Convention Report: Cyber Wars 2020

By Bill Gray 05 Aug 2020 3

Well, I’ll be flipped. They pulled it off. Not only pulled it off but did so successfully with a bit of flair and panache as a bonus. By this I mean the 23rd – 26th July 2020 Cyber Wars Convention, an Historicon replacement sponsored by HMGS, the US Historical Miniatures Gaming Society. As the name suggests, this was not an in-person event, but a virtual, online convention dictated as such by the current COVID19 pandemic. Given the... vintage age pool of most miniature gamers, this was a pretty smart move, but how in the world could something like this work? And in a hobby that is far more than just competitive gaming, but also an art form and social gathering, a la model railroading?

Read on MacDuff.

P2 – Planning and Philosophy

Cyber Wars (CW) was not the first shot at trying to go total digital with miniature wargaming. The UK’s Partizan convention tried the concept prior, and if the article in Wargames Illustrated 391 is close, the results were OK, though not great. In this case Partizan in the Cloud seems to have been a more last minute, ad hoc affair primarily (tho not exclusively) centered on the convention’s Facebook group. Given Partizan is normally a one-day gathering, the idea was to flood the group with digital content for a single day. This included merchant sales, videos of games in progress, talks by hobby authors and other noteworthy folks, manufacturer updates and so on. SFAIK, this was push content only, with little gamer interaction, something that makes sense given the more business expo personality of large UK conventions.

HMGS took a different tack, and spearheaded by Director of Convention Operations Todd Pressley (ably assisted by Dennis Jenson and No Dice No Glory’s Mitch Reed), began planning six weeks prior to launch. The idea seems to have been to duplicate all the events from Historicon to the greatest extent possible, but to do it digitally and most importantly, interactively. Attendees would not only watch but participate if so desired. Access would be via two main platforms, the Webpage previously noted above, and also several Facebook groups/pages specifically created for CW, all glued together by an online registration system based on EventBrite.

Cyber Wars 2020 Matrix Games Presentation

Marketing was key so convention logos were designed, and specific event merchandise was created (Cyber Wars – I wasn’t there! clever). Then using the HMGS Facebook group and Twitter account, not to mention direct email to the Chapter’s 1334 registered members, advertising began in earnest, announcing the event, how to join in and exactly how participation would work. 

Convention in the Cloud

And work it did. Probably the best way to describe the event, is by each individual event hub. The CW Webpage allowed direct access to the three biggest categories, those being Vendors, Virtual Gaming and Roundtable Discussions. Other areas, such as the Painting Competition, required going direct thru Facebook. And indeed, if there is one area of improvement I would suggest, it would be to make the CW Webpage a one-stop shopping platform by adding links to all the other, Facebook hosted areas, on the same page. 

And as for the hubs themselves...

Virtual Gaming

There were 21 events of which one was cancelled. These were miniature wargames in which those who registered actually played the game from afar. I sat in on two (as a lurker), the Battle of Yakubovo 1812, and Bussaco 1810, both Napoleonic engagements. The former used the very popular TableTop Simulator software to duplicate the game using the Et Sans Result! miniature rules, so players actually moved digital miniatures and rolled the die. The second used the older Shako rules and was run by Zoom online conferencing software, the gamemaster moving actual lead troops manually and rolling die in response to instructions from those playing. I would say about four persons per event was a good average here.

Cyber Wars 2020 Virtual Games

Roundtable Discussions

This was really the online version of the HMGS War College and included 18 various events. Here again I attended two events, this time as a participant, and these included Paolo Paglianti discussing future computer wargames releases by Matrix/Slitherine (HMGS is equal opportunity, and besides, I know where my bread is buttered) and another by the authors of the Mortem et Gloriam ancients rules, specifically looking at how they made the Romans feel like Romans at every step of the Legion’s evolution.

