As my retirement from U of I approached, people would always ask me what I planned to do afterwards. They expected to hear about a big hiking trip to some exotic foreign mountains. Instead I would answer "Go to Consimworld Expo". Then I would have to explain that it was a wargame convention. Then I would have to explain what a wargame was. But for me it was something to look forward to - a whole week of nothing but playing wargames, talking wargames, watching wargames, buying wargames...well, you get the picture.
Consimworld Expo is in Tempe Arizona, usually the last week of June. Locals tell me that is the hottest time of the year. The convention organizers choose that time on purpose so that they get the lowest possible rates at the venue. Wargaming is an indoor activity so it doesn't make that much difference. This year there was a heat wave in the southwest. A few days before I left the high in Tempe was 121 degrees. Fortunately by the time the con started, the high temperatures had dropped to only 115.
I was up early on my travel day, which made Abby happy because she got her breakfast early. I was on the road at 5:30 am. I took the shorter (distance-wise) route through Nevada. There were two significant construction delays between Wells and Ely. I only stopped once to eat, at McDonalds, which took half an hour. Usually I take two days for the drive but I drove straight through in fifteen and a half hours. My reservation wasn't until the next evening but fortunately I was able to get into my room a day ahead of time.
Since I made the trip down in one day there was no rush the next morning. It was Saturday and the Con didn't officially start until Sunday, although the convention rooms were open for game setup. CSWE was originally known as MonsterCon, a chance to play monster games - very large games with lots of pieces and complex rules that take a very long time to play. So it opens a day early to let people set their games up.
One of the fun things about attending CSWE is seeing some really big games actually being played, with multiple maps and thousands of counters. There may be teams of four, six or even eight guys playing these games. And it takes them the whole week. I usually stick to shorter games that finish in a day, which is known as open gaming. But I really would like to spend some future Con playing a monster game for the entire week. It's a bucket list item for every wargamer.
I spent most of the first day soaking up the wargame ambiance. It was really cool to see so many big games being setup and played. There were two games of the new MMP battalion level Bulge game, The Last Blitzkrieg. There was an old classic, Fire in the East, a giant Europa series game of the East Front. I've dreamed of playing that game for many years. I saw Battle for Normandy, a GMT game on the Normandy invasion that covered five maps. There was a combined game of Totaler Krieg and Dai Senso. Each one is a monster game itself, strategic level games of the European Theater and Pacific Theater respectively in WWII. They were combined to create all of WWII. I have always wanted to play Totaler Krieg but just never got a chance. Maybe some day. I saw a game of Atlantic Wall, which is the largest monster that I own myself, actually being played. By the end of the week the guys had only gotten half way through.
There were also playtests of new monster games that will be coming out in the future. There was A Time for Trumpets, a new battalion level game on the Battle of the Bulge that will be published by GMT. I saw it in an earlier form last year. I'm sure I'll get it when it comes out in a year or two. There was Winter Victory, a huge game of the Napoleonic Battle of Eylau. Seeing it setup was just beautiful to look at. And there was a multimap demo of Death Ride - Kursk set up by the publisher, Grognard Simulations. It's a multigame set that is already released. They didn't play it but it was amazing just to see the game set up. I also saw A World at War, La Grande Guerre, The Greatest Day, Barbarossa Crimea (east front series) and others. Even with my dedicated game room at home, I don't have enough space to set up some of these monsters.
As much fun as it was to see these big games, I didn't come all this way just to watch other people play games. I wanted to play wargames myself. The very first evening I had a game arranged with Ken Nied. We had played Storm Over Dien Bien Phu last year at Consimworld and wanted a rematch. Ken played the Viet Minh and had a quick start, capturing three VP areas in the first two turns. But a nasty Counterattack by the French virtually wiped out a whole Communist regiment and Ken resigned. I started out the week with a win.
Ken and I also played Ie Shima: The Final Battle, a new area-impulse game from Revolution Games. We played twice and split, with each of us winning once. I'm not sure what to think of the game. Both of our games were close, going down to the last turn. But it didn't feel like any decisions that I made as the Japanese player made much difference. I wonder if it would be better as a solitaire game. I might need to play another game or two to tell. Maybe I just didn't figure out how to play the Japanese defenders.
Ken was staying at the hotel and since he got extra breakfast tickets, he gave a couple of them to me. The breakfast at the Hampton Inn where I was staying was pretty minimal but for two days I ate well at the Tempe Mission Palms, thanks to Ken.
I also played Pacific Fury, a new game on the naval battles off of Guadalcanal. Roger Miller from Revolution Games taught the game to Brian Scott and myself, and we split two games, with me playing the US both times. It was a lot of fun for a small game. The main challenge is that you have to determine the composition and ordering of your task forces before the turn starts, so you have to anticipate how the battle will develop. It does a good job of putting you in the position of an operational planner.
Next I played The Siege of Orgun, which recreates a little-known battle from the Soviet-Afghan War, a conflict which is not a common subject for wargames. I played twice against PAVE (Paul van Etten). He's been my opponent in a lot of PBEM games lately so it was fun to play face-to-face. After winning the first game as the Russians I had a good chance for a draw as the Mujahideen in the second game. It came down to the last turn when I attacked with a plus five DRM. At that point PAVE channeled Babe Ruth and announced that he would roll a six and I would roll a one. We rolled, he did get a six while I got a one, and amazingly my attack failed and I lost. PAVE is one lucky son of a gun, that is all I can say. Well, actually that is not what I said at the time, but I won't repeat here what I really said.
