When this official photograph was being taken of the winning game at the recent SELWG (South East London Wargames Group) wargames show at Crystal Palace in London, little did the guys know that the chap standing alongside the official photographer and sneaking some distinctly unofficial shots with his little camera was probably the furthest travelled visitor to the show.
The following article and pictures portray the impressions of the show from that far-flung visitor. As such, you’ll probably find this posting displays a rather naive wide-eyed enthusiasm of an Antipodean abroad, in contrast with more restrained reviews from British gamers for whom attending such shows is almost just a routine part of the hobby.
This report might also be one of the most delayed, as it is already nearly a month since SELWG took place. But the posting had to wait until I finished my holiday and got back home to New Zealand. I’m hoping people will still find this article of interest, as it is from the point of view of someone who has never before attended a big wargames show.
I had flown from New Zealand with my wife and daughter for a five week holiday in the UK and Europe. I had always yearned to visit a big show such as Salute or SELWG. So finding that I would be in Rye, less than a couple of hours away from the SELWG venue, meant that I just had to more heaven and earth to ensure no family events got in the way of my being able to attend.
Luckily my evil plan succeeded, and I duly received a ‘day leave pass’ from my family! I had initially planned to take the train from Rye to London. But then a few days prior to the event I thought of asking online to see if there were any UK gamers who would be driving up from somewhere close to Rye, and whom I could join for the trip. My reasoning for this was to a) not get lost; b) have a chance to chat with some fellow gamers during the drive; and c) have some company during the event itself.
In the end this worked out better than I could ever have expected. Robert contacted me and offered not only to get me to the show without losing my way, but also invited me to accompany him to a restaurant afterwards for a meal with some well-known faces of the hobby.
The day was rainy, but that wasn’t a problem for an indoor event, other than a bit of a soaking during our walk from the carpark to the Crystal Palace sports centre. Inside, once the fug of soaked raincoats had dissipated and the spots of rain on my glasses had cleared, the weather outside was easily ignored.
My first view of the event took my breath away. The huge sports hall was filled with colourful game tables, and surrounded by two levels of trade stands. And what a mass of people – I’d never seen so many wargaming enthusiasts gathered in one place. Who would ever have believed that there were so many people interested in my rather odd hobby of moving little toy soldiers around on a tabletop?
Buying and selling
I decided to begin at the bring-and-buy, thinking that if there was anything interesting there, I should get in fast. But unfortunately all those other wargaming enthusiasts seemed to have exactly the same idea. So I experienced my first-ever bring and buy scrum, with the tables packed three to four rows back. The end result was that if there had actually been anything of interest to me on the table, it was well-gone by the time I managed to fight my way through the ruck.
My next port of call was a quick round of the trade stands to see who was there, and in particular to see if I could meet in person some of the traders I had only ever dealt with online from New Zealand.
I quickly found one of my favourite suppliers – Empress Miniatures, who produce the wonderful figures I use for my colonial New Zealand Wars armies. It was great to chat with them, and especially to learn that there will be some new releases in this range next year.
As a wide-eyed Antipodean, it was fantastic to wander round all the stalls and see in real-life all those miniatures that I had only ever seen as photos in magazines or online. The hall was a huge cornucopia of every type of figure and piece of terrain I could imagine.
Despite what looked to me like every trader under the sun, I learned there were actually several big names who were absent. For example, I would’ve dearly loved to meet up with Front Rank Miniatures, whose figures are the mainstay of several of my armies – but sadly they weren’t at SELWG this year.
In a remarkably restrained manner, I bought only one thing all day (a small resin sampan for my latest samurai project). But before traders get upset at wasting their time at shows for such measly purchases, I must add that I took note of quite a few items I’ll probably be buying through mail-order once my current project is completed.
Meeting fellow gamers
Another thing I was really keen to do was to meet up with some of my fellow wargamers whom I had only even known from the online word. To help them recognise me, I wore my Kapiti Fusiliers name-badge, clearly emblazoned with my name ‘ROLY’.
This didn’t quite work as well as I hoped, partly because most of my online wargaming friends know me more as my nickname Arteis, and partly because most people assumed the name-badge meant I was just a trader.
