Over There – A Fall In 2017 Convention AAR

By Bill Gray 08 Nov 2017 1

The faithful once again gathered at the Lancaster Host Resort, Lancaster, PA 3rd – 5th November 2017 for friends, games and early Christmas as HMGS (Historical Miniatures Gaming Society, Inc) held their annual Fall In miniature wargaming convention. This year the theme was “The Yanks are Coming,” remembering the United States entry into World War I some 100 years ago.  A period of history a bit esoteric perhaps, but well represented at the con nevertheless. There were 23 games hosted on the Great War and the subsequent Russian Civil War. Not a bad showing at all.

In fact, there were 307 non tournament miniature wargames scheduled for Fall In, of which 57 (or 18.6 %) were Fantasy/Sci-Fi, and the balance historical. Of the games, the big draws were the same as always, to include World War II/Spanish Civil War with 77 games, the American Civil War with 28 games and Napoleonics with 27. Down at the bottom of the list were some very unique offerings each with only one game each. One of those was a single Franco-Prussian War game, hosted by – wait for it – me.


My game was a 15 mm affair using my own Age of Valor rules covering the 1870 battle of Spicheren, which occurred at the very beginning of the conflict. The crew that played the game was a great group of lads and saw three Yanks, and a regular group of one transplanted, delightfully dry-humored Brit with Mark Anderson’s four-person Canadian contingent slugging it out to a substantial Prussian victory. The actual battle saw between 4000 and 4500 casualties on each side, but the count here was about double that. The reason was a dilemma all designers face but few eradicate. This is the combination of historical hindsight, near perfect battlefield intelligence and the fact that such games are played in a vacuum. Thus players don’t have another battle down the road to consider and can “go for broke,” as it were. The real generals, of course, had to worry about an entire campaign, and were often clueless as to what was happening in front of them. Interestingly enough, however, while the Prussians won the game and the original battle, in both cases their casualty count was actually higher than their Gallic opponents.

Once again I was located in the Carnage & Glory club room, run by John Snead and featuring the absolutely superb eye candy, computer managed games put on by Nigel Marsh (designer of C&G), Tom Garnett and David Bonk. While the primary purpose of reserving the Marietta Room is to support the players of the C&G computer moderated rules, there is a need to fill all tables within the room to reserve it. Thus I got adopted, even though I still throw dice. Evidently, Dave has succumbed to this affliction as much to my shock and dismay; he took time from his laptop to host a World War II game using Bolt Action rules. My jaw dropped, and I wandered off to check out other games, fully believing I had just witnessed evidence that the Apocalypse was truly upon us.

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The other games hosted were of the usual fare, with some spectacular, some not so much. In very general terms, one of two major differences (the other being participation games) I have noticed between US miniature gaming and British miniature gaming concerns terrain. There are some Colonials who produce games where both army and battlefield surpasses even what the vaunted Perry brothers can put on the table. However, quality terrain seems to be evident across the board in British gaming, but not so much in the US. Many games have the most exquisitely painted figures, yet, for lack of a better word, their terrain pretty well sucks. Here we are talking about a bright green felt blanket interlaced with brown and black felt strips (if not masking tape, seriously) for roads and David Winter Cottages (my wife would kill me) for urban areas. It seems like for every aerial photography based terrain in a Bruce Weigle Franco-Prussian game, there are at least two of the other, with little in between. Ancients tournament games are especially egregious in this regard.

And there were quite a few tournaments run at Fall In this year, to include the ubiquitous Flames of War (hammer ). Other tournaments held listed Art de la Guerre ancients, Triumph ancients, DBM ancients, Warrior ancients (I think there’s a trend here) as well as Bolt Action World War II, Wargods of Egypt, Too Fat Lardies (I have no idea) events and Warhammer 40K Epic Armageddon. Excuse me; did I just say Warhammer 40K? Yes, I did and I could hardly believe my phone’s digital camera screen when an Imperial Titan and some of da Boyz popped up. I figured my Samsung Galaxy had been hacked by the Russians, but it was not the case. This moved HMGS from Apocalypse to “I can now see the Four Horsemen” level so I searched for someplace else safer to be (though I have to admit all the players were having a blast).

