By Jonathan Aird
Clouds of mist drifted slowly across the sky and the inevitable rain had started once I hit the railway station platform. Fortified with a decent coffee and a bacon roll, this inclement weather could be shrugged off – today I was off to Salute. And, as has become normal, the journey was as uneventful and as brisk as it could be depositing me at the other end of the Excel centre – Prince Regent is the DLR station this year whilst Custom House is being upgraded. Prince Regent is actually a better choice anyway as Salute tends to be at that end of the Excel centre, but it did seem odd not making the great trek along the Excel centre’s main concourse past the endless exhibition halls where people would not be thinking about wargaming all day! The same entry scheme as last year was in place – prepaid tickets almost half the price of “on the day” tickets ensured that there was a rapid processing of eager gamers who passed into the holding pen whilst they awaited the opening of the show. Perhaps there were more people this year, but for some reason it took almost 30 minutes for my part of the queue to reach the hall proper – and looking back there seemed as long a queue behind me as the one I had joined! The queue does give one the opportunity to see what kind of people go to Salute – and unless I’m very much mistaken there seemed to be a greater preponderance of adult males than in recent years. Yes, of course there will always be a lot of men, mostly over the age of 30 (many of them well over 30!) at a wargame show but it seemed to me that there were fewer female gamers than in recent years and, quite surprisingly, a lot fewer children as well. At past Salutes I can recall seeing school parties, and participation games that became crèches. Not this year.
Almost immediately I came across one of my favourite looking games of the show – an imaginary battle circa 1917 in Russia, with a wonderful array of early tanks and armoured cars, beautifully painted figures and splendid terrain. This was one of several games on display fitting the show’s theme of the Russian Revolution.
There were also plenty of impressive Science Fiction and fantasy games, including a huge Star Wars spaceship combat game, the picture shows not even a half of the major ships involved in this impressive battle.
On the whole though it seemed as if smaller games were in favour, the small demonstration/participation tables supporting a new rule or figure line release really do dominate now. Even where there were larger tables it seemed to me that these tended to have simpler scenery and often smaller scale figures as well compared to Salutes of a few years ago – although there were standouts like the game run by the Swedish group Dalauppror who had an impressive and rather different colonial America game based on Fort Mosquito and a tussle between Swedish and Dutch forces. A timely reminder that it’s not all French, Spanish and English.
There were a large number of participation games on offer, and I soon got involved in some of these starting with the Lance & Longbow Society’s War of the Roses game which used a cut down version of the Lion Rampant rules to have up to four small bands of troops fighting over a captive. This got off to a good start for me, with my troops holding off the nearest rival warband whilst my halberdiers made a rush for the captive at the market cross. Sadly, early gains were not upheld and in quick order my troops were cut to pieces by archers and then hacked around by knights – leading to a general pell-mell retreat.
Never mind – there were other opportunities for glory, such as the one to one combats in the Open Skirmish Battlepit. Open Skirmish is a new set of rules with a range of fantasy types variously armed and all with particular special abilities. My slow witted Ogre was hampered by his occasional ability to just forget what he was doing, and also by his inability to fend off the attacks of a Valkyrie warrior who made a habit of knocking him to the ground with her shield. Oh well, there would be other chances for glory later in the day!
In fact, a taste of victory finally came my way with the game Fenris Descending, presented by the Maidstone Wargames Society. This pitted endless hordes of hostile robots against small units of humans. This was a very imaginative game with some good mechanisms – the robots always moved forward 10 of their number and also had 10 Action Dice per turn, these had options of moving, attacking or malfunctioning for a turn – so depending on how these rolled either the robots made a huge advance, or the humans came under a steady fire! The humans meanwhile had individual squad missions – my squad had to retreat from a crashed drop ship to the safety of a shuttle launchpad – so whilst I made a fighting retreat others were surging forward into the midst of the robotic horde in pursuit of their own objectives. The clever thing here was that everytime a unit achieved its objective – or was destroyed – the game just carried on with a new recruit with a new mission. This game was a lot of fun, it looked very good and – apart from a few armoured spacemen everything was scratch built from scraps – the robots were various bits of plastic from the electronics section of a hardware store, combined with a lot of false fingernails for armoured plated, the buildings were made from soft foam children’s dominoes, there was a tank converted from a broken computer mouse. Wonderfully imaginative and it looked great too. Not only that but all of my squad made it out alive, which was a bonus!
