Category Archives: Wargames Shows

A new year, a new approach

2018 was a busy year for Second Thunder but, as many Open Combat players will know, I didn’t manage to get any new product released. This year I aim to finally release a number of products that have been bubbling along for far too long.

Most notable of the releases that didn’t materialise last year is the Black Powder supplement for Open Combat.

There are a number of reasons why I didn’t get this book finished in 2018. Without going into too many details it boils down two things: 1. My working on multiple supplements concurrently so as to keep an eye on any cross-compatibility issues resulted in me failing to focus in on the ‘just finish it’ stage on any of them. 2. We had some pretty big time-consuming changes in family life and being a one-man-band business everything stops if I have to put the metaphorical tools down for an extended period of time (everything is fine, by the way, it just took a lot of time to adjust).

But, after much juggling and wriggling things are finally settling into new patterns and I can finally focus back on supporting Open Combat and getting all the cool new things I’ve been working on finished.

There will be some changes to my approach this year though.

I’m taking a year off from the UK trade show circuit

I love the UK trade show circuit. We’re blessed with loads of wargaming shows on our small island and it’s brilliant.

One of my favourite parts is meeting you guys, the players of Open Combat, chatting to players is one of the most rewarding parts of writing and publishing rules. Hearing what people are doing with the game, answering questions and listening to suggestions all go to help feed the creative machine perpetually whirring away at the back of my mind. The same goes for all the new people I meet at shows too whether it’s simply interested observers who want to have a chat about what I’m doing or painters/terrain makers just wanting a short chat about the hobby in general, it all feeds into the hobby brain for later digestion.

A more ‘nuts and bolts’ benefit of attending shows is the sales. Selling stuff is clearly important (it keeps a half-starved creative from completely starving) and I thank everyone that has supported me at the shows last year and bought into Open Combat, especially those of you that still wanted to buy after listening to me talk at 100mph when you visited my stand!

Another perhaps easily overlooked benefit of being at wargaming shows is exposure. I know, I know… some of you may be thinking “exposure doesn’t pay the bills” and that’s very true but we wargamers take our time over decisions, particularly when looking at new rules. In my experience attending shows and being present at all the different venues has been hugely beneficial to spreading the word about Open Combat. I’ve had many people buy from me who had first heard of Open Combat by seeing me at a show several months prior, or else have ‘seen me around for a while now’ and finally decided to take a closer look. Another way to get exposure is paid-for advertising, either in magazines or online. All of this has it’s place but being physically present and chatting to people, especially about rules where you can take interested gamers through a few examples of play is an incredibly powerful way to spread awareness of a game and wargames shows provide this opportunity.

I’ll also miss the camaraderie with other traders, big and small, even when sometimes it’s just a wave and a nod at someone I’ve been meaning to speak to but we’ve been too busy to chat during the show.

So with all of that said you might be wondering why am I taking a year off the circuit? (… and yes – I’m not even trading at the ‘big’ ones)

There’s a few reasons, in no particular order they come down to:

Time – Attending shows uses up a lot of weekends in the year. Last year involved a lot of juggling diaries in our household, this year is going to be very busy too so I could really do with having flexibility and my weekends available over this next 12 months.

Energy – Attending trade shows as a one-man business promoting rules, particularly the busy shows or the multiple day events, is very tiring, I’m talking constantly. It can physically and/or emotionally drain me for a day or two after the event, particularly if I’ve had very long drive each way. This has a number of knock-on effects but the main one is that it essentially knocks back writing time (see writing below).

Writing – I’ve found that I have to ‘sink to depth’ (rather like a submarine submerging) to write fluently for any length of time. If I get into the writing groove and the words are flowing but I have to stop or I have the groove disrupted and I have to ‘surface’ I then have to go through the whole process of sinking to depth again, which takes time. Attending shows, at least attending as many as I have tried to do this last few years, has meant that I have had very stop-start, sporadic writing periods which has not been very helpful when it comes to completing things.

Perspective – This is perhaps a bit of an unusual reason but it’s important to me when I have my marketing hat on. I want to attend a few shows as a regular attendee to assess them from a visitors perspective. I can then feed this point of view back into how I approach my attendance when I return to the show circuit in 2020. I know I could improve on the way I do things at shows but when I’m actually trading at shows on my own I don’t have a chance to look around the show, let alone consider how I could improve my approach. I’m wanting to do that this year. So I’ll visit a handful of shows this year for a few hours to wander around and think over how I can improve my own stand.

Filling the ‘exposure’ void

As I mentioned above, the trade shows provide important exposure for small companies and that physical presence is particularly important when showing how rules work. It’s also a great way to communicate what is happening with things and how different projects might be progressing. How am I going to maintain an Open Combat presence in the minds of existing and prospective players this year?

