By Jonathan Aird
In a slight change to recent years, Salute 2016 saw the weather take a turn for the worst with almost wintry showers (there was even some snow not far north of London) which meant that it really was an ideal day for an indoor event like a wargame convention. No pining for the outdoors this year! There were the now customary engineering works on large parts of the Underground and DLR networks, but this didn’t prevent an arrival at a shade after 10AM. Picking up a revitalising coffee, which reminded me of Baldrick’s concoctions once the real coffee has run out in Blackadder goes forth i.e. “this coffee takes like mud” — I steeled myself for the inevitable queue to get in. How long would it be this year? Well, pretty long. There must have been a couple of thousand ahead of me when I got into the “holding pen” in the adjacent exhibition centre space, but it was already moving when I joined it and I was in the show within ten minutes, probably a bit less. So, The Warlords have completely solved the problem (as far as I can see) of the queue – with a combination of negotiating a holding area to form a queue off the concourse and an aggressive approach to presale tickets – these were £12 and were available up to and including the day of Salute, and non-advance tickets were £20 and cash only. Fixing the queue is a very good thing, and The Warlords deserve hearty congratulations for it.
There was time to peruse the “goodies bag” — show guide – well, already seen that from Miniature Wargames with Battle Games, but it did highlight the show theme of Steampunk underlined by the free figure which was (hooray!) a metal casting of a female Steampunk adventurer. It’s quite nice but … and there was also a couple of SF figures on a plastic sprue, again quite nice but….however the commemorative die will be useful. That may sound a trifle jaded, but in all honesty they are quite nice figures that I probably will just put in the cupboard. Anyway, into the show and straight to Harfields for my annual top up of 20mm plastic figures – I was planning to invest heavily in the Red Box ranges of medieval figures …of which there were none at all. Oh, the disappointment. Plenty of the new 16th century figures and the Turkish sailors but I’d decided to resist these as I just can’t cope with another large period to paint up figures for from scratch, nice as they are. I consoled myself with the first game of the day, a skirmish of In Her Majesty’s Name using the new material for the forthcoming Gothic supplement. This saw a group of Vampire hunters trying to prevent a Vampire-led gang from resurrecting Dracula from a tomb in a graveyard. It was a lot of fun, and I thought the new abilities for Gothic characters added a further interesting dimension to In Her Majesty’s Name. The picture shows a band of intrepid heroes preparing to see off the shadowy figures appearing in the distance whilst their leader, the valiant Vampire prepares to make a bold (and ultimately successful) dash to Dracula’s tomb. Did I mention that I was playing the vampires? Well, in this case evil prevailed whilst good men stood by and did little to prevent it – it was a fun game and lifted my spirits for the rest of the day. I would go on to hunt for further victories!
(More, and more photos, below.)
The strange thing was that this had doubtless been one of the Steampunk games – but there weren’t that many of them, it seemed to me, as I walked about the show. There were several War of the Worlds inspired games featuring roving Martian tripods. My favourite was the Martians versus the HMS Thunderchild game, which looked wonderful in its simplicity. The only thing that slightly disturbed me about it was not being able to shake off a mental correlation of the Martians with Marvin the Martian from Bugs Bunny – they don’t really look all that much the same but even so … the thought persisted.
There really are too many traders and too many games at Salute to ever truly do them justice in a selection of photographs, but here follow a few of the things that caught my eye. Not always the biggest games or even the most happening trend in wargaming but they were things that made me stop and look. And that’s one of the really great things about Salute – as big, and dare I say it professional, as it gets there is still room for different approaches. So one thing that gave me a lot of pleasure was The Continental Wars Society’s display stand which featured some beautiful examples of wargame scale flat figures. I don’t know what it is about them, but they just look so right. It was nice to see later, on a trade stand, that Helion and Company have produced an all in one “get you started” English Civil War book containing, as well as background and rules, whole armies of paper flats and paper terrain. What a great idea.
Very much at the other extreme was a fine Napoleonic game in what looked to be 54mm – including some wonderful Mameluks. Who wouldn’t like beautifully painted 54mm Mameluks in their wargaming collection? I may never do it, but I can certainly see the appeal!
