Convention Report: Cold Wars 2018

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) – one of the best HMGS (Historical Miniatures Gaming Society) conventions ever ran recently between the 15th – 18th March 2018. Some 1889 of the faithful made the trek to the Lancaster Host Resort in Lancaster, PA for Cold Wars 2018. This year’s theme was Holy Wars and Holy Warriors, with Joan of Arc the unofficial star of the festivities. Joan, of course, was declared a saint in 1920, so you don’t get much more ‘holy warrior’ than that.

The convention was also especially notable in one other very important way. In a hobby that is at least 90% male, HMGS saw its first female convention director, Ms Heather Blush. Now I’m a progressive, equality kind of a guy, but I nevertheless recognize some overall differences between the genders, and it struck me a feminine touch was indeed present, and so much the better. This year seemed more efficient, better organized with more attention to detail. Things just seemed to work better and looked better as well, less amateurish. There was a boatload of new professionally done signage, while all convention management were uniformly clad in bright blue collared shirts, with all volunteers in fluorescent yellow tees with large lettering and a small fleur de lis (France, as in Joan of Arc, get it?). The program also caught my eye for the simple reason that it didn’t look like a wargame convention program. Sporting a white background with dark maroon lettering, the cover featured a very slightly bronze shaded image left of the statue of Saint Joan in Domremy by Princess Marie d’Orleans. Classy.

Let’s face it, men don’t understand style (my wife calls mine Neanderthal Contemporary) like the ladies, and this convention had it in abundance, all for $35.00 US for the weekend (less if you preregister).

Yet it was very functional style, as one found out immediately upon arrival via the quickest and most pleasant registration process ever. This was particularly true if you had preregistered or were a Gamemaster (and thus received free admission). You simply moved to one of two computers, scanned a QR code previously received from HMGS by email (or simply typed in your name in a search box), hit the print button and the machine spit out your barcoded badge. You could then turn left and get a selfie in front of a custom Cold Wars canvas, or right to pick up a badge holder and goodie bag. It took me 90 seconds tops, and folks, I never really saw much of a line.

Otherwise the convention contained all the usual suspects as far as gaming and activities. The Hobby University which taught painting skills (and previously run by Heather like forever), got a much more convenient and larger location for its 33 sessions, while the HMGS War College provided its normal interesting seminars. Wally’s Basement, aka Flea Market, had an interesting change in that the first day’s activities were restricted to Friday night 9:00 PM to midnight in order to avoid conflict with formal convention vendors. There were also a lot of tournaments, to include coverage of Art de la Guerre, DBA (DBM and DBMM), Triumph, Warrior Ancients, Grand Battles of Napoleon, SAGA, Wargods, Bolt Action, Warhammer 40K and X-Wing (whew). Oddly missing from the program was a listing for Flames of War(Hammer).

This left club and individually sponsored games, and there were a total of 379 events listed. Some were great, some not so much, but all were fun. Unfortunately I did notice a malady that seems to have been contracted from our tournament playing Ancients brethren. While the miniatures themselves were fantastic, easily meeting or beating our British cousins in this regard (unlikely -ED), a growing number of people continue to neglect terrain. And here we are talking in some cases a paper sheet as ground cover with terrain details simply (and badly) painted on. Hobby University, you reading this? Anyway, the exact number and types of games are as follows:

Related to all these games was something called HMGS Ambassadors, which I discovered when I noticed a small flag by my game listing in the program (kid friendly games got an emoji). Evidently some of us Grognards have been designated such because we have been around long enough to provide quality information to recruits and host games anxiety-free. The idea is that if this is your first time at a convention and you don’t know what to play and want to start your gaming experience sans stress, look for the fluorescent yellow badges that I and other chaps get to wear. Then sit a spell and play.

Another big draw is the Dealer’s Hall, still at the Host’s Exhibition Center (or Tennis Barn). I counted 57 vendors listed in the program, and as usual there was the mixture of new and old, with some of my old favorites nonetheless dropping out due to age and travel requirements. Indeed, with online shopping growing exponentially, it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. For me the big eyebrow raiser was a couple or so vendors who produced their wares via 3-D printing, to include custom figures that inserted the customers accurately rendered head onto, say, a Roman Signifer’s body. The obvious question is, “have we now seen the future demise of pewter and lead?” I have no crystal ball yet, but I do hope to discuss this trend in a future article.

Otherwise, I will mention a couple of concerns about the vendor area. The first is that I continue to buy less and less each convention. Unfortunately I am getting to an age where I’ve damn near purchased everything I need and want, and have done so several times over. Thus when I leave a con knowing that my wife will NOT have a conniption fit when she sees the credit card bill, I just don’t feel whole inside. The other is that while the refurbishing of the Host is definitely making a difference, the work at the Tennis Barn has eliminated the old covered, direct access to the place from the hotel prime. This means you have a pretty good hike around and downhill (and thus uphill coming back) to get to the other side of the building to enter. For those of us who are slightly older (than dirt), huffing and puffing as we fall flat on our faces on the Paradise Room foyer is just a bit tacky. I do hope the Host will correct this issue when all is said and done, as I am really not in the market for a Hoveround. Yet.

That said, the reconstruction of the Host continues and there were some improvements, most noticeably exterior facades with brand new glass door entrances, new flooring, and renovated rooms (albeit still awaiting their phones and microwaves). The food selection seems to have expanded and personal facilities seem cleaner and much better maintained. Problems, such as the lighting in Wally’s Basement, are much more a priority than in the past and are quickly attended to. And I noticed that top level management (as opposed to just the night manager) always seemed to be around, not only directing but also physically carrying buckets of ice cream and potato salad to food enclaves, helping the guys and gals in the culinary trenches by becoming one of them. The Host still has a very long way to grow, but as one attendee noted, you now smell fresh paint vice musty odors and this indicates a much more positive attitude than in the past.

To conclude, let me put it this way. I can sit outside the food stand in the Distlefink foyer and people watch while munching on a hotdog and overhear conversations as people pass by. Normally they’re 75% about things that went wrong such as table assignments that are double booked, the hotel or where the next con would be held. Given the move of Historicon to downtown Lancaster in 2019 (the subject du jour at the Membership Meeting) and the move to online voting to select members of the Board, the potential was there for some great gossip. Yet I heard very little, something that implies much better communications and solid management making things happen.

Feminine touch or not, we can say for definite that the quality bar just got raised.

More photos from the convention including the author’s game are available by clicking here!