There’s several components to my new approach for this year which I’ll talk about as we get into the swing of the year but one of the main elements is that I’m going to publish a quarterly newsletter.

The Second Thunder Newsletter

Inside I’ll be promoting new Open Combat products, other new releases as they come along and highlighting interesting discussions on the forums and/or social media. I’ll promote any Open Combat organised play events that may be occurring over the year too. I might even manage to get some ‘play through’ videos sorted this year!

Perhaps the biggest thing I’ll be doing through the newsletter is providing links to work in progress documents so that players can have a tinker about with new rules in development. I’ll set something up on the forum for conversations to be kept in the same place.

It will hopefully keep Open Combat in mind while I’m off the show circuit and establish something which we can continue when I renew my attendance at shows.

I’ll be publishing the first issue of the Newsletter at the end of January and you can sign up using the form below.

Sign up for the Second Thunder Newsletter

Note: You’ll have to click on the confirmation email you get (and prove you’re not a robot) as I think the process is a double opt-in process. I think that’s how I’ve set it up – you’ll find out when you stick you email in!


Bonescon 2018 report

On Sunday 18th February I took Open Combat to the Butterfly House section of the three day Bonescon organised play event at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel.

I have to admit to being a little sketchy on the details of the event (despite being there). My understanding is that Bonescon is the spiritual successor of the Smogcon event which used to be closely tied to the competitive Warmachine scene in the UK. The team behind Bonescon put together a three day event of competitions, organised play events and painting competitions for multiple game systems all within several halls of the hotel. The atmosphere in the hall I was in on the Sunday was very relaxed and cheerful. One of the guys I spoke to said it was a super honest and helpful crowd all over as he’d forgotten he’d left his miniatures in the competition hall in the morning one day, returned late that night where players were still playing, and discovered his models on the side of the table while a game was progressing. The guys playing said they’d put them to the side so they could use the table and figured someone would be back for them (several sets of players had played at that table over the course of the day).

Along with the competitive games hall there was an open play hall and within this there was an area affectionately called the Butterfly House, run by Mike Marshall and Matt Spooner of the Fools Daily blog and podcast. The Butterfly House was where visitors could play any of a multitude of the less well-known tabletop miniature games on the market. While I was there Gaslands games were going on, Paranoid Miniatures were doing their thing with Mythos and I think there were several others too but I didn’t see them as I didn’t get a chance to leave my table all day. On the previous two days Gav Thorpe had also been running demoes of his work in progress Big Stompy Robots game.

We had three players plus a fourth warband that was commanded by a different person each round at the Open Combat Campaign day on the Sunday of Bonescon 2018.

I wasn’t sure what I would be doing when I agreed to take Open Combat to the Butterfly House section of the event. Initially I thought I’d be running a campaign day but as the months leading up the to event didn’t shed any light on if I had players or not I was anticipating I’d be running demoes all day. However it turned out that I had got three players for a campaign day plus a few that simply fancied having a go at something different!

While two players had very cool warbands that they’d brought along for the event (very nice work by Martin and Conner – I wish I’d got photos of those warbands!), I needed two other warbands for the players without models that simply wanted to give it a go. I quickly threw together a couple of warbands by combining elements from several of my demo lists and we were good to go.

Fortunately I’d got the campaign day I ran at ROBIN still in mind so I used the same organisational template of those games for the day. It was all a little impromptu on my part and I do feel I was being incredibly disorganised but the Butterfly House section was very much just about playing games so the players were happy to just pick a table and play.

One of the warbands I’d put together for use by players was a Dark Ages force based on combining my demo Vikings and Saxons which was reasonably balanced with regards to threats it could put out and model synergies despite being thrown together. The second force was a slightly different story as it was made by combining elements from the two Sword Masters demo forces which were intentionally designed to showcase some of the Sword Masters abilities without much thought for fighting battles in a wider context. So there were a few intentional weaknesses that don’t usually matter in a their own demo environment but do need a player to really understand the possible threats to the force to get the most from them if facing certain opponents. The player that picked these (I think it was Mike, apologies if I’ve got your name wrong!) discovered this in the last round as a combination of tabletop environment and opposing forces put him in a very tricky spot.

The first round was played without much input from me as I was talking to visitors about Open Combat but I did answer a few questions that popped up from players that were either rusty with regards the rules or totally new to the game. The second round saw the Dark Ages warband swap to a new player that fancied a try as the first round player had another game to get to. The second round scenario of Retrieve the Prize commenced and one of the moments that I heard as I was demoing/chatting to a visitor was that Shep, the dog in the Sword Masters warband, had found the Large Fish and proceeded to bound about the place using it to knock enemy fighters over!

