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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Lead-Based Diversion

Well, this week's column is going to take a bit of an odd tangent. I just finished a long weekend in Gettysburg at the Fall In! historical miniatures wargaming convention. I was there to play in the US De Bellis Multitudinis (DBM) 15mm Open tournament. So, humor me for waxing miniaturistic for a while – my brain really hasn't been on boardgames for a couple weeks.

These events are always as much social as competition for me. I get to see a lot of friends from around the country that I generally only see a couple times a year at most. It's not unlike the invitational boardgaming events, except bigger. This year an old friend that used to live in Seattle before moving back to London was convinced to come play. As our tournament didn't start until Friday evening, and we had arrived Thursday night, we spent all Friday morning and half the afternoon walking the battlefield at Gettysburg. It was an incredible experience. I don't really know the battle that well, but they've got a nice "electric map" presentation that walks you through the events and troop movements that occurred over the three days the battle lasted.

We then headed out to see the hotspots of the battle. Culp's Hill, Little Round Top, Devil's Den, etc. It was quite educational to stand where the troops did and look at the exact same ground wondering just how you could possibly take that hill. Or cross a mile of open ground in the face of cannon fire.

After walking the grounds, it makes me want to consider getting one of the monster Gettysburg wargames. I've never really been that interested in the American Civil War, but I can make exceptions, right? I'm interested, but not interested enough to spend the time and money to do it in miniature. A boardgame will be sufficient.

I've only had a similar feeling once before, and that was when I visited Kitty Hawk ten or so years ago. There are only a few places where you can stand and truthfully say "history changed here."

Miniatures conventions are an interesting thing. You really do get all personality types – think GenCon but with a mostly older crowd. Most of the attendees have been doing this for many years. I've only been a miniatures gamer for seven or eight years, and that makes me a relative newbie. The shows I go to tend to be 90% historical, but you still get some sci-fi and fantasy miniatures games like Warhammer and Battletech. (Battletech tends to be pretty popular with historical miniatures guys because the rules work very similarly to many Age of Sail rules.) And things like scale model race tracks playing what are essentially boardgames with miniatures. The scale model Shadows over Camelot that Days of Wonder uses for demos would look right at home.

Occasionally, you'll get some re-enactor guys that also play miniatures. (There's not that much crossover as they both tend to be expensive hobbies.) I thought we had some near us, as what appeared to be some very finely dressed Confederate and Union officers started appearing at a table behind where I was playing. There was a fantastic scale model of the Gettysburg battlefield set up there.

Then, a camera crew arrived. Turns out, they were filming a spot for a PBS special to be shown sometime early next year. Can't recall the name of it, but I'm sure I'll be able to find it. It was interesting watching them run take after take. They were trying to distill the events of the three days down to three minutes. Lots of closeup shots of model figures in the model terrain, then panning out to some Pretty Young Thing (tm) next to the battlefield table interviewing the officers to get the rundown on that day's events. I'm sure they'll edit out any shots that might show the great unwashed masses of wargamers that were surrounding them, but you never know – they were in a relatively cramped space.

One thing that impressed me – one time between takes, I heard two of the actors discussing what was on the table in front of them. One of them actually started talking about the things he learned while researching the battle. I was impressed that they'd actually go to that length when filming something that would end up being so short. Guess my cynical attitude towards anything "historical" that Hollywood produces gives me a pretty low level of expectation.

Anyway, I didn't do too badly in my tournament. Tied for 9th out of 24. Considering it was the first time I'd used this army, and also my first tournament under the latest version of the rules, I can't complain. I did do what's called "submarining." Lost my first two games, then won my last three. The tournaments use the same pairing system that Chess tournaments use, matching people with similar scores together. In theory, that means after a couple rounds you find your proper level of competition. Just above halfway seems to be a popular finishing spot for me – I rarely do spectacularly well or particularly bad – just somewhere between.

A good convention is always an invigorating experience. You're really tired, but you get reminded of how much fun it is to play the game – and you start planning what project you'll work on next. Or how you want to tweak your current army, what army or battle you want to build, etc. And there's always the loot you managed to score in the dealer's hall. This time, I picked up a new set of rules for the early 18th century, a Polish army for those rules to go with the Swedes and Russians I already had, and some unpainted resin river sections.

Miniatures will always take a front seat to boardgaming for me. It's my favorite hobby, but I just don't have any opponents in my area that are interested in similar things – so I play boardgames far more often than I used to. It also helps that the boardgamers down here are great people and good friends as well.

After all, that's what it's all about, right?


  • At 4:25 PM, Blogger dave said…

    "There are only a few places where you can stand and truthfully say "history changed here.""

    I spent most of my first 30 years living in upstate New York, and one of my favorite memories is walking through the Saratoga battlefield.


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