The third time, as they often say, is the charm. WashingCon, Washington, DC’s premier gaming convention, has come and gone again, an agreeable and essential ritual on the local gaming calendar. The convention, started in 2015, no longer takes place in a small church hall playing host to a hundred or so people. And yet, even as it has reached its third year, with nearly a thousand attendees and the space to hold them all comfortably, it retains that personal touch, thanks in no small part to the organizers and volunteers, including the owner and staff of the District’s finest local game store, Labyrinth Games. It is, bar none, the friendliest and most welcoming game convention I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.
For this, my third WashingCon, I attended with good gaming buddies Doug Bush and Joe Jackson, as well as Joe’s son. We started with a pair of matches of Quartermaster General 1914, a light Euro/wargame mash-up on World War One in Europe from PSC Games. It’s mostly a card management game with a well-integrated theme, using an ever-dwindling supply of cards to both drive the action and as a resource to pay for those actions.
As an engine for understanding history, the game doesn’t quite deliver—one match wound up with an Austro-Hungarian fantasy outcome, the other with the Ottomans rampant across much of the Mediterranean—but accurate historical simulation isn’t promised on the tin. As a quick playing game that came down to the wire in both of our matches, Quartermaster General 1914 provides an agreeable experience that’s easy to learn and with more nuance than the iffy plastic bits portend.
Next up, Doug unveiled one of the prides of his game collection, the third edition of High Frontier, Phil Eklund’s (in)famous game of space exploration. Lavishly produced, this edition stopped many passers-by in their tracks. Those who knew the game tended towards amazement at actually seeing it get played; those unfamiliar with its Hohmann Pivots, Lagrange Points, and solar winds tended towards amazement that anyone could decipher the board.
And, in truth, it takes a lot of staring before one can really begin to read the map’s secrets. Though there’s definitely a game here, I tend to see High Frontier as closer to an experience, since just figuring out how to get a rocket off of Earth, let alone giving it enough fuel to traverse the gravity wells of other planets, becomes a triumph in and of itself, regardless of what everyone else at the table is doing. I managed to colonize Mercury and set up a factory on the Moon by the end, but I think Joe’s son took to it the most. By the end of the session, he was flinging a well-constructed space probe around Saturn’s rings and moons with rather some skill. And thanks to WashingCon’s absurdly generous game giveaway this weekend, he even took home a copy for himself.
The evening rounded out in a very odd playthrough of Battlestar Galactica with two of Doug’s acquaintances in attendance. The Cylon raiders left the humans alone for several jumps, leading to the inevitable in-fighting amongst the humans (and non-revealed Cylons). By the time all three Cylons were revealed (thanks to the sympathizer rules for six player games), the humans began to lose hope, but they (we, I should say, since I was no toaster!) came within one jump of winning. I find Battlestar Galactica to be a game that I really enjoy playing, but only every so often. Once or twice a year, with the right group, feels just about sufficient, and this group was great, with precisely the right level of recrimination at the end.
Day two of WashingCon was a short one for us, but Doug and I revisited World War One with the recently released Illusions of Glory from GMT Games. As the name suggests, Illusions of Glory is a card-driven, point-to-point treatment in the vein of the venerable Paths of Glory. This game covers the fighting in the East, with the Russians, Serbs, and Montenegrins fighting the Austro-Hungarians, Germans, and Ottomans.
It’s pretty standard card-driven gaming fare, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting, and there are nice rules wrinkles to add a bit of piquancy. We only played about five turns of the full campaign (so into Spring of 1915), but it was enough for the Germans to take Warsaw, and my plucky Montenegrins held out in their redoubt at Cetinje. This one will definitely hit the table again for the entire campaign game.
My thanks to Doug, Joe, and his son for a really solid weekend of gaming. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t extend my appreciation to the entire staff of WashingCon for their efforts. This fine city of ours had long needed a gaming convention, and when WashingCon came on the scene, they provided more than a place for us to play games for a day or two. They created a community.
Now if only they could open the main gaming room earlier in the day on Sunday for those of us who overnight at the convention site, it would be perfect…