Salute 2011: Valour and dice-rolling

Posted by Alexander Hay

We talk war in miniature with Chris Streets

Games without frontiers, war without tears...

Earlier this month, legions of armed warriors congregated at a huge East London venue. In the next few hours they clashed, with casualties mounting on all sides. Amidst all this devastation, someone bought some plastic trees and glue.

There was of course no real death or slaughter at Salute 2011, one of the UK's leading war-game shows. True, some of the casualties involved chipped paint jobs, but the main concern for many attendees was getting out of the show with their 28mm legions (and bank balances) intact.

Salute 2011 itself was organised by the South London Warlords, as its public relations officer Christopher Streets revealed.

War-gaming itself seems to consist of two groups – the kiddies and teenagers with Goblin Green splattered hands who get into the hobby mainly via Games Workshop, and the older, more established mainstays of the hobby. “They're mainly people who have a bit of disposable income of their own, so it's late 20s and upwards really”, Chris explains.

“We have people who've been at the club since its foundation and have gone there for 30-odd years now. Obviously, when they started, they were still fresh-faced young gamers but now they're not so young and have lots of games and merchandise stuffed in their attics somewhere.”

But in this age of computers, consoles and goldfish-esque attention spans, what future is there for war-gaming? Chris replies that war-gaming is, by definition, a far more social hobby – you have to meet people to fight them, after all.

Plus “there is the other side of it, which is maybe the collecting and painting, artistic side of it as well, which I don't think you'd get much of with computer games.”

Chris started out as a painter rather than a gamer, stumbling on the fact that you can fight battles with miniatures as well as give them a coat of varnish. “Other people come into it from the other way around” he adds. “They get other people to paint their models or whatever. They're more interested in the strategy side of it.”

War-games are also diverse. As well as historical settings, there are also (obviously) sci-fi and fantasy rules, not to mention eccentric settings involving Steampunk - “which is like Victorian science fiction.” In both cases there is only one rule governing whether you can play a game about it. “Anything in the past or what you can write a piece of creative fiction about could – if you have the stamina and can create a game system around it of varying complexity” Chris says.

War-gaming isn't, of course, without its controversies. In the case of historical games, you are simulating the death and horror of the battlefield, and some settings are more 'difficult' than others. This is epitomised by Salute 2011's theme, the American Civil War, with a logo consisting of both the Union & Confederate flags emblazoned on the t-shirts worn by the show's official staff, including Chris himself.

In his defence, Chris replies “We've tried to steer clear of that aspect in the same way that when people say that war-games are just about killing, but primarily we're about playing games so we're not doing it to provoke anyone, but we do it because we enjoy playing with people.”

The flip-side is that the ACW is a very popular setting, so Chris and friends decided to tread carefully. “When you start to look at the imagery, you start to quite quickly see that it can get very political. We do have a few American guys who game at the club and it starts to open up all the old controversies that are really still close to the surface for a lot of people from the United States.”

And so, more caution than was shown by General Lee on the day of Pickett's Charge has prevailed. “We've tried hard not to go down that political route, but it is quite near the surface when we're talking about the different kinds of flags to use. There's still some quite harrowing pictures really, when you go look into the photography of the time. So yes, we looked at that, discarded it and decided on a lighter touch.”

On a brighter note, I ask about another controversy – the occasional fielding of unpainted miniatures on gaming tables. Now, let's have some full disclosure here. I would rather chew lead soldiers than send them in without at least four coats of paint. Chris and the SLW are more laissez-fair about it though.

“Looking at real life and the spare time people have, it's nice to join a local club like us – we're friendly and informal and so the idea of having to get something painted is a lot less important. You're there to have a good time.”

Mind you, even he's mildly superstitious about it. “There is some suspicion that if your miniatures are painted, they will perform well too...”

And on that point we end the interview. I then head off into Salute 2011 to buy some dwarves. Plastic ones, I mean. Obviously.

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Alexander Hay

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