Historicon 2018: Historicon Comes Home

By Bill Gray 19 Jul 2018 1

Well, for this year anyway. From July 12th, 2018 thru the 15th some 2500 faithful gathered for the premier convention of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS), Historicon 2018. This year the theme was “Wars of Conquest and Those That Lead Them,” while the venue the ‘comfortable as a pair of slippers’ Lancaster Host Resort, Lancaster, PA. The Host was once the permanent home of the con, and now under new management is undergoing a massive renovation in hopes of becoming a Wyndham franchise by this October. Thus, it’s a little tough to judge how good the facilities actually are, except to say that there was indeed an impact. Right now, its time for all the guest rooms to be redone, and this meant less were available. Thus, the Host contracted with local Wyndham hotels to make up the difference and tardy Wyndham folks like me found ourselves praying for pup tents. Likewise, the renovations resulted in only one speciality food stand outside the hotel café, as room was needed for gaming.

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Events

And there was lots of gaming, although I can’t specify exactly how much. I do know that Thursday night gaming seemed heavier than before, and if the Distelfink Ballroom was any indication, Friday was the big day and night for events. Simply consider that this year’s program weighed in at a whopping 104 pages of which 57 were devoted to game listings. With about nine events listed per page, just do the math and you have around... well, beaucoup und Zwanzig to be sure. Typically, some were stupendous in mirth and presentation, some at the opposite end of the spectrum and some gracing that unique American category which saw spectacular, museum quality figures laid out on terrain unfit for Candy Land. Hobby University CIC Heather Blush, if you’re reading this, you may want to get some truancy police to grab these latter churls for next con. The University, BTW, hosted 65 events such as German Camo and Painting & Prepping, all with the typical sang-froid for which Heather and crew have come to be known.

The events above do not include any of the contests nestled under the HMGS tournament system, now occupying about 80% of the Lampeter Room, the balance reserved for overall convention registration and automated QR code badge pickup. I counted 15 tournaments, of which most were devoted to Ancients. World War II and Modern armor was well represented by both Bolt Action and two Flames of War slates, while Poland’s uber popular By Fire and Sword rules also had a presence. It was also nice to see some newcomers and two that caught my eye were the Mortem et Gloriam Ancients contests and Blood and Plunder where budding Captain Jack Sparrows could swash as much buckle as desired. Getting into tournaments normally costs about $5.00 US and pays for everything, awards included, pretty much a trifling given how inexpensive overall registration cost has been historically.

Finally, the convention hosted its traditional War College lecture series, but this year the company of doughty presenters was just a little bit different and a little bit special. There was of course the usual set of military history lectures, to include fascinating fare from Marine Corps historian Paul Westermeyer who covered Belisarius and the Vandalic War, as well as Dr Greg Dryanski who spoke on one of my favorite subjects, the 1919 – 21 Russo-Polish War. All excellent.

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However, the big coup involved the 9 of 15 presentations made by four of the principals of the legendary cardboard counter wargame company, Simulations Publications Incorporated, or SPI. Initially on tap were SPI founder and president Jim Dunnigan (a last-minute cancel), Al Nofi, David C Isby (remember Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army?) and finance guru Howard Barasch. I attended the latter’s sit-down and although a retrospective (he declined to talk about SPI’s demise or the future of the hobby), found the information presented to be both fascinating and often humorous. Did you know at its peak SPI had 35 full time employees? Did you know that its best-selling games were all science fiction followed by modern, speculative conflict such as NATO or The Next War? And of these, did you know the all time best seller was Starforce Alpha Centauri at 50,000 units sold? I can see a future article out of this somewhere and given how full we pewter pushers packed the place, I doubt a lack of interest.

Toys

For me and others, Historicon is Christmas in July, and boy I hit the jackpot this year, both in Wally’s Basement and in the Expo Center where all our formal dealers set up shop to entice away your hard-earned shekels. In the latter case I counted 59 dealers scheduled, and while there were a lot of old friends making their return, one of the changes I did notice was the lack of small, cottage, no frills, 'mom and pop' dealers. Instead new entries into the fray seemed dominated by entrepreneur types who, although doing this part time, were keenly acute as to marketing and presentation. The stations were small, but very smart and professional looking, to include product packaging. And this time around, the upstairs balcony was full as well, so it seems more dealers were present.

