I attended The Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society’s “Enfilade 2015” this weekend, and while this in and of itself may not be a revolutionary event, my experience was enjoyable enough whereby I felt somewhat compelled to write about it. And that – my fine, feathered friends – is unusual, because I rarely feel compelled to write about anything other than history and how one fine fellow put a war pick across the skull of another.
But I digress, this is meant to be about the here and now. Or rather, this last weekend.
Now for those who do not know: I’m a huge fan of miniature wargaming. In fact, I grew up on Donald Featherstone’s various rule sets, WW1 naval, or massive Napoleonic engagements played over over long summer holidays. I was a wargamer before I ever played Dungeons & Dragons, and our Friday night wargame club is something that I will continue to deeply miss. When I moved to the ‘States in ’98, wargaming was not on the forefront of my mind; the whole “changing country” thing somewhat preoccupied me, and out of necessity I left much behind. But as time has gone on and my life has become more settled, wargaming started to creep back into my daily thoughts.
It was due to the wonder of social channels – specifically Facebook in this instance – that I was able to surround myself with like minded people, and you don’t have to do that for long until you start to become exposed to photographs like this:
And I’m the type of history geek who just starts to salivate when looking at things like this. Wargaming had to become part of my daily existence again.
Enter: Enfilade 2015.
NHMGS is an organization of historical miniature gamers located in the Pacific Northwest. Their members are drawn from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia and as their name implies, their focus is on historical miniature gaming: refighting the great battles of history using miniature figurines or models.
ENFILADE! is their flagship convention, which is held every year over Memorial Day weekend. And this weekend I managed to ensure that I attended.
And I am so glad that I did.
The event is held at the Red Lion Hotel, in Olympia, WA. The hotel itself is beautifully placed and pleasant to be in. Staff are polite, and rooms are more than functional. The con itself more than carried these initial positive feelings onto a whole other level. Being surrounded by people talking about “Blucher” or “the merits of pursuing an enemy force,” all made me feel like I was among friends of old, but it was the con that really sealed the deal. Split across several rooms, the largest of which was a very large hall, it was clear to me from the very first moment that I was in the right place.
The organizers absolutely have to be applauded for a job well done. There was something like 160 events over two and a half days, and everything seemed to run like clockwork. People were pleasant, happy, having a good time, and the ambiance was healthy and clean. I felt like gaming had come of age and that I was in the midst of refined folks: it was about the enjoyment of the game. I saw no cosplayers, rule-mongers, arguments, or thrown dice. It was truly an intimate feeling event, but on a very grand scale.
The main half had … wow … just lots and lots of large tables, neatly, and cleanly laid out. There were watering stations regularly placed and refreshments being served by the hotel. Around the perimeter were the vendors, while one corner boasted the “mega game:” 25mm Ligny and – on Saturday – Waterloo. And, being a Napoleonic nut, this table just had me weak at the knees:
The theme this year was “raids,” and while I think some event managers truly ran with that most admirably, wargaming in general is obviously a huge, huge subject, spanning many eras and cultures. Add that this is the bicentennial year of Waterloo, and – naturally – the event list became quite diverse with a healthy dose of “Napoleonic.” I was like a kid in a candy shop.
The process was simple: register for the next event you wanted to play in, find your table, meet fellow gaming enthusiasts, get a quick run down on the rule and jump in to a four hour game. I started with Actium:
These were homebrew rules “Hail Anthony” written by Dean Motoyama and based off Hail Caesar. The game ran well, it was nicely paced, and Dean was open to feedback (which I believe he then carried forward into the next day’s session). My fellow gamers were a joy to be at the table with, there was a little friendly heckling, and then the entire fleet under Anthony was pretty much wiped off the board with little effort. Let’s just say that our rolling could have been better. Still, it was a great start to the con.
We followed this up with something very, very different: “Headshot Z” by James McEwan. Jack and I both felt that the weekend ahead was going to be heavy on the historical aspect, so we wanted to insert something a little lighter in flavor: playing as a zombie or survivor and trying to do in the other side seemed like just the ticket.
