BottosCon is probably my favorite wargame convention. Consimworld Expo is bigger. GMT games is a better chance to buy games. But BottosCon is the best for gaming. People are easy to meet and it is easy to arrange for games. The only drawback is that it is in early November. Since I drive I have to worry about getting over Snoqualmie Pass and the weather can be a challenge.
This year I was brave and signed up early. About a week before I had to leave the forecast looked bad. A storm over the weekend and snow on the pass for the day that I would be coming back. And the day before. And the day after. I considered cancelling but decided that I wouldn't be a wimp. If I got stuck in Vancouver, one of my wargaming friends there would just have to adopt me.
Fortunately as the trip approached the forecast improved. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. I was up super early on Thursday and on the road by 5:30 am. Sandy wasn't too crazy about me getting up at such a ridiculous hour but Abby certainly appreciated getting her breakfast early.
I didn't have any problems with the trip to Vancouver. It was about ten hours of driving. It rained pretty hard when I crossed Snoqualmie Pass but there was no snow or ice. I was at the hotel, checked in, and in my room by 4pm Vancouver time. I had time to take a long walk before eating dinner and then spent the evening brushing up on rules.
My first game on Friday was with Dan Carey, a wargaming friend from Seattle. We played Turning Point Stalingrad, an old Avalon Hill classic, the grandfather of the area impulse genre of wargames. I played it many times back in the day. When my son Tim was growing up, he and I probably played TPS and Russian Campaign more than all other wargames combined. I hadn't played in a long time, probably not since Tim came to visit us in Singapore, back in 2007. But I had refreshed my memory on the rules before I came to the con and was ready to play.
Dan played the Russians while I tried to reverse history with the Germans. We started our game at noon, as soon as the doors for the gaming room opened to start the con. At first my attack on the city struggled to gain momentum. But after a few days I swung the focus of my attack from the southern ferry landings to the center of the city. When I shifted the entire 29th Motorized Division into the battle for the middle it tipped the scales. I managed to take Mamayev Kurgan and threaten multiple ferry landings. He couldn't defend them all. Near the end of the first week Dan conceded.
After dinner Dan and I were supposed to be in a game of Andean Abyss but somehow our opponents found other players so we didn't have a game. Instead we joined a session of The Battle of Armegeddon that was run by the designer, Kerry Anderson. It's a pretty wild game, with lots of alliances between players and just as much back-stabbing. It was a lot of fun, but I would characterize it as more of a social game than a serious wargame. Don't bother with careful planning. There are wild swings in the game. But for a fun session with a good group of wargamers, it's a blast.
Oh yeah. It helped that I won too. But it came down to the very last turn, and the very last roll of the dice. We finished the game a few minutes before midnight, just as the hotel staff were getting ready to close the gaming room down for the night. It was exciting all around.
A long but very fun day to start the con. And I was 2-0.
On Saturday I was up early again. Very strange - I'm not a morning person. I went to the hotel gym to exercise. Then I went across the street to Tim Horton's to get a doughnut for breakfast, probably negating any benefit I got from my workout. And since it was Vancouver, it was raining and I got good and wet. With all that I was still in the game room almost a half hour before my scheduled start time of nine oclock.
My next game was No Peace Without Spain, a strategic-level game on the War of the Spanish Succession. I was playing Ralph Shelton, another wargaming buddy from Seattle. It's not his favorite period of history but I convinced/cajoled/threatened/tricked him into giving it a try. Although I hadn't played for a few years I did manage to do a little prep study, hoping to gain an advantage. I played the Bourbons, who are on the strategic defensive in the war. I thought I started out well, slowing the advance of the Alliance and once even mounting a successful counterattack. I held control of the Med for several years against the British fleet, gaining lots of extra victory points in the process. But after our break for lunch, Ralph tightened the vice and eventually was able to take Paris for a Sudden Death victory. All those VP's didn't do me much good when I lost my whole country. Oh well. Two wins one loss.
In the evening I had a chance to talk to Brian Train about his new COIN game, Colonial Twilight, which will be published by GMT. It's on the War of Algerian Independence. I played Ici C'est la France, a different game on the same war, at Consimworld Expo in June and I was curious to see how the two compared. With Tim in SF I have become a lot more interested in insurgency and counterinsurgency conflicts and it's been reflected in my reading and wargaming. Plus this is the first two-player COIN game. I was interested in how that would work since the series was originally designed for four players. I read through the rules but couldn't find anyone else who wanted to play a few turns on the spur of the moment. That was ok. I got to rest my brain a little after three hard-fought games in a row. I spent the rest of the evening cruising around checking out games and chatting with other gamers.
Wargamers tend to be older males but there were quite a few younger gamers at BottosCon, which is unusual. I saw two guys, maybe eleven or twelve years old, looking over 2WW: The War in Europe, a new game just released by One Small Step games. There were quite a few door prizes given away at the con and this was one of them, one that I happened to have my eye on hoping that I might win it. These guys got it instead, but hey, getting younger players interested is good for the hobby, right? So I was glad that they had won. They were happy to let me take a look at it. (I was good and didn't drool on it.) The components were nice and it looked like it would be a simple and quick playing game for a strategic-level WWII game. The rules were only thirteen pages long.
I asked if they were going to try it. They said no way were they going to play it - the rules were just way too long. "This game looks like it might take two hours to play!" one of them complained. Ok, I guess we didn't recruit new wargamers with that prize drawing. It would have better if I had won it after all.
When I checked the forecast late that night it had changed again. Now it looked like the bad weather wouldn't hit till Monday. Usually I stay overnight after the con ends and leave for home the next morning. Since this year my last game was only scheduled to go till 1 pm, I thought that I would be better off leaving as soon as it finished. Even if I didn't get all the way home I might at least get over the mountains before the bad weather hit. I also hoped that the border crossing would be easier on Sunday. The past two years it had taken me over an hour to get through on Monday morning.
Late Saturday night I set up Hearts and Minds, my game for Sunday, so it would be ready to start first thing in the morning. Then I loaded all my other games into the car so I could check out just by taking a short break while I was playing.
I played the US against Ben Verderlei, a Vancouver native. We had played each other in Fire in the Lake, another Vietnam game, at BottosCon last year. It was his first time playing Hearts and Minds so I was hoping my experience would help, but he came charging hard as the NVA and won a sudden death victory at the end of 1966. Not a bad first game! It's never fun to lose, but the advantage was that I was done before noon - plenty of time to take off and head home.
There was another game of Hearts and Minds going on at the same time, and since it was the first time for both of those guys they were asking me questions about the rules. I don't usually get to be a rules guru.
Per suggestions from both Rob and Ralph I went to the truck crossing rather than taking BC99/I5. It took twenty five minutes. Not sure that I saved any time, especially since it takes longer to reach that border crossing. Seattle traffic was easy on a Sunday afternoon and there was no problem going over Snoqualmie Pass. The sun even came out for a bit and the mountains were pretty with new snow on the tops. There was none as low as the pass though.
I did hit rain and fog in Oregon, from Umatilla almost to LaGrande. I just had to slow down and made it ok. It added about a half hour to my travel time. I got home a little before midnight.
Another good game convention. I came home psyched to try some new things in the games that I had played, and to also try some new games. Now it's winter. There won't be any more hiking this season, and with this post I am finally caught up on the Dog Blog. So wargames are #1 priority again.