Another year, another WBC West. For me, this was not only the best one yet, but also the smoothest running yet. I'm pretty sure that those two things go hand in hand. It was also the best attended, with nine wargamers plus Mimi for the occasional evening game.
Here are some thoughts on the entire process more or less in chronological order:
Driving Attendance: We started discussing WBC in mid-January, believe it or not. The idea is to nail down the date, reserve the house (it's a family vacation home that we don't rent out, but it gets a lot of use), and start getting commitments for attendance. I'm delighted that there's enough interest that there's a four month lead time to start getting excited about the event.
Who's Playing What With Who?: After the initial discussions and establishing who will be there, we start discussing games and pairings starting in early March. There's some risk that we'll have drop outs, but a month of prep time is usually enough to nail these things down. In my case, every game I intended to play was established by this time with one exception: Stalin's War, and that was Dave's choice to switch over from Ukraine '43. Especially risky as the game was due to be published in "late April" which means early May at best, and late August with a high degree of probability. Amazingly, SW was indeed at my door by May 8th, and I had already spent time learning the game from the pre-pub rules. Knowing when people planned to arrive was also important during this step, obviously.
Game Prep and Final Prep: Pairings and games are established (mostly) by the beginning of April, giving us about six months to get everything learned to a point where we can more or less jump into the game. While I felt I was doing a bit of last minute cramming to fit everything in that last week (especially with running two separate "learn the game" sessions with players for BfN, Sword of Rome, and A Victory Lost), at the same time, I did no prep work other than packing on the Saturday before we left, and that only took about an hour for games, clothes, and everything. I would have spent more time on BfN in hindsight, but otherwise I felt this part went very well for me.
We also had the usual material sent out to establish who was cooking which night, information for new attendees, etc.
Thanks to Dave for codifying this process and driving it. The pre-event planning is almost as much fun as the event itself, and it's kind of become the major gaming event of the year for me, even above GameStorm and the Euro retreats in the fall and winter, and EGG in Eugene in early February. Part of that is the sheer amount of prep time that's involved to play between three and eight wargames that a large portion of the population would struggle mightily with, but there's no question that we all get more than a little excited about both the event and the lead-up.
Everything In It's Right Place: All that prep would be for naught if the event itself fell apart. This year, it seemed like everything went like it was supposed to, with everyone playing exactly the games they thought they'd be playing during the day with one exception (Dave had left the 1805 map in a poster frame at home, sadly). No one got called away to court duty or dropped at the last minute, and while I still consider that a corner case and that things will go wrong in that regard in the future, it was really nice to have it all come together like it was supposed to.
The other nice thing is that we have enough people who have been out to the house that it feels more like the group's house than like my family's house. Unless you think of the group as an extension of family, which I tend to do. And, of course, with my nephew Alex there, it *is* family. Everyone knows that drinks go down in the garage fridge. Everyone knows how to close up. Everyone knows where almost everything is in the kitchen, where the extra TP is, what booze in the cupboard is my sisters that they shouldn't drink. It makes for a much more relaxing experience for me and for everyone else. While I love being the Den Mother, at the same time it's exhausting when combined with the high-level gaming we do, and anything that spreads that load around without having a negative effect on the other participants is awesome.
The Nits: Just a few, and they're mostly things that affect me specifically. As I mentioned before, I'm not going to explain any more day games like I did Sword of Rome (which I ended up doing twice to the detriment of the game). I guess I also had to explain Successors, but everyone had played that game before and had some experience with other CDGs. Sword took a lot of time and had it been earlier in the week it would have been more of a problem. Dave commented earlier that he didn't want a rule that affected everyone at the event, and that's not what I'm looking for. I'm simply saying that *I* am not going to explain rules, nor ask to have them explained to me *at the event*. This year proved that I can play largely new games and enjoy myself.
The only other real issue this year was space. At the peak, we had nine gamers playing up to four games at a time, taking up to four games worth of table space (although we only ever had three games going at once, though one was BfN). More than that is really that with ten people in a house of that size you tend to be constantly going around a corner and running into people. For three days, it's doable. If we had that many for the entire week, we're gonna need another house. That means we either rely on people who have houses out there we can borrow, or we need to rent a nearby place at a cost of about $20/night for everyone who attends (to spread out the costs). That turns a week that costs about $50 per person when you take food, beverages, and cleaning into account into a $200 per person event. I'm not sure that's going to fly quite as well, and it makes drop outs even more of a problem - we'd need to have people guarantee that they'd still pitch in their money even if they had to drop at the last moment.
For now, we seem to be doing pretty well in terms of numbers and when they show up, but we are on the edge of what we can accommodate at this price point. Asking people to give up a week of vacation and two 3.5 hour drives (out and back) seems like a small price to the guy who retired before he was 40, but for everyone else we need to be careful in how we progress.
Despite those small nits, there is no question that we have managed, somehow, to create a week-long wargaming vacation that not only runs smoothly and is a huge amount of fun, but that people start getting excited about three or four months ahead of time. The time of year is still a bit problematic (this year we actually had two Sundays between Mother's and Memorial Day, which won't happen again for six years), but there's no question that we don't have a heat problem like we did in late August.
And, of course, so much of what makes this a great experience is the people. While what you play is important, it's nothing compared to who you play with. We had an awesome time this year, and a big part of that is because of who was there. A huge Thank You to everyone who attended and made 2010 the Best WBC West Evah!
I will discuss the iPad and it's effectiveness as a gaming aid in a separate blog, probably closer to the weekend.