Convention Report: Fall In 2018

By Bill Gray 14 Nov 2018 1

Fall In 2018, held 9th thru 11th November 2108 and sponsored by the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (aka HMGS East) was quite a revolutionary affair. Literally. Situated at the Lancaster Host Resort, Lancaster, PA, the convention’s theme was Revolutions and Civil Wars. Obviously, yours truly was present, having arrived Thursday night, and after a quick check-in at my hotel with some well-deserved vittles, I formally registered for the con. HMGS members, any chapter, who preregister get into the entire event for the dirt-cheap price of $25 US and getting your badge plus goodie bag couldn’t be easier. HMGS sends out an Email containing a QR code to all these folks, who simply need to pull it up on their smart phone, flash it in front of a scanner, and the card spits out from a printer.

Thus, well-armed with morale thru the roof, I began the march on my four-day wargaming campaign. Here are my recollections and ruminations.

Preliminaries

In many respects Fall In, the junior convention of the HMGS troika, is similar to its two elder brothers. There are tournaments, to include those of the Ancients variety (DBM, Triumph and Art de la Guerre) and many not so ancient (Flames of War, Bolt Action, By Fire and Sword, Wargods, Warhammer 40K, SAGA, Warmaster and Warhammer Historical). Gamers who need to dispose of their like new but well used wargame toys (so they can buy even newer wargame toys) found a home in the Wally’s Basement Flea Market which had a great turnout even on Sunday. Also on station was the HMGS War College, which admittedly seemed a little light on the curriculum this year. Ed Bolla offered a presentation on Mr Lincoln’s Navy – the US Navy during the American Civil War, while Pete Panzeri, Brian Beal and Scott Hanson hosted double debates on which revolution and which revolutionary was the greatest in history.

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But if the War College seemed sparse, this could not be said for the HMGS Hobby University run by Heather Blush and company. There were 56 different classes, all free, each about 90 minutes in length, and designed to teach painting skills to the newest conscript along with refresher training to the most veteran Grognard. Subjects ranged from Complete Beginners classes to subjects on how to paint intricate designs on tiny shields or the intricate splinter pattern World War II German camouflage. My favorite topic was weathering, offered under the name Dirty and Distressed.

There is, however, at least one thing that makes Fall In unique. That’s the annual HMGS Toys for Tots Charity Event run by the affiliated Wednesday Night Painting Group. These folks accept actual donations from gamers and dealers, plus sponsor a raffle and silent auction to raise money for this very famous charity. Begun in 1947 by the US Marine Corps Reserve, its purpose is to collect like new toys and donations to purchase same, thus providing a happy Christmas for underprivileged kids. Since its beginning the Leathernecks have dispersed over 512 million toys to needy lads and lasses, with the hefty HMGS contribution undoubtedly well received. Bravo, mes amis, bravo!

Ruins of Stalingrad

Quite frankly I thought attendance was down this year, but Director Dan Murawski indicated a preliminary count of between 1600 and 1700 of the faithful who made the trek to Lancaster. That’s not quite as good as the high of 1900 some years ago, but pretty much average or a little above. I was basing my analysis on the Mark 1.0 Eyeball that saw games under-subscribed, empty parking spaces and a lot of unused tables even on Saturday night in the Distlefink Ball Room. However, the Host is undergoing an absolutely YUGE remodel and this may have been the issue.

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Seriously, the place kinda looks like Berlin once the Soviets took it in 1945. Off limits construction zones were everywhere, as were carved rooms offering but half their normal square footage, with some exhibit rooms disappearing altogether. And for those still available with all their space, flooring was missing – sidebar, was it just me or did anyone else find the new carpeting “brutal?” – and in some cases electrical sockets did not work. Take the Vistas Café, as an example. I went strolling in behind another churl who was obviously hunting for the traditional Amish breakfast buffet normally served, only to quickly dodge when he abruptly pulled a reverse Michael Jackson moonwalk. The Vistas was now a new gaming area put forth as a stopgap to mitigate the hotel’s overhaul. Oh, so that’s where everyone went.

There are also a couple of other things I hadn’t considered. Many folks come to Fall In as a day trip only, to buy and not to play. The lack of vacation time while having the event centrally located to DC, Baltimore, Philly and New York makes this a good choice for many. Likewise, since I was hosting two games this time vice one, this cut a good six hours for me to explore, so I could have missed the crowd.

And speaking of food, the hotel provided nothing this time around because of same said overhaul. Instead they contracted out to a local firm to cater the con. This was the Coffee Company Café, a very upscale and progressive (organic everything and microbrewery produced soft drinks) cross between Starbucks and Panera Bread. They also found themselves running a single location with a single line on the rear patio of the building outside under a plastic tent. Yet it worked. Prices were reasonable, the food quite good (if there are seven deadly sins, their peanut butter brownie is 8, 9, 10 and 11), made from scratch and the staff quite efficient and friendly. I heard more than one person suggest the hotel keep these folks under contract and drop providing eats itself.

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Sutler’s Tent

The Exhibit Hall, aka the Dealer’s Hall, is separated from the main hotel by some distance down a relatively long hill. It too is undergoing renovation and here is really my only sore point of the entire convention. The new design has the entrance to the place at the bottom of the hill. Before, one walked down from the hotel under a covered walkway to an entrance door at the top of the hill which led inside to the second-floor mezzanine. The short distance under cover is a boon for all us . . . “distinguished” . . . members of what is fast becoming a hobby so grey and balding it needs Rogaine. There is a similar door on the new design, but not covered, used as an exit only and normally kept locked. Fortunately, “normally” didn’t apply a few times during Fall In, but HMGS Security was not amused.

