Rich, Biff, Nick, Elton, Joe and myself made the annual trip from St Albans down to Salute yesterday for the UK’s biggest wargames show at the Excel Centre in East London. Just about everything you could want for wargaming is, for one day, located in one place – including old and new friends from far and wide across the UK and the World. Owing to some administrative problem, TooFatLardies didn’t have a table this year for the show. This was bad news as I’ve enjoyed the participation games which we’ve staged at Salute in the past, but good news as it allowed me time to look around the show and (ahem ... cough ...) get de-railed into The Fox public house at an embarrassingly early stage in the day’s proceedings with aforementioned friends. More of that later …
The journey to a show is a big part of the day, and London Transport did us proud with a hassle-free journey. For those ladies in London “Looking for Mr. Right”, look no further than the two gentlemen – Big Rich and Biffo – under the perfectly placed sign on the Circle Line tube ...
The show itself was pretty busy when we arrived, so we drifted off for a coffee first before joining the (reasonably) fast cue to get in. The morning seemed particularly busy, both games and trade stands in full flow. I spent a couple of hours in the morning looking around, and here’s my highlights from the games on show. All of them were excellent, and very welcoming and a pleasure to watch and photograph.
Crush the Kaiser – The Race to the Sea: The grand chaps from Crush the Kaiser put on a wonderful game based on the heroic stand of the French Fusiliers Marine in Dixmude in October, 1914. With the Fusiliers Marine holding Dixmude with Belgian support against elements of the German IV Army, it was always going to be a good game. What made it truly remarkable was that the CtK guys had modelled the inundation of the Flemish farmland after the sluice gates at Nieuport had been opened allowing sea water to flood the area around Dixmude.
Much of the table was covered in the flooded farmland, leading to the canal and town. Not content with modeling the flood using some very original wallpaper (anaglypta, I think), the game featured specially converted figures of German cavalry and infantry and French and Belgian defenders up to their waists in the grim, sludge-brown sea water settling on the Flanders farmland.
The game also featured a wonderful selection of Flemish town houses and churches, which looked very recognisable as being from Flanders. Finely converted and painted, these made a great contrast to the flooding and devastation on the rest of the table. An absolutely first class game, on a unique battle, with great information and a a very helpful team of demonstrators. I was told they have the next two years games planned, which I’m really looking forward to seeing.
Taktische Aufklarung – at first this free-kriegspiel based in 1940 looked like a well-planned and nicely terrain-ed game, typical of the type at Salute this year. On getting closer, it turned out to be a fantastic “sleeper” hit of a game, with an incredibly enthusiastic team from Black Wolf Wargames running a participation game focused on reconnaissance by German units of a hastily assembled French defence.
What was really interesting is that the game was modeled in great detail on an actual encounter AND that the display to the side of the game featured a number of military artifacts which had been found using battlefield archaeology of the actual ground on which the action was being found. I don’t think I’d seen anything like this before. You not only got to play a fine free-kriegspiel, but got to see the table reflecting the micro-terrain of the actual battleground and to touch objects which had been left there by the opposing participants. A really amazing experience, worthy of any museum.
Charlie Don’t Surf – like the Taktische Aufklarung game, another participation wargame featuring original material was the Abindgon Wargames club excellent game of Charlie Don’t Surf from TooFatLardies. OK, so I admit I am biased – I love Charlie Don’t Surf, and I’m biased towards products of Lard generally. But despite these leanings, this was a great game.
The participation featured players of all ages, and it was great to see so many teenagers lining up for roles with both the US Marines and the NVA. Real stand-outs form the game were the enthusiastic umpires and players and a couple of wonderful primary sources, from 1966, on which the game was based. As with Taktische Aufklarung, there’s something terrific about holding an account of the action which is being played, and then playing the game. The scene is set before the first dice is rolled. Fantastic stuff.
“Smart they are, but not tough, and they know how to shoot” – I liked this game because it not only looked fantastic but because it took a really interesting subject, being the German invasion of Denmark on 9 April 1940. Armed with a very copious and informative handout, covering the course of battle on that day, the Deal Wargames Club represented as many of the aspects of the campaign as they could fit into a practical game. These included border skirmishes, urban fighting and parachute landings. As you can see from the photos below, the game was played alongside a fine display and with some wonderful terrain.
