if it sounds complicated, seriously, you’ve seen nothing yet.
Caissons and Field Trains
Honestly, packing all this stuff, not to mention terrain and accessories, is an art that must be learned from the great gaming Jedi of the hobby. I use four large plastic, transportable drawers each containing a different type of gaming accouterments and packed in layers, with the top layer being the first thing I need to unpack, the next one down and so on. There is a drawer for miniatures, each in their own small plastic container labeled 1 to however, with number 1 representing the figures deployed on the left of the gaming table and moving to the right for both sides. Within each box the same arrangement occurs with the first stand at the forward left of the container, moving right, then a new row and so on. Stands with lancers or flag bearers are laid down, vice standing up, in the container to avoid bending. Thus, on one side of the table I grab box 1, deploy the troops on the left edge of the gaming area for that army, grab box 2 and deploy the figures therein to its right and so on. When I pick up the game, the figures are repacked in the same order moving from right of the table left, thus having the armies ready for the next game before I load to come home. The only exception is that stands with figures needing repair are turned backwards so I can determine which miniatures need work.
The other boxes include one for contours that I lay under a terrain blanket to represent high ground, layered small on top, largest on the bottom. Another has various accessories such as railroad or stream sections, cultivated fields and so on, always with the terrain mat packed on top. That’s a piece of felt sprayed with liquid glue then flocked with Woodland Scenics, and since I also use that firm’s fine ballast as road material, it gets a good shaking to lose the excess before I refold it and put it in the drawer. The last box has man-made structures and trees, again layered with each layered covered by a soft towel, There is a layer for trees, one for bridges, one for buildings, one for field fortifications and another for walls and miscellaneous. Again the layering is done such that the material I put on the table first is what’s at the top, repacked the same way. In this case as I am hosting the Crimean War battle of the Tchernaya River (I thought about doing Zulu – Rorke’s Drift, but wanted something at least minimally interesting)[ED: Don't make me come over there, Bill], I had to replace my European urban area with country Russian and move the field fortifications to an upper level, but no problem as I designed it that way.
Requisition and the Suttler’s Wagon
Yet for all that, we still haven’t hit the most complicated part of my preparation process – the budget. I have to get my wife’s – did I mention she’s an accountant? – approval for this, so I have to really think hard and manipulate carefully. First, I have to see what I have on the shelf, but given someone made me a spread sheet (ahem), that’s not too hard. Then I look to see what vendors are going to be in attendance, check their Website for new merchandise and list what I want to buy. I prioritize the list with number one being what I have to have or I’ll die, and the last being stuff I shouldn’t consider anyway. I always include $100 US for a trip to the Flea Market. Then I give the list to my wife and she checks off all the priorities I can buy, from must have to least. It’s sorta an order of merit list for Christmas in March (and July and November) and so far I’ve been pretty happy.
Primarily because I tear the thing up and run it through the shredder as soon as I leave the room.
Then I work on my most important preparation for the convention. This is devising a list of excuses that I can use when I spend over budget, sometimes way over budget. I actually have a list of excuses coded by number to inform me of which have not been used in a while. This allows me to rotate them so that I don’t use the same thing for at least four years. This time around it looks like the “but it was half off because they are going out of business and no one has picked up the line” excuse, and combined with the sad, puppy dog look I’ve learned to master, should work just fine. And it indeed has! Well except for that one time, something I’m sure would interest no one.[ED: Am I paying you too much? I think I'm paying you too much.]
So stout of heart, if thick of head, my planning and acquisition of depot level supplies is now complete, and come Friday morning I march into battle at Cold Wars 2017, Lancaster, PA. Friends, games and glory await, not to mention the requisition of necessary stores for the waging of war in miniature. In this regard MS Stella hasn’t a chance as I am seasoned veteran, one of which even mighty Cyrus of Persia will be proud.
My wife? Not so much.