GMT Weekend - Spring 2011

At the end of April I went to my second GMT weekend. This is a four day wargaming event hosted by GMT Games. They basically open their warehouse, spread out a bunch of tables, and invite wargamers to use it as a place to play wargames. I went to my first GMT weekend last fall. That was a lot of fun but I didn't know any of the other gamers at the start. Now I had met some before and also already had several games lined up through the consimworld forums. I was looking forward to this event.

GMT Games - doesn't look like much from the outside

Originally I was driving down with a friend from Boise, Tim Loya. But he had a change at work (a good one - he got a promotion) and had to cancel his time off. So I drove down to California by myself. GMT Games is in Hanford, California, a little south of Fresno in the Central Valley. The drive took me a little over ten hours. I only stopped twice for gas but I did get held up for a while by traffic in Sacramento. I was driving through right at five oclock - poor planning on my part. But I got to the Sequoia Inn, the standard place to stay in Hanford, by early evening.

On Thursday morning I had a game of Normandy 44 scheduled with Tim Wilcox. It's a traditional hex-and-counter, regimental-level game of the Normandy campaign (you'd never guess from the name, huh). When I got there at 9:30 Tim was already there and had the game mostly setup. There is an advantage to arriving slightly later than your opponent. I took the Germans and was optimistic after Tim's initial invasion rolls - he took quite a few hits on the beaches. But I made a serious rules/tactical error right away on the first turn. I forgot that strongpoints don't have a ZOC by themselves. In Normandy 44 the ZOC and ZOC bond rules are key to setting up a defense. So I didn't send an infantry battalion to reinforce Strongpoint Hillman. With my error, the British took a Caen hex on the very first turn. That's a major disaster for the Germans. I fought hard but could never recover from that mistake. In midafternoon I conceded after five turns of the seven turn tournament scenario when the Allies took Carentan. I was off to a 0-1 start. A problem with playing many different games is that while you remember the gist of it, you often forget fine details which are the difference between victory and defeat. But the game was fun and I was totally up to speed again by the end of the first game.

Tim and I went to lunch and then were back for a second game. He offered to switch sides but I wanted to try the Germans again to see if I could do better. And I did. German counterattacks regained VP hexes from both the American and British airborne divisions. I pinned the Americans on Omaha and the British on Sword for a couple of turns. Eventually he broke through in the center from Gold and Juneau but that was slow. By the sixth day I was thinking that he was busted. But at the very end I made another dumb rules error. I ignored his push to the east because I knew that he couldn't reach the east edge of the board in time for a sudden death victory. But the naval bombardment line takes a sharp curve at the east end of the beaches. There are town hexes right on the coast that are worth VP's. What?! So I lost on the last turn. 0-2. But it was a great day of wargaming, playing Normandy 44 from 9:30 am till 11:30 pm. Who cares who wins? (Important note to nonwargamers - the preceding sentence is only written by the guy who loses.)

Inside - lots of gaming tables and a warehouse full of games

Friday I had another game lined up through the consimworld forum - a five player game of Sword of Rome. I have played SoR a few times, twice with three players and once with four players. So when I got to the hotel at midnight on Thursday I had two hours of reading rules and searching gaming websites to learn about the five player game. No early to bed to get my rest for me.

We started our game at 9 am on Friday. I played the Gauls, John Zrimc played Carthage, Ralph Shelton played the Greeks, Jevon Heath played the Etruscans/Samnites and Jordan Nichols played the Romans. As the Gauls I got to decide the first turn order and goofed (forgot) right off the bat and went first and not last. That cost me a VP at the end of the turn when Jevon's Etruscans snatched a VP hex from me on the last impulse. So again I was battling uphill all the way. The Gauls and the Carthaginian's suffered very costly defeats in early battles that took them out of contention while the Romans just couldn't subdue the Volsci. That turned the game into a battle between Jevon's Etruscan's and Ralph's Greeks, with Jevon pulling out the win in the end. We finished about dinner time - another loss for me but another fun day of gaming.

I was good. I took my dinner break to go back to the hotel and do a workout instead of going out to eat. Afterwards I spent some time watching various games and kibitzing. I also got a chance to meet other gamers and talk about wargames. I spent a while talking to Mark Simonitch, the designer of Normandy 44, about the games I had played the previous day. Also talked to Joe Youst about his current game design, Huertgen Forest. It's a monster game he is working on for Decision Games. Looked very interesting. Add that to the list of big games that I would like. Definitely intimidating though. Another game that takes a lot of space and time. But it looked like fun. Maybe when I retire. Oh wait, I already did. Dang! But one of the attractions of gaming conventions/events like the GMT weekend is meeting, talking to and playing against the guys who design, develop and publish the games.