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Regardless, I got a lotta loot, but at some good discounts. I found three boardgames I wanted at 20% off, to include one covering the Russo-Polish War noted above, another World War I and another the siege of Metz during the Franco-Prussian War. And while I also absconded with some ready-made forestry from BTC Terrain Man and some of those 12 mm 1914 figures I reviewed recently, the big haul came from Old Glory’s 10 mm Grand Scale line. I’m prepping the Hungarian Revolution 1848 right now and finding specialty figures in 15 mm is a forlorn hope. However, given the variety of uniforms, the smaller size and just because I’ve gotten laz . . . more efficient . . . these days, I figured I’d give similar looking 10 mm Napoleonics a go. Besides I pay $50.00 US a year to be a member of the OG Army, and that got me 40% off a YUGE order. How big? Well, if you’re looking for 10 mm Austrian Napoleonics over the next year or two, hopefully you don’t have my address. Just sayin’.

The only issue with the Expo Center is the walk and steep hills to get to a renovated building that moved its entrance to the far side. Yes, HMGS provided some golf cart transport for those who purchased their weight in merchandise (and trust me, that could be a LOT of weight), but for fitness nuts like me (translation - I didn’t find out about this until the end of the convention) it was not an option. What proved an option was the Wally’s Basement flea market inside the main Host building, up a flight of stairs into the Lancaster Showroom. This is another relatively new move, with a venue built sorta like an amphitheatre with tiered levels for seating or tables. Compared to sharing the Lampeter, this produced wide aisles that were easy to negotiate and accommodated lots of buyers without overcrowding. I celebrated with yet another large stash of highly discounted World War I minis by Peter Pig, and also two more boardgames, operational fare on World War I and the 30 Years War. Getting stuff at Wally’s is often hit or miss, but this year was an unequivocal bulls eye. Only my bank account suffered, but I’ve learned to appreciate some kinds of pain.

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And Their Boys

Due to some recent health issues I didn’t host any games this year. But a lot of other folks did, and many of those who went above and beyond caught the eye of the HMGS Awards Director, MS Christin Sciulli. While plenty of PELAs – Pour Encourager les Autres – were handed out, sadly so were a lot of memorial awards, so called because they honored some of HMGS and the hobby’s brightest stars recently deceased. Nevertheless, there were some fine choices, such as Colonel (Retired) Tom Garnett who won the Duke Seifried Gamemaster of the Year trophy due his spectacular Carnage & Glory Napoleonic contests.

Likewise, designers and GMs par excellence Howard Whitehouse, Richard Borg and Richard Clarke were formally inducted into the HMGS Legion of Honor. The Legion also awards what many consider to be the top recognition in the hobby, the Scruby Award. This year twins Alan and Michael Perry were dual recipients. The Perry’s are not only renowned for excellent sculpting sold under their own Perry Miniatures label, but also for promoting plastic vice lead figures in the hobby. Well done gents.

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Finis

Next year of course, Historicon, “the mother of all wargaming conventions” according to the Wall Street Journal, will be at a new permanent home not in a galaxy far, far away. Instead the new digs will be only a few leagues away at the Lancaster County Convention Center smack in the middle of downtown Lancaster. I’ve reported on this move previously, and based on personal experience, you will not find a more modern, up to date and spacious place anywhere in Central Pennsylvania. HMGS President Paul Trani provided attendees free transportation to the center for a tour, and everyone I spoke with seemed impressed. Yes, parking might be a problem, but on the flip side traffic will not include Amish buggies pulled by horses with stubbornness issues.

To my mind the real question will be whether the new location can match what had to be one of the most low-key, laid back Historicons in recent memory, a real tribute to Joby Miller and his convention staff. HMGSers are many things, but subtle is not one of them. Yet complaints and controversies seemed few despite typical renovation inconveniences, and that’s a good omen. Match that and next year Historicon, as well as HMGS, will do just fine.

NB. Click here for access to another 250 + images of the convention taken by the author.

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