Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My geeking summer #2: True North

A hot time in the old town: Games Hub Edinburgh
This post could also be subtitled ‘fB strikes again’ because, exactly as with last month’s encounter with Mark Millar at Plan B Books, this story all began on Facebook. If I recall correctly, what happened this time was that a couple of months ago I followed through on a link that a friend had liked and lo, there it was: the Games Hub Edinburgh, a fB group for an upcoming games cafe in Edinburgh. Frankly, I was gob-smacked. What an awesome idea! What a risk to take. Just WTF! More seriously though: the Games Hub Edinburgh strikes me as an idea whose time has come, and as the most important thing to happen in the Scottish gaming community since I don’t know when. OK, starting G3 back in 1998 was totally exciting, and no small achievement for all concerned, but what we have here strikes me as being different by a whole order of magnitude. GHE, after all, won’t be a club meeting weekly for some 4/5 hours. It’ll be open 12 hours/day, 7 days/week. See what I meant about awesome, and the risk?

Sneaking in through the front door
So how did I get in?
And so there I was, mooching about on the GHE fB group, wondering what was going to happen and when, when up pops a notification about an event, a ‘grand opening’ (or somesuch), due to take place on Friday August 3rd. I promptly signed up. It turned out that this was the day before Claymore 2012 so I figured I could make a weekend of it. I persuaded my friend Paolo to join me (it wasn’t that difficult), made the appropriate arrangements and, when the appointed day came, we were off!
The Games Hub in a quieter moment
There’s only one way to describe the scene which confronted us when we entered the Games Hub later that afternoon: total and utter chaos. Workmen were everywhere, hard at work finishing off the fittings (that sort of work finishing late, who’d’ve thunk it?!); patrons were milling about more or less aimlessly; and, behind the cafe counter, a hardy few (chief amongst whom, I was later to discover, was Zai- the proprietor’s mum) were dodging the workmen as they went about their own appointed task of providing snacks and other refreshments to the ‘customers’. I say ‘customers’ because it turned that day wasn’t so much a grand opening as a demo day for friends only. Realising that I’d essentially blagged my way in by signing up to a fB event, and with a little help from a blog and its card I felt, well, I felt strangely proud: the biggest thing in years, and I was in on the ground floor, so to speak.
Shaz’s reaction to the insanity:
panic, or joining in?
Zai’s reaction to the insanity:
keep those sandwiches coming!
Shameless self-promotion
I was dishing out my card with abandon as you can imagine. This quickly proved useful in that it helped Shaz Aris- the proprietor, remember where we’d met before (I already knew that he’d been on the staff of Black Lion Games- Edinburgh’s game shop): he’d been on duty when I’d demoed Conflict of Heroes at Black Lion back in summer 2010. Shaz and I talked several times during the day (those cigarette breaks have their uses) and I ended up with some real insight into his plans. Those are for him to talk about in his own time and place, but today I’ll just say that I was particularly impressed to hear that he was shit-scared about the whole business. Impressed? Why? Because it’d’ve been a real recipie for disaster if the proprietor of such an audacious endeavour had been blase about what he was embarking upon.
Izzy & Shaz find time to smile
during a quiet moment
Fixing me in Shaz’s mind aside, I was also learning that day just how useful is a card as a way of getting to know people. As these things go, I met too many people to remember so please accept my apologies if we chatted and you don’t get a name-check here. One particularly genial encounter was with Ben, a veritable giant of a Kiwi. I can’t remember what we talked about, although I’m sure that the Games Hub itself was never far from the centre of our conversation. Also very nice was the genial guy who was demoing Flames of War. I remember our conversation orbited around the twin poles of the trials and tribulations of army-building- on the one hand, and the ease of picking up a decent starter army for FoW- on the other (no prizes for guessing who was who in that conversation dear readers!).
This dapper gent is Ben,
the Kiwi gamer
The happy winner
The hitherto nameless fB friend whose ‘Like’ had first tipped me to the Games Hub is none other than Alan, whom I’d met at Conpulsion 2010 and who’d come along to that Black Lion CoH demo I linked to above. Alan was keen that we play a game at the Games Hub, naturally enough. After some discussion via fB, he decided that what he really wanted to do was have his first go at Combat Commander. I was only too happy to oblige, as readers can readily imagine. But we had some important business to attend to first.
Alan’s prizes
Regular readers might also remember that Alan was one of the prize-winners in the first and only 5th Birthday Blogparty prize draw to take place before I disappeared from view for such a long time. Alan chose 2 Osprey books as his prize: WW2 US Amphibious Tactics and US Airborne Units in the Pacific Theatre 1942-45. For good measure I also gave Alan his choice of a set of Q-Workshop dice from the 3 sets Q-Workshop had been generous enough to donate. Alan chose a set of white and black dice from the Celtic 3D range. I was delighted finally to be able to start handing out some of the prizes which I’d put up so long ago. You can be sure that I’ll be doing everything I can to dish out all the rest just as soon as I can.
The gleeful prize-winner
& the relieved prize-giver
Business conducted, Alan and I repaired to the Games Hub’s basement, there to get down to Combat Commander. Oh wait, I haven’t told you about GHE’s gaming basement yet, have I? In a word: it’s awesome. All-too-overused, that word still applies to an area with some dozen or more gaming tables in various nooks and crannies (at least one of which is ideal for roleplaying away from the hubbub of the main room), as well as some specially constructed painting stations. In addition to that there is the Great Wall of Games: GHE’s massive games library. The idea here is that you pay a fee (£3 IIRC) to borrow a game to play. This fee isn’t returnable but it does count as a discount on any food and drink you buy on that visit. Quite a clever scheme it seems to me.
The Dungeonlords at play in the basement:
seated clockwise from the rules-
Stephen, Harcus, Aidan & Fraser
The game of CC was spectacular. Playing for the first time, Alan took the Soviets in Scenario 1. Fat Lipki (I just knew I’d get him playing the ‘reds’ one of these days!). As the Germans, I continued to experiment with my tactics. My experiment was proving quite successful until I launched an overstacked melee in an effort definitively to secure my right flank: Alan’s Soviets won despite all the odds. There really was no way back for me from that point, although I don’t think I gave up as such. Alan enjoyed the game a lot (unsurprisingly!), which was good. For my part I savoured the strange experience of playing on a virgin CC set after so many games with my increasingly battleworn Germans (some counters are almost illegible, which doesn’t matter too much because Badger and I both know instinctively what they are). Teaching the game also proved as easy as ever, with a comfortably low number of clunks and fumbles.

