Since I was in England for business the weekend before Partizan, I stayed an extra couple of days to attend my first UK gaming show and also run two participation games of Combat Patrol. Bottom line: I had a terrific time!
My trip to Partizan began Saturday morning at the King’s Cross train station in central London. 75 minutes later, I was in Newark on Trent at the Newark Northgate train station.
The Grange Hotel in Newark was very nice. The woman running the hotel was extremely helpful. The hotel was clean and well appointed. The included breakfast the next morning was excellent! The room was small, but it had a private bathroom with a shower, and it came with free internet. I relaxed in my room for an hour before walking to the Newark showgrounds. I was supposed to meet Chris and his wife there at 1600 to help set up their booth, so that we would be ready Sunday morning when the convention began.
Partizan was held at the George Stephenson exhibition hall at the Newark showgrounds. It was a very nice venue. I thought it was going to be a 2 mile walk to the showgrounds from my hotel. The GPS on my phone, however took me on a circuitous route, across areas of busy highway traffic with no pedestrian walkways, and to the wrong side of the grounds. I had to then set out cross country to get to the open gate to the showgrounds. I left at 1400, thinking I would grab something light for lunch along the way and still arrive early. I passed no food opportunities, and it took me a full two hours to get there. Still, it was a good walk, and I enjoyed it.
I helped Chris set up the terrain for our Combat Patrol participation games while his wife, Ann, laid out the booth. This was my first chance to see the Sally 4th buildings in person, and I think they are very nice. I bought one to bring home and assemble. They have photorealistic sheets to apply to the buildings. These give a very nice look and also hide the exposed tabs on the MDF buildings.
After setting up for the show the next morning, Chris, Ann, and I had curry, and then they dropped me off at my hotel where I watched an episode of Foyle’s War and went to bed.
The next morning, I had a full English breakfast and walked around the hotel’s traditional garden while waiting for my cab to take me back to the convention. I highly recommend The Grange.
Below are three wide views of the Stephenson hall during setup Sunday morning and later in the day. Partizan ran from 1000 until 1600 on Sunday. It was a very short event that was very fun, but it didn’t give folks time to play in more than one participation event and also do any shopping. It was over before I knew it.
The food during the convention was different than what we would be accustomed to in the US. Instead of hotdogs, meatball subs, and the like, the caterer had pasties, curry, sausage rolls, and other more traditional food. They also had a beef burger (a.k.a. hamburger), cheese burger, chili chips (fries), and cheesy chips (again, fries). I was pretty busy and didn’t try any of the food. At one point Ann offered me a salmon and cream cheese sandwich on a roll that hit the spot and tided me over until dinner.
Combat Patrol Participation Games at Partizan
A major reason for me to attend the show was to promote Combat Patrol. Chris has been a huge advocate for the rules in the UK. He provided all the figures and terrain — in fact crashing to paint a platoon of American armored infantry in the ten days leading up to the event. Participation games are relatively rare at UK shows, where the focus has traditionally been on the trade stands (vendor booths) and clubs running demonstration games. Partizan is trying to make a large number of participation games their trademark feature. There was an area off to one side, labelled the “Participation Zone,” where a number of game masters set up games. Also, in the UK, since participation games are rare, it is also uncommon for folks to sign up for a participation event before the show. For the Combat Patrol game, however, we had three people signed up ahead of time. The down side of this informal approach was that it appeared a number of the participation games did not take place. They were set up, and GMs were standing by, but there didn’t seem to be a set start time, so I think many of the GMs never got a quorum at any one time to begin.
I ran two participation games. The first was supposed to begin at 1000, but a lot of folks wanted to get into Partizan and do a quick sweep of the vendors before starting a game — including me — so we didn’t begin until 1100. The first game involved German infantry trying to dislodge American paras from a French village at D+2. The second game had the Germans occupying the town and a unit of American armored infantry with halftracks trying to push them out. The scenarios were more about showcasing the rules and letting folks give them a go than about a carefully crafted and balanced story.
We had four players in the first game, and we had three players in the second game. In some cases the players were folks who had already purchased and read the rules but thought the participation game would be a good jump start. In other cases, the players had seen the Web discussions and wanted to give them a try. I have to say that I was happy to see a number of folks buy sets of the cards and rules as a result of these games.
The Sally 4th booth was right on the edge of the Participation Zone. Ann was doing a brisk business much of the day selling the excellent Sally 4th terrain products and the equally excellent Combat Patrol game.
