The Weekend – Portrait Of a Mini-Con

Someone said, “To a European 100 years is not a long time, to an American 100 miles is not a long distance.” Yea verily, but for tabletop gamers in the Colonies the problem is it’s often more than 100 miles, a lot more. The US is big, and not surprisingly its population of historical miniature (aka, tabletop) wargamers generally matches population density. Thus, if you live along the I-95 corridor which includes DC, Baltimore, Philly and New York, finding comrades who share your passion is pretty easy. Out in the hinterlands, in small towns, you might have a better shot at finding the Holy Grail.

To remedy this shortfall, the Colonies have seen the rise of the mini-con, one of which I had the pleasure of attending this past weekend. It’s called THE WEEKEND, the brainchild of the . . . “creative” . . . mind of one Otto Schmidt, the founder of a 277 person Yahoo Group known as the Society of Daisy, as in the famous cow. This group of gamers is still deadly serious and deadly historical about their hobby, but also believe tabletop gaming has become a bit too serious and needs to leave the door cracked for what the hobby used to be – a toy soldier club that ultimately gave the concept of fun its rightful place. There is a point here, especially when you consider that organizations such as HMGS (Historical Miniatures Gaming Society) have evolved to the point where hiring an out-of-state accounting firm to count the 400 or so ballots cast for the Board of Directors election is now a mandate.

Daisy counters this by emphasizing the silly with a newsletter called Sax n’ Violets and its own Soldier King era rules (well researched and accurate rules I might add) titled Mon Dieu! Tout sauf un Six! (Dear God! Anything but a six!). Here one can replay the great campaigns of the Duchy of Gorgonzola or the High Elector of Bad-zu-Wurst, the Kingdom of Fahrvergnugen or the Brutish Empire, where colorful armies follow brilliant standards based on Amish quilt patterns. Then there is THE WEEKEND . . .

Ground Rules

THE WEEKEND has one primary purpose supported by one primary rule – play wargames, historical emphasized but any genre welcome, board or tabletop. Held every year in June (this year 21st to 25th) at the Continental Inn in Lancaster, PA, there are no vendors, no board meetings, no painting classes, no lectures, no politics and no concern about when the onsite chow hall closes. Instead there is one large room where tables have been set up for people to play games. In the center is a small break area with comfy chairs right next to a table full of drinks and munchies. All attendees bring snacks and beverages and add them to the communal stash of chips, Cokes and whatever (ED: Do they have Pepsi?). Everyone just takes what they want when hungry. There is also a small table where folks can bring in hobby related material to give away or barter for a few shekels.

Otherwise everything else is about playing games, and here the process is so laid back as to be damn near comatose. Attendees sign up to put on games during certain time spots, tables are set and then you wait for players to show up, sometimes early, sometimes late, just whenever folks decide to mosey in and interrupt your donut in hand conversation on the merits of Napoleonic logistics. Then you play pretty much to whenever, as the room opens when the first person arrives and closes when the last heads to bed.

This year I counted 25 games scheduled, to include one hosted by yours truly and an ancients tournament as a bonus. Some like mine where deadly serious historical and saw pre-Dreadnaught naval combat, Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg (the convention theme was North and South) and World War II aerial combat between Mustangs and Messerschmitts. Other more whimsical fare included a Beverly Hillbillies inspired game on the Hatfield and McCoy feud as well as the battle of Puro l’Atour using Dear God! Anything but a six! hosted by Otto Schmidt himself. Everyone had a blast, clearly worth the $ 20 US convention fee, which was waived if you stayed at the hotel. As in the past, attendance is by invitation only, but invitations are available upon request.

Pikes and Pilum

Times change of course, and this goes for THE WEEKEND as well, out with the old and in with the new. Gone was the evening tradition of interrupting games and gathering with your favorite libation to watch some of the most awful movies ever made, like that all time classic, They Saved Hitler’s Brain. However, this year aficionados of the popular, French authored L’ Art de la Guerre ancient and medieval wargaming rules requested permission to hold one of their tournaments as part of the festivities. Otto agreed and some 42 stalwarts brought army, trophies and plaques, flanked by helmets and supported by a very high brow snack table – they had pizza, lots of pizza – for a multi round smack down with sword and sandal flair. Of interest to me was one of the participants, Dennis Shorthouse, owner of On Military Matters book shop. Usually Dennis comes to conventions as a vendor, but he always makes it to THE WEEKEND so he can get in a little gaming of his own. Seriously, the no vendor rule seems very popular with vendors.

I left prior to tournament completion, but there were four long tables set up, each holding five pairs of gamers for one on one competition. Like most tournaments, terrain was very sparse, downright Spartan, but many of the 15 mm armies displayed were exquisite, with what looked like Chinese and Anglo Saxon I thought especially well done. Regardless, the presence of these lads did wonders for the numbers of folks coming to the convention. Otto told me he usually counts on about 50 – 60 people showing up and this year perhaps between 75 and 80. My own unofficial count put the total at about 90, but anyway, the attendance was greater this year thanks to the tournament guys.

Disaster Strikes

Yet nothing is perfect and although there was only a single negative about the convention, it was a doozy, a tragedy of Biblical proportions. It was me.

Its early Friday morning and I am setting up for my own game covering the 1855 Crimean War battle of the Tractir Bridge, the largest clash of the conflict. Everything is proceeding nicely until my elbow clips a box of Russian infantry and it falls to the floor, the warriors of Holy Muscovy splattering everywhere. No problem, I’m mellow. I spin in my chair to see where I need to start picking up, put my feet down and I hear . . . CRUNCH! OMG, I think and I shift my feet away. CRUNCH! I shift away again. CRUNCH! CRUNCH, CRUNCH! Not only had I spilled the stands of lead everywhere, my diminutive 230 lb frame managed to step on half of them.

Then followed an anguished cry matched only by the bellowing of an elephant giving birth, one that woke the dead two counties over and alerted my wife some 50 miles away. How do I know? Because she texted me wanting to know if I needed paramedics and oxygen. Although I managed to spill a second box, this time with nary a crunch, I took deep breaths until I recovered. I was able to marginally repair most and the game went on as planned. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that I know this happens to every tabletopper at least once, I soldiered forward feeling I had just committed homicide.

The actual game made it all better, with six players who laughed as much as they rolled die. The simulation ended in the same tactical victory for the French as did the real thing. The Russians, as they did historically, nearly broke the French center with only a single Regiment de Ligne left to stop them. However, the advancing Russian right was stopped dead by a charge of the British Heavy Brigade and the French Chasseurs d’ Afrique, while the player in charge of King Victor Emmanuel’s Italian corps rolled up the Russian left like it was his job, which it was. Three pink dice, tokens of my own whimsical Order of the Pink Pansy, were awarded as a result. One was to me for obvious reasons, one to the Russian army commander, and one to a young man who played Marechal Aimable Pelissier, could not roll above a one to save his life, yet drove on with the words, “Time to make some really bad decisions.” It simply doesn’t get any better.

Until next year

The Society of Daisy has been around since 2000 and if I remember correctly, this is the ninth year for THE WEEKEND. My own experience illustrates the purpose thereof precisely – play games and have fun, unencumbered by any serious outside distraction. If my mishap can be remembered with a smile, this mini con has not only succeeded, but has provided others with a template to do likewise. Make it so.

As for me, I will thus return next year, ever mindful of the Society’s motto, “death is easy, comedy hard.”

Post script: More pictures from THE WEEKEND can be found by clicking here.