Monday, June 13, 2005

Consimworld Expo 5.0 - Part 1 of 3

Consimworld Expo is an annual wargame convention run by John Kranz in Tempe, Arizona (that's Phoenix to most of us). As one might expect from its more familiar moniker of MonsterCon or MonsterGame.con, the emphasis tends to be on big games. Really big games. Freaking huge games, in fact. In addition to the classic monster games like OCSWacht Am Rhein, or the run of questionable old SPI titles, many designers make an appearance with prototypes or playtest games.
If I had to flag a single trend about MonsterCon, it would be a general migration from the unplayable to the playable. The first year I was there (the first year the con existed, 2001), the emphasis seemed to be on nostalgia games, old games likeKorsun Pocket, a few of which are arguably playable. As the years have gone by, these old games (which I tend to hold in very low esteem) have fallen away and been replaced by games like EuroFront and Europe Engulfed, both extremely popular this year and amongst the best-subscribed (I played both). The only other game that was comparable in terms of sign-upswas Wacht Am Rhein, but I didn't see as many people playing it as were signed up, while both EE and EuroFront ended up drawing more. Other solid performers included the comparatively playable OCS (two tables of DAK, one of Korea, one of a Case Blue playtest) and the excellent and highly playable Great Campaigns of the American Civil War which had a huge setup (with all the maps and half-a-dozen players going at it all weekend. Empires in Arms had one table that was going strong for a while, although I guess they had players swapping in and out. Vance vonBorries was there, and his EFS game had a decent contingent (including a playtest map of the gap between the disjoint Army Group South maps), if somewhat diminished from previous years. Alesia had a couple boards playing. Ardennes '44 always had a couple players, although Ukraine '43 didn't get any play this year that I could tell. There were even a few ASL die-hards playing what looked like a completely insane D-Day game; ASL has never drawn that well at MonsterCon, I assume because it is so well-served by other events, so that was nice to see. If they did a Kampfgruppe Pieper campaign some year, I might actually be tempted.
Mark Simonitch and Rick Young
There were a few games in various states of playtest: Rick Young had brought a new quick(ish)-playing block game of the Battle of the Bulge, MMP had their Devil's Cauldron (apparently the rules are still a moving target, so I wouldn't expect it anytime in 2005), the aforementioned OCS Case Blue playtest, and the D-Day expansion for The Killing Ground (I really, really need to play that game sometime) all seemed to be getting some playtime. Many of the other playtest games looked a little sad as they sat there unplayed though.

But the biggest swing was towards open gaming, with probably a third of the attendees doing non-monster and/or pickup gaming. Empire of the Sun was quite popular, and I must have seen at least half a dozen games. Every time I had a chance to talk to someone who had played, I quizzed them on what they thought of it. No raves, although most people liked it well enough - but most had not played to the end. I only got one vote for "broken". Sword of Rome also had quite a few games played, and I saw Wray Ferrell had brought a prototype of the Carthage expansion, although I didn't talk to anyone who had played it. Friedrich got a couple plays. Wilderness War came out, as did For the People and Paths of Glory. Rommel in the Desert made an appearance. Down in Flames had folks playing all weekend.

Consimworld is not a game-release kind of convention, but there were a few companies hawking their wares: Fiery Dragon was pushing their line of Microgame reprints in tins (while I have no interest in those games, it was an amusing coincidence that I am in the midst of prepping Plague of Dreams, one of their Arcana Unearthed RPG products, for play. I didn't mention this to any of the other attendees). What looked like the just-released Lightning: War on Terror (for which I can't find a product page) was also there, and I have to say, that sounded to me like just about the most unappealing game concept imaginable. Maybe they're trying to take advantage of the Homeland Security Bubble. Regardless, Lightning War: Midway has gotten some fairly poor reviews from my friends who have played, so I remain unmoved in terms of trying it out. Rdoxx, Inc (you know, the counter sled guys - if you can find a live link, let me know) finally have 5/8" counter sleds, so I will be sorely tempted to give them a try with Paths of Glory. It might re-energize that very fine but played-out game. L2 had a great convention discount, so I picked up a copy of Russia Besieged, and Pacific Rim Games had copies of the Terran Games edition of The Legend Begins, an old Mark Simonitch game I was unable to resist. There is also a flea market table, but there were few deals to be had - I bought a comparatively cheap copy of Caesar in Alexandria to fill out my GBOH collection, but there was nothing else even remotely tempting.

Next up, Part II: The new maps for EuroFront, including NorthFront and MideastFront. Does EuroFront really work? Do the expansion modules add anything? How playable is a monster Front game? And how does it compare to Europe Engulfed?

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