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Someplace else could be the HMGS War College, of which there was only one presentation, Ed Bolla’s “The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the US Navy.” Or it could be at the annual Toys for Tots auction sponsored by the Wednesday Night Painting Group (you have to love a group whose motto is “Come for the Paint, Stay for the Abuse”) Otherwise soon to be convention director Heather Blush’s Hobby University held 34 events on how to paint and prepare terrain and figures. Always a huge draw and well run, I would like to pass on one observation I overheard from a couple of hardcore gamers. There was a feeling that perhaps HU concentrated on figures used in competitions vice those used in wargames. No biggie, just food for thought which is evidently what was also disseminated at four impromptu info sessions discussing future locations for all three HMGS conventions. Since I left the HMGS Board of Directors I have avoided such meetings like the plague, and this one was no different. However, rumor intelligence (RUMINT) indicated three separate locations for each of the three conventions, a possibility of dropping the slate to two four day conventions, and moving Historicon after next year to either Valley Forge or downtown Lancaster at the new convention center there. Sorry, can neither confirm nor deny, for which I am truly thankful.

Instead I chose to be at Wally’s Basement, our convention flea market, as it is right next to the tourneys in the same room. Finding nothing there I sashayed down the Dealer’s Hall which is located in a different building next to the resort’s golf course. This year there were 56 vendors on station, to include some new and some old. For whatever reason, Eureka – AB Miniatures did not show up, and I hope this is a one off situation. The AB figures are superb and I always try to pick up a few packs. Otherwise, I only bought stuff from three shops. I picked up some terrain from Battlefield Terrain Concepts and some Old Glory/Blue Moon English Civil War generals and Boxer Rebellion Russians and Japanese. The latter can be easily used for the Russo-Japanese War and I might add this range is pretty much complete. There are now artillery and machine gun sets as well as a host of personalities to include the “Fighting Parsons,” David Niven and Charlton Heston. From Your Hobby Place out of West Virginia (and car through the front door fame) I grabbed a copy of the new GMT Games Arquebus and a copy of Art de la Guerre, both likely to be reviewed in the near future. For the latter, while Field of Glory is still strong in Europe as a set of ancients’ tournament rules, Art de la Guerre seems to be the rule set du jour here in the Colonies. I have several ancient armies, myself, so I thought it might be nice to see what makes them so popular. Overall, I spent quite a bit less than normal, primarily because not only do I have pretty everything I need for my hobby, but I am now in the situation where that same status applies to the frivolous as well.

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The Dealer Hall was also the prime example of what is changing at the Host. Once the premier destination in Dutch Amish Country; the old gal has sadly fallen into a state of severe disrepair. There are new owners now, however, and things are changing, slowly but surely. These include remodelled and expanded public washrooms, new roofing, the complete demolition of the old golf pro shop and of course the so-called “Tennis Barn”. Here there are signs of a completely remodelled interior and an exterior with large glass windows and doors where none existed before. Evidently a large outdoor deck and a new parking lot are going in as well. There have also been a few changes in the operational side, too. Instead of small convention food stands all over the complex, there were now just three, one in the Dealer’s Hall and two in the main building. The latter’s first floor had plated dinners, while on the level below (centrally located to all the gaming areas) was a large set up that combined several previous small eatery locations into one. Food was semi-buffet style, in that while you only had one pass through the line, you could make your own sandwich and pile your own plate, all for one price. The food was typical hotel fare to be sure, but this system did seem to bring more value to the transaction. There are still improvements needed, of course. There seemed less water points than before and the front desk is new and a bit inexperienced on how to handle a crowd like HMGS. Fortunately, Frank and the hotel security staff did an excellent job in sorting out things like locked game rooms so we could retrieve our toys. I’ve no idea how all of this will turn out, but if I could give the Host one piece of advice it would be that time is your mortal enemy, because we gamers are an impatient lot.

This article normally goes to bed before an official body count can be had, but in 2014 Fall In drew just over 1900 attendees. Using parking lot math, I suspect at least that much this time around. And in more good news, it’s likely the show made me more physically fit! While 10,000 steps is the default goal on a Fitbit, I’m lucky if my sedentary, retired lifestyle gets me half that much. With all the construction and game setup/takedown, I pulled over 19,000 steps on both Friday and Saturday. They say “no pain, no gain,” and trust me I gained a lot. That’s a two for one and that makes next March’s Cold Wars convention (theme, Holy Wars and Those Who Fight Them) all that more enticing.

NB. Click here for more extensive photo coverage of the convention, 159 images worth.



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