I recently attended Fall In at Gettysburg, the first HMGS convention I've been to since moving to California some 6 years ago, after being a regular attendee at Historicon and Cold Wars for several years. Having nothing to do with running the convention, I'm not much good for attendance and similar data, but I did want to share my impressions of the show for anyone interested. Not having been in several years, some changes were quite evident.
The show did seem very well-attended, although it suffered (as all shows at the Eisenhower, a convention center right on the Gettysburg battlefield) from being split between the hotel and the convention center. It was hard to see all the games, or to get a good sense of what was happening. This has always been the "baby" convention, with fewer games, fewer days, and less attendance than other Pennsylvania-based HMGS conventions. Despite this, there was plenty to keep virtually any gamer busy for a couple of fun days, and the show floor offered no lack of temptations in terms of figures, books, terrain, videos, etc. (One of my big gripes about West-Coast conventions is that the vendor area is always tiny, with many manufacturers poorly represented or absent. Not so here!) There was also a fairly healthy flea-market, where it was also pretty easy to drop some cash.
This may well be the last year that Fall In is held in Gettysburg, apparently because of price difficulties with the Eisenhower management - next year's show is supposed to be held at the Lancaster Host Resort (same venue as Historicon and Cold Wars). This is unfortunate, since being right there at Gettysburg provides a highly appropriate atmosphere, and an opportunity to tour the battlefield for those needing a breath of fresh air.
The theme this year was the American Revolution, and there were many theme-related games. (I played an excellent Cowpens game in 25mm, with beautiful figures and terrain, using the "Carnage & Glory" computer-assisted system: a fine event.) There seemed to be a large number of games, but there were definitely some holes in the line-up: I've always been a 19th-Century Europe fan, and there was little if anything in this area. Lots of WWII, WWI, Napoleonics, AWI, Colonials (including Darkest Africa), Ancients, Naval, and - sadly - fantasy and sci-fi games. I understand that there is a desire to get fantasy gamers to "cross over" into historical miniatures, but one of the great things about HMGS conventions is that they are focused on historical simulation. (My second big gripe about West-Coast conventions is that they are over-run by role-players and people in Star Trekô outfits. Ah, well...) There used to be a "no more than 10%" rule, which has, apparently, been abandoned.
Some unexpected games were in evidence, as well: Gladiators were seen in great profusion, including a beautiful 25mm game featuring an entire Colosseum, complete with 200+ crowd figures, an emperor's box, and the combatants themselves. Many of the colonial games seemed to be bordering on fantasy: a mixture of H.G. Wells, colonial historicals, and downright silliness. I can't say I mind this as much as pure fantasy, being a big H.G. Wells fan, but the game that had an army of animated Teddy Bears did provoke some annoyance.
Another thing that was seen in abundance were 25mm Pirate games. No problem here - they look great on the table with all the ships and so on. Warhammer Ancients seems to have a strong and satisfied following, and the funny thing is that, rather than pulling in a lot of fantasy miniatures gamers, it seems to merely have converted the crowd that used to play Tactica! They seem happy, though, and still throw great handfuls of dice, so no harm done.
I saw a large number of computer-assisted games, and bought no fewer than four (!) in the dealer's area. I personally see this as a natural fit, but the past few years have really made this a commonplace, which - to my thinking - is a change for the better. We're starting to see more Windows-based games, which is a real improvement, too.
In terms of on-going trends, there is one good thing I should mention: terrain. Years ago, it seemed that the terrain wargamers used at conventions was slowly getting better and better. I was struck by how good many of the games looked at this convention. This is a slow trend that has continued: some of the games are always gorgeous, and always have been, but there has been an improvement in the average game, which is a really good sign. Maybe this is the result of better, cheaper terrain models - I can't say.
Also, there were more women and children at this show than any I have ever seen. Not just observers and tag-alongs, but actual gamers! This is great, in my opinion: there is no reason why we shouldn't have a better demographic spread in the hobby. (A friend of mine once referred to the attendees at an Historicon as being mostly "overweight, unwashed freaks," which is hardly charitable, but I didn't hear him say it about this one!)
I saw one thing that bothered me a bit, too: someone had been putting up posters complaining that game masters don't get any compensation, but that members of the board of directors get their travel, room and board paid for, or something similar. This guy has got to be a frustrated candidate for the BOD who couldn't get elected! I've run games at almost every HMGS convention I've ever attended (including this one, although it was last-minute), and I have never gotten anything for it. I feel fine about this: we do this as a hobby, for our own satisfaction. The day that people start getting paid to put on games is the day that some of the joy goes out of the hobby. As for being on the Board of Directors - money is not enough! I can hardly begrudge free travel and board to the people who organize these things, when I have such a good time at them.
On a final note, I had a chat with a fellow from the UK on the subject of differences between US miniatures wargame conventions and those in the UK. I've only ever been to one, and found it to be quite weird, since all of the games were not for participation, but for observation. They were beautiful, and obviously took forever to create, but I prefer to have a chance to play against new opponents, and in new periods, to get a sense of whether or not I want to get into a new period or to use a new rules set. This is a real difference on the opposite sides of the pond, according to this fellow - he says that UK conventions are trying to get more participation games, but that most clubs simply don't want the general public handling their beautiful figures! (Not that I blame them, but they might want to roll out some of their old, beat-up figures for some gaming...)
All in all, Fall In 2001 was a great convention - lots of good games, lots of vendors, and the same atmosphere that pervades all of the HMGS conventions in Pennsylvania. It was great to see that most of the changes have been for the better, and that the hobby is as healthy as ever. It was also great to see so many of my old wargaming buddies from the Philadelphia area. I'm hoping to make it back to Cold Wars and Historicon.