Strategy Expo UK- After Action Report01 Sep 2016 0
This past weekend The Wargamer forced marched up to Telford, UK to attend the first ever Strategy convention, powered by the same people that brought you MCM Comic Con. It's a shame, as what was supposed to be a new staple on the table-top calendar got off to a bit of a rocky start. Low er than expected ticket sales, a whole day chopped from the programme (with very little notice) and at the last minute Battlefield Hobbies pulled out, who were supposed to supply their fair portion of the game demonstrations.
Still, we are nothing if not professionals (albeit ones that have to play games for a living), so we made the most of the situation. We still got to demo some cool wargames, catch up with Project Manager Rob Hooley and some other VIP's in UK wargaming, and all-in-all good times were had.
The 'Free Play' space was probably the silent hero of the show. As we highlighted in our pre-event guide, this was open 24 hours to allow people to play games for as long as they wanted. It was certainly great to be able to go from the events hall straight to some generously proportioned tables , and just play some games without worrying about closing times or space. Even the lack of facilities wasn't an issue (there was a coffee shop that was open for a bit, but that was it), as the venue is well located in terms of food and amenities locally.
Without further ado, here's a run-down of what we saw at the show!
Questing Knight Games & Telford STAGS, the local game-shop/club/retailer in the Telford area were demoing quite a few games at the show over the weekend, and their staff graciously took us through some sessions they had set-up.
We only had a short demo of Team Yankee, which is from Flames of War creator Gale Force Nine. Tipped as the successor to the popular World War II miniature wargame, Yankee is set during a fictional 'World War 3' scenario where NATO fights the Warsaw pact across a divided Germany.
Our two-round demo only involved tanks, but a game of Team Yankee can involve everything from vehicles and infantry, to helicopters and jet fighters. It felt a lot like the Wargame videogame series translated onto the table-top. It has its own line of 15mm miniatures for purchase, and there were some of the new West German units available for sale. Comparable units from any manufacturer though are supported, as the stats are tied to the rule-book, and you can also get unit cards.
Not much to say about our actual demo, we practised movement, and there was a fairly bloody exchange with the Soviet tank company. I would have liked to really sink my teeth into the combined arms stuff, but alas it wasn't to be.
Wrath of Kings
This is fantasy-heavy tactical miniature wargame from Cool Mini or Not that was released in 2015, although they're gearing up for their new 'Rising Conflicts' expansion this year which will feature an updated rulebook and new units/heroes for all the factions.
We had a full demo at the show on one of the smallest game boards I think I've ever seen, but there was still plenty of tactical depth and choice to make it a gripping skirmish. The test armies involved faux-samurai House Nasier, and a Skorza-only group from House Goritsi (basically werewolves).
Wrath of Kings is scalable for large and small armies (typically 10 – 50 minis), and we were operating on the low end of the spectrum. My Ashman Swordsmen, were the stars of the show. Backed up by an Ashman 'Hakar' – a leader unit – they were able to activate in a group. My initial rush felled the Skorza Alpha, which prevented the skirmisher units it was leading from acting as a group. It got pretty bloody after that, with the skirmish concentrating around the bridge.
Despite maintaining the upper hand most of the game, my opponent technically won 'first' by knocking me down to 0 morale, although it didn't take long for my final Swordsmen to fell his last unit in a deft display of swordsmanship, taking him down to 0 morale too. It was officially a draw, but since I had units on the field and he didn't I think we to whom the moral victory goes to.
The pace was really quick, although this could be accounted for by the size of the armies involved and apart from consulting some charts and not knowing what all of the abilities did, it was a relatively simply system to use as well. With its focus on characters as well as 'grunt' units, I can see this lending itself to narrative driven or persistent campaigns as well.
TANKS, also by Gale Force Nine, essentially plays like X-Wing: Miniatures… but with Tanks (I know right? Didn't see that coming!). Each tank had a corresponding unit card, there were upgrades, a damage deck… it was all very familiar.
What was especially interesting here was that movement was incentivised – the more you moved, the more defence die you get when taking fire. This is balanced by having abilities that trigger when you don’t move – for example my British tanks all had ‘Semi-indirect fire’, which essentially allowed me re-roll all my dice, but I got to keep one dice result. Good if you want to keep that one six amidst a bunch of ones.
The down-side to this system is that you can essentially' game' it by doing micro-moves or backwards/forwards manoeuvres so that you essentially end up in the same spot, but still receive the defensive bonus from moving. While there is a case rooted in historical fact with regards to manoeuvring in this way, I can't help but feel that in this specific case it leads to an exploitation of what is otherwise a fairly robust system.
We ended up winning our demo game, although it wasn't exactly a walk-over. Early success was tempered by a tenacious Axis force (and they have a Blitzkrieg ability for extra movement) and some unfortunately placed wrecks, forcing me to tactically withdraw a couple of times. British ingenuity won out in the end though.
Special Mention: Quartermaster General
As mentioned in our pre-event article, there was a tournament for this gem from 2014. The game has since been expanded with Air Marshal (2015) and the Alternate Histories add-on released this year, although these weren’t being used. We didn’t get a chance to play it although we took some snaps of the competition in progress. Looks like a really fun theatre-level WW2 game, and we’re eager to try it out for ourselves as soon as we can.
Questing Knights obviously supplied the majority of the wargame content, with stock for Flames of War, TANKS, Team Yankee and the other games they were demoing. Dicing on the Cake and the Lazy Juggler mainly focused on boardgames (and not many wargames), but had a good stock range for browsers, and finally there was Magic Madhouse, which sold pretty much everything (although they had a big CCG set-up due to the amount of CCG events at the show).
Looking to the Future
There was a lot of talk regarding poor communication, promotion and advertising of the event. It doesn't help that a significant partner pulled out days before the event, so there has been a lot of targeted comments flying in both directions. It wasn't the best of starts, but ultimately I'd like to think that everyone who did go had a good time – I certainly did.
The comments regarding promotion and advertising probably have some truth to them, if we put on our critical hat for a moment. Apart from one small poster right by the entrance, you wouldn't even know Strategy was on that weekend looking at the venue from any distance. I saw a few additional posters at the train station, but not a lot else about town. There are also outside factors such as the fact that Insomnia (which has been pushing its own table-top programme) was running at the same time in Birmingham (which is arguably easier to get to).
There's no use directing too much anger at MCM though – I'm glad they tried, at the very least. With any luck, the promotion and lead-up to next year's event will be better, and Strategy Take Two will be something special. Things like the UK Games Expo and Insomnia didn't get their reputation overnight, and with a little support and patience from all of us Strategy could become a new staple on the events calender that could be a new rallying point for tabletop board & war gaming.
We asked Rob for some closing thoughts on the show, and he was kind enough to share the following:
“We would like to thank everybody who attended Strategy for their support and all round positivity surrounding our inaugural event. We were pleased to see the likes of Bushiroad, Konami, Brotherhood Open and many more taking this first step with us into the world of 24-hour gaming events. Regarding the future of Strategy, at the moment we have many avenues to explore. We know that the tabletop gaming community are crying out for an event like this, so we are looking forward to engaging with everyone to help move the show in the right direction.“ - Rob Hooley, Project Manager, Strategy UK