And so, it’s that time of year. Enfilade 2016 was held over Memorial Day weekend just a week and a half ago, and it was my second time attending. For those who do not know, Enfilade! is the largest Pacific Northwest wargaming convention; it gets several hundred visitors, over a hundred wildly diverse games spanning all manner of topics, eras and rulesets, and yet is cozy enough to be completely at ease for the entire two and a half days.
There’s something for everyone, and the folks are – without exception – extremely easy to be around.
This year was a little different for me: I intended to run a game (and had spent five months preparing for it), and also wanted to volunteer to run some things behind the scenes, thus crimping into my playtime a little. None of this lessened my enjoyment in any capacity.
The theme for this year was “Against All Odds.”
The members and committee suggest and vote on themes for each convention. While no one has to play or run a game within this theme, it’s a nice over-arcing “flavor” for the types of games one might expect to see that year.
Here, in 2016, the theme was anything in which the odds were against one side or another, and we got to see some great challenges being played out: the British fighting the Americans in a battle of Independence, with the sun setting all too quickly for them, a long German bomber attempting to bomb British villages and towns before a swarm of fighters took her down, and so forth.
The entire event is organized from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, with days split up into morning/afternoon/evening sessions with one hour breaks inbetween games (the system works very well). There’s no game Friday morning, and for my Friday afternoon shindig it was actually my own game: Watling Street.
Friday Afternoon: Watling Street
This was my first time running a wargame, but I’ve spent 30 years running tabletop roleplaying games, and I’m no wallflower when it comes to being a focal point for a collection of players expecting to be entertained. That said, boy oh boy, was I nervous! There’s lots of things that can go wrong when running a game: you forget the rules and spend more time reading and looking up, than you do running, or the game is just slow and boring, or one or two players end up not having much to do and get bored, or one side just wipes the floor with the other in a grossly imbalanced affair.
Here, for Watling Street, this was the famous engagement between 10,000 Romans against 100,000+ pretty pissed-off Celtic tribesmen under Boudica. In the actual engagement, the Romans SLAUGHTERED the Celts in one of history’s most one-sided engagements (isn’t military history just divine?), but I wanted to capture something a little different here in my game: I wanted the crush of the massed Celts to be a real problem, and I wanted to reflect their lack of military discipline, while capturing that of the Romans, but I wanted the whole affair to be something that could go either way, depending on how the players approached it.
We used Bear Yourselves Valiantly rules – nice, simple, chartless rules very suitable for quick, con play – simplified some aspects of them (mostly removing commanders and just giving players x-amount of stands to manage), and required that the celts had to move forward if it were legal for them to do so. Forestry was out-of-bounds (and funnels the troops in much the same way as real-life), while the Romans occupied a narrow defile at the top of a rise.
I also threw in a little house rule to keep things fun and the players engaged: the Celtic side had 6 doors knobs, the Romans 6 “Pillars of Rome.” These could be used to re-roll dice, enable the Celts to not move forwards for one turn, etc; little twists to the ground rules. The Romans could also use them to prevent a retreat, a charge, and remove casualties. It gave them some durability, while only being for a limited period of time.
The scenario was simple: the Celts had to kill 8 Roman stands, the Romans had to kill 16 Celtic ones (ignoring the “mob” stands, which did not count to the victory total).
And the game went GREAT! I was thrilled. The players had fun, I had fun 9also important!), no rule books had to be referenced, and boy-oh-boy, was it an epic struggle. It – quite literally – lasted the perfect amount of time (about 3hr 45 minutes), and came down to the wire: one more Celtic stand or one more Roman stand was going to win the fight for the enemy. WOW. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more balanced game.
The Romans took it (yay! Being a bit of a Roman freak) with a magnificent charge of the auxiliary cavalry.
I would like to acknowledge my local Portland wargaming group for helping playtest and balance this setup (thanks guys, you rule), and for the players at Enfilade! 2016 for having so much energy, excitement, and enthusiasm.
It was a good start to the convention and, well, the game won Best of Session and Best of Theme (for the Session and Show), so, yeah, I am pretty happy with that, my first game.
Friday Evening: “Port Arthur” Pre-Dreadnoughts (with Bill Hughes)
I met Bill last year and I have to say that – in my humble opinion – he is one of the finest human beings on the planet and an exemplary testament to what a wargamer should be; a fine gentleman, always happy, always enthusiastic, and always running pre-preposterously large and sprawling games.
I didn’t know about this particular game, because it wasn’t on the schedule, but the naval miniatures were to die for and I loved them on sight. Seeing that Bill was running the game, I immediately un-registered for whatever it was that I was down for, and threw in for this.
Bill had set up the Port Arthur, post Tsushima, spatt between Japanese and Russian forces; the Russians were at harbor – except for their coastal ships – and the Japanese were attacking. The rules were a homebrew affair from a friend of Bill’s who had passed away a couple of years ago, and Bill was carrying the torch to keep the rule development going: they were call “Gun, Torpedo, and Ram” (if I remember correctly).
I LOVED these rules; they were simple, quick to pick up, easy to use, and yet seemed to capture all of the aspects of the period and this type of warfare. We had about 8 players around the table, Bill ran a pretty tight game, and before you know it we had ships sinking left, right, and center; good times.
I played on the Russian side, and – due to some pretty dodgy planning on the Japanese side and a penchant for chasing coastal ships, instead of their primary objective – the Russians won. They shouldn’t have, but, hey, that’s players for you, right?
I’d play this again in a heartbeat.