Buoyed up but this turn of luck, I tried a North American skirmish set in King Philip’s War. This used some nicely painted 1/72nd plastics from Airfix, Zvezda and Italeri. The aim of the scenario was to prevent the death of the settlers at the hands of enraged Native Americans, and it has to be said this was not a complete success. At the end of the game, only the cow and one horse remained alive – however the Colonial troops who arrived just a little too late to help save the colonists did massacre the Native warbands in return. This was also a lot of fun to play, with all four players really entering into the spirit of the scenario. In the end, it was called as a draw – we had fought each other pretty much to a standstill!
Another table which really caught my eye was an impressive Seven Years War battle with vast lines of infantry occupying the centre of the table whilst cavalry massed on the flanks. Very impressive and very nicely painted as well.
The presentation of Pearson’s Farm by Gatehouse Wargames was very impressive as well, with again huge numbers of figures making for a very impressive display, and on lovely terrain too. Just as impressive was what looked to be a huge Warhammer 40K game with a multitude of tanks and flying gunships over some very well put together scenery which had very clean lines and achieved the double effect of filling the table without making it look cluttered. Very pleasing to the eye.
This really only touches the surface of what was on display. It was nice to see more historical games – probably most of the large games were historicals. It was also nice to see the show theme taken up with enthusiasm offering several impressive period games as well as a number of “rescue the Tsar” type participation games. The big trade stands – Wayland Games and Troll Trader – seemed to be backed throughout the show. Games Workshop weren’t really present – but Fantasy Forge were, and attracting a lot of interest as well. Osprey Games had their own stall and gaming areas – Frostgrave is still clearly very popular, and the presence of several Lion Rampant games indicated that these medieval battle rules are also doing well. It’s interesting to see the colossus of uniform books becoming a major wargame rules and boardgames supplier as well.
Talking of trade, it’s undeniably true there is something sadder than watching that poor soul rushing around a show as it enters its last half-hour, desperate to find something to buy – and that actually is being that sad soul! Although there had been a few things which caught my eye during the day, I almost unbelievably entered the last 30 minutes of Salute without a single purchase to my name. Inevitably there’s always a bit of a sense with wanting to go home with something new from Salute, having 100 traders in attendance will do that to the strongest willed, but there’s another change that has come that didn’t help. I’m an unashamed aficionado of the plastic figure – 1/72 – HO/OO — 20mm call it what you will but these boxes of soldiers on sprues are more and more my preferred scale and style. Over the years though, these have dwindled in their availability from wargaming traders – in the past I’d have gone to Grubby Tanks, but they’ve stopped carrying them, or Caliver Book, but they didn’t seem to have any and, of course, Harefields – the home for all things plastic – has just closed down as the owners have retired. Salute 2017 told me one thing here very strongly “you’ll have to order everything from Hannants from now on.” The other thing that I used to bank on walking away with was a few second-hand boardgames – usually hex wargames of the SPI variety. Again the kind of trader who carries such things at reasonable prices, along with boxes of old magazines and similar items has also faded from the scene – I think B&B Wargames was about the last such to regularly attend Salute and they’ve also closed down. Well, it’ll save me from impulse buys! Fortunately there were still just a few of these – The Square have some nice resin scenery pieces, and I picked up a useful little sailing boat and a nice little ruin on a small hilltop. The only other thing of note was a copy of Airfix Wargames, which I tried last year (see 2016’s show report for more details), and which the publisher, Modiphius, had on a show special – just £10! Too good a bargain to pass up. And apart from the entry bag loot – the Salute figure and a multipart plastic fantasy figure — that’s about it.
Salute just gets bigger and bigger – this year the show program promised about 100 games and 150 traders, all to be seen in just seven hours! That’s a challenge. I felt that compared to 2016 something had gone slightly wrong with the queue – I’ve heard from others that it was nearly 11 o’clock by the time they got in. That’s a pity. The trade aspect is getting more and more professional, and some of the older, less flashy, traders seemed a bit neglected as I went around the hall on my umpteenth circuit. Several people were demoing games that will be Kickstarters later this year – that’s surely something that is likely to be a growing trend over the next few years. Overall, I had a very enjoyable day, and though the nature of Salute continues to evolve I thought they’d done pretty darn well this year. Back again in 2018? I certainly hope so.