I’ve always (well, at least since 2018) dreamed of going to the San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon). Now as it happens, San Diego is about 10,000 kilometers away from where I live, so just casually stepping by was never an option. As current events dictate it, the con was transformed into an online one last November – and that opened up opportunities for me. I missed the first online SDHistCon in November, though – I’d found out it was happening, and just hours later when I wanted to buy my ticket, they were all sold out already. So, I was ever more excited when I got the badge for the May 21-23 one!
Many thanks to Harold Buchanan and his team of enthusiastic volunteers for making this happen! It was great to chat with fellow gamers, some of whom I’d known from Twitter, see designers showcase their old and new designs, and play a game. As there is a substantial time difference between where I live and San Diego, I missed a few cool things that happened too late for an early-to-bed person like me, but there were so many amazing things I could do! …like the following:
Designer Mark Herman gave newcomers an introduction how to play Empire of the Sun. I’ve mentioned earlier this year that I tried getting into the game a few months before and couldn’t, because my pandemic-dried brain was unable to process the rulebook. Two solutions present themselves: Do it in the actually recommended way – read the example of play in the playbook to get an idea how the game flows – or, even better, have Mark Herman do it in front of your eyes, ready to take suggestions, answer questions, and provide you not only with the rules explanation, but also strategy insights and historical commentary. Needless to say, I want to give the game another shot soon.
The Art of Wargaming
Odd that I would attend this panel (hosted by Scott Mansfield) – after all, I am among the less visual creatures. I’ll happily play a game with drab counters that have some NATO symbol and a bunch of numbers on them (whereas the eyes of most of my gaming partners only light up when there are miniatures involved). I mostly want the components to be functional… and that brings us right to this panel. After all, the involved graphic artists (Nils Johansson, Terry Leeds, Marc Rodrigue, Richard Shako, Jerry White) see their craft primarily as a way to skilfully convey game information to the players (in a pleasant way, and with period feel, of course). In any case, it was fascinating to get a glimpse into their working process: Nils Johansson goes full immersive and watches a lot of movies depicting the period of the game he’s working on. If you look at the header of this blog with the Friedrich map, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Richard Shako’s art, so I’ll take anything he has to say, including his tale of searching for the right fonts which had my wife next to me rolling her eyes for the nerdery. There was something for her as well, though: She’s all behind Jerry White’s call to limit how much info you put on a counter so that players don’t have to break out the magnifying glasses!
You can watch the whole discussion here:
Games with Difficult Topics
Liz Davidson discussed with designers Volko Ruhnke and David Thompson how to design games that include difficult topics (war crimes, slavery, etc.). This is a crucial discussion to be had – especially in war gaming, where the subjects depicted are typically a shade darker than in a euro or Amerigame, and which typically take their history much more seriously than just using it as an evocative theme. David and Volko presented different stances on what they would or would not design, but all agreed that respect and research are key. There was also tremendous audience participation – the text chat was constantly overflowing with questions and contributions, including from designers such as Morgane Gouyon-Rety or Darin Leviloff. (If you’d like to see my thoughts on that matter, I’ve written a blog post about it earlier this year.) With the thoughtful and constructive discussion and Liz’s skilled hosting (how she can moderate a voice discussion, monitor the text chat, and steer the event at the same time is beyond me!) was definitely a highlight of the con!
Tim Porter and Karl Kreder were on their mission again: Teach newbies how to play war games – in this case, how to play them online on Vassal and Tabletop Simulator (TTS). Now I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Vassal solo games (for example, for my blog/Twitter AAR of Unconditional Surrender!), but I’d actually never played a multiplayer online game with it. Conversely, I’ve played online multiplayer on TTS, but have barely spent any time on that. So I thought I’d pick up some valuable skills, and I did. The teaching was handled expertly and with humor by Tim and Karl – both the technicalities and how to have an enjoyable time with others. The two main rules: Communicate, even more than you would face-to-face, and, as in every aspect of life, don’t be a dick.
I could immediately gain some practice in online Vassal play as I then attended…
Cuius Regio Eius Bellum
Francisco Gradaille is making a splash in the world of pre-industrial operational games. He was demoing his upcoming Levy&Campaign game Plantagenet: Cousins’ War for England at SDHistCon, and then his Cuius Regio Eius Bellum: The Thirty Years’ War, 1618—1648 (likely to go on GMT Games’ P500 preorder soon). Attending the latter rounded out my con experience by giving me the chance to play something – I took the Imperial forces in a modified Bohemian War scenario, poised to stamp out the Protestant rebellion in 1618. The Protestants had other plans, though, and launched incursions both into my Austrian core lands and through Bavaria into Tyrol. The latter was defeated by Tilly, my finest general, who then had to hold his ground against the Protestant equivalent Mansfeld. In the meantime, the Austrian forces made short work of Hohenlohe’s invasion force in Austria and launched a counter-attack into Protestant Moravia. This is where we stopped (I think, at an even VP score), and my appetite has definitely been whetted. Cuius Regio Eius Bellum has straightforward core rules (Francisco taught us in about 15 minutes) and offers lots of maneuver. I’ll definitely try out more of it in the next weeks.
My first SDHistCon has been a great success! I’m looking forward to the next one I can attend – maybe one day even in person!
Have you been to SDHistCon (this time or in the past)? What were your experiences? Or have you not made it yet but are planning for it in the future? Let me know in the comments!