By Jonathan Aird
Salute has acquired something of a knack of occurring on one of the first really nice days of the year – and 2013 was no exception to that rule. After weeks of a slow spring, at last the sun is out, the sky is clear of clouds and a glorious blue. What better day then to spend inside at a wargame convention! London Transport had once more managed to throw me a curved ball – the most direct route from Kings Cross to the ExCel centre was subject to engineering works, so a more convoluted approach was required. Despite this, I still arrived early enough to be able to join what was, in my experience, a record length queue to get in. If I said there were thousands ahead of me, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. If I said my heart sank, I’d be nothing but honest. Fortunately, the Warlords managed the queue extremely well and pushed it forward relentlessly, so there wasn’t too long a delay in getting in.
Salute at ExCel occupies a big exhibition space – which allows for 120 traders and a vast array of games of both participation and demonstration varieties, although this year I’d say that the participation games dominated. This is undoubtedly due to the number of manufacturers of rules and figures choosing to show off their wares by running a game, or even a half dozen small games, in close proximity to their trade stand. It says something for Salute’s size that it took me a couple of hours to find the huge demonstration game for this year – Waterloo – although this was more of a diorama than an actual game. Wonderful terrain – and so many figures even in the very far corners of the table!
Wandering around, there was, as ever, a large number of Fantasy & Science Fiction Games of all types. In recent years Zombies have been very popular, as have the “World War 2 in 1946” type games and its close cousin “Weird World War 2” with vampires, zombies, power armour and so forth. Now there’s a new kid in town – although it’s been building for a while – 2013 is definitely the year of Steampunk. You could hardly twist your head in any direction without catching a Victorian Science Fiction game – the British Empire On Mars (a Barsoom-like Mars, that is) has been popular for a while, but it’s been joined by spring-heeled Jacks, Leagues of Extraordinary Gentlemen, mechanical carts and steam driven landships. They look superb — but I do wonder how one chooses between the plethora of systems and the new phenomena of “boutique games?” Maybe one doesn’t – and just buys into multiple systems for different style of game. Anyway, definitely nice to look at.
And talking of “boutique games” – there was a superb looking game of “Twilight” (nothing to do with Vampires !), which seems to have expanded quite a bit since I first saw it a couple of years back. Very nice figures, which are a little reminiscent in style to the races of the film “The Dark Crystal.” An unusual combat and activation system and a rich background – and very pleasing to the eye as well.
One other thing that became very obvious was that wargaming has a new smell. It used to be that people would criticise shows for being a bit … smelly. Not now! The aroma of laser-cut MDF is everywhere – laser-cut bases, laser-cut movement trays, laser-cut paint racks and laser-cut buildings. All the buildings in this western town are laser cut from MDF. Look great – put quite pricey at £18 ($27) a go.
One thing that I was on the lookout for was large skirmish games – games which can cope with about 50 figures per side without bogging down. I think the best example I came across was “Sixty one-Sixty five,” which used the rules of the same name from Ganesha Games. These use a variant of the “Songs of Blades & Glory” skirmish system, but operate at a company level. The simple activation rules gave a really good feel of the “stuttering” attacks that one reads about in ACW skirmishes. I think it will also make them highly suitable for solo play. Having played the game for a while I was convinced of two things – I wanted the rules, and the rules for skirmishers needed just a little bit of tweaking as they seemed too good! Naturally, though I scoured the traders I couldn’t find a copy of the rules anywhere. Isn’t it always the way? I’m not giving up though – by hook or by crook I shall have them!
Of course, there was also time for some shopping – although I hadn’t had anything in particular on my list. A great find was several sets of 1/72nd plastic figures – including some orcs on wargs that I hadn’t even heard rumours of. Zombie pirates and a medieval baggage train were also snapped up – I may review these separately for the blog. Several boardgames (old Strategy & Tactics titles) were found on the bring and buy table. A few items of resin scenery from The Square and a copy of the reprints of “Advanced Laserburn” and “Imperial Commander” from Alternative Armies made up the rest of the haul. I’m very taken with “Imperial Commander” – and I wish I’d bought it years ago – I now have plans for 15mm SF battles – I’ll start small and build up, I think, rather than jumping head first (famous last words, eh?).
Overall, I found Salute 2013 very enjoyable, thankfully, as I’d had a pretty poor time at 2012 and had almost not bothered this year. I’m glad I did.