May 7, 2013 1 Comment
Earlier this year I was contacted by Marc Guenette who wanted to know if I wanted to be one of the Guests of Honour at Stack Academie, an annual wargaming conference in Montreal. Gee, would I!
I went to Montreal a day or two early, on Tuesday April 30, since I had not been in the city for 24 years and wanted some time to look around. I flew Air Canada and everything went suspiciously smoothly, to the point where I even arrived a few minutes early. I took the 747 bus from Trudeau Airport (what was once called Dorval), it runs about every 7 minutes or less most of the day, very convenient though you have to buy a transit daypass – $9.00 but that’s 24 hours on the whole transit system, other parts of which you will probably need to use to get to your destination. However, I didn’t because the hotel (an otherwise unremarkable Comfort Inn) was right downtown – just around the corner from the 747 bus stop, 1 ½ blocks from the Berri-UQAM Metro stop, and 2 blocks from St. Catherines Street, the main drag for restaurants shops and bars.
Montreal after 24 years seemed much as I remembered it (which is barely, as I was more interested at the time in my then girlfriend, who was studying electrical engineering at McGill). Half of it is being torn down or rebuilt, and the other half is being measured for the same treatment. I guess it’s a different half from last time. There was a heatwave, and it was sunny and 22-27 degrees all week long. And me without shorts, in fact at the last minute I decided not to pack my cardigan (however, two guys at the con told me that two years before there had been pouring rain and wet snow on the streets).
Wednesday I did a little bit of shopping, at some Army surplus stores on St.-Laurent and at Le Valet de Coeur (Jack of Hearts), a good wargame store not far up the street. I even found a few old DTP quality titles of mine, from Schutze Games (Pusan Perimeter, Somalia), still in the old comic book bags. I got a couple of back issues of Vae Victis, a French wargaming magazine with interesting games in it, a copy of Battle for Hill 218, a simple card abstract game, and two little finger puppet characters they were selling near the cash register. They were all kinds of historical characters like Edison, Leonardo da Vinci and some others, but there were also others like Hannah Arendt, Frida Kahlo, Spinoza etc.. The little Michel Foucault puppet was especially funny, but I got a Che Guevara for Lianne and a George Orwell for me, so they can have mild disagreements. Anyway, a neat store.
Thursday I spent the afternoon and evening at the Interuniversity Consortium for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (http://www.mcgill.ca/icames/), where Rex Brynen (of Paxsims blog fame) is one of the Directors. He had set up a micro-armour game that he umpired, while six of us directed the forces of Natonia (guy called Tom) and East Norkea (me) in the “Battle of the Namgang River”.
A full account with pictures is at http://genericgaminggoodness.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/the-battle-of-namgang-aka-the-battle-of-the-cauldron-of-death/ . It was tremendous fun, even though I lost most of my command in a huge Natonian ambush.
Even worse was a missed chance to take out his two tank unit commanders by infiltrating East Norkean commandos, who lofted RPG rounds onto the tops of their tanks, only to see the rounds fizzle and misfire (I rolled two 1s in succession, the only thing that could have saved their collective bacon!).
It was very kind of Rex to arrange this, as he and I had first met about 30 years ago while he was doing a history degree at the University of Victoria and I was a high school student who would go to the weekly meetings of the Gaming Club there. We would have these massive micro-armour battles, usually with Rex’s models, but as he collected mostly Warsaw Pact stuff we usually played Russian vs. Chinese. (Actually, we were playing with some of the same models and terrain from back then!)
Friday was the beginning of the convention, and we got right down to it – the other guest of honour was Volko Ruhnke, who ran games of Cuba Libre, his COIN system game of the Cuban Revolution, while I ran games of A Distant Plain. I also demonstrated Kandahar (in its present configuration with the District Commander engine under the hood), 1848 (a rarely-seen because rarely requested game on the European revolutions of that year) and Dios o Federacion (card game on post-Chavez Venezuela). Even got in a few playtest turns of the last one. A Distant Plain was a big hit, a lot of people stopped by to look and we even had one young fellow who had never played before but still managed to pull off a quick win by the Coalition, a difficult thing in this game – he moved in lightly, manufactured a lot of popular consent for the Afghan Government, and pulled out, ending the Western role in the war in 2004!
I met a lot of people who I had only corresponded with online, through Boardgamegeek or Consimworld, so it was great to put names to faces – also to see people again after some time, like Volko, Michel Boucher and Barry Setser. I came away with some excellent ideas for future game projects and extensions or fixes to ones I am testing now. I wish these events were at least a week long, so I could have conversations of appropriate length with everyone I wanted to talk to.
Saturday night we went out to Le Pied de Cochon, a very popular (you have to make reservations a month or two ahead) restaurant with most of the menu devoted to pork products (one favourite special is “Pig’s Head For Two”, at market price though I did not think price fluctuations for such a commodity would be extreme) and the remnant devoted to other meats (another great favourite is “Duck in a Can”, and that’s just what it is). Even my French onion soup had most of a small pork chop in it, it seemed. I paid a bit much for what I got, since there were several bottles of wine on the table I did not drink from, but it was still a worthwhile experience… probably never pass that way again.
Sunday I had breakfast with Rex, Volko and his wife Jill (it was the weekend of their 22nd wedding anniversary) and got back in time to finish packing and head out to the airport. Again, things went smoothly and we even landed 48 minutes early in Victoria (they asked us over the PA to remember this the next time they were late).
It was a great week and I was honoured to be asked to come by Marc, who was a fantastic and generous host, taking time to talk with me even though he was run off his feet with convention business and real-life business. Merci a tous!