So it was up to me to go up to people I suspected I might know (which for some puzzled gamers, will account for the rather pushy New Zealander accosting them at their games). With so many people at SELWG, in the end I wasn’t too successful meeting up with people by this cold call strategy, and so didn’t find too many I knew (though I heard later there were plenty enough of my friends there, if only I had recognised them).
One meeting that did succeed, however, came down to my Dutch heritage. At one point my ears pricked up to hear some Flemish being spoken behind me (almost the same language to the untrained ear), and so I turned round and introduced myself with a ‘Goede dag!’ – and so was very pleased to meet up with a couple of the guys from Antwerp.
And of course, the games!
The other anticipated excitement of the day was to view all those luscious games, and I was not disappointed. Every period I could think of was covered in one scale or another – except sadly my current obsession with samurai, which was surprising considering the excitement at the moment about the new ‘Ronin’ rules. Though this was partly assuaged by some magnificent large-scale samurai figures on a painting demonstration table.
Most of the games were fabulous, and the painting and terrain were simply superb. But I did note a lack in using the third dimension (height). Photos I’ve seen of previous shows depict dramatic games set on mountains, hills, tall buildings and other high terrain. The time and effort involved in producing such lofty terrain means they tend not to occur in normal club gaming (in my experience, anyway), and so are usually only seen at big shows like this. But with only a few exceptions, the games at this SELWG were pretty flat, and none at all blew me away with any exciting use of the height dimension.
But apart from that minor disappointment (which, after all, was only my opinion), the games were otherwise stunning. And not only with their terrain and figures. I also noticed the lengths to which some clubs went to give their games period character, such as using appropriate props to decorate the sides of their table, or by judicious wearing of uniform items.
Also evident was the readiness of the players to engage in conversation with bystanders, rather than being too engrossed in their own gaming. It was fun to chat with quite a few of the players, especially where the rules were a bit out of ordinary.
An aftershow treat
The hours sped by very quickly, and all too soon it seemed it was time to leave this bulging palace of wargaming treasures. But the excitement of the day was not yet finished. My host’s offer of a dinner out with some of the luminaries in the hobby came true, and I was soon chatting over a yummy meal with a friendly group of people I had only ever seen in the wargames magazine world. I had to pinch myself to find myself dining with the likes of Mike Siggins and Bill Gaskin …
And so that was it – SELWG! As I mentioned at the start, some of the local reviews of SELWG seem to regard it as a commonplace event. But I urge UK wargamers to never take such events for granted. Remember that for many of us, these big shows can only be a wishful dream. It is just a lucky few of we Antipodeans (and other such far-flung gamers) who can ever attend a big UK show in real life, as I had the pleasure to do.
Many thanks to my host Robert; to my dinner companions Mike, Bill and his charming wife; and to all the wonderful people I met during the day, who all made SELWG so memorable for this wide-eyed Antipodean visitor.
More pics of the games
Let’s take a closer look at some of the games that particularly caught my eye. Don’t forget to click on the pics to enlarge them and see all that lavish detail.
Southend Wargames Club won the show with their depiction of the War of 1812 Battle of Cryslers Farm. This was one of the few games at SELWG that I felt made some use of the third dimension, height.
Here’s one of my favourite games of the show – and I’m not even usually a fan of WW2 (though to be exact this is a post-war game – just!). It is the Deal Wargames Club’s rendition of the Russian attack on the Japanese-held Shumsu Island.
The South East Essex Military Society (SEEMS) put on a War of the Spanish Succession game as their ‘Tabletop Teasers on Tour’ display.
A deceptively simple-looking table, but one that nevertheless caught my eye, was the Maidstone Wargames Society participation game called ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Floating Machines’. The idea was that smugglers in balloons had to get their contraband to the British coast, pursued by other smugglers and the local constabulary (or rozzers).
The Shepway Wargames Club put on a very nicely-done game of the Battle of Nobovidy, 1422. The snowy terrain was particularly well-done.
Loughton Strike Force used the Panzergrenadier Deluxe rules to play their eye-catching WW2 Kursk game, the Attack on Ponyri.
Ancients are not normally my thing, but who could resist Simon Miller’s magnificent depiction of the Battle of Thapsus, 46BC?
Finally, here’s a look at an early WW1 game called Crush the Kaiser. It included something often missed in wargames, namely the effect of the civilian populace – something to make us remember that playing wargames is (thankfully) a great deal different from making war.