Saturday Morning: *record skips*
Jack and I had put ourselves down – using one of our pre-registrations – for a “Battle of Thyora” (which I looked up, and I believe it was meant to be ‘the 300’, a classic Against All Odds, right?)
Except the GM didn’t turn up. There was a completely different game on the table (from the night before, same GM), at at the allotted hour: no GM, no game. To give some context, GMs are setting up as soon as they can, because they want to be ready for their players, and everywhere else in the hall, games were already going over rules with 10 minutes to go before nine A.M.
So don’t be the GM who turns up late, doesn’t have his table set up, and exudes “I don’t care,” because you have players who might have used their pre-registrations to play your game, and THEY will care. Like me. We made a note of the GM and will not be signing up for any of his games in the future.
Instead we played …
Saturday Morning: Antwerp
This is how I met Bill last year: his Antwerp game. Last year it was my favorite game of the con. This year Bill doubled down for twice the table space and twice the players, using 6mm miniatures.
What I love about this homebrew system is how glorious it looks and – actually – how it feels like an epic engagement of the Napoleonic era. That said, the units each have their own dry-erase unit car, so when you start pushing around 6+ units, you end up with quite a bit of paperwork in front of you as a player.
My observation was also that Bill really needs help with games this large – I think anyone would – and if he ran a game this big again, I’d hope that he had one or two assistants who were fully engaged, knew the rules inside and out, and could provide support to him on keeping things moving. That said, it was a damned fine game and fun to play. Thanks Bill, keep on running those great games, my friend.
Saturday Afternoon: Volunteering!
I had decided ahead of time that Enfilade! is such a good convention that I really wanted to give something back. Saturday afternoon was it: helping at the bring and buy. Folks bring those minis, books, and rules that they no longer want, they slap a tag and a price on them, and they dump them all on some tables in what nets out as the only type of “yard sale” I have any interest in.
Interest was brisk, shopping for deals thrilling, and the opportunity to meet such a wide variety of gamers … each and every one buying something that was a passion fo theirs … was a joy. There’s nothing better than seeing the grin on someone’s face as they grasp a box of miniatures or a rulebook to their chest, proud to be the new owner. gamers: we’re the best.
Saturday Evening: Alesia
Those who know me, know that I has a psychological, deep-rooted, total weakness for the Romans. Whatever you imagine: it’s more.
So you can’t put a game like “Alesia” on the schedule and not have me salivating all over it. And I did. For four hours.
I am proud, through nothing but mere geographic association, to say that this STUNNING setup also came from a Portland, Oregon, crew, and it was, by far, the most attractive setup I have laid eyes on in a long time. But what makes this better is that it was also a great, great game: my favorite of the convention.
As you all know – or better know – Caesar has surrounded Vercingetorix at Alesia, but when he hears that Gaulish reinforcements are coming, he built ANOTHER wall, facing outward, so he could defend against them: be besieging, and being besieged, in one of history’s most sexy of situations.
Here the GM had set up a section of the circumvallation in 20mm, complete with detachable stakes (squee!), trench (*dies*!), tulip pits (holes with stakes in them) (*love*), trench, more stakes, wall, and collapsible pallisade. I mean, seriously, what? I just want to play this all day long.
These were homebrew rules, gorgeous mechanics to capture the “mob” and innumerable Gaulish numbers, they were fast, incredibly easy, and FUN.
The objective was simple: the Gauls would attack from each side and had to unite in the middle of the fortifications by the 4hr mark. The Romans? Stop them.
I can’t stress how much I loved this game, and if you’re sitting there thinking “wait, are those grappling hooks, ladders, ad bushels for filling in the trenches?” then you would be correct! My god, this is what gaming is all about.
I actually *cough* played as a Gaulish chieftain (I know, I know!) and we lost. The other side managed to get over the walls and to the center of the camp, while we managed to get on the walls and storm the gate … but we were a little late in meeting in the center. The Romans had held out and snatched victory.
Best . Game . Ever.
Sunday Morning: Battle of Britain, WW1 Style
Nice and simple to finish the convention for us. There is always afternoon gaming, but we – personally – like to use that for travel time, so this was our last game. Wings of Glory are such a delightfully simple and fun set of rules, but throw in a swarm of British fighters and a massive German bomber and you have my attention. And there’s nothing like sitting there on a Sunday morning,sipping coffee, while you chase down the tail of a German bomber.
A nice finish the Enfilade! 2016.
A great experience, a great time, in a wonderful hobby, with brilliant people. I’d do this on a regular basis for my entire life.
The only catch is something I touched on last year: the Red Lion hotel in Olympia: they always seem surprised by the number of people who turn up, and never prepared. Which is odd, because they’ve been hosting this event for decades.
I’m not going to touch on what exactly they are overwhelmed by, because this convention was strong, positive, and enjoyable, but I am always somewhat “eye brow” surprised by how little the hotel itself seems to be able to contribute towards this.
What I will say is that the committee for Enfilade! are the finest of gentlemen, clearly saw the issues with the hotel, and had a delightfully “politically correct” way of referring to those challenges. It also seems like they’ve been fighting that particular battle for the last few months, so … gentlemen … my hat off to you for being that frontline of defense. Maybe next year the Red Lion will realize how many hundreds of people are about to descend upon them 🙂
A great convention, and if anyone is in the area – or is thinking about the trip – this is a wonderful gaming meetup, with a broad sweep of tastes, eras, and rules going on, with very high quality games being available.
Come visit and roll some dice with us in 2017.