As is my wont, I always wait a week before producing my Salute report. This is so the whole experience can soak in and I can think carefully about it.
This year I would first like to give you an insight into the preparation and running of our show stand.
As a games runner, Salute is not an event for the faint-hearted. It is loud, incredibly busy and full of people who may only stop by your game for a minute but may make up their mind about it in that instant.
As a small game producer, without the full marketing strength of the big chaps, this is a real challenge as we have to rely on the assistance of volunteers in order to put on a good show.
So, when we set up our games we try to make them attractive to the eye, and always have a ‘front of house’ table and a person to introduce who we are, quickly and efficiently.
Planning for Salute begins months before, when Charles and I decide what games we wish to present and then start the long process of;
- obtaining the right figures and terrain,
- building the boards,
- painting the figures,
- producing the scenarios and lists for games that will sum up what we offer in a short yet pleasurable experience for the visitors,
- playtest and fine tune the games,
- produce all the supporting literature for front of house,
- -buy the comestibles and beverages to keep us on our feet for seven gruelling hours, and
- finally, safely packing them all up for the show.
Charles is the master planner and produces checklists for us both to ensure we forget nothing and are fully prepared. That said it has become a tradition that I still forget one thing.
Travelling to the show
Although Charles lives in Surrey, I have the added fun of a road trip from deepest, darkest mid-Wales. I usually arrive in Surrey, with my team in tow, on the Friday and travel around to the venue early on the Saturday morning. Thus, avoiding hefty London accommodation costs, but missing the pre-show festivities.
Due to years of practice, military-level planning and, precise packing, we can have our game tables and front of house stand up and running in about thirty minutes.
This is helped by the efficiency of the South London Warlords, whose overall show organisation is second to none in the UK.
What you cannot really be prepared for are the punters – you fine ladies and gentlemen.
We get everything from stalwart fans of our games to complete newcomers, enthusiastic questions and sour nit-pickers, people who want to like our games and others who feel it their duty to tell us how they do not compare to their own favourite systems.
There are also those who are nonplussed that we have not supported our games with massive ranges of figures (preferably in plastic) and have not embraced Kickstarter to fund this. Many people do not understand that we really are a two-man band who do this in our spare time, rather than a corporate giant.
What we do always get is delight from those who sit down to spend half-an-hour playing our games. The fact that we can get them playing in five minutes and, by the end of the second turn pretty much leave them to it, astonishes many, especially those who bring children as young as eight to play. This is because the scenarios and companies we put before them are carefully created to be simple to play, with limited objectives and plenty of character to enjoy. It often takes longer to produce and fine tune those than to actually produce the boards and terrain. The effort though, is always worth it.
The team of volunteers we have created around us are all close friends and enthusiasts about the games we have produced. So, they are more than capable of running any of our games with a moment’s notice. Some players are surprised that half way through a game one of us can slip away to talk to someone at front of house while another team member slips in to take over.
This year our team included Billy Harrington, the producer of the marvellous cemetery board, his friend Big Mike, Lorna – my wife and, Mark Byng, creator of the IHMN board game. In previous years and, at different shows, we have had the able assistance of ‘hairy’ Dave Robinson, Gareth Pugh and his son Oliver, and Matt Cook.
We would like to thank a small group of people from the games community without whom none of ths would be possible;
- Nick Eyre and his team at North Star Miniatures who distribute and promote our games,
- Andy and Tracey of Ainsty Castings, who are our main point of sale at shows this year,
- Guy Bowers and the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine crew,
- Wayne Bollands and the Wargames Illustrated crew,
- Sean of S’n’M Stuff, who sells the PDF versions of our books, and
- Phil and Joe at Osprey Wargames, who started this whole crazy thing.
This year Billy brought a pair of trolleys so we decided not to bother with all the palaver of registering our vehicles and driving into the hall itself. Instead, we parked downstairs and ran the trolleys up the lifts and into the hall. This turned out to be much quicker.
The Warlords had provided us with enough tables and chairs, as requested, so setting up was a breeze. The team have learned to leave me to set up my board alone or risk the wrath of my Sheldon-like OCD :D. I like to have it just so…
We had time this year, after set-up, to have a short wander around the hall. Most of the time was spent greeting old friends on the games tables and trade stands. Indeed, our tables were just across the aisle from Guy, Jasper and Christy on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine stall.
Lorna disappeared on her annual scavenger hunt, looking for freebies and bargains. As usual she brought back tons of stuff that I am still unpacking now.
I was surprised this year by the smaller number of huge display games, though this did give room for more participation and club games. I don’t know if this is a new policy by Warlords, or just a lull.
Saying that, my friend Simon Miller was there running one of his superb ‘To the Strongest!’ battles on a table that is bigger than my living room. If you get the chance to see one of these at another show, do go and have a close look.
Our pal Annie Norman of Bad Squiddo Games deserves a special mention as she had equipped all of her stand team with violet tutus. Charles is just thankful that she did not have a spare one for me to wear 😉
Once the doors opened and, the hordes advanced, the day became a bit of a blur. Running games, answering hundreds of questions, directing people to where they could buy our games, then signing their books (despite warning them that our scribbles would only diminish their value), running more games, glugging down about a gallon of hot black coffee (thanks Big Mike, Billy and Lorna), snatching snacks as they were presented etc.
There were a few incidents worth noting;
- Mike Strong turning up with the promised cake – resplendent in its red icing and Ministry logo. It was delicious and many people asked if we were raffling it.
- A young lady and her daughter who returned several times to chat to Lorna and observe the games. It is good to see young girls being so encouraged to take up the hobby.
- Mark Byng, in his full Victorian outfit, presenting his IHMN board game to dozens of interested people. He raffled off a full pre-production copy to people who put their names down. Forty-four hopeful punters and one winner – Jimmy Carter.
- The fine chaps of Meeples & Miniatures, who turned up towards the end and, recorded short interviews with both Mark and myself. I shall be appearing on one of their splendid shows later in the year. You have been warned…
- The children who came and played the games with their parents. All of them did very well and, soon proved to be tactically adept, as well as getting into the spirit of the setting.
- The brilliantly be-fezzed Kevin Rolfe. Proof, if it was needed, that a gentleman requires a hat. Who knew that the Great Cthulhu had a merchandising arm?
- And finally, the chap who informed us that IHMN Gothic was ripping off Osprey’s copyrighted material and that they should be told.
At the end, we were physically and mentally exhausted. As usual my voice had dropped an octave (Vader impressions abounded) and my knees were killing me. So, it was off to Surrey and home in time for wine, pizza and that cake!
But hey, it was great fun, we loved meeting all the happy punters, were encouraged by all the goodwill towards our little games and, we even got cake! So, we shall most certainly be back next year.
My next outing is Partizan with the Northern Display Team, where you will be able to take on the role of either Professor Abraham van Helsing or Baron Viktor von Frankenstein. See you there folks!