Last weekend I took a trip to London to attend the much fabled Salute, the UK's biggest wargaming show. The South London Warlords organize this annual one-day convention and it proves to be a huge success with ever-increasing numbers of visitors and exhibitors. Naturally, it is rather UK-centric in the way which companies have booths at the venue (with a few notable exceptions such as Freebooter Miniatures) but then you have to ask yourself where wargaming is not very much UK dominated in general.
The "Big 'Uns" such as Privateer Press were not present, same with Wyrd (both being US-based companies and probably being busy at Adepticon which took place the same weekend). As far as Games Workshop goes I was surprised to see that they basically sent everything they could. Two seperate big booths from Forgeworld and Black Library so GW clearly are interested in Salute but of course can not show up "all-out officially".
I think that this is due to reasons of keeping their own Games Day the exclusive big GW event and due to their policy of denying the existance of wargaming or at least having anything to do with it. There were plenty of retailers like Wayland Games and several others there selling GW products though but who goes to Salute to buy a Rhino? Despite limited representation, the Forgeworld and Black Library booths were packed for the first half of the event.
Some showcase pieces were brought along, in the typically exciting and eye-catching colour schemes FW brew up for the Space Marines chapters they redo. ;-)
More colour on the infantry. Very, very neat looking.
It struck me as another surprise to notice a lack of Corvus Belli (of Infinity fame) when I looked through the list of exhibiting companies. Same with Two Hour Wargames of whom I have become a bit of a fan. It would have been great to see them represented either by an official representative or some demo game table. As for Infinity, there were two rather pretty demo games tables.
On the day I arrived at ExCel Center around 9:15 which proved to be almost too late as early goody bags had been handed out already but much to my relief there were plenty more at the hall entrance. Luckily I had ordered a ticket for early access a few weeks ago so I wouldn't have to stand in line for an on-day sold ticket. I didn't see those queues in person but according to tales I heard on the day they shadowed the sun on that day. Also, ExCel's officials at some point expressed their unhappiness with the huge amount of people in one place and if ExCel's people say that we're dealing with a veritable horde.
Travelling to the centre was a breeze and on the last third, London public transportation had set up guides to tell people where to go for ExCel. I am not sure if this wasn't more to help people signing up for the London marathon than to get the clearly non-runners to their toy soldier fair but it was nice to have guides like that. Signing up for the London marathon traditionally takes place side by side with Salute and many a jokes have been cracked about how easy it was to tell the queues of marathon runners and wargaming enthusiasts apart.
Standing amongst the bunch who had early access tickets I noticed how people from all over Europe came to attend Salute. Nice.
I didn't have much of a plan actually, mostly enjoy the day, soak up as many impressions as possible, meet up with a few people, take a look at how people design their booths and what they offer, get out "the word" about Battle Brush Studios and hand out a few business cards.
It goes without saying that there are certain checkpoints you have to do when at Salute. Warlord Games, Hasslefree, Anvil Industries, the shiny new things by Gripping Beast, the redesigned Miniature Wargames magazine, Too Fat Lardies, the Perrys and so on.
According to the internet, there were 100 demonstration/participation games going on on the day. I didn't count but I believe that. The quality varied a little naturally but I can't recall seeing any table looking "bad" or not impressive in its own right. I think that on an event like this you quickly get overwhelmed by all the insanely great demo tables and setups in general so some things which normally would make you go "wow" don't get to you as much as they would under normal circumstances.
As a general note, I was very glad to see that the lighting throughout the hall was very good so taking photos was a joy and everything could be seen without booths having to have much additional lighting.
The very first thing I did though was to make sure I'd grab two boxes of Gripping Beast's new plastic Dark Age warriors. They had a lot of those with them but from all the buzz I witnessed about those online (I like to think that 70% of every single historical wargaming project was set to "halt" until the day these models were released) I wanted to make sure to grab one box for myself and one for a friend before they would sell out. Review of this kit is to follow.
Of course I also took a good look at Gripping Beast's other big release of the show - their Great Hall.
The guys built a great setup for their prestige project. For a smaller scale game like SAGA the Great Hall looks even more immense. What I probably like the most about the model is how they used a kind of felt for the straw roofs instead of hollow plastic pieces. The material also compliments the MDF the rest of the model is made of very well, makin it look a lot less "sterile".
You know how MDF buildings often look a bit unnatural due to the material not having much of a texture on it and always having very straight edges and such. So the felt covers that up excellently. Detailling and design are also top notch. The price is debatable. Definately appropriate but everyone has to decide for himself if he wants to pay that kind of money for a piece of scenery.