While I was using half the table for the participation games, Chris was on the other end of the table collaring passers by. When people walked up, he would give them a few-minute briefing on the rules and demonstrate small arms fire resolution. This was a very good model, because it enabled Chris to reach those folks who weren’t able to devote three hours of a six-hour convention to playing a game. Apparently the concept that really resonated with many of the Brits was the idea that the figure hit by a shot is randomized across those figures in the target area, preventing someone from sniping at the forward observer, key weapon, etc.
This is a shot of the first game of the day. I got too busy to take any good pictures of the second game. All of the players took the game in the spirit in which it was intended. They were playing the game to win, but they were also interested in just trying out the rules. They were friendly and amicable. Before the second game, while I was explaining the rules to four players, one of them mumbled an obscenity under his breath and just walked away. Apparently there was something about Combat Patrol that elicited a visceral response. It was actually good that he chose to walk away before the game so that he didn’t ruin it for the others, but it was a little surprising — to me and to the other players.
A highlight for me came in the second game when I had moved over to walk a player through his first go at combat resolution. We flipped some cards and went through the process. Afterward he looked at me and said, “That was…” I thought he was going to say “bad,” “complicated,” “odd,” or something negative. Instead he said, “… really simple.” The look on his face told me that he had had the Combat Patrol epiphany! He and his buddy ended up buying copies of the game, and he joined the Yahoo Group before I got back to the US.
Other Random Photos
Below are additional pictures and some musings about Partizan. I wasn’t careful to note the periods, clubs, rules, etc. for these games as I was taking the pictures. I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing there were about 16-20 demonstration games and a like number of participation games at Partizan.
This game caught my eye. It was a demonstration game, and most of the day it seemed to have just two guys playing with each other. The figures are made from full sized clothespins and some horse silhouettes cut from MDF or thin plywood.
Recently there was a bit of a kerfuffle at Cold Wars in the US about perhaps sending someone to a UK show to figure out how to bring up the aesthetic standard of games at Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS) East shows. I saw some terrific looking games at Partizan as well as some not so pleasing games. On balance, I thought the aesthetic standard was about the same on both sides of the pond. Those games put on by clubs as demonstration events were generally to a pretty high standard.
I think the thing that surprised me most about a UK show was how demonstration events were conducted. My concept of a demonstration event is what we did as a club several years ago at Ft. McHenry. We had five or six of us playing a War of 1812 game in a small room near the flag pole. We had some posters on easels to describe what we were doing. We had two of our club members hovering nearby to explain what was going on to interested people, answer questions, and encourage people to try the game for a turn or two. When someone was interested, one of our folks handed over his command and then acted as coach/mentor to that person until he was ready to depart. At that time, the club member would resume control. For the demonstration events at Partizan, my impression was that it was largely guys in a club playing a game together, but in a public forum. I saw very little interaction between the demonstrators and the passing gamers. I stopped at several tables to take a photo or two, but no one stopped playing their game to see if I had questions or to explain what they were doing. I supposed I could have interrupted them to ask questions, but that seemed somewhat awkward. I didn’t want to be the rude Yank interrupting everyone’s fun.
I have always felt that naval games are at a distinct aesthetic disadvantage compared to land games, because there is relatively little you can do to provide points of interest on the table. This game was interesting from the sheer number of ships on the table. This game and the large game behind it were both demonstration games. You can also see that the vendors were arrayed around the gaming area, which is something I really like. A reason I have come to enjoy the smaller regional conventions in the US in the past few years is that I like this model of the vendors being interleaved with games. Players can pop over and ogle between turns, and vendors have something of interest to observe when their booth is not full of customers. It somehow seems more collegial to me.
I thought the terrain in this participation game was particularly effective. Having grown up near Detroit when the winters were harsh and long, I can say that deep winter can feel gray like this.
Below are a few random shots of demonstration games.
In summary, I had a terrific time at Partizan and thank the organizers for putting on the show. UK shows are along a different model than US shows. Given that I was there as much to sell my own product as I was to just participate, I found six hours too short. I hit the vendors as a commando raid, but didn’t really get to browse and see if something jumped out at me. Chris and his wife were tremendously helpful and friendly, as were most of the vendors and participants. As someone who enjoys pub food, I found the selection of food items interesting and different. The George Stephenson center was very well lit, and the high ceilings seemed to mitigate the game floor noise that we experience at many conference venues in US shows. I would definitely return if my schedule and resources permitted.
For me Partizan was a tremendous experience.