James had clearly put some work into these rules and the game (the rules are for scale in printed and electronic format) and while the setup was not what Jack and I were expecting, I’m glad that we gave it a go. In the first run through, the survivors instantly messed up and managed to get themselves destroyed within 30 minutes. The adults at the table got up and left, leaving it to Jack, myself, and a whole slew of kids. And my god, it was the best game ever. Watching these kids get all excited, planning their moves, working together, and learning from their mistakes. This is gaming at its finest. We – the survivors – won. Ironically perhaps with the two adults at the table – Jack and I – sacrificing ourselves to ensure that the survivors as a whole got to the other end of the table.
And this is where day 1 ended, and even though it was 11 at night, I felt that the whole con had infused me with a great deal of energy; I couldn’t wait until Saturday morning.
It was during the Saturday itself that I saw some chinks in the Enfilade armor, which I will cover more greatly below under “The Cons,” but overall the day – a solid 9AM to 11PM series of 3 4hr games – was absolutely brilliant.
We started with The Battle of Zama, and – if you know me at all – it’s no surprise that I took the side of the Romans.
Field of Glory rules and run by Terry Griner, the Zama setup was way less visually striking than … say … this:
But this was an ancient battle, and they didn’t tend to march hoplite blocks through forestry. Terry was a magnificent host. He managed – somehow – to combine a fast pace, rule management, and rule learning to a fine art, so we were quickly running the show ourselves, with Terry acting like a walking rulebook. He was one of the best game masters there, in my experience. The Romans took it through superb tactics and leadership (also known as the Carthaginians not getting any breaks on the dice rolls at all). Yours truly snagged the last victory points needed to win by raiding their camp with my light cavalry. It was quite glorious.
We followed this with “Waterloo” by Oliver Heesemann, using the Napoleon at War rules. Oliver had brought a whole slew of finely painted 20mm miniatures, and while these rules were new to me, they were quick to pick up and play with. I had the good fortune of playing alongside Preston and Mike Clinton as the English, those are my fine Scots on the left flank, but this event left me with a weird dichotomy of thoughts and feelings.
Oliver had clearly put a lot of work into the miniatures, and they were quite glorious to look at. But he was also sick and clearly struggling, so it was a little unfortunate that he had an event to run. (Hope you recovered quickly, my friend). Despite that, he was super, super organized: laminated cheat-sheets, quick-reference guides, and measuring rulers personally handed to each player. There was clearly a passion and enthusiasm going into this game.
But that said, the main thing that hit me when I sat down was that this was not a Waterloo setup, which in and of itself may not be a big deal (Napoleonics! What’s there not to love?), but when you pre-register for an event and structure your entire weekend gaming accordingly, ruling out some games in preference for others, and you don’t get to play what you were expecting to play … well, it can leave you with a sour taste.
The rules were quick. And lethal. OH . MY . GOD . they are LETHAL. The entire game was over in maybe an hr and a half or so, and at that point people got up and went on their way.
So it was a game that had a lot of thought, but it wasn’t the game as advertised, that had glorious pieces and simple rules, but then it was over too quickly. I know that Mike Clinton comes from an Empire 2.0 background, so one day I want to get his thoughts on this particular ruleset. Me personally, I like a little more crunch.
We rounded off the Saturday with Sven Lugar’s “Forcing the Columbia,” All Quiet on the Martian Front. Sven is – by far – one of the most delightful human beings to be around, and he set up a game here that was visually stunning (so much so that I may post about it separately at some point). The rules were simple, fast, easy to pick up, and the game was fun to be around. At some point someone started moving and rolling for my units, which was a little weird, but I spent my time taking photos and enjoying the spectacle.
I think the Martians had no way of being resisted (their armor value is double that of the human soldiers, and their ranges were +10″ or +20″ better, which meant that they could shoot from afar and with impunity). It was no surprise that they ran over the soldiers, but the game was no less enjoyable because of it.
Sunday was going to be the odd day, because everyone is tired, some people have gone home, and the main floor was largely empty. That said, our best game was on this day: the hypothetical “Battle of Antwerp” using “The Conflict” rules, written and run by Bill Hughes.