The Great Hall definately seems like Gripping Beast loudly declaring "we're with the big guys now" and with SAGA's phenomenal success they definately are. If we are to see the release of maybe a set of huts and maybe a church in a similar style I'm sure that those will sell like hotcakes.
Speaking of terrain, Hawk Wargames' cardboard terrain for Dropzone Commander was presented at the show.
If I played 10mm Sci-Fi, which is weirdly underrepresented and of course Hawk Wargames knew that when choosing this scale for their game, I definately would have bought that because it looks as good in real life as it does in the pictures we all saw online.
The material is durable enough, the print is high quality. Good stuff. My gripe though is the scale. I play Sci-Fi in 6mm, 28mm and probably soon enough 15mm and only with a LOT of good will this Dropzone Commander scenery fits with either 6mm or 15mm scale.
Well, maybe with Mechs or very vehicle-centered games it should work for other scales but the second you see any considerable problems between how human-sized figures and doors/windows are scaled the whole illusion of a coherent world collapses. Anyway, for 10mm scale Sci-Fi it's an excellent product.
Warlord Games supplied me with a nice "I love GoblinAid" badge (more on that later). As for new releases, for the first time Bolt Action supplement Armies of Soviet Russia was available along with a special limited polit-commissar miniature as well as a few special army packs for Bolt Action, tickets for Warlord Games Day and the new supplement for Black Powder: Albion Triumphant Vol.2, covering the Hundred Days campaign. Their booth, along with Gripping Beast's were right beyond the entrance, both very well designed and roomy.
Wayland Games, just like last year, had a huge area to themselves and had an equally huge variety of products with them with Infinity models in the most prominent spot.
Micro Art Studio of course were present. Along with their regular range of bases, buildings, Discworld miniatures and resin pieces they had two, maybe three demo tables for their Steampunk skirmish game Wolsung. Mostly the tables served to showcase MAS' range of MDF buildings for steampunk-y settings.
Mantic Games, always clever and efficient about their business decisions and presentation, had a pretty booth as well. The placing was not as great as Warlord Games' or Gripping Beast's but it still was nice and central. Dreadball clearly dominated their booth, along with some Kings of War (there also were one or two KoW presentation game tables nearby) on the side.
I didn't notice much in the way of Warpath but to be honest, it was a bit hard to notice anything about Mantic's booth apart from the skimpily clad ladies they hired to stand around and grab attention. I think that they were the only ones to hire "booth babes" as such. I never was a huge fan of the concept. Doesn't strike me as something that slingshots society or the reception of wargaming ahead. Apart from that I am convinced that in a niche market such as tabletop wargaming you really shouldn't go for the broad marketing tools such as gimmicky, hallow phrases ("Go beyond the Limits", as recently seen on GW's frontpage) or the horribly outdated "sex sells" approach.
I didn't really notice Mantic's new release called Deadzone, a sci-fi skirmish game of mutants versus Enforcers but it was there. I did see the new Dreadball minis and they look really nice though.
Nice to see how they added cheerleaders. I really like amusing cheerleader models (or amusing models in general) in fantasy sports game (yes, you're allowed to hit the hypocrite-gong with a huge swing on me for earlier comments but here's my defense: That's a different thing! ;-) ).
Right opposite to Mantic's was Fireforge's booth with 3-ups of their upcoming Mongols on display. Judging from these, we've got a lot of greatness to look forward to.
Very pretty models for a strangely underrepresented army/period. Somehow I feel that Gripping Beast are going to come up with something Mongols/Huns related for Saga rather soon.
I was very much looking forward to seeing Anvil Industry's booth and finally seeing their product in person. I had met the mastermind behind the company a few years ago, we wrote some e-mails back and forth and Anvil Industry was founded around the same time as Battle Brush Studio so I always kept an eye on them and last but not least, their products - which have been looking good right from the start - have improved very much lately. Those new spec ops teams looked really nice online and they definately stood the test when I saw them in person.
It was great to see that their booth was buzzing with people throughout the day.
I would have loved to have a few turns in a participation game of FFG's Relic. They announced the heck out of this game and so far I read good things about it. Being a huge fan of Talisman (which it is based off) of course this intrigues me. Unfortunately I only managed to get a snapshot of the game on the tail end of the day so no more games were possible.
Given how I get to play Talisman maybe once or twice a year (it is rather time consuming) and given how I'm sure we will see a lot of expansions for this game I'm not sure if I will invest in it as I already have Talisman (various editions thereof) along with expansions.