Since I have been playtesting Colonial Twilight, my interest in COIN games has been renewed. I played one game of Cuba Libre, a game that I had just bought this spring at GMT weekend. It was only my second game but for Bruce Degi, Joel Dahlenberg and Joseph Vanden Borre, it was their first time playing. I had the Directorio and managed to win on the final prop card. This time the revolution went to the good guys.
Most of all I played Colonial Twilight, the new two-player COIN game on the Algerian War of Independence. I have been in the playtest group for the past few months and have played it quite a bit by email. I was excited to have a chance to play face-to-face. Updates had just come out two weeks before so I put in a lot of work to update my playtest copy for Consimworld. I had even bought an extra set of pieces for A Distant Plain when I was at GMT weeekend so my playtest kit would look sharp. I was anxious to see what some of the recent changes had done to play balance. I already thought that the government was quite challenging to play, and it looked like many of the changes would make it even tougher. I started a game playing the FLN against Brian Train, the designer. We got half way through and it was pretty even. Coming back from lunch, Brian slipped on the hotel stairs and didn't feel up to finishing, so he turned his side over to Brian Scott, a new CT player. It ended with a solid FLN victory. And fortunately, Brian was up and about again and feeling better the next day.
I played several other games of Colonial Twilight. One was against Joel Dahlenberg, who had tried it the day before as the FLN and wanted to play the government. I was able to score another win as the insurgents. Then PAVE gave the government a try. I won that game as the FLN as well. I played another new CT player, Mike Neuberger, twice and I took the government both times. This time we split, Mike taking our first game and me wining the second. So I played a lot of Colonial Twilight through the week. There were a lot of FLN wins, but I'm not sure if that represents the play balance or if it was just a matter of the more experienced player winning. There is definitely a learning curve to playing the game well. I'll have to try another game or two as the government to be able to decide. Maybe I need to solo it a few times to be really sure.
I even managed to get in a short hike one afternoon. Although it was extremely hot when I got to Tempe, it cooled off through the week. The last three days I don't even think it got over a hundred degrees. One afternoon when it was a mere ninety eight degrees outside I walked up Hayden Butte, a well known Tempe landmark and nature preserve which is right behind the hotel. The trail to the top is about a half a mile and three hundred feet of elevation gain. Although just a short hike, it did provide a great view. And I did work up quite a sweat.
Besides playing games, Consimworld Expo is a great opportunity to buy new games. There is always a Flea Market where convention attendees can sell games. Some are old and heavily played (in other words, beat up) copies of games for only a few dollars. Some are pristine, unpunched copies of games, sometimes even in the original shrink wrap, that for some reason people decide that they don't want anymore. Each day it was fun to come in and check to see what new games had been put on the Flea Market tables. I will admit that I bought a few. I got some old Strategy and Tactics issues with games that are hard to find on eBay, like Iran-Iraq War and Germainia (the only one of the S&T Ancient Warfare Series that I didn't have). I also got some very inexpensive card games like Lightning: North Africa, Lightning: War on Terror and Nuts: Battle of the Bulge for only a couple of bucks each. Since I am always trying to break in new wargamers, these will be good introductory wargames. Plus I have a computer version of Nuts that I got on STEAM. Finally, I got a low price on a mint copy of Sam Grant to go with my Bobby Lee game. Everything that I got was less than half price and all were perfect copies.
I wasn't just buying games. I took three of my old games and sold them in the Flea Market. They were games that were either outdated and/or had later versions released. I found new homes for them, made a few bucks and made space for newer games.
There was also a vendor area for commercial wargame companies. It was a chance to see games and buy games, and to meet and talk to the publishers, who were mostly one or two man shops. I had good conversations with Roger Miller from Revolution Games, Randy Lein from Legion Wargames (I found out that he's from Wisconsin!) and Gene Billingsley from GMT, the giant among wargame publishers. I spread my business around, getting games from several different publishers. I also took my time, spreading my purchases throughout the week. When I got home, some of them did go into Sandy's present stash. Some of them ended up as my birthday presents, since I turned sixty three during the con.
The climax for game purchases is always the auction for old and rare games on Friday night. Alan Emrich is the auctioneer and he makes it very entertaining. Last year I sold my unpunched copy of Korsun Pocket for $235, the highest price of any game in the auction. I had high hopes this year, as I was selling three of my GMT Barbarossa games. One was still in shrinkwrap and the other two were unpunched. They are going to be updated and republished in a year or two so I decided to sell them now. The reprint if far enough off that they still command high prices on eBay.
Well, the auction was kind of a dud this year. There were about half the usual number of items. Instead of two and a half hours, it was over in about an hour. There weren't any games that I thought were interesting so I wasn't even tempted to bid on anything. And the games that sold didn't get very good prices, sadly including mine. I only got $115 for all three of them. I was expecting that much for each of them. Oh well, c'est la guerre. In wargaming, you win some and you lose some.
On Saturday morning, the last day of the con, I joined a game of C&C Epic Ancients. I commanded the Carthaginians in the Battle of Ilipa, a rather one-sided battle that strongly favors the Romans under Scipio (before he was Africanus). We put up a really good fight, finally losing 13-11. It could very easily have gone the other way at the end. I could have gotten another game or two but things really seemed to be winding down quickly. Instead I decided to head back home early. I rushed back to the hotel and was able to talk them into allowing me a late checkout. I packed as quickly as I could and was on the road at noon. I drove straight through to get home at 5:15 am on Sunday. Since Shannon and her boyfriend Jimmy had just arrived for a weeklong visit to Boise, it was good to get home early. It had been a great week of wargaming though and I had a blast. Maybe next year I will tackle one of those monster games.