Salute 2011 - games without frontiersPosted by Alexander Hay
Alexander Hay has a day out with the tabletop generals at the popular yearly wargames event
Wargaming is a surprisingly mainstream hobby, being much like Doctor Who, real ale, soap operas and football - all acceptable kinds of geekdom for those otherwise too embarrassed to publicly obsess over something.
This explains a lot about the turnout for Salute 2011, one of the UK's biggest wargaming events. True, there were lots of men dressed up as American Civil War infantry, or Darth Vader. But they'd brought their girlfriends, wives and children along with them too and it was actually a very open, welcoming event.
Each kind of visitor said something about the day. The women were actually more willing to dress up than the men, as evidenced by the pirate garb worn by one or two people running stalls, or the woman who wandered about perfectly happy in a medieval dress. Those who weren't fully involved, so to speak, still looked around rather intrigued by what their partners were up to.
The youngsters were enthusiastic about everything, and ranged from wearing street clothes to full on period dress, some looking on excitedly as the Confederates launched a bayonet charge, others helping their Dads man the company stall. Given how conformist a lot of young boys can be, it was refreshing to just see everyone that age just, well, getting along.
But it was the little girls who were the most surprising attendees. They absolutely loved it. Not the wargaming or the miniatures, mind you, but the dice. Wargaming, like its somewhat nerdier cousin role-playing, uses a lot of curiously shaped dice.
These are often presented in all sorts of lurid colours. And the girls were practically shrieking with joy every time they found a stall selling them, their fathers lurking in the background, wallets primed and ready. It's surprising there's not a Dicecon somewhere which caters exclusively to 8 year old girls who like tie-dyed polyhedrons. They are, after all, the dice industry's great untapped market.
Salute 2011 was, then, a broad church. While many of the attendees were white and middle class, the event was open and welcoming to all. Everyone was united by a shared interest and differences, if there were any, were resolved on the gaming tables.
Still, some themes were evident. Games Workshop, the Man United of wargaming, was constantly getting criticised, which given how they've been acting lately, isn't that much of a surprise. But its presence was indirectly everywhere, from the big wargame retailer selling Warhammer miniatures en masse, to GW's bespoke model making division Forge World attracting a lot of interest with its rather expensive but beautiful resin models. Their other sub-division, Warhammer Historical, was causing a bit of a stir too, with its new WW2 rules, 'Kampfgruppe Normandy'.
Two of Games Workshop's most famed sculptors even had their own stall, selling their personal range of wonderfully detailed plastic soldiers. The Perry Twins are most famous for doing most of the sculpting on GW's Lord of the Rings range but their first love remains historical wargaming. I was in fact served by Michael Perry, who operated the debit machine in much the same way as he sculpts his miniatures - quite literally single handedly. He lost the hand he originally sculpted with back in 1996 after a cannon at a re-enactment malfunctioned. Within days, he had trained himself to use his left hand instead. The show-off.
Other delights included Conquest Games' wonderfully detailed plastic Norman knights, Otherworld Miniature's frankly disturbing giant slug miniature (it still haunts my dreams) and Twilight, which doesn't involve sparkly vampires, but tries to do something new with the fantasy genre, creating a world where dinosaurs didn't go extinct and instead evolved into rival races of fey creatures.
Finally, a personal favourite was '1938: A Very British Civil War'. More a setting than a set of rules, it asked an intriguing question - what if Edward VIII didn't abdicate? As far as VBCW was concerned, it meant a slightly tongue in cheek civil war would erupt, as fascists, Soviet Liverpudlians, Scottish Republicans, the Church of England and, of course, the Welsh all kicked off at the Battle of Ambridge. It made a welcome change from the usual orcs, elves and space marines fare, and more to the point, had a wicked sense of humour.
And that's wargaming's real strength. For all the passion, it never forgets that it's really about toy soldiers, slide-rules and a lot of fun.
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