One of the things I was really looking forward to was the participation games at Too Fat Lardies' table which has a reputation for always being a lot of fun and often one of the loudest tables. Not sure about the latter as there was a particular table I will get into later which probably was louder thoughout the day. TFL's very own Richard Clarke ran games of their upcoming plattoon level WW2 ruleset Chain of Command this year and it indeed was fun to watch and accordingly crowded.
The "outside view".
The elbow in the foreground belongs to Rich Clarke himself!
In this memorable scene a team of British soldiers popped up from their hiding place behind a very sturdy barrel to fire their PIAT at a SdKfz.251 at short range, miraculously hardly denting the thing at all!
Perry Miniatures also, amongst other things, showcased three-ups for upcoming plastics releases for the American War of Independance and American Civil War (to go with the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg this year)
The Perrys' booth was a big one too, not only selling their own products but also some Victrix, Warlord Games and other stuff. There were grab-boxes with tons of old Foundry Miniatures for a pound each. Those did attract a lot of people going through the small boxes endlessly, looking for specific minis. I would have loved to join them but didn't have the time.
Heresy Miniatures had their booth right next to Hasslefree's and apart from having large chunks of their impressive range on sale they also had a few showcases set up. Amongst them a green of The Dragon and those made-for-plastic futuristic soldiers with skeleton/monster head options if I remember correctly.
Victrix had all their pretties on display. Lovely models, very hard to resist.
There have been some things even I couldn't comprehend though...
However I appreciate the effort of combining cheese with strategy games.
Some of the most impressive games tables were the larger scale ones like this one by Gringo40s depicting the Alamo in 40mm scale minis.
Similarly impressed I was with Victrix's "Iberian Glory" table. Napoleonics, British versus French troops of course and all in glorious 54mm scale. The table was almost too small for the number of figures and the scale but it was a sight to behold
Clearly the most breathtaking Napoleonics table of the day was the Essex Gamesters' Waterloo table.
I felt a bit bad for the guy in the Napoleon costume. His job was basically standing in the middle behind the tables and look grumpy all day, occasionally answering questions but never I saw him smile in the least. Overall a stunning display in 28mm scale. really, really impressive.
The Tin Soldiers of Antwerp were not only represented by many of their members in club shirts but also an impressive and inventive game based on escaping the burning city of Troy.
The Continental Wars Society set up a demo table depicting the battle of Nachod in the Austro-Prussian war in 10mm scale.
The terrain was really well made even though I'm not a huge fan of small terrain tiles but it worked and I liked the installation of a backdrop. My favorite though were the little plates kept in a very nice chalk-on-blackboard style letting bystanders know what happened in which part of the battlefield and when. It certainly was a different approach to demonstration tables but I liked it a lot.
The South London Warlords, being the hosts and organizers of this great show of course put a lot of effort into their displays and demo tables and it paid off.
First I would like to mention their massive Hammer's Slammers table.
The guys at the table were very eager to explain the rules to me and point me in the direction where I could meet the author and buy the rules. I've heard a lot of good about the Hammer's Slammers stories and it seems like my resistance against military sci-fi stuff is way too low so maybe to be seen here soon.
Secondly, to go with the theme of the show, the Warlords set up a really fun looking huge-scale game based on the Jason and the Argonauts hollywood film featuring the legendary Ray Harryhausen stop-motion skeletons. Is there anything better suited for stop motion than skeleton warriors? I don't think so. The Warlords got the look of the models just right and it looked really great
Oxford Wargames Society brought on a very sober-looking game with its very own appeal. The battle of Heraclea (280 BC) in which Roman Legions met Pyrrhic Phalanx in battle. 15mm scale, their own home-made rules set on squares.
Games on Squares always have a rather high level of abstraction and so did this game. That said, I really enjoy the neat look of this and I always like the look of a good phalanx.
It goes without saying that a wargames show can not happen without at least two tables showcasing American Civial War battles.
Interestingly, there were almost as many tables showing American-Mexican War as there were ACW tables. This one, along with the Alamo one, was especially impressive:
One of the more obvious candidates for lots of representation at Salute was the Dark Ages. There were several SAGA tables and a bunch of general Dark Ages tables, even some multi-player battles with four or more players at the table:
I waited for a long time for the hand to disappear but taking pictures during someone's movement phase isn't too easy.
