GaryCon is long over with, and yet, a very good feeling still lingers from having had a chance to go this year and run some really cool games.
My drive to Gary Con is always long, 14 + hours of driving according to Google, but when you add my need to stop and stretch my legs, eat, and even wake up my brain, it can be around 16 hours by the time I finally walk in the door.
I even slept in the back seat for about 50 minutes at one truck stop and ran around the car 10 times to wake up at another. :)
I refer to the annual driving experience as my, Suicide Ride To Gary Con.
This year I drove through the night and arrived on Thursday around 10am a bit sleepy and worn out. It didn’t help that I neglected to read the fine print for my hotel and I did not call or check in ahead of time. When I left after my first day of convention fun and got to my hotel at midnight to sleep, there was no one in the office. I slept that night in a chair in the lobby for maybe 5 hours.
Thankfully I know of a good place to grab breakfast one town over and managed to refuel before day 2 of the Convention Marathon.
Despite my mishaps, it is always worth it, as nothing compares to introducing RPG gamers to vintage war games, in the Legends of War Gaming room at GaryCon.
Day 1 was simple. All I did was wander around the convention and chat people up until I was due to run my first game, Fletcher Pratt’s Naval War Game.
This is one of those games that to me is truly special. It has a long history. As far as I can tell, Fletcher Pratt invented it around 1937 and it was published in 1940.
It is like a combo of Lou Zocchi’s, Alien Space, and Star Fleet Battles set in WWII.
The game system is fairly simple too. It uses mathematical equations to create Ship Record Sheets. The sheets list the ship name, tonnage, weapon types, and a damage track for keeping track of how your weapons and speed get reduced when you take damage by enemy hits.
A turn is comprised of everyone moving their ship with rulers and then making note of what weapons they have chosen to fire at what targets.
We used post it notes to mark what was being shot at by whom.
Each player has to guess the enemy's range and writes that down, thus you end up with cryptic notes for how far the salvo will reach, with another value for the spacing between shell hits. i.e. Main Armament at 47 inches, with a half inch spread between shots.
The game system is dice-less, yet it provides a very good simulation.
It is the referee who then measures the distances for the salvos and places markers for shell hits. The rules specify using golf tee’s for the splashes, but I have a jar of buttons I found in a thrift store for about a dollar, and they serve just as well. Red buttons signify shell hits and white ones are splashes.
That’s pretty much all a player needs to know to take part in this game.
There are some other details in the rules, such as the gun caliber vs. range vs. armor thickness chart, that limits how far you can shoot and effectively do any damage. This too is easy enough to comprehend.
Did I forget to mention that the entire battle is played with really big 1/1200 lead ship models, and that these particular models I bring for the demo games are the Dan Nicholson collection of ships? The vary same Dan Nicholson who played the merchant in Blackmoor!
That is another historical detail about this game. Fletcher Pratt was very popular with the Twin Cities gamers and many photos exist of them playing games in the U of M library back in the 60’s and 70’s.
For our battle we had 5 players show up to the game out of 6 available places - which is not bad. Sadly, one player left early leaving a single player to run the entire German fleet in the scenario, She didn't do too bad considering how much paperwork she had to deal with as the captain for three ships.
One thing I do when I run these old games is get out of the way and let the players do everything. The game is supposed to have a referee, but since the game is a demo, I tell the players to do all the referee tasks of measuring salvos and placing splashes and hit markers. I feel this helps players really learn the game.
With only 20 or so pages to the rules, they can even read any pertinent passages as they play to help clarify any questions that may arise.
It quickly becomes very apparent that the players are fully engaged by the game as you watch them crawl around on the floor moving ships and measuring shots.
I also emphasize that the game is for everyone to study, appreciate, and learn from. Not to worry too much about winning or losing. Marking off damage on your own ship when someone scores a hit is very revealing, even if it is your ship getting blown apart.
Although the battle was not completed, everyone really enjoyed their chance to captain a large battle ship or cruiser for a little while.
I think next year I will open it up to more players as I expect word to get out about how fun this game is.
I hope you enjoyed this recollection on Naval War Gaming at Gary Con.
Some of you War Gamers may not realize you are also playing an RPG and some of you Role Players may not realize you are also playing a War Game.
If you are interested in finding out more about the overlapping elements between War Games and Role Playing Games - WATCH SECRETS OF BLACKMOOR!
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Secrets of Blackmoor is a Feature-length documentary about the birth of the “Mother of all Games;” Dungeons & Dragons.