Carnevale – How do you fix an instantly recognisable setting and mood into a wargame with very little introduction and create a background that almost any player would like to immerse themselves in after just five minutes? It’s a difficult question, but one way to do it is to work on the memories we all have of times and places, images and scenes. There can’t be many gamers who’ve not seen “Don’t Look Now” or any one of a dozen over doom-laden, mist-shrouded horror films set in a decaying, wintry Venice. I knew nothing of Cavnevale before yesterday, but after looking at the wonderful terrain and elaborate figures in the participation game being staged, I was very interested in learning a lot more.
Before I’d even opened the sample rulebook, I had an image in my mind about what the game would be – shadows, mist, the stench of decay, plague, broken promises, secrets and lies sown by the city’s ancient families. It was a real pleasure to see the rulebook picked up on some of the same themes. As a small, but very perfectly formed, display, this was one of the games I just loved coming back to during the day.
Fantasy Great War – I’d seen previous of this game online at Frothers and on Akula’s Blog and loved the concept of Fantasy wargames set along the Western Front in the Great War. The terrain was top-ntoch, the game organisers were very friendly and the figures were wonderful to see. I particularly liked the fine bunkers with detachable roofs – definitely an idea to be stolen there!! Great stuff, gentlemen. Five out of Five star-shells!
Slowing the Tide: the Baltic War 2009 – I think this game was staged by the Belgian Chemin De Fer club and, like their Grozny and Red Hawk Down games from previous years, the terrain and figures looked utterly stunning. I loved the dueling Hind and Apache helicopters hovering over the terrain and the gritty, realistic theme which seemed to run across the tables among the urban wreckage and ruined vehicles. Fantastic and deeply inspiring.
The Battle of Sedgemoor 1938 – last, but by no means least, I really enjoyed chatting to the players of the Battle of Sedgemoor. Not 1685, but 1938, as the Very British Civil War comes to sleepy Somerset. Sedgemoor is my favourite English battle, at the end of a remarkable campaign which offers (in my view) a little of everything. The chaps playing the game served up a similar VBCW spectacular, and it was great chatting to them about what they were doing. As with other games, I really loved the fact that they’d brought along authentic items from the period, ranging from suitcases, rifles, letters, newspapers and photographs.
It makes the game come alive when you can touch a photo from 1938, or hold the copy of the Daily Telegraph in which the Abdication was announced. Again, the scene was very firmly set even before you’d started looking at the wonderful troops on display. First class stuff.
The rest of the day
So after scouting the games on display I headed off with the other members of the St Albans Wargames club to the Fox to meet up with some friends. We were joined there by Ronan, Steve & Steve, Trevor and Matt, Rob, Mike, Mike & George and above all Benito and the other members of Madrid’s Club Dragon. It was a great joy to meet up with Benito after following his blog for ages and admiring his great battle-reports, painting, terrain and resources there.
It was a great lunch, with old and new friends and some decent beer. So good that to my great and lasting shame I lost track of time and never got over to the Blogger meet up in Salute at 1pm. Ray, Lee, Fran, Mike – I really am very sorry indeed to have missed you all! I only hope I can make it up to you all at another wargames show.
When I emerged from The Fox leaving everyone else on their ... ahem ... (mutters) xth pint, I made a quick trip around the show again stopping at some more great games and picking up some items. I didn’t buy much, but it’s hard to buy nothing at all at Salute! I picked up some grey and brown-stuff putty, some fine grasses from Antenociti’s workshop, a knocked-down copy of Gladiator from Warhammer Historical, a set of MaxMini backpacks and another of the fine cases from KR Kaiser Rushforth. And then, back to the pub for a top-up pint before the tube and train back home.
Here’s the photos of some other fantastic games in the afternoon – please accept my apologies for the slight shake on some of them. Nothing to do with the lunchtime drinking, of course. Nor are the broad grins on Joe’s and Nick’s face as we headed the wrong way on the District Line thanks to my dodgy knowledge of Tube geography despite working in central London for fifteen years…. Roll on Salute 2013!
PS. I should add that if the photos on this post are from your game, please do feel very free to help yourself to a copy for your own use. I'm just sorry I didn't get to chat to everyone as I went around photographing like crazy.