Convention Report: Cold Wars 2019

By Bill Gray 20 Mar 2019 4

From Thursday 14th March 2019 thru St Patrick’s Day on Sunday the 17th, I joined 1850 of the faithful and attended Cold Wars 2019, the winter convention of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS) . . . and I had an epiphany. Specifically, I’ve often wondered whether HMGS cons were in reality a microcosm of the greater historical miniature wargaming world, and of the total wargaming universe, at least in some little way. For whatever reason, this Cold Wars, once again expertly managed by Director Heather Blush and staff, finally gave me the answer and the answer was “YES!” Things are changing in wargaming, and my experience this time around at the Wyndham Convention Center (nee Lancaster Host, Lancaster, PA) gave me a pretty decent look at where things are (probably) heading in the future.

The first of many aspects hit me when I walked in the door at the event. Gone was the warm, country style décor that one might expect in the heart of Dutch Amish country. Instead its replacement leaned heavily towards a postmodern, minimalist-cubist hybrid (see, culture I have), with sharp corners and a black, white and grey palette. Better? I dunno, but certainly different, and all part of the Host’s long overdue refurbish.

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There is still a ways to go, but the changes are methodically proceeding and are a definite improvement, particularly the guest rooms which have undergone a complete overhaul. Sure, a water main broke first night, but this was a city issue and was quickly repaired. Likewise, the new modern spiral style lighting really, REALLY pumped out the lumens and brightened the Distlefink Ball Room, the butt of many darkness jokes by gamers in the past. I quipped to some friends at a game that now people would likely complain it was too bright, and kid you not, as I left the area I passed two churls having a dead serious discussion on the totally unacceptable brightness of the new lighting system. Yes, this is HMGS, where no good deed ever goes unpunished.

Registration was a snap and the process along with its locale implied HMGS as an organization moving away from its informal toy soldier club roots into a more professionally managed and promoted non-profit organization, much like model railroaders have. For those who preregistered, getting your badge was an automated affair available 24 hours a day. Like me, you got an email with a QR code which let you use your cell phone to simply scan and grab your badge when it spit out from the collocated printer. Attached was a coupon which allowed you to pick up a badge holder and one of HMGS legendary swag bags right then and there, or next morning, away from the long lines of all the roadblocks to progress that demand to pay and register onsite.

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Gamemasters, however, got what I affectionately, and unofficially, call a “Gritty Bag.” This was a shoulder bag in orange, black and grey labeled “Cold Wars 2019 Crew” which contained dice with bag, tape measure, hand sanitizer (trust me, if you go to an HMGS con, you’ll understand) and deluxe badge holder, all branded in black, grey and orange. Now it just so happens that the colors used are the same as those of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers whose mascot is Gritty, and I do know the convention director does live somewhere near Philly, so just sayin’. There was also a new HMGS logo on display for the first time, a branded selfie screen for those attendees so inclined, consistently designed and colored signage everywhere and an entire staff uniformly attired in . . . pink (of course).

The non-gaming agenda for the convention has also undergone some changes, principally by the addition of new events rather than the modification of old. The Hobby University added, for example, a Teacher’s Program which included such subjects as “How do I run a Game” and an overview of the HMGS Educational Grant Program and how to apply for same. Of course, the primary function of the University, teaching conscripts and Grogs alike the fine techniques of painting and terrain modeling, remained as strong as ever. There were 40 classes total covering things like how to paint tank camouflage to how to make twisted wire trees to painting bay or grey horses. This year Ms Rhonda Bender was featured as a special guest instructor and added her expertise to the festivities. Rhonda is an award winning professional miniature painter who runs an informative how to paint blog called Bird with a Brush while examples of her (a whole lot better than I could ever do, so I don’t) work can be found on her Facebook page.

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The convention’s War College also received reinforcements. In this case there were 15 total events, but of these, six were devoted to Game Design, hopefully encouraging those who follow us to continue with new and innovative rules creation. As an example, Frank Chadwick (of GDW fame) and Glenn Kidd gave two presentations on the subject, the first on the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Researching Rules and Scenarios, and then another highlighting their upcoming Breakthrough game. There was also a Panel Discussion with various noted rules designers participating.

The other, more traditional side of the College was to feature both a lecture on Mountain Warfare (this year’s convention theme) and book signing by Harvard Professor Judith Matloff per her tome No Friends but the Mountains: Dispatches from the World’s Violent Highlands. The book examines the fact that although mountains encompass only 10% of the earth’s real estate, it suffers a far greater percentage of military bloodshed. Her conclusion that autonomy in the form of the Swiss canton system is the best way to avoid war has been hailed as “classical international journalism of the highest order.” Unfortunately, Professor Matloff had to cancel due to a family emergency, so will be rescheduled for a future convention. Nonetheless, her inclusion is solid evidence as to the more professional, legitimately adult direction HMGS is going.