A brief break in the proceedings allowed me to eat a quick sandwich and prepare for the next round and once again the player in command of the Dark Ages force needed to swap out to go to play a different game so I took command of them for a round. I faced Martin’s vampire and ghoul warband which looked very cool and had some very clever elements within it. I discovered that a couple of the Dark Ages fighters had picked up some injuries but the Vampire’s minions had also suffered over the day so the Renown levels were very close. The game played out in favour of Martin. Several bouts of poor combat rolls in succession for me combined with Martin playing very well with regards to getting the Prey critters in the right places and playing around the threats of the heavy hitters in the Dark Ages build ensured he had a reasonably comfortable victory. Following the round we had a look at Reputation levels and the Dark Ages Build hadn’t had any spent over the day so had amassed 85 points over the three previous rounds. Conner’s halflings had something in the region of 50-60 (despite replacing casualties), the Sword Masters were also somewhere in the region of 50-60 while Martin’s Vampire’s minions were on about 40 as they’d had to replace models earlier on.

The games had played very quickly and it was early afternoon at this point but I had several people wanting to play demoes so the three campaign players agreed to play a three-way fight using corner deployment for the final round while I retired the Dark Ages warband.

The final round of the Open Combat campaign day was a three player game as I was needed to run several demo games as the afternoon progressed.

The final battle was fought over the Sword Masters demo table layout which is quite an open board with mostly low level terrain features, featuring a ‘trip’ hazardous area in the centre, good clear views made it a good board for archers. The halflings had several archers in their force and deployed on the opposite corner from the Sword Masters while the Vampire and minions deployed in one of the corners between them. From what I could gather from the way the game played out the Vampire and minions got stuck into the Sword Masters while the halflings took advantage of the open areas and rained arrows onto their foes from afar. Neither opposing force had any shields so the bow fire was particularly effective and the halflings won the day as they managed to hold off advances on their positions. Interestingly Conner said that the game the halflings had lost earlier in the day was against the Dark Ages build, most models in that build had shields so had pretty good protection from missile fire. Fortunately for Conner they had sailed off into retirement that round!

This is where manning a busy games table/stand can be a little overwhelming as I’m a little vague on the details of the end of the campaign. I think the final three-way campaign game ended with two warbands (the halflings and the Sword Masters) in the high 80s on Reputation but I can’t be sure as I didn’t get a chance to properly to chat to the guys as they wrapped up. I was deep into a demo game. But they appeared to have enjoyed their games, certainly in the context of the whole weekend and based on chatting with them during the day (plus bearing in mind this was the third day of a three day event) they had enjoyed playing a large selection of different games with different people and generally immersing themselves in the hobby for several days.

It was mid-afternoon at this point and I was now occupied with talking about Open Combat with visitors and running games which took me right the way through to packing up at the end of the day. A big thank you to all of you that came along and asked about Open Combat, played and bought into the game! (Plus thanks to Mike, I met so many people called Mike that day, who helped me pack up and take all my paraphernalia to the car).

A very special thank you to the guys that played in the Open Combat campaign games over the course of the day and apologies for me being a bit scatter-brained most of the day. I know some of the details of the campaign and injury system may have got lost in amongst player swap-overs and the hurly burly of the day but it was good to see games being played in such a relaxed and cheerful atmosphere.

I think Bonescon is likely to happen again next year and I know Mike Marshall has some ideas of how he wishes to move the Butterfly House section forward.

For my part I’ll return to Bonescon. I will have the Open Combat Battle Pits and Arenas supplement out by next year and I think a multiplayer gladiatorial ‘winner stays on’ style of Open Combat participation game might be better suited to the environment of the Butterfly House. I think I need a little more control of the build-up and environment to run a campaign day and something which both ROBIN and Bonescon have highlighted is that trying to run a campaign while doing something else (trading/demoing) is a bit too tall an order for me while I’m working solo. I will certainly be running more campaign days but most likely in a suitable games store and/or wargames club environment. What struck me about Sunday was how quickly the rounds rattled through and we could have easily played another game in the campaign during the day so five games in a day might even be viable. Hmmm… plenty of food for thought for my next organised play event.


Wargames Shows 2017

We’re very lucky in the UK to have a thriving wargames show circuit and I try to attend one a month (ish). If you’re a big enough trader, or the main focus of your business is trade shows, you can attend a show nearly every weekend of most months of the year. If you add into the mix the wargames shows overseas, both in Europe and beyond, you could have a very busy schedule indeed (and I know some UK traders do attend several overseas shows).

I’m far too small, being a one-man-band, to attend every event so I have to pick and choose based on a loose criteria of distance, cost and juggling the weekends on the calendar with family commitments. But I do try to take Open Combat to as many wargames shows and events as I can, which as I said above, equates to approximately a dozen shows over the course of a year. During the past six months I’ve attended seven shows.

