Sunday 4 December 2022

Wargames Shows, do we still want them ? Recon 22 and Italian Wars

Hello everyone, yesterday I attended my local Wargames Show in Pudsey. The venue, the Civic Hall is about a mile from my house so it's a bit of a pre game lie in for me as the journey to the show is less than five minutes.

I don't think I'm offending anyone (although my record on that seems to be quite poor recently 😆) by saying that the Pudsey show is a "small" one, especially compared with the likes of Partizan and Salute, I don't know exact numbers but I'm guessing 300 or so through the door as paying guests. There is a main hall down stairs and an additional room on the first floor along with a decent sized cafe bar area with seating, selling reasonably priced (even for Yorkshire) food and drink.

It's place in the Calendar puts it at the end of the show circuit year and it always has an end of school year party feeling, I spoke briefly to Pete Berry of Baccus and he was looking forward to a few more weekends at home for a month or so.

I had been asked to put a display game on last year but sadly work got in the way, so I was determined to make an effort this year and I took my Italian Wars Siege of Forli (What If) game along.

Now this isn't going to be a full write up of that game, I did one very recently for the display at FIASCO a month or so ago, please use the link below for a more detailed write up with Orbats etc.

I made a few tweaks to the orders of Battle contained in the above post. The Papal / French forces had an easy victory last time so I bolstered the Sfoza forces to make the game a little more balanced.

I exchanged a Heavy Gun for a Medium Gun for the Borgias, I removed the Cavalry from the Swiss and left the French as they were.

For the Sforza Forces I added a Medium Gun to the town, in the centre I added 2 units of Heavy Foot Infantry and an extra unit of Independent Shot. The Florentines got an extra unit of light and heavy Cavalry. In the original run through the central Cemetery (yes it is in the Dead Centre of the table 👍) and the small farms were cosmetic where as this time we used them as actual buildings with the relevant modifiers and movement restrictions. This slowed down the Swiss Kiels a lot and only one of the two got into contact.

This resulted in a much closer game, still a victory for Cesare Borgia but a lot closer, I decided to rely more on Firepower and aggressive Cavalry use in the centre of the Sforza army which was a much better tactic than closing to melee as quickly as possible. I would certainly be happy to present this as a formal scenario now. I've put photos of the game throughout this post, the lighting was a bit difficult to get decent photos so here they are warts and all. Figures are mostly mine with French from the Collection of Harry Matthews and Italians (with the green edged bases) from the Collection of Ian Rudd.

The Future of Wargames Shows, Do We Still Want Them ?

So onto the discussion part of the piece, having returned to Wargames shows post (not for everyone I know) Covid and back to putting on display games after a longer period I've been thinking about how shows are looking today.

I imagined in my tiny mind that as we came out of Covid Wargames Shows would be crammed full of eager Gamers desperate to get their sweaty palms physically on the produce we all desire. I love the ability to order figures at 2am whilst lying on the sofa watching re runs of the Sweeney but nothing beats the physical experience of going to a show and sniffing the burnt MDF in person.

The first Partizan post lockdown was busy, the first FIASCO was too but the first Salute was poorly attended by punters and vendors alike, now there are many reasons why the latter was the case but my Nostrodamus like prediction of huge crowds kicking down the doors at shows to get that niff of MDF failed to materialise. I don't know (or if I do, I won't reveal) exact figures but my information is that attendances at shows is generally down on pre Covid numbers, so why is this and what if anything can be done to change it ?

The Finances of running a show 

I've been on the edges of running a reasonably sized show for many years so I have an idea but the first thing I want to examine is motivation.

In the good old days of black and white TV shows were generally run by a Wargames Group, a number of people from a club would take on various roles within the organisation of the show and the remaining members of the club would be press ganged into doing the back breaking shifting of tables and helping the traders into the venue on the day.

Profits from the show would then be ploughed back into the running of the club and used to help fund a venue and to help putting on display games at other club run shows so they could fund their clubs and so it went like a little Communist Collective Farm.

Then we saw a rise in shows run by individuals for Profit, the tide of Thatchers Britan entering the hobby of Wargaming probably years too late. However, I don't remember too many show organisers leaning on their Ferrari shouting into a huge mobile phone whilst wearing Ray Ban Shades and handmade loafers.

More recently we have seen a rise in Wargames Companies running shows, I doubt this is for profit, is it for the prestige and exposure ? I don't know, maybe I should have a char with someone who has a Podcast so they get the right guest on to ask those questions 😉 

As the organisers and helpers get older the moving of tables becomes harder and a lot slower.

