Contemplating HomerCon, MonsterCon, and cons in general

HomerCon West, a small local wargame con, is coming up this weekend. Actually, to call it a con is a bit of a stretch; like most wargaming cons these days, it seems to be more a bunch of guys getting together to play pick-up games.

At one time or another, I’ve been to most of the major boardgame conventions in America, with the exception of GenCon: Origins, WBC, The Gathering, ASL Oktoberfest, and MonsterCon. I’ve also been to local cons like ConQuest, HomerCon West, GMT Games Days, and KublaCon. I haven’t tried any miniatures conventions yet; the Games Workshop GamesDays don’t really appeal to me, and I’ve sworn that the Lord of the Rings Tabletop Battle Game is going to be my first and last miniatures game. Being a recent convert to RPGs, I haven’t yet been drawn to a RPG con, although I did some individual events last year at Origins.

At any rate, of all these cons I’ve settled on 4 a year that I’ve been to for the last 3 or 4 years – two cons that I travel to, and two local ones – Origins, MonsterCon, Conquest, and HomerCon West. The Gathering I can take or leave; I get to play eurogames all the time, and somehow I’ve never quite been comfortable with the crowd there, nor do I see most of these games as being worth traveling most of the way across the country to play in and of themselves. Maybe I’d feel differently if I didn’t have such good local game groups. WBC is a good player’s con and well-organized, but just not my speed. ASL Oktoberfest is a great time, but I, ah, don’t play ASL much anymore. So it’s down to four.

I’ve been to Origins for the last 10 or so years, and I always enjoy it even though some of my favorite wargaming events have gone by the wayside as that whole area has more or less imploded – but the other events are great, and I can do RPGs, CCGs, Lord of the Rings minis, and boardgames. Conquest is a great local con too, sort of a mini-origins which I’ve always enjoyed. But the two strictly wargaming cons – MonsterCon and HomerCon West – are definitely “on the bubble”, despite my tremendous fondness for really good wargames. If you want to see one aspect of the problems with the hobby today, you can go over to the MonsterCon signup area: you’ve got 72 people (as of today) signed up to play some 40+ different titles (most all of these are all-weekend type games). How the heck are you supposed to get comfortable with investing several hundred dollars when most people can’t agree on what to play? And some of those games will have no chance of getting half, even a quarter of the way done, like EFS or Guderian’s Blitzkrieg II or Enemy at the Gates. I dunno, I am above all else a gamer, and if you go into a game knowing there is no hope of coming anywhere close to finishing, what does that do to the game? The funny thing is, that it’s a lot better than it used to be. At least some of the really lousy and/or unplayable stuff from the first couple years has fallen by the wayside and players have migrated to some actual games (OCS, to my satisfaction, has grown quite a bit as an event, and von Borries’ East Front System has also done well).

This effect is even more pronounced at HomerCon West, which is why this will be a decisive year for me as to whether I bother going back. It’s a much smaller event, and basically everyone has their list of 10 or 15 games they want to play, and there is a stunning lack of overlap. There is no real con organization per se, so I sent out a list of about 20 titles I’d like to set up a game of, all pretty mainstream stuff, and got not even a single response. Meanwhile, the only games people have admitted to planning to play are Guderian’s Blitzkrieg and This Terrible Sound, which will likely take 20% of the event just to set up & tear down. So it’s an odd state of affairs. I just want to play some Europe Engulfed, maybe some Ardennes ’44, a couple OCS scenarios, EastFront, maybe some Lock ‘n Load or Battlelines as filler – stuff that could be finished in a day to a satisfactory conclusion … but people seem to be irresistibly drawn to the immense stuff. Don’t get me wrong – I can go for immense stuff too, and I’d like to play a game of Enemy at the Gates sometime. But these cons are just 3-4 day events; these games are something you set up in your basement and play with your 5 closest friends twice a month for two years. I’ve tried doing them at cons a couple times, and it’s kind of cool once or twice but ultimately just doesn’t work. Even the smallest “full” OCS campaign (Sicily, probably) can be probably only half-completed in 3 days under your average con conditions (i.e., usually not that favorable).

Me, I’ve got a game of Europe Engulfed set up for Saturday at HomerCon West, and I’m just prepared to head home after that if things are looking dicey. I’d love to do an Ardennes ’44, or a Ukraine ’43, or a Kasserine, or some other big-but-playable game. But I’m way behind in my painting for Return of the King, and the Army of the Dead & the Easterlings should be out this weekend.

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