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Poldercon – The Shape of Things to Come?

Poldercon HeaderLast weekend saw me pack up my troubles in my old kit bag and set forth from Lard Island International Airport, heading straight into the heart of the EuroReich to visit a brand new show on the circuit; Poldercon in the historic Dutch city of Utrecht. Starting a brand new wargaming show is always a risky business, but the three wise men behind this venture, Patrick Diederiks, Jan-Willem van der Pijl and Jasper Oorthuys, had bravely chosen to dare to be different, taking a fresh approach and seeking to create a true Convention for wargamers.

“What’s the difference?” I hear you cry. Well, let’s start out by being honest. The wargame show we all know and vaguely love in the UK and Europe tends to have the emphasis firmly on shopping. We turn up, see a whole raft of traders with ranges old and new, and spend most of the day handing over our cash before having a sniff around the supporting act – the games – before buggering off home. If we’re lucky we may snatch a quick game, or we may catch up with a few pals, but the format is as well know and comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

Where Poldercon was different, was that the organisers began their planning with the game at the heart of the convention. For the average gamer, Poldercon was not about “coming” and “seeing”, it was about taking part. The day was divided into five chunks, two in the morning, two in the afternoon and lunchtime. During the morning and afternoon sessions, the gamers had a choice of participation games to play – there were no “demonstration games” – or workshops to attend. These were pre-bookable, on the same lines as a convention in the US, so the organisers could ensure that each game had its correct number of players and each workshop was prepared for the numbers due to turn up. A wide range of games were on offer, along side workshops on painting, terrain building, running participation games and similar, so it was perfectly possible to structure your day in order to have a real mix of activities. I know a couple of guys who left one slot free just to sit at the bar and chat with friends.

Of course, all of this involved something that we wargamers rarely find ourselves challenged to do: plan our day in advance; something we rather rebel against, being by nature free spirits and rebellious souls. Let’s be frank, I have many friends in the Low Countries gaming circle, and, at the start of the day, some of them were honest enough to admit to me that such a straight-jacket was not a comfortable fit. However, what the format did achieve was to oblige all of us to actually get stuck in and play some games or attend some workshops. By the end of the event four very successful sessions had persuaded all who I spoke to that the day’s structure was not just solid, but very enjoyable. I think the photo below really speaks volumes:
photo (2)What we see here is not the usual bovine crowd of gamers ambling around, chewing the cud of demonstration games, but a room full of people actually playing games. For me that really sets Poldercon apart from the crowd. Is it a better format than our normal show? No, but by being different it does make itself attractive in its own right. With our diaries absolutely full of wargames shows across the UK (I speak as a Briton here) whether I attend one this week or one next week is often of no consequence as the same old traders will be there with the same round of this year’s show games. With Poldercon I am getting something very different.

But what of the fifth, lunchtime, session? One of the great joys of the venue selected was that it had a bar and catering facilities. Part of the entry price included the provision of a very pleasant buffet lunch which was positively groaning with food. The opportunity to sit down with fellow gamers was really unique in any wargames event I have ever been to. I found myself chatting to a whole range of chaps and discussing the games we’d been playing the workshops and the format generally. This opportunity to linkup with like-minded gamers and kick off new friendships is surely priceless. And yes, even a trencherman like me had plenty to eat!

To my mind, the organisers taking the brave leap and daring to be different have not only achieved their goal, but hopefully done the hobby generally a service in showing that wargames events can be more proactive in terms of managing our enjoyment. Let’s take a look at the games on offer:

DSCN9750DSCN9726DSCN9722DSCN9725DSCN9749DSCN9746DSCN9745DSCN9744DSCN9750Maybe it’s because I have my WWII head on at the moment, but the games below were real stand out examples of beautiful terrain.

Murphy’s Heroes of Delft were playing Chain of Command, set on a Dutch airfield in 1940:
DSCN9740The terrain was so beautifully modelled, it was just like actually being in Holland.
DSCN9747DSCN9718DSCN9717DSCN9715DSCN9714And this smashing Bolt Action game was put on by a very pleasant and clearly very talented Seb Burlage:
DSCN9734DSCN9731One of the things I really appreciated about this game was the fact that the ubiquitous MDF buildings which one sees around the shows had been personalised so that they really had much more character than the “straight from the pack” originals. It is touches like this which make a good model, and a good game, really great.
DSCN9733Also on offer were the workshops:
Painting
DSCN9742More painting
DSCN9741A fat bloke
photo (1)And, allegedly, some installation art.
DSCN9743So, a real flying start for Poldercon. Will it be repeated? I do hope so. More importantly, I do think that show organisers generally can take much from what was achieved. With so much competition between different shows to attract a decent footfall, and therefore a good range of traders, there must surely be aspects of what we do currently which could be improved. Slavishly following any single model can only lead to stagnation. Considering what we can do better, what would improve the experience of those attending, must surely be the way forward and Poldercon certainly provided a chance to see how different can also be hugely positive.