Making the ends meet

As the numbers of paying punters coming through the door decreases, so does the revenue that side of the show brings.

There are set costs, hire of the hall, tables, advertising etc that have to be met and as those costs rise a show organiser needs to balance that by rising the income. Hall hire for Salute and to some extent FIASCO is eye-watering and is set to get worse in the current financial climate.

Increasing costs for traders means that they are reluctant to pay higher and higher prices for their trade stands (some never wanted to pay anyway 😆). Over the last few years we have seen stalwarts of the trading fraternity reduce the number of shows they attend with some giving up entirely. 

So we are entering a time when the margins are getting tighter and tighter for all, would a Wargames Club want to run a show at a loss purely for the "prestige" of running a show, would they want to continue the hard work for little financial rewards ? These are discussions that are going on throughout Wargames Club Committees up and down the country.

Getting Punters Through the Door 

There are some factors you can't control, if you run a show in a large Northern City at an Internationally renowned Museum you won't get any Wargames Press Interest for example (no I'm not bitter 🤣). Seriously though your location affects the catchment area for visitors and punters. If you run a show a few miles from the Nottingham Mafias Breakfast Bar then you are unlikely to be short of traders, if you are miles from a motorway in a coastal setting then its not so easy, a free ride on the donkeys rarely being sufficient attraction.

Most Wargames shows are similar, a mix of traders, display and participation games, it's a tried and tested method. There are lots of variations, having an integrated Wargames Competition (although it's hardly a spectator sport) like the now defunct Derby Show, having solely Participation Games, having guest speakers, having modelling or painting workshops, but generally they are the same.

Is their a magic potion that would get you through the door of a show ?

The motivation of the punters

This is an interesting one, why do we as individuals go to shows ? Is it to buy, play or meet 🤔 

Personally pre lockdown I am happy to admit that I was a little Wargames Show weary, I had reduced my visits to maybe 2 or 3 shows a year. I did most of my shopping online and kind of attended York and Leeds maybe out of a sense of duty. I very rarely came to the Pudsey show as its relatively small even though I can walk to it from my house.

Post Lockdown I have had a bit of a second wind with Wargaming, driven a lot by the success of the Yarkshire Gamer Podcast I have visited more shows this year than I have for many before, I've even been seen as far south as Newark on two occasions !

I've had the opportunity to meet with and chat in person to people who have been on the show and tap up a few new guests along the way. I'm kind of enjoying going to shows now more as a social experience than retail therapy. I rarely walk away from a show with little more than a small carrier bag of goodies. I'm well aware from my previous discussion that that isn't what the traders want to hear.

Let's face it, most will be looking more closely at their finances over the coming months.

What do you want from a show, what makes you go through the door ?

The Motivation of the Trader

Although we would love to have altruistic traders who support our hobby regardless of cost to themselves but we have to be realistic and understand that they are a business and they need to make money, not only to keep the business going but also to keep a roof over their heads. I don't think anyone outside of GW makes a huge living out of the hobby and margins can be pretty tight.

Any trader at a show wants to sell you stuff, yes it's an opportunity for them to show you their shiny wears but at the end of the day if that doesn't convert to cold hard cash it's not worth the effort. 

They will ask, is my time, my travel costs, my table fees, my staff costs, my weekend away from my family worth it ? Many as discussed above are saying it isn't anymore.

So what is the future of Wargames Shows in the UK

I would love to hear your thoughts. Me I'm hearing rumblings and it's not my stomach after a bacon butty. It's not like there hasn't been a perceived "crisis" in the hobby before just look back at old copies of your Wargames Magazines for the previous portents of doom, even a few years ago the cheery "Your all dying, Wargaming is F@*#×d" video from Little Wars TV asked a similar question.

Wargames Shows won't continue if they don't make profit or at least break even, Wargames Traders won't go to shows if they don't make money, Wargames Punters won't go to shows if they don't enjoy them.

Do we want a stage where there are three "Big" shows in the Midlands and one in London or do we want to retain the network of regional shows, only we can decide and vote with our feet.

I think I reached a stage in the past where I had been to shows and thought, oh there's another massive table with loads of figures on and paid it little attention. During Covid I realised I had taken things for granted and I missed those huge games. I promised myself I would never take my gaming for granted again and get more involved as you never know what is round the corner.

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