An old convention programme — Games Day 1978

By Jonathan Aird

I’ve been tidying.  Arguably, I should do this more frequently than every 20 years or so, but on the other hand if I tidied every year would I still have some of the hobby ephemera which inevitably turns up?  Probably not, and we can leave for another time the discussion of whether it would be better for me to throw all that stuff away much sooner.  However, as part of the clearing and sorting I came across a small pile of old convention programmes, including the one shown below.  As I didn’t get to Salute this year, for the first time in I’m not really sure how long, I thought I’d share this instead.

Games Day 1978 was the very first gaming convention that I attended. It was held in London’s Seymour Hall and was the fourth Games Day that had been organised by Games Workshop.  Way back in 1978 Games Workshop was a single gaming shop, much like many other local games and wargames stores in the UK, although already having something of a specialisation in Fantasy and Science Fiction games and figures.  However, Games Day was much more inclusive and featured all of the other “normal” games that Games Workshop at that time stocked.  So the cover shows a strange “Psi-War” battle (from the Green Planet series of sci-fantasy boardgames) as well as chess, backgammon and a regular hex wargame.

Opening up there’s further evidence of that “all games are welcome” attitude – as the Games Workshop advert, concentrating on Dungeons & Dragons and related miniature figures is faced by a full page advert for playing cards.  It’s worth bearing in mind that this is one of the ways that Games Workshop established their brand and marked themselves out as a very special shop in the gaming firmament.  Arguably, it was an effort that paid off quite well for them in the end, but it must have been a lot of work to organise!

The centre pages show a map of the hall with all the myriad of traders and gaming opportunities.  There are some familiar names in the Traders list – Skytrex, Mike’s Models, the much lamented Asgard Miniatures (now available from Alternative Armies!), the equally lamented Greenwood & Ball, and the still very much with us Navwar.  Many of the 21 traders were other Games Shops as well as family game manufacturers such as Waddingtons (who made Monopoly and Risk!).  And note the special guests from the USA – Scott Bizar of Fantasy Games Unlimited and Glenn Kidd of Ral Partha, whose figures really were the sharpest point of the cutting edge at the time – and Games Workshop had the UK import and distribution rights!

The timetable of events is equally varied, with Hex Chess and GO competing for attention with Diplomacy and Cosmic Encounter.  Looking back, it was all very board game orientated in the competition area, but the demonstration games were far more figure wargames orientated – with the South London Warlords putting on a Middle Earth Battle, as well as games of Sorcerer’s Cave.  And I notice that Dave Rotor (of the Minifigs/Skytrex shop in London as well as being a well-known games designer) was there with a car racing game.

Sorcerer’s Cave also features on the back cover of the programme.  This game was popular with fantasy gamers – it was a “bridging game” which “ordinary people” could be persuaded to play – although they did sometimes think they’d played Dungeons & Dragons afterwards!  It was also useful for D&D players starved of terrain tiles as the board could be used for laying out a rather regular series of caverns and corridors.  In those days though we were grateful for anything which vaguely helped!

I don’t, I have to admit, remember a great deal from the day – I did enjoy it though.  I don’t think I managed to get into any games, but I do recall the Games Auction at the end of the day.  Copy after copy of Road to Richmond (from a recent Strategy & Tactics) came up with the prices dropping with every one and roars of laughter greeting yet another copy.  I managed to snag one for I think 60p (about 20 cents at the time!) – which was, it needs to be recalled, enough to buy seven metal 25mm foot figures from Minifigs (so somewhere about £10 at today’s wargaming money).  It wasn’t such a bad game.

I also bought Bloody Buna because nobody wanted it.  It was probably very cheap, but, as I later discovered, since it was lacking the rules it was not a great purchase.  And I also bought The Battle of Helms Deep (by Fact & Fantasy Games) from the Lord of the Rings which became one of my favourite games of all time, and at £1 was a real bargain.  I recall there was a bidding war, with the price edging up 10p at a time towards the very limits of my saved-up pocket money.  Very tense.

One other thing that I recall was that I was there to the bitter end – thereby setting a trend for pretty much every other convention I’ve ever been to.

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3 Responses to An old convention programme — Games Day 1978

  1. Martin Smith says:

    …’from little acorns…..’.
    Thanks for this – amazing how a ‘world power’ in gaming established its roots way back.

  2. Brian Cameron says:

    Hi Jonathan, thanks for posting this though you’ve made me feel old – I was one of the people presenting the South London Warlords Sorcerer’s cave game (a rare foray into fantasy for me). John Treadaway (now editor of Miniature Wargames) would have been presenting the middle earth game.
    Good to see mention of Dave Rotor, an under-appreciated designer and wargamer. I met Dave via Bill Brewer’s shop in Peckham and we became good friends; I recall playing test games of Dave’s racing game, one of many imaginative designs he came up with. Dave and I visited a wargames event at the Russell Hotal in late 1971 and came away saying ‘we could do that’ and thus SALUTE came about in April 1972. Sadly I lost touch with him in the pre-internet days when I was working away a lot.
    Thanks for the reminder of the good old days.

  3. JAird says:

    Apologies for the age thing but it’s quite amazing to find out more information about the running of the show! I’d always assumed that the Middle Earth Game was run by Joe Dever – when Games Day transferred to the larger Horticultural Hall I recall a huge game with what seemed to be hundreds of Minifigs Aureola Rococo range Knights of the Silver Rose. They were, by then, some of the most amazing figures available (and can be still got from Caliver Books!) and it was amazingly impressive. Apart from the terrain centrepiece of a giant volcano which was quite clearly a circular washing up bowl with paper-mache or Mod-Roc sides!

    Dave Rotor was, in a way, a big influence – he ran Minifigs/Skytrex and, once he realised he was going to get all of my pocket money every week, would occasionally advance a line of credit – and that’s how I bought Citadel by Fantasy Games Unlimited. Loved that game as well. Once I had a few of the Minifigs and the Davco Spacehips he persuaded me that I needed the Galactic Warfare rules…by Dave Rotor! I also used to buy a fairly random selection of Skytrex tanks and he also persuaded me that I should try Sim-War…by Dave Rotor! I also recall a couple of games by him in the Usbourne BattleGame Books (perhaps I should do a short piece on them as I think they are largely forgotten!).

    I’d better stop now before I start endless reminiscing about the fantasy section he opened in the shop’s cellar, called The Dungeon. They certainly were good times.

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