Gaming done, Paolo and I were getting a bit hungry. We repaired to Dario’s, an Italian restaurant on Lothian Road of which I have fond memories from the days of yore. The place didn’t disappoint. Fed and watered, Paolo and I returned to the Games Hub, there to hang around idly for a wee while before joining a couple of other gaming denizens in a nearby pub for a quick nightcap. And that, dear readers, was my first day at the Games Hub Edinburgh. You can be sure it won’t be my last.

No, not my last
OK, OK, I was cheating a bit there. This Friday coming- 31st August (that’s the day after tomorrow, which just goes to show how tardy I’ve been getting this piece written), sees Games Hub Edinburgh’s official Grand Opening. I’ll be there, of course. I’m still not sure exactly what I’ll be doing on the day, except for one thing: I won’t be handing out cards hand over fist- I ran out in Bradford and haven’t had time to get a new one printed up. Meanwhile, best wishes to Shaz and his crew on their big day. I’m sure it’ll be a blast!

On to Claymore
I wrote back in 2009 about how much the new venue has improved Claymore- Scotland’s biggest wargames convention. Seeing as how the organisation of the event hasn’t fundamentally changed there isn’t really anything to add on that score: this year’s Claymore was the same cornucopia of trade stands, participation games and demo games (why, oh why do these pointless space-filling dinosaurs continue to take up space which could usefully be used to stage games which, by inviting the public to join in, might actually do something to encourage the growth of our hobby?- I just don’t get it). It was also Paolo’s first Claymore, and I don’t think I’d be misrepresenting him if I said he was also perplexed by the peculiarites of the event’s organisation. Still, he did enjoy hunting down bargains and spending his money at the trade stands.

An irresistable
Me? I was being cautious, very cautious. I bought some coloured gems for the purposes of a wee tweak I’m planning to deliver when I finally get my little Old World up and running again (no promises to anyone, but this is definitely long overdue). I also found a book I just couldn’t resist: Before Stalingrad: Barbarossa - Hitler's Invasion of Russia 1941, by David Glantz. The title aside, it was the name of Glantz as author which attracted me to this book. I’ve never read any of his writings before but I’ve picked up enough tittle-tattle across the internet to be aware that there is some controversy attached to his work on the Russian Front. Reading his Wiki entry has assuaged my worst fears- that he’s some kind of revisionist; quite the reverse in fact: it seems to me that he’s on the right side of some of the key disputes in his field. I’m looking forward to reading my first sample of his work.

