This was my fourth year going back to BottosCon in Vancouver, BC. I am always just a little nervous about the weather since the convention is held the last weekend in November. I have to drive over the Cascades which can be nasty at that time of year. This fall though the weather was very mild so I wasn't worried. The forecast was for warm weather on my travel days. The weatherman turned out to be right and I didn't have any problems driving in either direction.
Usually I compete for the person who came the farthest to attend. I've never won but I am usually close. Not this year, as a couple of guys mentioned on the BottosCon facebook page that they were coming from the east coast. I'm willing to go pretty far to play wargames but not that far. I like to drive anyway so I can take along games to play and bring home any games that I buy.
This year I had my games booked well in advance. Friday afternoon I was going to play my friend Ralph Shelton from Seattle. Since I had picked our games the previous years I let Ralph pick our game this time. He chose Par le Feu, le Fer et la Foi. It's a game by Hexasim, a French company (you never would have guessed that from the title, right?). In English it's By Shot, Shock and Faith, and it's a game on battles from the musket and pike erea, specifically the Wars of Religion in France in the sixteenth century.
I don't play many tactical games so I was anxious to give it a try, especially against Ralph. He is somewhat of an expert on the subject since he has been the developer on three of GMT's Men of Iron series, which covers battles from the eleventh through the sixteenth centuries. I didn't want to embarass myself so I bought the game ahead of time. It had just come out and wasn't even available in the US yet. I had to order it directly from Hexasim in France. I got the game in time to solo a few of the scenarios so that I had the system down and had an idea of how the battles played out before I went to BottosCon.
It didn't help. We played the Battle of Coutras, fought on October 20, 1587 and my Catholic army was defeated by Ralph's Hugenots. Since that was the historical result, I can claim that the game wasn't balanced. Still, we had a fun session and a good post battle discussion on the game system and the tactics of the period. And even though I lost, I at least got to make fun of Ralph for picking a game with a sissy name like Par le Feu, le Fer et la Foi.
Afterwards Ralph and I went out for dinner at Red Robin with a couple of other Seattle wargamers, James Webb and Dan Carey. Dan was Ralph's upcoming opponent for the evening - they were going to play the old Avalon Hill classic Starship Troopers. He was also my opponent for tomorrow afternoon and Sunday.
I didn't have a game scheduled for Friday evening. I like to leave some time open to wander around and check out the other games being played, talk to other wargamers, and especially to check out the flea market.
A couple of guys were playing Battle for Normandy, a monster game on the D-Day invasion. It's always fun to see one of those big games and there are usually one or two at BottosCon, even though it's hard to play a monster over a weekend. The guys didn't finish their Normandy game but they got through most of the first week. There was also a game of The Last Blitzkrieg, the new BCS Bulge game. I saw a couple of games of that played at Consimworld Expo this past summer.
There was quite a variety of wargames. I saw a game of Napoleonic Wars, one of my favorites. There was the standard Advanced Squad Leader tournamaent, the West Coast Rumble, held every year at BottosCon. Lots of people love that game but I could never get into it. And I did try. Several times.
I talked to Brian Train for quite a while about Colonial Twilight, the new two-player COIN game coming out from GMT soon. Since I have been heavily involved in the playtesting I had some feedback, which Brian is always to get on his designs.
Last but not least was the flea market. There were a lot of games there but nothing that I found interesting. I think this was the first time I ever went to a wargame convention and didn't go home with a new game. At least not one that I bought. There were door prizes given away. It was impressive to see how many companies had contributed games as prizes. There must have been at least fifty, which for a convention with 120 people gives you pretty good odds to win something. This year Rob awarded the prizes in batches. He started Friday night by putting about twenty prizes out and then calling names. I checked them out and of the twenty prizes about five were awesome, most of the rest were quite nice (I had a lot of them but I could always pass them on to a friend). Only one or two were of the no-interest-at-all variety. I listened to see if my name would be called for the first batch. The Good News - my name was called. The Bad News - I got called absolutely last. So when I got out there to collect my prize, sure enough, there was one of those no-interest-at-all items. Hey, I appreciate that it was donated so not wanting to seem too ungrateful, I will not name the game that I won. I figure that I will sell it in the flea market at Consimworld Expo for a buck next year, just to find it a good home.