I was one of 18 in attendance and I was impressed. These sessions were all moderated by HMGS staff and videos of these talks were later posted on YouTube. Its how I found out about new, upcoming rules and figures out of Blood & Plunder territory for my last article, for example. Other videos of War College sessions from previous cons were also made available, some to the general public, others only to HMGS members.

Cyber Wars 2020 Presentations

Virtual Vendor Hall

On the CW Webpage, every vendor that has supported HMGS in the past and still around and kicking was listed by their Webstore URL, to the tune of 104 merchants. Then invites were sent asking participation in CW via online sales and other merchandising specials. These would then be advertised on the CW Vendor Facebook page. As but one example, Wargamers US LLC, purveyor of Poland’s By Fire & Sword product line offered a free rule book and free special figure if you purchased two skirmish sets. Bell & Blade Video offered 20% off any order $100 or more, and according to Facebook stats, 108 folks took a look with another 139 interested on that social networking platform alone.

Virtual Painting Competition

In this case Dave of Dave Taylor Miniatures judged 63 entries via jpg images emailed to him, segregated into the following categories:

  • Best Historical Unit
  • Best Historical Figure
  • Best Science Fiction/Fantasy (combined) Unit
  • Best Science Fiction/Fantasy (combined) Single Figure
  • Best Open Category, (Diorama, objective marker, etc)
  • Best Warlord Miniatures Historical Unit
  • Best Warlord Miniatures Non-Historical Unit
  • Best in Show and Fan Favorite

Again, firms like Warlord Games provided prizes and at least 14 folks looked in on the proceedings via Facebook with another 28 interested. Best of Show went to Greg Zuniga’s NSFW female – well, whatever she is, they sure didn’t look like that when I was growing up – and Fan Favorite (actually decided by the number of “likes” received) was Alexander Akers Warsaw Uprising: We Remember.

Cyber Wars 2020 Painting Competition

Virtual Painting Instruction

This was the online version of Hobby University, and I did sit in on a session run by master painter James Wappell as he demonstrated how to weather a Soviet World War II SU-122 assault gun, specifically one that has just received a coat of white wash for winter camouflage. I stood transfixed during this session (evidently, he was going to be hosting more sessions using Bolt Action figures) until reality snapped and I realized I was soooooooooo out of my league and there was never gonna be any way... well, he does have his own miniature painting tutorial Website for those interested. Wow.

Virtual Lounge and Virtual Flea Market

I did not attend the former, and unfortunately only two HMGSers took advantage of listing their eBay merchandise on the online Facebook hosted version of Wally’s Basement.

Cyber Wars 2020 Painting Masterclass

Until Next Time

Because there evidently will be a next time. Todd and his staff put the numbers for the seminars (attendees per day/average time of attendance) as follows:

  • Day 1: 86/51 minutes average
  • Day 2: 74/74 minutes average
  • Day 3: 193/82 minutes average
  • Day 4: 100/72 minutes average

Of the 20 virtual games, only two had no players with the rest counted about 60% full. There were also over 1000 folks who viewed same via YouTube afterwards and believe it or not, attendance came as far away as Britain. By comparison, initial ticketing back in early July indicated 823 tickets for the roundtables and another 121 ticketed for gaming. These results were good enough that the HMGS Board of Directors have decided to do this again if the pandemic holds. Good call IMHO.

Yet, sad to admit it, but I hope it doesn’t happen. Because if there is another online convention, that means that nasty bug is still around kicking, and us high risk denizens have to be uber careful. Yet, I have to reflect that while a virtual con will never replace a face to face reckoning with the lads at Historicon, Cold Wars or Fall In, CW came at just the right time, when cabin fever was hitting its peak. The four-day diversion provided was just enough to stop us considering what relative or friend wouldn’t be alive if we could hire a hitman, and remind us that even this crisis won’t last forever. Our mates are doing fine, and we owe it to them to keep on painting and playing, because when the lockdown goes, there is gonna be one Hell of a party in pewter pusher land. 

And with virtual cons like CW at the wheel, we got another steady hand to keep us on course. Mission complete, well done.

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