Lashing out with too much cash wasn’t the only thing I didn’t do at Claymore this year: I also didn’t join in any participation games. Why? Mostly, I guess, because I was just a little too frazzled to get myself organised (I’m in phase 1 hypomania just now y’see). Still, I did have a whale of a time catching up with old friends and making some new ones.

Hanging out
I was browsing the Bring and Buy when I spotted my first familiar face of the day: the mighty Baz, formerly manager of GW Glasgow, whom I hadn’t seen in simply ages. It turned out that there was a very good reason for this: he’d just spent the past 10 years managing GW stores in Sweden(!).
Baz: mighty & jovial!
We had a nice wee chat about the ‘good old days’ (we’re both getting on a bit y’know), and Baz gave me some insight into what it’s like to be a GW manager returning from afar to take over a store not far from his old stomping grounds. For my part I told him about my army-building burnout and how the sheer quality of GW’s endless Space Marine releases had been a significant factor for me. It was great to catch up again with the ever-cheerful Baz, and I’m certainly looking forward to dropping into GW Edinburgh to say hello.

Much later in the day I also tracked down the guys from The 6’s2Hit Shop on their trade stand. I’d briefly encountered one of the pair at the Games Hub the day before because 6’s2Hit are the GHE’s trading partner, which means they have their own little corner of the basement all to themselves (I didn’t mention it above because I didn’t see it on Friday). The 6’s2Hit stand was stacked to the gunnels with lots of tempting goodies, but I made my willpower roll, and didn’t buy a single thing (not necessarily something Kenny and Craig would celebrate quite the way I did!).
Kenny & Craig at The 6’s2Hit Shop
trade stand
In between meeting Baz and catching up with 6’s2Hit, I spent some time at the impressive stand of Warlord Games, positively drooling over their truly splendid Bolt-Action range of plastic, metal and resin 28mm WW2 miniatures (my willpower was sorely tested I can tell you dear readers!), a range which will soon be complemented by a ruleset of the same name, to be published by Osprey Publishing.

The names Alessio Cavatore (regular readers might remember that I met Alessio while he was demoing Shuuro- his chess variant, at UK Games Expo 2010) and Rick Priestly on Bolt Action’s credits mean that this will be a serious entry into its field. I already know I’ll be getting a copy to check it out. Anyway, drooling and resisting the lures of lovely stuff aside, I passed a pleasant wee while with the guy manning the Warlord stand- Dave Lawrence I think he was, chatting about Warlord’s range and plans, and about the hobby in general. I can tell you in all certainty that won’t be the last time I spend at a Warlord Games’ stand and that, sooner or later, time won’t be all I’ll be spending there either.

Away the lads!
After that I made a point of making a beeline for the G3 participation game. This year, for the 2nd year in a row, the club put together a single participation game and organised demo teams who could take the game on a tour of local conventions: an admirable idea in my opinion. G3’s 2012 convention game was Empire of the Dead, for which the lads had built an awesome city board and painted some lovely miniatures. They’d already won Best in Show at Falkirk District Wargames Club’s Carronade earlier in the year, so hopes were high for Claymore. In the end G3 only won 2nd place (they were beaten by tanks: my loyalties are torn, what can I say?), but the lads put on a good show you can be sure.
John, David, Andy P, & Barry at the G3
Empire of the Dead participation table
(John's holding the cup won at Carronade)
All that aside, the best bit of Claymore for me this year was the old thing about catching up with my buddies from back in the day. There’s not a lot to say about that really, except that I met one of their new friends, a guy by the name of Nick Murray. Nick, Paolo and I had a really interesting conversation about the value of business cards, and other more technical matters pertaining to the computer industry most of which, frankly, went over my head. Other than that, the whole crew of us just had a nice time in each other’s company. When Claymore wound up, we headed off to the pub for a bite to eat and a quick drink before we all went our separate ways and Paolo and I caught the bus back to Glasgow. And that was that for a more than usually exciting Claymore weekend in Edinburgh. ;)

- My geeking summer #1: "Oop north"
- Celebrations and felicitations!


Andrew Paul said...

The "anon" is my friend David (who I think you've met once before, many moons ago). Probably the person who travelled the furthest to attend Claymore this year, having come all the way from Japan!

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Updated. Thanks Andy. Japan's a long way to come, yes. That's dedication for you I guess. BTW, didn't David once come round to my place for a game of Blood Bowl, or am I confusing him with someone else?

Andrew Paul said...

That's the chap.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Gosh, that was a surprisingly long time ago, which is my excuse for not recognising David and I'm sticking to it! ;)