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13 Responses

  1. SgtPerry says:

    The MDF buildings’ guy is Seb Burlage. I remember seeing some of those buildings on facebook.

    https://www.facebook.com/seb.burlage.3

  2. You know what this sort of reminds me of the Conference of Wargamers events.

  3. Hans Verdoes says:

    Very nice article. And I enjoyed Poldercon, the games and workshops. For the Dutch Low-Countries, these kind of conventions are scars, we are not so “Richly” spoiled withing our own borders with wargame shows or conventios, helas. So these one is unique and hopefully to stay for the coming years.

  4. Richard says:

    REALLY impressed by this, a great concept and I, for one, would welcome more of this approach in the UK. Superb games as well.

    A great big well done to those involved.

    Richard

  5. Very good entry from you. Poldercon sounds really interesting and different. I would like to visit it next year.

  6. Hans J says:

    I was priviliged to be one of the participation game leaders, learning a lot from the people at my humble table and still able to see more of the rest of the tables.
    Show was much appreciated by all people involved in whatever role they had.
    Thumbs up !

  7. siggian says:

    Speaking from a Canadian perspective, it sounds like Pouldercon was run like many of the conventions I have attended in central and southwest Ontario.

    Generally, the Canadian style of gaming convention has 3 gaming sessions (morning, afternoon, evening) with signup sheets to control who gets to game where. There are traders who tend to do business with those who are not in a gaming session and those who are taking a quick break from the action.

    The buffet idea and lunch session does sound like a good idea that I wish we had but I’m not sure the venues would be up to scratch to provide them.

    Demonstration games seem to be pretty boring as an idea and I don’t think I’ve been to any conventions that have them (then again, I’ve been limited to Ontario-based conventions). I think I’d prefer to play the games and personally experience the rules’ quirks and ideas.

  8. Rich, you clearly should’ve come to Hamburg Tactica earlier. They “dared to be different” nearly ten years ago, and it’s been a great success ever since with a number of similar events popping up all over Germany and Austria. Of course, that’s not to take away from the applaudable appearance of Poldercon (which I hope to visit next year if it’s continued). Rather a bit of perspective, since demo games and con-shopping are fairly alien to us Continentals. 😉

    Thanks for the report, anyway. All thumbs up for the organisers and to you for making the leap!

  9. Jan says:

    Interesting. This format (scheduled gaming that you can pre-book vs. a few demo games) is what most US game conventions have used as long as I can remember.

    The one drawback, IMO, is not the need for scheduling one’s day but the fact that neither the parties putting on the game nor those coming to play in it have any control over who comes to play. I’ve hosted maybe a half dozen convention games (including some using Lardy rules) and played in dozens more, and it’s a totally mixed bag.

    Some games are put on by gamers who go all out to provide a great experience, from excellent scenery and figures to a great introduction to the rules and effortless umpiring. Other games, well, not so much. And players likewise; some are a pleasure to play with, good sports, knowledgeable, and friendly. Others are little Napoleons, throwing tantrums when things don’t go their way, arguing with the umpire and shouting at the other players.

    Fortunately the latter are far fewer than the former, but they can spoil a game for everyone. One of my friends has had several convention games he played in, and one he ran, spoilt by such behaviour, to the point that he’s quite taken with the UK idea of demo games and will not consent to run or play in anything else at conventions in future.

    The grass, alas, is always greener.

  10. Big Rich says:

    Hi Jan

    What a horror story! To be honest, I have never had a single “little Napoleon” in any of the games I’ve run, either in the UK, Europe or my very limited experience in the US. If I did I would deal with them in very short order indeed. My every-ready toffee hammer may be small, but it is backed up by 19 stone of force!

    In all seriousness, we are finding the Lardy Games Days we run around the UK are much more fun than a traditional gig. A day of gaming, then beer and currry to round off in the evening allows for enjoyable gaming and a pleasant social experience to boot.

    Nice to hear from you!

  11. Mike Leese says:

    A lot of traders are already relying on the Internet sales but how will rules be showcased?
    Also how will the shows be funded? Who pays? The customer would because he is being entertained, but who puts on the games and do they rent table time ?

  12. Jan says:

    Mike, at least in the States, conventions are run by clubs or societies who collect fees for each event from dealers who sell at the event and from all the participants. If you want to attend one of the big conventions that HMGS runs, you pay the same entrance fee whether you play in games all day every day or if you do nothing but watch and shop at the dealers. There’s often a discounted fee or even a free pass if one organizes and runs a game at the event, so it’s sort of the opposite–instead of the people running the game paying for table space, the people who come to play in games pay much of the event’s costs.

  13. Sander says:

    Dear Sirs,

    As one of the attendants of Poldercon this was where I was introduced to Dux Brit. and this resulted in me buying the rules and building up some armies for it. I was very much honoured to meet people like mr Rich and Guy Bowers in the flesh in the Netherlands. I think that’s it’s not a case of: “all cons should be like the familiar ones with demo’s and stalls or all shows should be like Poldercon!” I feel these types of shows should exist next to each other. When visiting Crisis I go there specifically to shop and gaze at the brilliant displays. Playing a game there impedes too much on my time. I went to Poldercon specifically to try out games in order to see whether I should invest in them or not.

    So I guess there is no right or wrong in this, it is not a competition what type of event is the better one, they are both vehicles to enjoy what we like to do best: buy and play with toy-soldiers 😉

    Cheers Sander

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