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.