As most of you know our greatly respected member and webmaster, Mike Horton visited Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA to attend the Historicon wargame convention in July 2012. The following is his report and experience of the event.


Four Days of Wargames - Paradise!

Virginia in July was boiling hot. After driving round the battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, Harpers Ferry, the Shenandoah Valley, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania Courthouse I was looking forward to a relaxing time wargaming. It was not to be. At least the venue was air conditioned.

The convention had moved to Fredericksburg this year and a number of the regular attendees were a little worried about that. Would regulars be prepared to drive an hour or two further south to attend? For those of us who had travelled much further it seemed a little petty. They had no need to worry though as around 4000 turned up for the event.

The venue is sighted next door to a number of hotels, a large supermarket and beyond that a large shopping complex. I stayed in a cheaper motel at the far side of the shopping area which was ideal, I just picked up my breakfast at various cafes on the way to the games each morning. Others were more organised and arrived with boxes of donuts as well. These Americans are nothing if not well fed!

There were around 500 games available during the convention, competitions in a variety of periods and rule systems, an entire hall of dealers, bring & buy stalls each day, talks on military history topics, painting lessons and competitions, even a live web broadcast on the Saturday evening. So a lot to do and a deal of planning required to make sure I was in the right place at the right time. Most of the games were held in the largest exhibition hall but a number were in smaller rooms given over to some of the larger clubs or particular types of games.

My first game on Thursday morning was a WW2 naval game; the Battle of Badung Strait run by Brian de Witt. A force of Dutch and American ships were facing a force of Japanese destroyers. The game played really quickly, the rules were easy to pick up and everyone enjoyed the game. The game ended in a draw, due in part to the use of considerable amounts of smoke by the Japanese destroyers; if you can't see us you can't sink us (a useful tactic).

I took the next few hours to have a wander around, look at some of the other games in play and generally get my bearings. My next game was in the HAWKS room, GASLIGHT on the Northwest Frontier run by Buck Surdu, one of the rule writers. By default I found myself in command of the British who were attempting to rescue my kidnapped daughter. This proved quite a challenge. At one stage I suggested shooting the ones holding my daughter from a distance (yes, she might have been hit in the cross-fire but she's only a daughter, not a son!). Luckily we completed our mission, thanks to a gun crew who supported the attack and chased forward to grab the unfortunate young lady. The Pathans, with their Russian supplied technology were unable to complete their mission which was to kill the British Colonel (me). A really enjoyable game Victorian Scifi always seems to be great fun.

I had a quick look around the continuing games before heading for bed.

Friday started with a game at 9 am set in China during the Taiping Rebellion. Devil Soldier was run by Byron Champlin using adapted Brother Against Brother rules. The game centred around the Chinese and the Ever Victorious Army both vieing for control of a magazine. The Chinese forces reached the magazine first, I was leading a force through the nearby village in an attempt to out-flank the EVA. No one dared to fire on the magazine or shoot out from its buildings in case they detonated some of the munitions. The game was well balanced and ended in a creditable winning draw for the Chinese. Another great, fun game which was enjoyed by all the players. The figures and buildings looked good and gave a real feel for the location.

I then took a lesson in painting white from Tanya Brewer which was really educational. There were other classes I wished I'd been able to take; painting horses and painting black, but they always seemed to clash with games I was playing. Friday evening came around and it was back to the HAWKS room for more GASLIGHT. This time the other half of the rule writers, Chris Palmer, ran a Rescue on Venus game. This involved another rescue of two princesses, one belonging to my faction and one to the French who I was supposed to assist. I played the blue-skinned Venusian Amazons by the way. However, I cut a deal early on with the Lizardmen who were holding the hostages. In return for my neutrality they would release my princess at the appropriate time and destroy the French forces. Although I did take a great deal of stick from the French players the plan worked and my forces rode of with the rescued hostage. We all seemed to enjoy the game anyway even though Chris would not have allowed the deal we had made if he had been aware of it. Sorry, Chris.

I left the convention at about 11pm with the main hall still full of hard playing gamers.

Saturday started off with yet another game. A Very British Civil War encounter on the Welsh borders run by Ron Carnegie. This played out well although as a member of the Welsh Radicals and Midland Socialists we did feel out-gunned by the British Union of Fascists with their police lackeys. The BUF fielded a Panzer 1 and a heavily armed armoured car against our makeshift armoured car and anti-tank gun. By the end we were being pushed back into the town and were suffering increasing casualties. But once more a fun game enjoyed by all.

Saturday afternoon was the time my nerve failed and I started to buy up some figures, models and terrain from the very persuasive dealers and also picked up some bargains from the bring & buy. I finished by buying needs on the Sunday. But before that came the fun of Saturday night.

Howard Whitehouse ran a game for about 25 players in the streets of Cairo set in the roaring twenties (or thirties). We each played a famous fictional character in a very open-ended game involving a good deal of role playing. I was Jeeves to Ross' Bertie Wooster. Others played the parts of Indiana Jones and his party, the cult of Osiris, German archeologists, the Cairo police, Biggles, the French Foreign Legion trying to delivery a van full of Perrier water, etc etc. Most factions were trying to protect or steal an ancient sarcophagus in the Cairo museum. Bertie and I were on the New York to Rio automobile race and had become somewhat lost. We decided to call in at the Shepherd Hotel where I and some American chappie could look over the car (Bertie was mistaking the gun fire elsewhere in the town to our car back-firing). My young master and an elderly German gentleman, Albert someboby or other, retired to the hotel lounge to discuss relatives or some such which of course Bertie has many of and the German chap seemed to think he was some sort of expert in that field. With each round of the game starting with a rendition of the Indiana Jones theme and ending with the Foreign Legion singing La Marseillaise and in between a good deal of Hollywood style theatricals you might guess how much fun this one was. At the end we all had to give a resume of our part in the action and an idea of how our particular story would continue. We all then voted for the factions who had done best and prizes were awarded. A really memorable game/experience - thank you Howard.

Sunday would have seen an Indian Mutiny game but it was unfortunately cancelled. This allowed me to complete my shopping. As the games started to run down around lunch time, I took my leave of Historican and spent the afternoon visiting Fredericksburg itself and had a drive around the town's own battlefield sites. The four days of gaming was an experience I will never forget and I'd like to thank any of my fellow gamers and organisers who might read this. Everyone I met was very friendly and a pleasure to meet and play with. If I could afford it I'd be back every year.

To conclude my holiday I then went down to the colonial area around Williamsburg. Another great place to visit. The first British colony at Jamestown is presented as it would have been and on the original site you can witness the archeological work ongoing. Williamsburg itself has many of the original buildings as well as reenactments of scenes from the revolutionary days. Not as Disneyesque as I at first feared. Finally Yorktown with its own battlefield tour, the old town and the British redoubts and defenses. A really nice location too beside Chesapeake Bay.

I just had time to call in at Mannassas battlefield on my way back to Washington airport. A really great time - especially Historicon - so many sites I didn't see too but perhaps one day...I'll be back.


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