I had traded forum posts with Rob Bottos about playing a game of Labyrinth. But so far we hadn't connected. I had been booked. I checked with him now but he was burned out from an intense game of Unhappy King Charles. So I got Ralph Shelton in a game of Labyrinth instead. I played the jihadists. I decided to follow my son Tim's analysis - it's all about Pakistan. So I recruited heavily, moved cells to Pakistan, and got ready to cause trouble. But Ralph was able to use War of Ideas right away and improve Pakistan's governance. I did have crummy cards (lots of 1"s) the first turn. By the second turn, when I had better cards, Ralph had already boosted Pakistan to Good Governance. Drat! Another game where I am way behind by the end of the first turn. Another game where I fought long and hard, but always uphill and against the wind. Before long Ralph had daisy-chained and gotten Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to Good Governance. But I managed to hang on by my fingernails for a long time, helped by really bad rolls by Ralph at the end as he tried to convert more countries. The game lasted a long time but I finally succumbed. Ok, now I am 0-4.

Afterwards both Ralph and Rob Bottos gave me a hard pitch on attending Dragonflight. It's a gaming convention in Seattle in August. It includes euros, RPG's and wargames. Sounded good to me. A trip to Washington in August, with hiking on the way in or out, and wargaming. I'm sold. I am hoping that I can go to Dragonflight.

Five player Sword of Rome - I'm not doing well as the Greeks

Saturday we did another five player game of Sword of Rome. This time I had the Greeks. John Z had the Romans and Jordan had the Etruscans. We had two new players, Phil as Carthage and someone whose name I didn't get (sorry about that) as the Gauls. After seeing how Ralph had powered ahead as the Greeks the day before I was optimistic about this game. But it didn't work out well. Every time I tried to attack the Carthaginians it seemed that they had the battle card that they needed to provide just enough of a DRM to win. I lost Messina early and spent many turns to regain it. By that time the Etruscans had surged ahead. It ended up as an interesting game. I allied with John's Romans and we both built up gradually and went after the Etruscans. We agreed to do the six turn game. In the end, Jordan just managed a victory but his position was untenable. He was just about to collapse under attacks from the Romans, Greeks and Gauls. But he managed the victory in the six turn game with a last impulse offensive that cost him most of his army but grabbed two extra VP hexes from the Greeks. So Jordan got a good win. Steve 0-5.

Saturday is a special day at the GMT weekend. In the morning, Gene Billingsley gave a long talk about GMT's current activities. It went for about an hour. We learned about the history of GMT, new games in the pipleline, PC and iPad games, etc. One of the main items was a major partnership between GMT Games and Victory Point Games. VPG does small, hand published games. When one of their games does well, GMT would publish it with professional components. No Retreat is one game on the eastern front that has been a hit for VPG that is coming out soon as a GMT game (yes, I have it on preorder). Gene and Alan Emrich said that there would be more to follow. Then it was time to buy games. Gene gives a discount for people at the convention. I had been thinking for a long time and had my games picked out. I got Wilderness War and Here I Stand. Both of these games are highly regarded and in their second printing. I also picked up a Hexasim game on a Napoleonic battle and an old issue of C3i magazine. The new thing for me was when Gene said we could get any games that we wanted off the "Gene's games" shelves. These were a couple of shelves in the back of the warehouse that had a few copies of games that were currently out of print. Since I am a collector of old and obscure games I raced to check this out. I grabbed Onward Christian Soldiers, a game on battles from the Crusades. I also looked at A World At War. Ask wargamers what the most complex game ever invented is, and you will get one of two answers. The tactical gamers will say Advanced Squad Leader. The strategic/operational guys will say A World At War. The old Rise and Decline of the Third Reich is the monster game I have probably played more than any other, back in the day. That was followed by an enhanced version, Advanced Third Reich, and a Pacific version known as Empire of the Rising Sun. Those games were combined into a single game that covered the entire second world war and enhanced from a rules standpoint. I hear the rulebook is over 130 pages but haven't played it yet so don't know for sure.

Talking to Ken Tee about his position in A Most Dangerous Time

I looked at the shelf and was excited to see three copies of A World At War. This game is very expensive and very complex. Ok, I think I will wait till the fall GMT weekend and get it then. While I am thinking about this someone reaches across and grabs one copy. Ok, two left, no worries. But a few minutes later someone grabbed the second one. Oh oh. Now there is no margin for error. So I bought the last copy of World at War. It went into Sandy's stash.

Then I went into the other room to talk to the VPG guys. I talked to Terry Coleman and Steve Carey about the Napoleonic 20 series and other VPG titles. I ended up buying Disaster on Everest (how could I pass up a mountaineering game?), a D-Day game and a Nappy 20 game.

Saturday night is pizza night. Gene B. buys pizza for everone in attendance. Right up my alley. A good time to eat pizza and just talk about wargames with everyone. After pizza everyone seemed to be in a lite gaming mood. Lots of BSG, 18xx, and DiF. I watched. I'm just not into lite games.

I was up early Sunday morning and did a good workout. I went to GMT just to see who was there. I played a game of C&C Ancients with Allen Doum. It went right down to the wire but I pulled out a win. Yahoo! 1-5.

I gave Allen a ride to the bus station in Visalia and then headed back to Boise. I got home at 2am. An excellent event. I am hoping that I can go back for the fall GMT weekend in October.

NOTE: Thanks to Rob Bottos for sending me the last two photos above.