A light hearted look at running a historical miniatures convention game –
A friend of mine, who has never run a game at a convention, asked me for some pointers recently so I thought I’d put pen to paper and write down my thoughts. He’s planning on running his first convention game in a few months….he’ll be sorry he asked me!
1. Pick a scenario and rule set – this sounds simple but it requires a lot of thought. Pick a set of rules that you know very well and have played a lot. I only run games where I consider myself somewhat well versed on the rules, or I use rules that I have written myself, … often 15 minutes before the game on the back of an envelope! . There is no time at a convention to get bogged down in constant rule book consultations and rule lawyer debates. As far as the scenario goes, pick something that will play to a conclusion within your allotted time slot and that will provide an exciting, fun game, where either side has a fair shot at winning (play balance). It’s worth your time to playtest your convention game with your local club before you run it at the convention! If they start throwing dice at you at some point you might want to change scenarios and / or rules!
When selecting a scenario, John Hill advises to pick a scenario where all players can get engaged as quickly as possible. This is great advice since it’s never fun to be the guy waiting for his troops to come into the game on turn five and then have the game called on turn seven! One of John’s famous JR games was the battle of Cedar Creek, that started about an hour after the initial Confederate attack. The Union had to start with almost their entire army routed and the Rebs on their heels! That was a great introductory speech, “Union players, there is your army, they are running like dogs…”
2. Miniatures – make sure you have all the miniatures you will need to run the game. Double check your order of battle and make sure you have enough troops for the project. If not, make sure that you are on a disciplined painting schedule and can finish all of your units before the convention. I actually like to challenge myself in this respect and often find that I have six units to paint with six weeks left to go, and I enjoy the challenge of beating my deadline! Don’t be the guy with 3 units of just black primed regiments on the table. Obviously a big part of the appeal of miniatures gaming is the painted miniatures! As Nike says, “Just do it”!
3. Terrain – please put some effort into your terrain. I know everyone won’t agree with me on this point, but a major turnoff for a lot of players is the neon green outdoor carpeting mat, with some Hobby Lobby felt fields thrown on top with some 120mm Christmas Village trees thrown around….please don’t do that! You can build some nice looking terrain on the cheap with a sheet of fleece, or an old army blanket, some spray paint, glue and a little flocking. Or pick up a Cigar Box Battle mat! They were designed with “Average Joe Gamer” in mind! The miniatures are a big part of the spectacle and appeal of miniatures gaming, but the miniature battle field terrain might be even more important.
4. Supplies – yes, I was the guy driving to Jo Ann Fabric 20 minutes before the start of my game because I had forgotten my pipe cleaner casualty markers. Now I make a check list of everything I need before each game. Most players will come to your game without any supplies, so make sure you bring plenty of rulers, dice, casualty markers, order chits, charts, etc. I pack all that stuff up about a week before my game now!
5. Set up time – be realistic on how long it will take you to set up your game. Don’t expect to set up Waterloo in 28mm at 1:20 scale in one hour and play to completion in 3 hours. If you set up early put out a sign, some books, etc. to add some visual appeal and recognition to your game. I usually make a sign and spread out a few Ospreys on the battle and/or period. These also make great conversation tools with the players and general public.
6. A noble speech! Give an introduction before the game introducing yourself, and set the stage for the battle. I like to talk about the historical tactics of the period and the historical context of the game I’m running. I’ve been know to wear a pirate hat, kepi or other historical headgear from time to time! This is also a great time to explain your pet peeves, “please don’t pick up the units by the flags”, and other ground and house rules.
7. Run the damn game! Don’t be the referee that sets up the game, and then walks away during turn 3 because he thinks everyone now knows the rules. It’s your game and you need to be there to settle disputes and answer rule’s questions! Yes, you’ll probably loose your voice after the game, but that’s what the post game hotel watering hole is for. Your players will appreciate you sticking around and moderating the game to conclusion.
8. Take some breaks – I like to throw in a few 5-10 minute breaks during the game so gamers can hit the bathroom, talk strategy, talk trash, check out the surrounding games, or run and buy some dice, figs, or beer.
9. Have fun! That’s what its all about right! Talking history, rolling the dice, tactics and playing a fun game with a great set of rules. Maybe even with a cold beverage or two, or three…. Make it the type of game that guys will be lining up for next year! A great example of this is gaming guru Howard Whitehouse. Get into one of his games at the big Eastern cons sometime and see what I mean….you can thank me later.
10. Wrap up – call a winner if there is a clear winner. If not talk about how you think the battle might have ended and how it compares to how the historical battle was fought. I’ve found players really like a de-briefing after the game. If you have the time and extra-cash, give some players awards for “best sport”, “best winning general”, etc. Bob Moon does a great job with this in his games and passes out MVP awards. Players really enjoy this and it allows them to bring home some trophies and swag!
Well, I hope you picked up a couple pointers! The key is to plan ahead, run the game and make sure everybody has fun!
Good Gaming – Cory