Or at smaller scale:
World War Two is indeed a biggie in the line-up, not only since the release of Bolt Action. Here's a particularly nice looking cityfight table in 15mm:
...and some more WW2 for your enjoyment:
Here is a particularly nice Normandy landing table:
Indeed 40k also made an appearance, in the form of pretty titans...
...and a game of Grey Knights and Nurgle Daemons fighting for ruins.
In between running back and forth between tables I witnessed the historic moment in which blonde lady (left) "photobombed" Beasts of War's taping of their Salute coverage.
Just to throw in a general observation - I expected to see many more cosplayers and the like around on the day but really it was Darth Vader and a few Stormtroopers who showed up here and there, a few reenactors...
...and a few of the people at the booths, most obviously the guys from By Fire and Sword booth.
Speaking of which - very much interested in how that game turns out. I have quite a collection of early to mid-17th century western forces and this ruleset may be a reason to expand my collection into the east or at least convert it for actions in the thirty years war. Okay, my scale is 10mm but that only means that I won't be using their official minis. Not much of a problem, 17th century Eastern Europe is pretty well covered in 10mm scale.
One more table I would like to point out - I think it won the "best presentation" award of the show - is the A Very British Civil War table.
This scenario is pretty popular in the UK and, if I got it right, depicts a What If scenario taking place in the late 1930s in the UK. It's based on a civil war breaking out as Edward does not resign the throne after the death of king George V., none of the powers that have something to say at the time like that and they like even less how he steers Britain in an extreme right wing direction.
Everybody seems to add to this alternative history as they see fit so the situation seems a bit like with the Cthulu myth. Anyway, the table was pretty, there were all kinds of faction present along with made-up propaganda posters and such.
Some more impressions of the day:
The guy who ran this table was amazingly enthusiastic. Biker-viking looking kind of guy and I think he powered through the whole seven hours of the show, constantly hosting games, chatting, joking. Very impressive and the table certainly was an eyecatcher.
The Bring&Buy area was really crowded thoughout the day and to be honest I didn't really attempt to grab me any bargains there at first. I did check out what was left after an hour or so but it still was too packed with people so browsing was just time consuming.
There was the annual painting competition and I would have loved to enter but did neither have the time nor the baggage space to bring a showcase model with me. The overall painting level was very high and there were some very nice models to be seen but alas, the moment I remembered to take pictures of the entries most of them had been removed from the cabinets again already.
Now the inevitable question - what did you get? I took a certain level of precaution that I wouldn't buy too much stuff at the show by only having hand baggage with me on the flight so space and weight for stuff I could bring back was very limited which probably was my only saving grace on the day.
2x 15mm Matilda II
Incredibly affordable models and with Zvezda you know that the quality is alright.
Gripping Beast Dark Age Warriors
Those were a no-brainer really. ;-)
Foundry Goblin Aid Blister
As many of you know, accomplished miniature sculptor Kev Adams was assaulted and stabbed in his own house in Nottingham. Many of his fans and colleagues in the wargaming industry started Goblin Aid to help him pay the medical bills (he was in really, really bad shape. Read the Goblin Aid facebook page for more information). Several models were especiallysculpted to be cast and sold on ebay for the occasion. Foundry miniatures recast a self-portrait in miniature Kev made in 2001, package and sell it along with some of the "orclings" he sculpted as a special Goblin Aid blister pack. The money for each sold blister goes straight to Kev. A good cause, great miniatures.
Victrix Austrian Napoleonic Infantry
I have no excuse.
The goody bag handed out to the first so and so many visitors had a nice little program magazine and a few leaflets the show's limited edition miniature, Jason (of Argonaut fame) in plastic. Very much looking forward to doing something with this mini.
Also, there was a very nice six-sided dice in the goodie bag with the 6 being replaced by a logo. Neat.
All in all I really enjoyed the show. It was great meeting up and chatting with people like Neil Shuck of the Meeples and Miniatures podcast or Henry Hyde, the man at the helm of editor of Miniature Wargames. Similarly great it was witnessing the Chain of Command demo game and of course lots and lots and lots of great miniatures in one place. The day was exhausting but I if I got to realize one thing again and again over the course of the day it's that I really enjoy this miniatures wargaming thing, no matter the period, the ruleset or miniatures manufacturer.
I would suggest everyone to attend the show at least once if you ever have the chance. It's a great event and at one day just long enough in the way that you can't spot everything and everybody and it leaves you wanting more. So many great small companies, so many great people and just so much to see. Just set yourself a limit for how much stuff you buy, leave your credit card at home and don't buy stuff too early on the day. The only thing worse than hauling around 10 kilos of lead on the day is leaving too early.