By Jonathan Aird
April 12th saw the South London Warlords once more put on their premier wargaming convention, Salute. Once again, it was held at the ExCel centre in London. Salute has become, in recent times, both an annual pilgrimage and my main gaming shopping event of the year. I think I’ve finally got used to the relocation to the ExCel centre – it may be somewhat out from the city centre and the utilitarian nature of the venue may not have the charm of Kensington Town Hall or even Olympia but there is no denying that if The Warlords are going to put on the biggest one-day show in the UK then they need adequate space. And ExCel certainly has space.
For once the gods of travel smiled upon me and there were no delays or lengthy connections, so I breezed into Salute not that long after it opened. The queues which normally fill the length of the ExCel centre had been shunted into an unused exhibition area — I’ve read various reports that these queues were either terrible (mostly people who arrived before 10 a.m.) or bad, but not so bad, from those who arrived a little later. How to get three or four thousand gamers into an event at the time of opening is a difficult one to resolve – I think it would have to involve being all ticketed and having a larger entrance way, and it probably isn’t as easy as that!
If I have counted correctly in the show guide then Salute 2014 offered 164 traders and 103 games, meaning that if one was the first in at 10 a.m. and the last out at 5 p.m. then there was ~90 seconds available to look at each trade or game table! If, like me, one took the opportunity to play a game or two, then that scaled back the time to less than a minute per trade or game table! This overview will, therefore, be less than comprehensive. As has become quite normal, I never saw the painting competition, or The Warlords stand and I missed out on the big show theme game of D-Day – it looked like it was splendid from a distance! My first port of call was a game of In Her Majesty’s Name, which I was keen to try out as I have bought the rules and skim read through but not yet gotten around to playing them.
The scene was appropriately enough the London Docklands (ExCel is built in what was once the thriving docks), and saw a face-off between the forces of law and order (me) and a dastardly group of roving adventurers. It’s a game that has the potential to be quite fast moving, and was quite fun, although I think that like a lot of semi-RPG skirmish games a lot of the enjoyment is derived from designing your group and then seeing them progress through a campaign of scenarios. However, my mission was accomplished – law and order was restored and I now have a reasonable grasp of the main movement and combat rules!
Wandering around the hall after it seemed that there was a lot less steampunk and Weird World War II than in previous years although the greatest number of games was still, probably, SF and Fantasy related. The boutique game market seems to still be expanding – possibly due to the success of Crowdfunding campaigns allowing them to quickly get off the ground in pretty swish and attractive starter sets, rather than building slowly over time. A few pictures, however, will speak far more than mere words. A few games that caught my attention were a Dune battle, and Peter Pigs new Viking Raiders game Longships (I managed to get a game of this and it plays very smoothly and is highly enjoyable).
The battle of Trebbia caught my eye for the double reason of the large number of very cool 54mm figures and the elephants, lots of elephants.
Spirit of the Game put on a fun multi-player pirate skirmish – hunt the treasure was the aim of the scenario, but most players seemed to enjoy just taking pot shots at each other instead! Very nice 40mm figures and terrain, with buildings that came apart and had detailed interiors. Impressive.
Not quite D-Day, but the Roman beachhead was another impressive game with galleys, small boats, wading Romans and Britons in massed chariots waiting to come down on the invaders like a wolf on the fold.
I’m not actually sure which World War I game this was – there were many games set in 1914 at the show; it could almost have been the alternative theme for the day. Whichever it was, the terrain for this was just stunning.
As was the terrain for this World War II game, the level of detail was first class, even if the train service is no-class!
Back to elephants again – or, more correctly Mumakil, for the Warlords superb Battle of the Pelennor Fields game board. This used mostly pre-painted toys, but looked wonderful nonetheless.
And another shot of an In Her Majesty’s Name game, this time set on Mars. I think this was also at Salute 2013 – but it’s got everything really – colonial troops, flying boats, steam-powered tanks and an armoured train. All it needs is an elephant and it would be perfect.
I did manage to do some purchasing as well – although here I really fell down on the job as I only paid any attention to a dozen or so of the trades – there are just too many to really shop in depth. Anyway, this year’s shopping was quite a mixed bag really. Harfields Miniature Figures (http://www.harfields.com/Index.aspx) tempted me with a number of 20mm plastic sets – HaT’s new Sassanid Levy and Sassanid Light Infantry are wonderful, but unfortunately they only had one box of each left. However I also picked up Zvezda’s Russian Foot Warriors — a medieval set and HaT’s monster boxes (96 figures in each!) of El Cid Spanish Infantry and El Cid Almoravid Infantry. The nice people at Arcane Scenery (http://arcanesceneryandmodels.co.uk) worked away at my will power and persuaded me that I did need the Zvezda Art of Tactic Blitzkrieg starter set – and they were right! This is a boardgame played with miniatures, and the big and heavy box came stuffed with rules, figures, vehicles and aircraft and all at the very nice price of £25. Plastic Solider Company (http://theplasticsoldiercompany.co.uk) had just too much that looked good – my mind was reeling and I ended up only getting the S-Model fast-build L3/33 Light Tank, very pretty little models these. Last, but not least, I failed my sanity roll at Black Hat Miniatures (http://www.blackhat.co.uk) and bought the H.P. Lovecraft inspired skirmish rules set Strange Aeons and two additional supplements for the rather staggering price of £50 (my only excuse being I have been after these rules for at least two, perhaps three, years). Did I say last? No! Fortunately I recalled that I’d intended to “get something” from Amera Plastic Moldings (http://www.amera.co.uk) and just managed to buy a SF bunker before they’d finished packing away at the end of the day. Amera make vacform plastic terrain rather reminiscent of the old Bellona range, but with some fascinating items in their catalouge. I sampled on the small side because, although their terrain is without doubt very inexpensive, I wanted to see how well I can paint it up, and also how sturdy it is in my hands! If it works out, OK, then I’m sure I’ll be getting more.
And that was Salute for another year – in some ways it’s worse than Christmas, all the build-up and anticipation and then a mere seven hours and it’s gone again! This year more than ever I came away thinking I’d barely scratched the surface — there were several big games that I had only glanced at that really deserved more attention, and I would guess that I’d visited at most one-tenth of the traders. It seems like idle carping to even suggest that Salute may have gotten a bit too big but it also seems a great shame that so much effort should not get the attention it deserves. One might be tempted to suggest that Salute should go the same way as Colours and run as a two-day event, however it’s worth noting that the Salute guide had a large advertisement stating that Colours will not run this year as the hosting club have decided they cannot cope with the event at the size it has now reached (they aim to be back in 2015 after a rethink on the show’s direction and the club’s capabilities). For my next Salute visit, I have resolved to go much better prepared – one really needs to have prepared a list of the traders and games that must be seen, to try and wander around picking things up on the fly is great, but also teeth-gnashingly annoying when it comes time to leave and the realisation that this or that game or trader has been missed.