It's April again, which means that I spend a lot of my time prepping to play wargames at our group's invite-only nano-con, WBC West. We have no affiliation with the actual WBC, but since Chuck and I, while sitting on a tarmac in Baltimore waiting for God's own string of thunderstorms to clear out between us and Chicago for the first leg home, thought that maybe we'd have nearly as much fun (and less gamer funk) playing out at my family's place in Sunriver instead of sitting on tarmacs. While the two experiences are distinctly different, there's no question that we have a lot of fun at our own event. We run from Sunday to Sunday, and people may come and go as they wish during that time - you can almost always find a game for people to play.
The event is held in mid-May, and we start the planning process in late January or early February. Because wargames are so much more complex than Euros in terms of their rulesets and game situations (there are exceptions, but the general rule holds), we have learned to decide on a daytime gaming schedule which includes what games each person will play, who they will play against, and on what day. We have also learned to leave the evenings free for multiplayer or light wargame play, as the daytime schedule is grueling. Fun, but grueling. Trying to learn a game on the fly, even if you've read the rules prior, is just too much wear and tear on my aging brain, at least.
When we started WBC West, it was primarily Chuck and I during the week with a few extra people coming out for the weekend. That was in 2004. This year, we will have (probably) seven gamers present on Monday, working our way slowly up to ten by Thursday. As you can imagine, that puts a strain not only on sleeping space when so many of us really can't do the floor or the couch anymore, but also on table space. Throw in Mimi doing one of her brain-squeezing jigsaw puzzles and it's a tight fit. In response, we've arranged for a second house to let everyone sleep in a bed (although there will be two days when it's not quite as comfy before we get the extra house on Wednesday) and to give us room for two extra games, assuming they're of the one-map variety.
Our process for preparation starts by setting the date and getting commitments from everyone by the beginning of April. There is usually a certain amount of shifting around, but I've found that the process gets people thinking hard about what they want to play and with whom. As a result, it's easier to shift things around if someone changes their arrival date or drops out. Once the start of April has come and gone, we start locking in the schedule during the day. I personally prefer to keep the evening schedule open, but with so many people who all want to play specific things in the evenings, I'm finding that the attendees are starting to schedule these games as well. Back in the day (2007) we could all play one game in the evening, but now it's going to be more like two or three evening games.
With that preamble, here is my schedule for the week, at least of daytime games, as well as the games I hope to play in the evenings. As the host, I will be attending for the entire week. I also get the good bedroom. ;-) AM refers to morning, PM refers to afternoon. Evening games will be listed as a group.
Sunday - Chuck, Mike, and myself will arrive in the early to mid afternoon. Once we've unloaded, we plan to play three-player Here I Stand. I have not played this much, perhaps four or five times and then a few of those games were very short (and incomplete). We plan to play the full game, and I'm hoping to get the English and Protestants. This is also the only night we're likely to continue wargame play, although if the game is moving along quickly I may end up teaching Fighting Formations.
Monday AM - Eric and Tex are expected to arrive sometime around noonish, so Chuck and Mike and I will finish our HiS game. This will be, if all goes well, my very first complete full game of this title.
Monday PM - Mike, Eric, and myself are going to play Maria. It's a bit on the bubble for being a wargame per se, but after a narrow win as the Prussians in Frederick some years ago, I'm looking forward to it. Most importantly, it's playable in an afternoon.
Tuesday - Tuesday is a bit of a conundrum, as we aren't sure when Alex and Dan plan to arrive. Eric, Tex, and myself were scheduled to play a three-player game, but there was some miscommunication as to what game so it's still a bit up in the air. There's a very good chance it will be Dan, Tex, and myself playing Napoleonic Wars as Alex and Eric don't have any games scheduled together.
Wednesday - Wednesday is Federation Commander day with Alex. If Matt arrives Wednesday around noon, then Dan will probably join us. Otherwise, he'll play Matt on Tuesday morning. I owned Star Fleet Battles back when it was a ziplock game, and got the first boxed edition, but didn't follow it into crazy-land when it turned into a lifestyle choice. I'm happy to see it stripped down and looking forward to giving this a shot. I'm still considering which scenario to take on. At this point I own Klingon Border, Klingon Attack, and the associated ship packs, so we can do a lot of things. I'm especially excited to be playing against my nephew, who is turning out to me smarter than me.
