Poldercon – The Shape of Things to Come?
Last 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:
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:
Murphy’s Heroes of Delft were playing Chain of Command, set on a Dutch airfield in 1940:
The terrain was so beautifully modelled, it was just like actually being in Holland.
And this smashing Bolt Action game was put on by a very pleasant and clearly very talented Seb Burlage:
One 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.
Also on offer were the workshops:
A fat bloke
And, allegedly, some installation art.
So, 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.