And to me at least, the so called “greying of the hobby” really showed itself in the Exhibit Hall where by my count 52 merchants set up for business. So many of the vendors I normally do business with have simply declined to come, some for financial reasons, but most it seems for health and age reasons. Also, some vendors are simply dog tired of selling and now want to game only, particularly since Internet commerce seems to be so successful. In the past firms like the Last Square, 19th Century Miniatures and others have disappeared from HMGS conventions. This time around I noticed the absence of a formal presence of On Military Matters (another vendor took orders), Norm Flam’s miniature painting service, Eureka/AB Miniatures USA while the Flag Dude is rumored to have made this his last show. There are other companies rising from the ashes to take their place, but many of these have a distinctive fantasy or science fiction tilt. Some have little or nothing to do with wargaming at all.

Nevertheless, there was enough on tap to blackmail a few shekels out of my pocket. Actually, for the first three days I really didn’t have a lot to buy. In most cases I already had the stuff time three (or four, or five, or . . .) times over while the decline of purely historical firms didn’t help. I grabbed a new World War I board game by Compass, the Osprey book on the Persian army I’ve written about recently and Great Escape’s 1914 World War I rules. I’ve reviewed the latter’s figure line right here, had just received 50 packs of artillery via the Royal Mail so I figured it was worth seeing what ideas those doughty lads had come up with. It’s called research, ahem.

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Until Sunday. Damn, thought I was gonna get away cheap and my spousal unit was gonna be so proud. Then the designer of the newly resurrected Architectural Heritage line of 15 mm buildings showed up at the last moment. With him came several pieces designed to recreate something akin to Vlad the Impaler’s castle. Given not every city back then was protected by one of Monsieur Vauban’s little beauties, this would make a nice addition to my collection. So, I bought it from Doug Kline at Battlefield Terrain Concepts. All of it. Because he made me. Really, he did.

The Battlefield

The greying of the hobby was also evident with all the games hosted for the same reasons as noted above. Yet there were still enough games in all categories for anyone to get involved. I have not yet received the breakdown of how many and in what era non-tournament games were scheduled, but I can give a rough guess. Minus the pages showing the gaming rooms floorplan there were about 37 pages of event listings. At around nine game descriptions per page, that would make some 333 games, or pretty much beaucoup und zwanzig. From what I could see, the big three periods of conflict were again World War II, Napoleonics and the American Civil War. There were also quite a few non-historical games, though previous policy has limited their number to 10 % of the total. As usual, some were more . . . “creative”. . .  than others. I’ve seen Zombies, Warhammer 40K and so on,  but one in particular had my lower jaw on the floor so long that my smart phone’s battery died before I could take a picture.

The game was Picnic Panic whereby different tribes of ants fight each other for control of a picnic basket full of candy left by stupid humans. Seriously, I was speechless, quite an achievement for me, but it did look fun if a bit warped.

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Moving on, with the theme what it was you can pretty well figure the bases were covered by all the American Revolution and Civil War, American and English, games being played. Yet a few  ventured into the esoteric and one of those was me. I hosted two games of the 1849 Third Battle of Komorn from the Hungarian Revolution, which as a previous article noted, was also my first foray into the land of 10 mm gaming. I only had half the number of people at my table I was hoping for, but the four stalwarts proved up to the task, with one group fighting Friday night and the other four continuing the battle on the same table next morning. As happened in reality, the Austro-Russians won a hard-fought victory over the Hungarian Honved, but a great time was had by all.

More important to me, however, was how well my painting technique held up. Again, from the previous article – Heather, don’t read this - this is where I leave a lot of figure space in primer black because it can’t be seen, or it accurately simulates shadows created by a sunny battlefield. In this vein, the conversation would start when I informed a passerby or player that I knocked out the 3000 or so figures on the board in 48 days. The word “How?” normally erupted from open mouth surprise and I would give them an infantry base of 10 figures, two lines of five deployed one rank behind the other. I would ask them to examine it closely and tell me if they notice anything unusual. Out of nine people, not a single one, noticed the black shadow casting on the figure. Universally the response, “I didn’t pick up on it because it wasn’t noticeable and didn’t look unrealistic.”

This brought a lot of folks to the table, though I’m sure the bucket full of Halloween candy to feed the typically malnourished (hey, its an expensive hobby) HMGS gamer contributed just a little. Regardless, score one for me, but by all means check out my online One Drive picture album for more photos of this game and many more of the convention overall.

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Adjutant’s Call and Finis

More than anything the hobby of historical miniatures wargaming is people. And related to Fall In was an announcement by the Adjutant of the HMGS Legion of Honor as regards its newly selected members and the winner of the very prestigious Scruby Award. Selected for Legion membership was longtime Games Workshop and Warlords Games (think Black Powder) designer Rick Priestly from the UK, as well as colonial Frank Preziosa, HMGS Board member and forever and a day convention director. John Stallard, founder and CEO of Britain’s highly respected Warlord Games was selected to the receive the Scruby Award. For the uninitiated, the Legion kinda serves as a hall of fame for the hobby, and one of its primary purposes is to select the Jack Scruby Award for lifetime service and achievement.

On a sadder note, the convention program respectfully noted the passing of Bruce Seifried on 29th September 2018 due to Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. A good friend and colleague with me in the Legion of Honor, “Uncle Duke” was truly one of the first pioneers of what he called the ”great obsession” here in the United States. He was also a great showman to the point that his monster convention games became the source of international legend. He even coined the phrase “Adventure Gaming.”

Looking forward, next HMGS convention will be next year in March with Mountain Warfare as its theme. I’ll make sure to hoist one in Duke’s honor. Or maybe two, or maybe three, because knowing Duke, I bet he’d like that.

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