Thursday - Fleet Day! Yay! Chuck and I recently pulled out the awesome Victory Games' title Fifth Fleet (the one set in the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf), and thought it would be good fun to play a larger scenario with teams. Joining us will be Alex and Matt. I chose 2nd Fleet as it fits on two maps but isn't as constrained as Sixth Fleet is (being set, as it is, in the Med). I'm not sure which ruleset we'll use just yet, but it will either be the set that came in the box or 3rd Fleet (the last in the series, and three rulesets on). If I ever need a major project to keep me busy, coming up with a combined ruleset would be good. We will play scenario 8, which involves both US and UK forces on one side, and two Soviet surface groups with their puny carriers on the other (really only CAP). I figure the Soviets will divvy up subs and aircraft upon agreement, although I think it will be more instructive to have some of each force with each member of the team. If by some fluke we get done fast, we may give scenario 9 a try, which uses many of the same counters.
Friday - New attendee Chris S. and I will be playing a trio of games - Labyrinth, Warriors of God, and Hammer of the Scots. This will probably take us all the way into the evening hours, so I don't anticipate playing any multiplayer games that night. I expect we'll play over at the "Sandtrap" house (about a five minute walk away) so that we don't take up space for any multiplayer games going on that night. Quite a mix of games, fortunately I've played and am familiar with all three.
Saturday - This day, if any, will be the brain burner for me. I play Burning Blue with Roger in the morning in a rematch of last year, then PQ-17 with Tex in the afternoon. I've played BB once before (last year against Roger with me as the Luftwaffe), and PQ-17 not at all. Two games that require a certain amount of planning ahead of time. Rog and I got through BB by 1pm last year, so I should be ready for my afternoon game. Doing this so late in the week is probably going to wipe me out, but since I am not scheduling myself for any gaming on Sunday in order to get the house closed up (and make sure the rental, which is in my name, is good to go) I really have nothing to "save" myself for.
Evening Games - I am expecting to play multiplayer games five nights out of the seven, as Sunday and Friday will be wargaming continued over from the afternoon. There is also a fairly good chance that I'll end up continuing PQ-17 on Saturday as well, but we'll just have to see how that goes. In the meantime, I have a few games I'd really like to get in, and here they are:
Through the Ages - Three-player only for me, too much downtime with four and not enough of an interesting situation with two. That said, a huge favorite with this group.
Mansions of Madness - This will be my first play of this game. I expect that, in a rare twist, that I will *not* be the Keeper, as I so often am in games like this.
Dominant Species - Without question the heaviest game I'll play in the evenings. I love this game.
Conquest of Paradise - A game close to my heart (my wife is Filipina and her parents live in Hawaii), and I loves me some exploration games. I have played this two player only, and have been waiting for the chance to play with four, where I suspect it shines.
Fighting Formations - The new Chad Jensen wargame, and one that has some really great elements in it. I expect to be teaching this a couple of times (between other games or after an evening game), as it has a really elegant ruleset and system that feels very Euro-ish (and I mean that in a good way for you wargame snobs).
Thunderstone - The one deck-building game I plan to bring. I have all of the cards published (at least that I'm aware of) and expect that this will see play when people are between games or waiting for others. If Nightfall had even one expansion, I'd consider it instead.
Battlestar Galactica - Obviously I'm running out of slots for games here. I know this will be pulled out on Saturday night, and we'll just have to see whether there is a place for me or not. Of course, I suppose we could play *two* games at once...
Civilization - The new FFG version. Again, probably a game too far, but one that I really enjoy and that I'd happily play.
This year I don't have nearly as much prep as I've had in previous years. I'll need to skim the rules for Here I Stand, Hammer, Warriors of God, Conquest, and 2nd Fleet, but none should take more than an hour and some will take 15 minutes. The games I really need study with are Federation Commander (already read), PQ-17 (for which I have a prototype 2nd edition copy from the designer who wants to see if it works well for learning the game), and Burning Blue (because I didn't really read up on the RAF rules in our first game, just for the Luftwaffe). I'll need to come up with a plan for PQ-17, although that's just so I can better understand how the Royal Navy thinks if I'm the Germans.
My schedule for the next three weeks is to start by focusing on PQ-17, the only game I've never played before in any form. I figure I'll spend about a week on and off, running through a VASSAL game solitaire (if possible, otherwise on a board) to try to internalize the various systems and see how well the rules work for learning the game. After that, I'll refresh HiS and 2nd Fleet, which will take more time than the others (HotS, WofG, CoP). My last preparation will be to refresh BB and PQ one more time so as to have them as fresh as possible for the late week gaming.
It's funny how our little wargaming group has taken to the whole preparation metagame. It may seem incredibly anal to many of my readers, but year after year it's proven itself to be worth the effort as we all end the week tired but sated. Too many early years were marked by burnout days before the end of gaming, even when it was only four or five days long. Like any event requiring a training regimen, you come out of the event itself happier if you put the prep time in that you needed, and WBC West is no exception.
Now I just need someone from the group to buy a vacation house across the street from ours...