January 2017

I didn’t get to any shows in January this year, I’ve heard a lot of good noises about Crusade in Wales but never actually managed to get to it yet. It’s one I’m bearing in mind for the future, it’s a fair old trek to get to from where I’m based and probably has a waiting list too but one of these years I’ll try to make it.

February 2017 – ROBIN

In February I attended the inaugural ROBIN wargames show in Nottingham, early indicators give it a lot of promise with a good turn out for it’s first appearance. Next year I will be running an Open Combat campaign day there (more on this at another time) as well as running a trade stand so I might need to muster a helper for that.

March 2017 – Hammerhead, WMMS

In March I was running Open Combat participation games at Hammerhead in Newark aided by Gav Thorpe, where I think we both got beaten multiple times as well as presiding over many battles between visitors. Also in March I attended the West Midland Military Show (WMMS) in Wolverhampton. Aside from chatting about Open Combat I had a great discussion with visitors that along with playing wargames for a hobby, also fight with medieval weapons on weekends. I’m planning on visiting their wargames club to play Open Combat in the near future (alas, I don’t have the time to join their fighting club).

April 2017 – Salute

In April Gav Thorpe again helped me out by running the participation game table of Open Combat while I ran the trade stand at Salute in London. The participation game used one of the work in progress multi-player battlepit scenarios from the forthcoming Open Combat Arenas and Battlepits multi-player supplement. It sounded like everyone enjoyed themselves and also provided useful feedback which is always good. Salute is an incredibly busy show and next year Gav is looking to run games of his own Big Stompy Robots game so I will be needing to pull in some new helpers – especially as I’d like to run a Open Combat games table using the Magic supplement with battling wizards. If you fancy helping out, let me know.

May 2017 – Partizan, ChillCon

In May I was running games of Open Combat on the Ainsty Castings / Northstar mega stand at Partizan in Newark. It was great fun and incredibly busy. One young visitor came back to the table three times, beating me with both sides of the Sword Masters based warbands I had on the table. It highlighted something I’ve witnessed over several years of attending wargames shows. In all the games I’ve played with youngsters the one thing that sticks with me is that there should be some way to bottle their dice rolling skills. You could make millions selling the kind of positive-energy-infused sorcery I’ve seen at play. In May I also attended the new show that started in Sheffield called ChillCon. Again for a new show this one shows a lot of promise and I’ll certainly be attending again.

June 2017 – UK Games Expo

In June I was at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham and I have to say in many ways it’s my favourite show. This is possibly because I’m very much a tabletop gamer that plays all kinds of games and the UK Games Expo has card games, board games, roleplaying games and wargames all under one roof. I’ll admit that I don’t actually get any chance to browse when the show is open (having to scurry around before and after hours) but simply being surrounded by everything for several consecutive days is great sustenance for the soul. Plus, it’s a very good show for Second Thunder too.

Carl Brown demonstrates the freedom of creating your own profiles when putting together a warband roster for Open Combat at UK Games Expo 2017.

Rest of 2017 – Barrage, The Other Partizan, Hereward, Derby Worlds, SELWG, FIASCO

I’m now moving into the second half of the year and I’ll be attending another six shows. These are:

  • Barrage in Stafford, 9th July.
  • I’ll be helping out and running Open Combat on the Ainsty Castings / Northstar stand at The Other Partizan on 20th August.
  • 3rd September will see me over in Peterborough at Hereward 2017.
  • October sees me with a very busy month to end my year of wargame show attendances. On the 7th and 8th I’ll be in the new venue at Derby Worlds then on the 22nd I’ll be at SELWG in London. On 29th I’ll be in Leeds at FIASCO which is held in the Royal Armouries complex.

Open Combat Campaign Days or Events

The preceding blurb is part mini diary of events I’ve been to and part a ‘heads up’ for my show attendances for this year. But I do intend to run a couple of campaign days or events for simply playing Open Combat too this year if I can manage it. Daffcon has been cancelled this year so I’ll not be running an event in in Cardiff in August.

I’ve got to work out some dates and venues but I’ll be talking to Spirit Games in Burton on Trent next week about running a campaign day at their shop again this year.

I’d also like to run a Open Combat open gaming day somewhere in the East Midlands, where I have several tables setup with terrain. Players can come along in a freeform fashion and just play games on different setups against different opponents and maybe try out different warband builds. I could run demos for people that just fancy giving it a try. For existing Open Combat players I could potentially take the opportunity to throw some playtest material into the mix too if they fancied having a go at something still in progress. I’m not sure how viable this kind of thing is yet so if you have an opinion please let me know if it’s something you’ve be interested in.