Monday, May 30, 2011

Enfilade 2011

Grown men, playing with toy soldiers
Friday morning I made the two hour drive up to Olympia, WA, to attend the 20th annual Enfilade gaming convention put on by the Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society.  Enfilade is a three-day event drawing war-game enthusiasts from all over the Pacific Northwest. 

Attention to detail
Officially there were 280 paying attendees, but including vendors and staff, I estimate there were close to 500 people sitting at the gaming tables in the various event rooms.  Enfilade seems to be a phenomenon born of men of a certain age (from about 35 to 65).  Attendees mostly fit into the white, middle-aged male demographic, although a few women and some younger participants attend the event. 

A Barbarossa battlefield 
The convention runs from Friday through Sunday.  At the height of the activities, one can walk through the game hall and see elaborately-constructed map boards, peopled with miniature soldiers, tanks, and siege engines, in every imaginable military situation.
I saw games simulating everything from Hitler's 1941 invasion of Russia, to the 1812 Battle of Borodino, to chariot races in ancient Rome's Circus Maximus, to a sci-fi depiction of post-apocalypse survivors fighting off flesh-eating zombies with scavenged weapons.

Hobbyists pay enormous attention to detail.  It's a labor of love, obviously, and one really must admire the results when viewing the elaborately constructed battle maps and delicately painted miniatures.

Anti-tank battery
My own event was the Advanced Squad Leader tournament.  ASL is a tactical World War II game system that provides rules for simulating small unit engagements during the defining conflicts that occurred in the middle of the 20th century.  ASL doesn't use miniatures.  Rather, units are represented by cardboard counters that represent tanks, infantry, and ordinance.

This year, the ASL contingent at Enfilade was relatively small.  There were no more than a dozen of us.  In past years, there have been twice that number competing for ASL bragging rights in the Pacific Northwest.  Nationally, there are tournaments in Ohio and Maryland (among other places) where hundreds of players vie to be champions.  But it's been at least a decade since I've attended one of the big national tournaments.

ASL players Lyle (Vancouver, WA) and Brent (Boise, ID) locked in battle
Just as well, too, judging by my poor performance this year.  I lost my first game to the eventual tournament champion, Rich Julanis, early on.  The scenario we played was called Friday the 13th.  I was the Russians in 1944, trying to stem a determined attack by German Fallschirmjaegers.  My poor Russian farm boys got run over by the grim Huns and their murderous Sturmgeschützen.

I then followed up with a loss to Sam Belcher to eliminate myself from contention.  In that game, called Opium Hill, I played the British, defending a village against a Japanese armored-infantry assault.  Sam's Imperial Japanese warriors rushed my troops (most of which were local Malaysians) and vanquished them in hand-to-hand combat.

In my third (and final) game, I played Lyle Fisher in the metaphorically-named Shouting into the Storm.  This was a late-war scenario set on the eastern front.  I was the Germans, attacking across a bridge to seize a village held by the Red Army.  My order of battle included three of the German King Tiger super-tanks and they proved too much even for hardened Red Army troops.  Lyle had been undefeated prior to our game, so I played the sour role of spoiler with my victory, but Lyle took it all in stride.

 ASL players
I've been coming to this convention for about 18 years now.  It used to be that when I attended  tournaments I obsessively invested myself in the effort to win.  But over the years, the competitive part of it has faded.  Now, it's more about having a fun get-away weekend and hanging out with old friends.  (I trust it is unnecessary to point out the obvious correlation between diminution of competitive spirit and the natural drop in testosterone production by middle-aged men.  But, let's not go there.  At least, for now.) 

One of the best parts of these tournaments, believe it or not, is the conversations that spring up between games.  Larry Spangler and I were having a conversation on Saturday evening.  We talked about our respective lives, about our ups and downs, about how we each feel lucky.

"Think about it," says I.  "Here we are, spending an entire weekend at a hotel in Olympia, Washington, playing games."

Larry chortled.  "That right there says we got it pretty good, eh?"

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