Tuesday, 9 February 2016

York Wargames Fesitval (Vapnartak) after-action report

Gaming conventions, festivals, meet-ups, get-togethers or any of your other personal choice of adjectives are fantastic places for wargamers to rock up with a group of friends, roll some dice, buy a few new toys on discount and maybe make some new connections or try some systems they're unfamiliar with.

This year for the York Wargames Festival (held annually in February at the York Racecourse), I headed down alongside members of the local wargaming group The Yorkshire Renegades to take part in a demonstration game of Lion Rampant - a medieval skirmish game - with an overall theme of recreating a 'what if' version of the Battle of Arsuf (third crusade, Richard I vs. Saladin etc.). 

I'll be going into the history of the game, the armies used and the buildup of painting my force in a separate post as this one is designed more to express what a good day I had at a local wargaming festival rather than rave about history.  

Our table

Setting up the noble Crusader forces
As mentioned, the table we were hosting was themed around a battleground from the Third Crusade. A slight twist on the historical battle, our table included the likes of a set of huge fortress walls decorated with Knight Hospitaller banners protecting a small town, whilst in the distance oases and a ramshackle farm hut were strategically positioned between rocky outcrops and a large tent housing probably the most badass model I have seen in a while. 

"Sir, the Ferero Rocher have arrived..."
The table itself was predominantly a construction of one of the group leaders, Rich Goss, a talented painter and modeller with an innate ability to create models and scenery for almost all occasions, be they Crusades, World War Two or a traditional Sci-Fi/Fantasy setting amongst others. 

Another leading member, Chris Sharp, chose the Lion Rampant rules for the game. The system was well-chosen given its overall simplicity and ease of use; many members taking part in the game were unfamiliar with the rules but by the end of a quick explanation from Rich and a playthrough of the first turn we were all ready and raring to kick some ass. 

"Tally ho!" - brave Templar knights charge headfirst towards the enemy
As systems go, Lion Rampant is wonderfully abstract. Being a die-hard military historian I am a huge fan of solid rule sets with immense levels of detail and complexity, provided I have sufficient time to learn them. In a pick-up game with little to no practice, I can put my preferences aside and really get into a solid but rules-light system like Lion Rampant. Simplified movement, combat and orders made the game very quick to learn and master, ensuring there were less than a handful of rules queries that cropped up - most of them pertaining to very specific instances rather than general circumstance. 

Crusaders everywhere!
 The mission undertaken was a simple 'carry the baggage to the city walls' affair, a mission type that appears in nearly every gaming rulebook albeit with a different skin. With the Crusader forces outnumbering the Arabs, the latter had a house-made regeneration rule on all of their units. The game went well enough, with plenty of surprising turns of everts, some fantastically painted models and a decisive moral victory for the Arabs (whilst the crusaders scored more points on a technicality, the Arab forces managed to hold the crusaders at bay and prevent them from reaching the gates with their baggage; a good deal of bad dice and failed Orders by the crusaders did not help matters however!) 

The Arab cavalry set out to head the Crusaders off at the pass...

The festival at large
What makes festivals so much fun is the shared community spirit. 

A collection of stalls set up near the cafe, including Empress Miniatures (http://www.empressminiatures.com/)
Although we as a party were all familiar with each other, the ease with which gamers who have never met can interact with other demonstrators, players and punters is remarkable. Such is the nature of the beast at events focussed around such a profound common interest as wargaming, I suppose. 

The upper floors crammed with punters perusing stalls.
However the truly heart-warming aspect of the day is the way in which even large company representatives join in on the fun. Although I tend to wax lyrical over Warlord Games on a regular basis, they proved themselves once again to be a big company who hasn't forgotten the chief component of the wargaming hobby: fun. With fun sadly being a finite substance, especially when manufacturers of games and rules go through the awkward teenage transition of growing from a small company to a well-recognised brand, it's a refreshing change to see the employees dispatched to festivals remember the core elements of the hobby - those being fun, friendliness and the whole thing revolving around having a good laugh with like-minded individuals. 

However I also enjoy seeing the stalls of local traders and business set up all around the hall; from dealers of board games to small businesses who cast their own lead figures, it's enough for a fun day out just to stroll around the tables and chat to old friends or stalls selling products you like the look of. 

It seems to be the rule at Vap that every stall must stock boxes of Perry Miniatures...
The final thing of note at these events is of course the participation element. Demonstration games and tables can be found all around the hall, and being able to dive into a few rounds of your favourite games or to try out something new is a godsend (especially as every minute you're playing is a minute NOT spent perusing stalls you probably shouldn't be perusing!) 

Gamers rolling some dice on the open tables upstairs.

Personal highlights 
For me, the top highlight at Vap this year was the fact I got to spend the day alongside other enthusiasts, rolling a few dice and getting far too excited about pushing toy soldiers around a pretend battlefield. 

It was also great to share the day with a few familiar faces from outside the group - special mention must go to my personal friends Dan, Gary and Matt who took the time to pop down and see what was going on (and secure a few sweet deals on Warmachine in Matt's case), as well as John Conyard, leader of the local Roman re-enactment group Comitatus who was running a recruitment stall downstairs, and members Elizabeth and Tony who were either diligently manning the stall or strolling around making purchases. 

All in all, a fantastic day all round. 
Though the fact it was both (a) my birthday and (b) I managed to meet THE John Coulston certainly helped!! 

(We won't mention the guilty purchases made in the name of 'sweet deals' or 'but it's my birthday and I REAAAALLY want it'...) 
I've been wanting these fine chaps for a good long while, I must admit.

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