Saturday morning was a game of A Distant Plain with Duncan Rice, Mike Mahoney and Jake Raitt. It's a COIN game on the war in Afghanistan, probably my favorite of the COIN series, at least till Colonial Twilight comes out. I played the Afghan government. I must have been into the game. There is a friend of Rob, the convention organizer, who is a professional photographer. He walked around Saturday taking lots of pictures which he posted on Facebook. About a half a dozen of them were of our game, with me in them of course (extra credit - follow the link and see how many you can find of me). There was even
Next on my schedule was a game of Hurtgen: Hell's Forest with Dan Carey. Dan didn't have anything in the afternoon so while I was finishing Distant Plain, he set things up and was ready to go. I could literally get up and walk from one game to the next. Pretty cool. Ok. Confession. I did take a bathroom break. I'm a dedicated wargamer but I am human.
Hurtgen Forest is a monster game and I was looking forward to trying it out. I have always been intrigued by monster games. One reason that I enjoy Consimworld Expo, also known as MonsterGameCon, is that there are many monster games there. I love to actually see them set up and played. Teams of guys will spend the entire week on a single game and often that isn't nearly enough time to finish. I have wanted to play a monster for a long time but it is hard to find the space, the time and the opponents with sufficient dedication. Even learning a very complex set of rules on your own can be a daunting task. So when Dan mentioned on the forum six weeks before BottosCon that he was looking for someone to try out Hurtgen Forest with him, I jumped at the chance.
Hurtgen has two full size mapsheets so it isn't especially big, but it a monster game in every other respect. It has two thousand counters. That's a lot! I spent almost a week cutting and trimming those counters for my copy of the game during my bad weather days in Montana a few weeks before. The rules are very complex. The current version of the series rules is sixty pages long with another ten pages of game specific rules. Those are seventy pages of dense text, with no illustrations or examples of play. There are lots of charts and tables, some quite difficult to figure out. Just understanding the CRT is real a challenge. The game requires a long time to play too. While there are several scenarios, the campaign game is almost three hundred turns long. Think about how long it would take to do that many turns of a game with that many pieces to move. Hurtgen definitely qualifies as a true monster game.
It has the advanatage of being part of a series. The series is called GOSS, for Grand Operational Simulation Series, which models WWII operational combat. The system was introduced in Wacht am Rhein II, a game on the Battle of the Bulge which grew out of an older SPI game from the 1980's. Hurtgen Forest, which covers the American offensive in that area from September through November 1944, is the second game to use GOSS. It was followed by Atlantic Wall, a game on the Normandy campaign, which is the largest game that I own. Lucky Forward is going to be the next game and will cover Patton's drive across France after the breakout from Normandy. So if one monster game isn't enough, you could play the entire western front in WWII, from the Normandy landings through the Battle of the Bulge. To have enough time to do that, I think it isn't enough to be retired. I think you would have to serving a really long prison sentence.
There is a small tutorial scenario for Hurtgen Forest that uses only a small portion of the map, a few units, a subset of the rules, and lasts only twenty one turns. That was what we decided to play. It was a little embarassing because it was right in the center so we needed both maps. There we were with two 22x34 inch mapsheets spread out and we were playing on an area that was maybe 12x6 inches. The counter density was very high in that small area though so I ended up using tweezers most of the time to move my counters. I don't usually do that so at least that made me fell like a Serious Wargamer.
It turned out that the tutorial was the right thing to do. We started midafternoon on Saturday and played till early afternoon on Sunday. Even though both of us are experienced wargamers, it took us a lot of time and effort to really figure out the rules. We took our time, since the goal was to learn what the system was like rather than to just finish a game, although we did manage to get through the scenario. It ended in a draw.
After playing, I'm not sure about GOSS. It certainly is a realistic system. I'm not sure if dealing with that level of detail and complexity is fun though. Probably my only real chance to play a game like that would be at Consimworld Expo. I have seen a GOSS game there each of the past two years, and have talked to Joe Youst, the designer and Doug Johnson, the developer. I could probably get into a game there next year but would have to spend a lot of time between now and then really learning the game system thoroughly. I'm just not sure whether I want to invest that much time on one game, both getting ready and at Consimworld Expo, when there are so many other games to play. The opportunity cost is high. But the lure of playing a monster is still there. I guess I'll have to see what I do.