The Last Wargaming Convention of 2020 (For Now!)

Recently I had the pleasure of attending one of the last wargames conventions of 2020, for the foreseeable future anyway. At Hammerhead 2020, outside the quaint town of Newark in Nottinghamshire (UK), hundreds of wargamers gathered for a day of participation games, vendors, a painting competition, and above all the joy of spending time with like-minded fellows, geek-ing out over the best of the wargaming world. 

Saturday was right on the cusp of the worldwide tightening of security in response to Coronavirus, and Hammerhead 2020’s organizers tried to provide a safe venue with extra hand washing stations at every entrance. It was nice to see extra steps taken. Now that the world is, quite appropriately, panicking about Coronavirus, I thought I’d take the time to call out some of the most interesting participation games, booths, and interactions that I saw. It was a good day, and a fond memory of social interaction that I’m going to cherish as I, and many others, retreat into a period of self- isolation.

Picturesque and playable. I really enjoyed All Hell Let Loose and this amazing Arnhem board.

All Hell Let Loose 

After stepping through the doors, grabbing my Hammerhead 2020 model (I went with last year’s Wellington and Napoleon but they had a lovely Caesar and Vercingetorix for 2020) I was immediately pulled towards a very small table equipped with an equally small, but distinctly recognizable, bit of the Low Countries. Done up in a beautiful 1-1000 scale, this little slice of Arnhem, the Netherlands looked lifted right out of a movie. Scattered across the apartments and the highway were British paratroopers, with menacing German markers representing the probing attacks that would keep most of the allied forces at bay through a participation game refighting an SS assault over the bridge. The real meat of the game was in keeping the Germans from pushing through the British defenses around the bridge and linking up with their comrades. 

Chris ‘the Modeler’ ran an excellent presentation and participation game. Not only did he give me a full, if concise, history of the engagement, he also expertly managed the All Hell Let Loose ruleset, giving me enough information to know what was going on without bogging down in the details. A cute little scoreboard stood alongside the game, and after I finished, my score was tallied and placed on the board, so that by the end of the day (games ran 20-30 minutes) each player’s efforts would be ranked. Though I only had a taste, playing All Hell Let Loose made me consider 6mm for a future project. Everything looked so beautiful, and the scale meant the wider ebb and flow of the battle played out right in front of you. Check out the All Hell Let Loose website for more.

Peter Dennis, illustrator, and his lovely paper soldiers. A marvel on the table.

Paper Armies and Paper Ships

Wandering through the many tables dedicated to a DBA tournament and past a participation battle set during the War of the Roses, I found myself in front of a curious sight. Hundreds of paper miniatures, representing the grand pikes of Alexander the Great and the bright uniforms of Darius of Persia, staring each other down across a table of paper terrain. Contrary to everything I thought I knew about miniature wargaming (and I have been doing this most of my conscious life) the paper miniatures were gorgeous! I had never given paper miniatures a chance. I’d seen pictures online and dismissed them. They’re paper after all. What can paper do against hard lead, detailed resin, and enduring plastic? Look amazing, weigh nothing, and cost a fraction, that’s what. I was compelled to sit for a while and talk to the players, one of whom turned out to be the illustrator of those fine models himself, Peter Dennis

Peter and his friend were kind enough to talk me, and several other awed onlookers, through the process. Cutting with a hobby knife and knitting scissors, a bit of glue, and some mod-podge to seal it up left you with a durable and beautiful army in no time. I was so impressed; I went over to the nearest booth that carried some Paper War books and bought myself “Wargaming the Spanish Armada” immediately. With 3D printing, and paper miniatures looking so good in person, I’d say there are a lot more ways for people to get into the tabletop hobby in the coming years. Far more than when I was young for sure.

Vendors plied all sorts, from miniatures, to history and wargaming books, to niche products like airbrushes. All were friendly and ready for a chat.

Young ‘uns!

While I’m not in the largest wargamer demographic, I’m no spring chicken either, as the kids these days definitely do not say. But I was happy to see quite a few younger people wandering both halls, playing in participation games and checking out the figures. Some were obviously children here with parents, but most were actively participating and having fun, and there were teenagers and younger adults all over. It was an encouraging sight. Best of all, walking past the Bad Squiddo booth, (a company that promotes realistically proportioned and clothed women), I saw a small girl walk up, select a heroic looking woman brandishing a sword, and bring it over to her mom. I think in that moment, a new miniatures gamer was born. So a special shout out to Bad Squiddo for extending a hand to some much neglected demographics.

A priest and his faithful overlook a Mexican charge against the Foreign Legion’s prepared position.

Sharp Practice and the French Intervention in Mexico

The Falkirk Wargames Club put on a frantic and fun game of Sharp Practice 2 fighting out an engagement of French Foreign legion in Mexico. Equipped with (probably) period big hats, this was another massive, engaging, and excellently taught game. Light on the history, but heavy on the entertainment, I saw the value in Sharp Practice 2. It really evokes that old Hollywood epic feel where leaders played an enormous part in directing and starring in the action. They did a grand job of getting me involved in the chaos of the game at hand, not only slapping a giant sombrero on my head, but giving me command of a company right in the thick of things, (and a nearby priest and his contingent of peasants).

Sharp Practice 2 has a lot of components that I feel wargamers either love or hate. Totally random movement, blind drawing chips for activation, to name but two, but overall, I felt that these variabilities added greatly to the charm of the game. Seeing the once disciplined column of Egyptian soldiers tragically run their commanding officer over seemed perfectly in place in a game in which an overeager skirmisher could catch a commander out on a single die or a series of improbable chip pulls could totally swing the weight of a charge in the other direction.

A gorgeous game of Isandlwana. You can see the ridge on the far side of the table.

Other Notables

There was scarcely enough time to get involved with everything, so I wanted to point out some of the other notable participation games I passed, with a picture or two. Shanghai 1937 covered a very bloody battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 28mm Bolt Action. There was an exquisite presentation, but no game, of a battle set during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. A vast participation game of 6mm Isandlwana, and many, many, others. Have a Scroll through the pictures for a sense of it. I’ll include some pictures below for your perusal.

I’m grateful I had the opportunity to check out Hammerhead 2020, and if I’m in the area next year, will gladly do it again. For now, amid the current troubles; stay home if you can, work on some minis, keep in touch with people, and wash your hands. Happy wargaming everyone.