Wednesday, 20 April 2011
I've been going to Salute for more years than I care to remember - certainly since the early 1990s, when it used to be held at Kensington Town Hall (now the home of the Dragonmeet RPG convention in the winter. Salute is arguably the UK's most successful and well-patronised wargames event, rivalled only by Games Workshop's Games Day event in Birmingham. Salute's new venue in London's Excel Centre is, to say the least, not as atmospheric as the old Kensington venue, and nowhere near as good as the fantastic Redoubt venue in Eastbourne. The best way to describe it is 'functional'.
Still, if you're a keen wargamer, and live in the southeast of England, is there any excuse not to go? I always manage to miss the SELWG show in Crystal Palace in October as it coincides with the weekend of my wife's birthday, but Salute is something I try to make, if I can. Part of this year's resolution has been to make it to more games cons, and while I missed the February Cavalier show in Tunbridge Wells, Salute is the first big gaming event on the calendar this year I've been able to attend.
Salute really is the nexus of all things wargaming in the UK, at least anything not under the GW umbrella! GW was not even there this year, and I only spotted one game of Warhammer 40,000 on the go (Necrons against Space Marines, since you asked). This leaves the stage clear for other companies, and there certainly seemed to be a lot of them this year. A number are following the trail blazed by the likes of GW and Privateer Press by developing proprietary ranges of miniatures to sit alongside their rules systems. Create a world; create its races and kingdoms; and create the armies that wage war across this world. Some are offering games that are very skirmish in nature - fewer figures than a 1000 point Warhammer game - but charging £8 and up for individual 28mm castings. This suits those who like to spend an entire weekend painting one figure, and certainly PP's War Machine game is built on this model.
Naval wargames were well-represented this year, including an American Civil War ironclads game, a Mediterranean WW2 convoy game, and some kind of fantasy/steampunk naval battle, I think from Spartan Games, which looked entertaining. There was also a Space 1889 naval battle, with flying steam-powered battleships. Is the naval battle game making a comback? If Salute is anything to go by, perhaps...
Salute is certainly losing its historical-only character, which far more science fiction and fantasy offerings this year. As more younger gamers move from playing Warhammer to trying out other games, the overall wargames business in the UK seems to be booming. More companies appear to be moving from 'hobby' concerns to 'five to nine' operations turning a profit, albiet a small one. Games Workshop has to take some credit for this, as its retail presence is the recruiting ground for much of the new blood coming into the hobby, and allowing it to continue to compete against video-based entertainment. This may also explain why the miniatures wargaming hobby is going great guns while the RPG hobby is becoming more niche and grey-haired in its character.
In terms of new games launches, I met Rick Priestley, who has now moved from Games Workshop to join Warlord Games, which is itself becoming a force to be reckoned with in historical wargaming circles. Warlord has just released Priestley's new ancient wargames rules, Hail Caesar, my copy of which arrived yesterday and awaits my perusal when I get a chance. Warhammer Historical, which has been quiet of late, has published its new WW2 rules set in a meaty great hardback, but it only really focuses on the Normandy campaign. Not all WW2 gamers want to play Normandy: I've certainly got no Normandy figures at the moment, being more of an Eastern Front afficionado. I'm guessing they did their market research and decided this is the most popular land campaign amongst wargamers, and will support the rules with the inevitable series of campaign supplements in future months.
The other big launch of Salute 2011 is Osprey's Force on Force, an upgraded successor to the original Ambush Alley modern wargames rules. AA was originally written to allow for the simulation of modern urban warfare, using the fighting in Iraq post-2003 as its default (although you could just as easily use it for Chechenya, 1980s Beirut, or even 19th century Afghanistan). AA tackled the theme of counter-insurgency - regular troops fighting against irregular forces of some description, be they Taleban, Sadaam's Fedayeen, or the Viet Cong. FoF has gone further, allowing for 'kinetic' actions between regular forces. Its first supplement, Road to Baghdad, looks at the initial invasion of Iraq by coalition forces in 2003, but scenarios in the core rules include the Arab-Israeli wars, the Falklands War, and the Vietnam War. You can still play counter-insurgency battles, but now you can have the Soviets against NATO in West Germany in the 1980s, if that floats your boat.
I did a bit of shopping at Salute, lacking the time to play in any participation games, and picked up a couple of nice kits from Perry Miniatures for 19th century American houses. They will come in useful for my projected Legends of the Old West games, as well as serving as Boer farmsteads in the Zulu Wars. I also bought a sprue of tents from Renedra for my Victorian British battalion, a hill, some Warhammer movement trays, another set of ancients rules called Clash of Empires, a Humvee for my modern American platoon (don't want them walking everywhere, do we?), some more river sections from the Last Valley, and a few rocks for Zulu snipers to hide behind.
Finally, the picture at the start of this article is a demo game of Triumph & Tragedy, which simulates small unit actions in the period 1900-39. It was a 1935 battle from the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.