The scale was delightful, with each miniature representing 2 men. You don’t get that a lot in Napoleonic wargaming. The miniatures were painted to perfection, Bill was a delightful host, and the rules flowed nicely. We didn’t get the entire battle done – I suspect that we needed 6-8hrs for that – but what we did play felt absolutely magnificent. Finally, on the last game of the weekend, I had managed to get my “Grand Napoleonic fix.”
I hate mentioning “cons,” because it always strikes me as “ungrateful” or “laboring on the negative,” but what write-up would be complete without mentioning the areas needing improvement or attention? These are small things, but then the small things can be niggly, detract from all of the positive experiences, and be easy to fix.
- The hotel was a solid venue and for the most part they were extremely friendly and a perfect environment, but the breakfast staff could not keep up with demand. There were lines for breakfast, sometimes a lack of tables, we had one day with no coffee re-fills, and the layout of the buffet was suspect at best: want a bagel or toast? get in line, wait until the end, then put your bread in a toaster and wait for more than five minutes, meanwhile blocking the exit and refreshments. The whole bread/bagel area needed to be away from the main line, and the hotel really should get a toaster that works off electricity vs. sunlight. Nitpicky? perhaps. But let’s just say that across 2 mornings, I had warm bread and never saw what toast looks like. Oh, and the Sunday buffet made Jack and I ill.
- There was no signage – at all – on the main floor and lobby for the con, so as a noobie I had to try and figure out where registration was located. Once we had that sorted, it was fine, but we – quite literally – wandered around on the main floor looking for where we should be. We followed an obvious gamer in the end.
- On Saturday there was a weirdo walking around the main hall trying to sell his miniatures and buildings. I was under the impression that the Bring-and-Buy was for that, and – frankly – having someone hawk his wares to me while I’m trying to play was quite irksome. I threw $20 at him TO GET RID OF HIM, but I’m not sure if he should have even been able to do this. Yes, I probably should have said “f*&k off,” but I don’t work that way, and – frankly – why ruin the positive vibe coming off the main hall?
- The Bring-and-Buy section was amazingly popular, and also clearly needed twice the space; I felt like I was crawling through someone’s attic. They also didn’t accept credit cards, and I don’t know why. Square gives their readers away for free and the fees are low; add the fees onto whatever is being purchased and stop directing your attendees to an ATM in the lobby that either didn’t work or had no money in it 🙂
- My biggest “gripe” was the way that the organizers handled event registration. I was told that you can’t register for your next event until 1/2hr beforehand, to give the game masters of the previous session time to cleanup and get to the registration point. This is most logical and agreeable, but it’s also not how things worked at all. For starters, lines started about an hour or more beforehand, so at this point anyone in line is getting to register, and “not opening registration until 1/2hr before for the game masters to have a chance” means absolutely nothing, because, regardless, they’re now at the end of a very beefy line. The organizers would then religiously not start registration until “it was time” (quite literally to the minute), despite lines beginning to snake around and double or triple-up on itself, right there in front of the organizers. At this stage the whole thing becomes quite illogical: the first fifty people are going to register in exactly the order that they arrived in … so why wait at all before you let them sign up? If you make them wait 5, 10, or 30 minutes, the order in which they arrived will remain the same, and the snaking line becomes nothing but a nuisance. Likewise, this entire set-up and process did not address one of the core needs: allowing game masters a chance to fairly register for the next event; by the time that they got there, fifty people were already in front of them. Allow primary game masters to pick what they want to play next as a “thank you” for running a game and be done with it, then allow people just to sign-up for the next session an hr or so before and do away with the lines, because they really accomplished nothing.
It was on the last day – Sunday – when the day’s gaming started with a small meeting in which the gamers sat and listened to a general “game club status” from the con organizers. It was at this point that I was struck with a sense of family, friends, cohesion, organization, and passion. This wasn’t a business: this was a group of friends getting together to play games, and a few organizers had made this happen in glorious style.
To the organizers and volunteers: THANK YOU, you did a magnificent job.
The con was clean, largely weirdo free (I had just one incident), well run, diverse, and – most importantly – FUN. I felt that I met a great many people who I look forward to seeing again.
If you enjoy wargaming – any type – then I strongly encourage you to attend future Enfilade conventions.
Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society