By Jonathan Aird
“In the early morning rain – with a dollar in my hand” – that has to be the best way to head off to Salute. If it is one of the sunniest days of the year – as has been the case for several recent Salutes – then the prospect of being in a windowless cavern (or the ExCel convention centre) can cause some mixed feelings. Although, to be honest, I did have somewhat more than a dollar on my person – Salute is a huge trader-fest as much as anything, and with 165 traders listed it has become the key event for both my planned, and even more so my unplanned, purchases.
And after a fairly easy journey into London and across the capital by tube and DLR I joined the hordes heading for Salute. Well, some of them anyway as there was a very tempting and also quite popular Sherlocked convention going on across the way, catering for fans of the BBC Sherlock series. Steeling myself against that temptation – and with my pre-ordered and pre-paid ticket for Salute in my pocket – I headed onwards not, as might be expected, to the Salute hall itself. No – this year everyone first went into the holding pen formed by the convention space next door – a clever idea to keep the queue off the concourse. It was a very long queue in the holding pen – and Salute had been going for about 20 minutes, maybe even a little more, before they decided to open the doors fully and let a surge of pre-paid ticket holders storm the barricades.
And that sounds bad but just to prove that the British do love to queue there was another queue inside to see the Forge World stand – and that, I have been told, had a wait time of about 45 minutes. For what, I have no idea – I wasn’t going to pay £10 just to stand in lines for more than an hour! Whatever it was, it was certainly very popular.
Salute is huge – as already mentioned, there were 165 traders listed, and 120 or so display, demo and participation games. Wandering around I came to the conclusion that more and more of the games were there to support traders – so cut-down versions of new rule sets or hybrid board and miniatures games (there were a lot more of these, I thought). These are very useful for play-testing a game of interest, and although I suspect in 2-player games the potential customer always wins (so that they won’t hate the game) they clearly have a role in the trade aspect of the show. A downside to it is that they do tend to be less spectacular looking – as the trader will typically have several games they are trying to promote. And that would be one of my four sweeping generalisations about Salute 2015 which are –
- There were fewer really spectacular games – with a couple of notable exceptions,
- 6mm is really popular, especially for historical games,
- Science Fiction and Fantasy has the dominant role in the hobby,
- There were a lot of games depicting battles in snowy landscapes – don’t know why that should have been.
One game that did catch the eye just after entering was a pike and shot game with massed windmills – of course it was Lutzen. Blockbuster Wargames were running it and it was participation. I have to say that the Swedish forces I commanded for half an hour or so had what might be called mixed fortunes – inflicting some casualties and pushing back the enemy’s centre line, but also taking brutal damage from the massed cannons they had to storm past. Good fun, and a nice set of rules with the emphasis on motivating and keeping a unit pushing forward when all it really wanted to do was be elsewhere once the bullets and shot started flying!
Back to wandering around the hall and the next game to really grab my attention was a huge Battlestar Galactica setup: so many Battlestars in one place – and so many Cylons! A very impressive game of Full Thrust by Mechworld Development Group – but sadly only a demonstration game.
It being 600 years since Agincourt, there were several representations of that battle on display. The largest and most visually impressive was the one put on by (I think) The Lance and Longbow Society. Certainly it had the most impressive display of banners – as shown by this melee at the English line. Interestingly, the Bradbury / Bennett interpretation of the English archers as being mostly on the wings of the battle seemed to have been adopted universally.
It was getting long past time for another game by this point, and I was lucky enough to get a slot in the Stockholm 1392 game run by Dalauppror. This used a slightly tweaked version of the Lion Rampant skirmish rules from Osprey – which I have but up to this point had only read through and put aside to try out at a later date. It was a smooth running system, and a lot of fun as bands of German and Swedish troops undertook a series of missions in the crowded marketplace and the rat-run alleys of the surrounding streets. It was nail-biting to the last turn as a little luck on either side could have swung victory their way in what was a well thought out and well balanced scenario. Great fun!
Another fun – and quick – game was storming the walls of Harfleur in 54mm – this was on the Society of Ancients recruiting stand. A domino driven game of skill – and, to be fair, some luck – in which the attacker has to try and get two soldiers, including Henry V, inside the city walls. I think I’ve played this before, but it was fun, quick, and more of a challenge than it first looks as the player has to decide how to advance over rugged terrain, when to risk combat, and how to balance attack and defensive strengths from a randomly selected hand of dominoes.
Slightly sad to say, that was it as far as game play for the day – it seemed that as the afternoon wore on a lot of the gamer demonstrators started to flag, and by 4PM things were decidedly winding down – with the first signs of surreptitious packing away starting to appear. A couple more games of note that should be mentioned however were a huge Warhammer battle and a demonstration of The Fort (inspired by Bernard Cornwell’s book). Both of these were massive – the Warhammer game reminded me of centrepieces from Games Days and Dragonmeets of the 1980s, whilst the game of The Fort was really more of a diorama than a game. Very, very impressive though and I took quite a few pictures so may do a separate photo-report on this later if people would be interested to see that.
And, of course, the other important thing from a day at Salute is the outcome of the shopping. Sad to say, the end result was pretty minimal. The goody bag at the entrance had a perspex shooting template, a die and a plastic Agincourt bowman – I’ll admit that I preferred the Salute reward figures when they were a couple of metal figures on a diorama base. A single plastic self-assemble archer – even a nice 28mm Perry one – just isn’t the same. Other purchases amounted to five boxes of figures from Harfields Military Figures (http://harfields.com/Index.aspx) – I’ll be doing separate reviews of the new sets amongst these – which were some really nice fantasy figures in 20mm plastic. I also picked up three magazine boardgames – and on reflection there were a couple more of these that I should also have got. The Square had some nice obelisks – which of course I went back for once they’d sold out – will I never learn? I doubt it. And really that was it, which surprised me as much as anything. It’s a combination of not really needing all that much more for my main areas of interest, and, as still a very poor painter, not being willing to shell out £5 or £10 for a single 25mm figure for one of the growing in popularity “boutique” games. Maybe one day.
And, as to the “what’s been hid” part of the title – well, I went looking for but never did find Amera plastic scenery, and having seen other show reports there were also a couple of big Star Wars games that somehow I managed to pass by without a single glance. That’s very much Salute for you though – too much to see for a single day of six and a half hours to suffice. It was a very enjoyable day nonetheless, and for the sheer size of it Salute remains the premier UK wargames event.