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However, if there was one area of the convention that really hammered home the point that change (much less winter) is coming, it has to be the Dealer’s Hall. I actually spent less at this convention than I have at any other convention I’ve attended. Part of the reason is because I damn near have any and everything I will ever need to participate in this hobby until I keel over. One reason is the number of vendors on hand is getting smaller. I reported back in 2017 that 70 vendors showed up for Cold Wars, but this year I counted 49. One of the reasons for this is many older vendors from whom I always purchased something, have simply disappeared. Old Glory 15s – 19th Century Minis has not been to an HMGS con in ages, same for Carl Kruger and Last Square Hobbies. Rob Walter of Eureka Miniatures USA, nope. Norm Flam, master artist, not this time. Dennis Shorthouse and On Military Matters, no. For the latter, a no show could seem puzzling given the proximity of the storefront to Lancaster, but like so many of us Dennis is getting along in years and many vendors and gamers alike continuously  announce yet another health issue with each birthday. The number of those passing seems to grow as well

But in the discussions I’ve had face to face, the even bigger issue is without question the Internet. Many vendors simply say that the overwhelming majority of their sales are now completed thru the Web. Given the time, cost and hassle of moving a sizable portion of their shop or at least its inventory to an event like Cold Wars, not only is it no longer worth it, but Internet sales make it unnecessary. Yes there are still older vendors who attend such as Doug Kline’s Battlefield Terrain Concepts, and there are new vendors coming on board such as Dave Ensteness’ ESR Napoleonics, but overall I see a continuing decline in shops that show up and thus the Dealer Hall being as big a draw for the convention as it is now may be a thing of the past.

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Instead the games themselves will have to shoulder that burden and here, at least, the numbers seem to be relatively stable. Last year this con listed 379 games vice 363 this year. This of course does not include any of the many tournaments on hand, nor the bazillion games they host. In this regard the North American Society for Ancient and Medieval Wargaming (NASAMW) sponsored contests using DBM (De Bellis Multitudinis), Triumph Rules, Art de la Guerre and its own Warrior rules. Battlefront sponsored both Team Yankee and Flames of War events, while independent tourneys included SAGA, Warhammer Historicals, By Fire and Sword (the Polish lads), Wargods, Epic Armageddon, Warmaster and (whew) Kings of War.

As usual, the World War II, Napoleonic, American Civil War and – surprise – World War I took the big numbers are regards regular gaming, all of it participation games unlike events in Britain, but the number of Fantasy-SciFi games is notable as well. Also typical was the continuing saga of American games universally having incredible figures on a pathetic looking wargames table, also unlike Britain. Nevertheless, there were some spectacular games that combined the best of both model and wheat field, to include the landings at Tarawa in World War II, a spectacular Persian army from the Ancients crowd and to honor My Liege Lord Editor especially, two incredible displays covering both the battle of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. The breakdown of games was:

cold wars 2019 games

One of the four 19th Century games was my own 10 mm recreation of the 1849 battle of Temesvar, the final and largest engagement of the Hungarian Insurrection. The game was a success in every respect and allowed me to lock down the charts for my last digital expansion module for my own Napoleonic rules. Seven players were registered, six showed and the game played out historically with an Austro-Russian victory over the Honved.

Even the casualty count was solid historically for both pure numbers and percentages. And to top it off, player Marston Moor became the latest inductee into The Most High and Ancient Order of the Pink Pansy, awarded a pink die to use for eternity minus one day in deference to his tactical acumen and other honorable qualities. His final recommendation came as Honved commander in chief, losing every initiative die roll for every turn although the die roll-off modifiers for both armies’ commanders were dead equal. A hearty welcome to you, sir.

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And so another successful con was over, and a good time was had by all. Vice how few of the gentler gender play wargames, I did notice significant growth in the HMGS support and upper management side of the house for the lasses. I dunno, maybe its just me, or maybe the gals just have better organizational and time management skills, but as of this convention and last, Cold Wars continues to impress me as the best run of all. Congrats to Heather and everyone who worked so hard to make this possible. Makes one look forward to Historicon this July all the more.

Additional photos have been uploaded online for both Cold Wars 2019 (close to 200) and the author’s game (47) described above.



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