A game that really caught my attention was put on by the Warlords – and had me stop and say “nice to see some Minifigs!” It was actually rather a nice tribute to a club member who had died – a recreation of a game he’d put on 40 years ago at the first-ever Salute. What a great thing to do – and with the original terrain and figures too. By today’s standards, of course, it must have looked basic to the casual viewer – but it still had a lot of charm for all that.
Another game I really liked was a Lion Rampant battle with fleets of Viking ships attacking a village. This was put on by the Swedish wargame group Dalauppror who had run a smaller skirmish game last year set in 14th century Stockholm. This was a much bigger game, but sadly was a demonstration only compared to last year’s participation game. It looked spectacular though.
Several of the other large games that were impressive were also Napoleonic setups, so I won’t show all of these but the fantasy “monster game” – in every sense – was a bewildering array of figures crashing into each other on a table so packed that tactical niceties after the initial game move were an impossibility. It was impressive – but also a bit silly. The photograph shows only a portion of the central part of the table – there were 1,000 barbarian army figures on the table I was reliably informed, and that was only one portion of the armies gathered for the battle!
By this time getting into another game was long past due – so I tried out the Marvel superheroes version of the popular Batman Miniatures Game. This uses, I think, 40mm figure (great – another scale!) and captured the big-budget battles of films like The Avengers really well. A particularly nice part is the ability of our super-strengthed heroes – and villains – to pick up scenery items like cars and throw them at each other, causing those on the receiving end to be pushed back and slammed into buildings. Lots of fun – and used some quite clever game mechanism to capture the comic book feel really well.
I also tried out Airfix Battles which is a new board-based game with counters to represent troops. However, all the figures and vehicles are also made by Airfix and the models will fit on the board which is divided into large squares for movement and distance combat calculations. So, the keen modeller can week by week replace all their counters with figures and vehicles. It’s a nice idea; the game was quick and played smoothly. There are a lot of unit types available and each player tailors their force to that which seems best suited to the mission or scenario being played. It was a fast play and pretty good fun – I may invest in it later on. However I decided not to on the day as I had, just a little earlier, not only passed but also stopped at the trade stand for Plastic Soldier Company. I resisted for the second year the 1/72nd scale T-35s – I don’t game WWII Russians, but they would make great “landships” for science fiction games. I resisted that – but I gave in to the show offer for The Great War miniatures/board game – the base game plus the Tank expansion set plus a set of pre-painted Whippet tanks all for £90. Well, I’d failed at Harfields earlier on so my “show” money was burning a hole in my pocket. What I ended up with was a gratifyingly heavy set of game boxes which weighed me down considerably for the rest of Salute and the journey home!
I made a few general observations as I went around the show — multiple times. Although there were some impressive games, particularly in the demonstration (rather than participation) games – there wasn’t a real stunner of a presentation to compare to, for example, last year’s The Fort. There was beautiful scenery to be seen – and some of the setups for Napoleonics and 18th century games were the definite highpoints. The trend for more of the participation games to be limited try-outs for new rules run by the traders continues – this is a mixed blessing as it offers a chance to try the new rules or game but often for only a couple of turns so unless one is willing to just try out any possible action to see how the rules handle it then one can be left with little understanding of the new game. My perception was that in general there were more of the smaller games than before, and that skirmish games are the big thing at the moment. It was strange how few Steampunk games were in evidence – I don’t recall seeing a single flying steam ship all day, other than on the trade stands. On the subject of traders – GW were noticeable by their absence, as were Forge World. Some of the bigger traders seemed to have booked smaller plots than previously – and there were a couple I just never managed to summon the will to fight my way through to see their wares. Again, naming no names, there were also a lot more small traders who bizarrely had very little on their single table stalls. I do think it’s great to see more diversity, but you do need to have something to sell as well.
It must have been a pretty good day though as I stayed until the end, didn’t bother with a lunch break, and it still felt like the time had just slipped by and I was far from finished with Salute by the time it was finished with me! There were at least two more games I’d have liked to try out, and I never did get to Newline even thought they were on my must-visit list. Maybe not the best-ever Salute, but a very good Salute none the less. Can’t wait for next year.