This year offered a unique situation for me personally. Schedules aligned and I was able to visit the San Diego Historical Games Convention the weekend prior to BGG CON. Since I’d not been able to get to any other conventions this year, this made for a very nice con binge, hitting both in the same week. I wanted to spotlight some of the more interesting new games that were being demonstrated by the designers during the three day con, and share pictures of the many other games played.
The convention is in its third year, and is the product of designer Harold Buchanan. You may know him from a little game called Liberty or Death, The American Insurrection, volume 5 of the massively popular COIN series from GMT Games. It’s an intimate convention of 150 wargamers, allowing plenty of opportunity to fight battles, make new friends, and have great discussions with fantastic designers.
Aside from the aforementioned Harold Buchanan, the GMT presence was very strong, with prolific designers Mark Herman, Gene Billingsley, and the father of COIN, Volko Ruhnke, on-hand to showcase and teach their newest work.
Gene was promoting his latest game Mr. President, a very ambitious design that looks to be a tremendously fun and interesting solitaire challenge. Although I didn’t get to sit through an entire demo, I was able to glean enough of it to see there is a considerable amount of depth, variability, and challenge awaiting us. There are plenty of charts, counters, and a bevy of cards, to create a unique experience each time. Great care has been spent to emulate the difficulties, and endurance required, to deal with the constantly shifting priorities and challenges of sitting behind the Resolute Desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Don’t miss the P500 on this one!
Mark Herman ran games of both Pericles, and his soon to be released Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis of 1860-1861. Fort Sumter is a fast-playing, card-driven, back and forth struggle, set during the run up to Confederate secession. Using the familiar command point and event card format, players spend political capital to influence political, secession, public opinion, and armament issues. It’s an interesting balancing act of getting the proper level of influence out, without overextending yourself too quickly, where your opponent can potentially shut you down with a peace commission. The game can be easily played in 20 minutes or less, minus any AP, making it a perfect lunchtime game or a beefy filler. Don’t let the short playtime fool you, there are a lot of meaty decisions and strategies to be explored in this very tight design.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mark determined his 2pm instructional session of South Pacific wasn’t going to be interesting enough. So he turned it into a one versus many event, taking on nine players at once, Bobby Fischer style, while also teaching them the game. What a memorable experience it was for everyone involved!
Volko Ruhnke presented a sneak peek at Nevsky, the first in his upcoming Medieval Campaign Series. Nevsky is a two-player game dealing with the clash between the Latin Teutonic and Orthodox Russian powers in the mid-13th Century. You’ll not only be faced with fielding and maneuvering forces, but in assuaging lords and vassals to keep those troops in the field, and your grip on power. It is card driven, with events, capabilities, and command cards that need to be smartly played in your quest for power. Please note that the art shown here is ‘playtest art’ only, so expect that to change when the game moves into production. Expect more information to be available on this soon, and for it to reach its P500 status in very short order.
There were also demos of other COIN titles as well. Gandhi: The Decolonization of British India, 1917–1947, the first in the series to eschew violence as a primary tool of nation building, and People Power, a 1-3 player title about post-Marcos era struggles in the Philippines, both in various stages of testing and development. A production copy of Pendragon was also on display, and it looked absolutely stunning! Adding yet another to my want list!
I was excited to get a very brief glimpse of Ananda Gupta’s latest effort, Imperial Struggle, which was also at the con. The game is currently in beta stage, but even at this point in its development cycle, it was easy to see that this should be another winner. As co-designer of the perennial favorite Twilight Struggle, Ananda’s latest pits two players as leaders of the French and British Empires. Over the course of two centuries, you manage your empires economic growth, while preparing for each of the four major wars in the timeline, both militarily and politically. While I was quick to assume it would play in the same vein as Twilight Struggle, I was excited to see some similarities, but many distinct differences.
There is much more granularity, and card play spins off of action tiles, allowing military, economic, or diplomatic functions to be carried out. These can be further expanded upon by the use of ministry cards, which allow bonuses if conditions are met. Scoring is variable, as values of the different theaters (North America, Europe, The Caribbean, and India) change throughout the game. Adaptability will be key, as overlooking the little picture in favor of the big picture will cost you.
Imperial Struggle doesn’t appear to be very complex to learn, but will definitely provide a crunchy challenge to get all of the moving parts working correctly in concert to win. Be sure to keep a close eye on this one, and jump on the P500 for it. I think this one will have the same problem as Twilight Struggle does, staying in print!
Harold Buchanan shared with me a very brief look at his latest work in progress called South China Sea. It’s a quick-playing game, similar in scope to Fort Sumter, and working along the lines of 13 Days. It’s another tightrope walk of managing influence in the region, while balancing world standing and tension, without pushing things to full scale war. Do that, and you lose! I love seeing these smaller, quicker playing consims getting a lot of love lately.
Another big highlight of the con was the playing of Harold’s epic level Liberty or Death game. Using a blown up version of the map, and beautifully painted miniatures, the scope of this historic struggle really leapt off of the table!
Mike Denson ran non-stop demos of his unique squad-tactical title The Last Hundred Yards. If you’re a tactical gamer, this is a pretty interesting take on WWII squad combat. It takes a little bit to get your head around, as we’ve become so conditioned to the standard IGOUGO, with perfect information. LOS in this one is much different, using topographical limitations, and not all terrain in the hex can block line of sight. So you must think in 3d, rather than the standard 2d we’re all familiar with. In this one, it’s still IGOUGO, but combat is not resolved until all units have moved, and there is concealment, which limits perfect information. Bonuses and penalties are based on what you do, and when you do it. The game is pretty close to fully developed, and things are now just being fine-tuned. I’d expect this to be out sometime in 2018, so if you’re interested, get in on the P500 now.
Although most predominant, it wasn’t just GMT games that were being played at the con. There was a big SAGA tournament, games of 878 Vikings – Invasions of England from Academy Games, an impressive table of Aerodrome, and another of Wings of Glory. PSC Games Battle of Britain looked like a lot of fun, and Tenkatoitsu intriguing, and an alpha preview copy of D-Day at Iwo Jima exciting. There was another Revolutionary War struggle using Black Powder rules, and many, many others not covered here.
Lots of games were played, and many friends were made at this great little con that continues to gain steam. If you’re looking for a chance to visit Southern California, be sure to visit the site and keep tabs on when tickets for next year’s convention go on sale. It’s a great event that Harold puts a tremendous amount of effort into, and it deserves our support!