SensationCon '88

Report by Mike Siggins.
12th - 14th August 1988, Stakis Ingram Hotel, Glasgow.

This report was very nearly non-existant as I had hoped to be in Milwaukee for Origins this year. Unfortunately, a long holiday from work proved difficult to arrange in the peak school holiday period. This was of course sad but it did have the benefit of allowing me to go to Sensationcon and see something of Glasgow, something I had been promising myself for ages. So, Friday morning saw me sitting in The Royal Scot out of Euston, Punch and Economist in hand, looking forward to the five hour journey. Arriving at 3.30, Ellis met me at the station and we walked over to the Ingram where games were already in progress. The room was large and had plenty of tables and the Dragon & the George had a stand selling games, though like the rotter he is, Mr Simpson had claimed organiser's privilege to snaffle the only available copy of the new AH release - Tac Air.

Fighting off invitations to enter the Diplomacy tournament and having read my registration pack, I sat down to play Baseball Strategy with my Phillies taking on Ellis' beloved Dodgers. A fine see-saw game ensued and we agreed an honourable draw at 5-5 after nine, with Lance Parrish hitting two solo homers. This was to be my best result all weekend so it means that either I am a desperately bad player (quite likely) or that these Scots chaps take their gaming seriously. But then, who cares? At around 5 o'clock Ellis got the first discussion going which was an introductory chat about sports games. Ellis had brought in some of his sizeable collection and explained the ins and outs of the main contenders in fine fashion. This was more a talk than a debate, but then that was wholly appropriate given the audience. I am not sure if there were any converts but the existance of Lambourne games was brought to the attention of at least two people which can only be a good thing. I suppose Lambourne's main appeal is that they have a game available on most sports thus improving their chances of appealing to even a very selective gamer.

The next game up for me was a quick sortie in GDW's Air Superiority. It was my first game with the system and while I feel it has a few awkward rules it makes light work of an extremely complex subject. I enjoyed it, despite getting my Viggen vaporised by a Fulcrum 'in the slot', and look forward to playing it and Air Strike now that I have been shown how the game works. The rest of the evening was taken up with a slooooow dinner with Ellis, Simon Prior and Bob Shaw, a couple of games of Six Day Race and then it was off to my room to watch the Tour of Britain in the absence of anything much I could get involved in.

The next bit is more travelogue than con report but I think it is relevant. Before I met Ellis, like many others, I had a pretty grim pre-conceived view of Glasgow as a city and cultural centre. The best part of the weekend for me was to see just how wrong I was and to agree ultimately with Ellis' view that Glasgow is a city in which things are happening, the council actually does something useful and that the people justifiably feel good about the place. Ellis took me on a short walk on the Friday evening, I explored and shopped for a couple of hours on the Saturday and we then, with Ellis' delightful daughter, toured around in the car on the Sunday en route to the Garden Festival. I know this was a whistle-stop tour but I saw enough to make me interested. The festival itself warranted much more than the two hours or so we could give it and I will try to get back to see the rest.

The architecture of the inner city area is really superb as is the shopping area which has some rather nice stores, the Prince's Square development being especially notable. Restaurants abound and there is no apparent shortage of galleries and cinemas. There are also some excellent bookstores in the shape of Sherratt & Hughes, Forbidden Planet and John Smith's and I understand a Waterstones is on the way. Game coverage is provided by the Dragon & the George and Virgin where I finally managed to buy the elusive Tac Air and the latest General. Despite the positive attractions, I have no doubt that there are still many areas that haven't yet had the regeneration treatment but at least something positive is being done. In the end I came away with quite fond memories and understand at least partly why Ellis regards it as a fine place to live.

Highlight of the con for me was the Saturday evening. Having played a quick game of AH's new Gettysburg '88 (see mini-review), a dozen or so of us sat down and discussed modern period games. Ellis ran this one on a discussion basis and was forced to exercise some control over the often, err, heated exchanges. The points raised were extremely interesting and, using the range of available games as a core, we covered the whole span of modern gaming. From my point of view it seemed that the opinions voiced were very well informed which is I suppose a reflection of the period's popularity. There was also general agreement on which games were good and bad, even if disagreements broke out on the details and approach of some systems. Two trends emerged that show there is much interest in both umpired, kriegspiel type games and also improved computer simulations. It strikes me that this sort of event is ideal for getting such views aired and as I said, for me it was a high point. A game of Family Business (new to me, but fun) and Railway Rivals followed and then I retired, totally knackered.

Sunday was fairly hurried due to my late rising, the tour of Glasgow and my need to catch the five o'clock train to London. Nevertheless, we played a few playtest turns of Ellis' new modern tactical design ("Half-Squad Leader"?) which I found very intriguing. The fact that it plays with just two sheets of tables is a bonus point but Ellis still has to decide whether to bite the bullet and add tanks and vehicles. I look forward to the finished result. Will we get a Corporal Siggins counter, Ellis? There was a fair selection of games going on over the weekend, with a strong bias towards those from Avalon Hill, a fact I do not find unusual as they are the company who best support their games. ASL and Deluxe ASL were surprisingly popular which goes to confirm the closet nature of the hobby. If there are people out there playing and buying mammoth, complex games like ASL then the hobby must be quite extensive, but where and why are these players hiding? Both Illuminati and Six Day Race were popular games and a few harmless masochists even had a bash at Civilisation on the Saturday night. Elsewhere, Railway Rivals, Lee vs Grant, Civil War, Cassino, Storm over Arnhem and Drive on Frankfurt were much played and a big hidden movement Flat Top got going on the Sunday. There were even some diehards playing Diplomacy. Whatever next. In addition, two German chaps arrived hotfoot from Birmingham and proceeded to wipe the floor with everyone at Up Front. Only subsequently did we find that one of them was the Hexacon tournament winner. Mmmmm, competitive bunch.

So, was the con a success? Undoubtedly yes, I believe. It was good to meet Doug 'dry humour' Rowling, the famous Major Mack, David, Silas and all the others for the first time. Sure, it would have been nice to have had a few more people show up - I believe there were around 50 all together - but the con was of a nice size and more important it was a fine place to chat and meet intelligent fellow players. With few exceptions this was not a con where players slunk away to glower at each other over Russian Campaign. More to the point, it was the first time for some years that a con with a boardgame emphasis has been organised and run with any success. For that, and their conviction and efforts, the organisers should be firmly congratulated. A fine con overall and I shall make next year, Origins permitting!

Mike Siggins. 12/4/88.

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