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Historicon: Miniatures gaming event draws big crowd
BY KATIE THISDELL
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
The Anglo–Zanzibar War lasted just 38 minutes, making it the shortest war in history.
But when a dozen or so men tried to re-create the conflict recently with miniatures, they weren’t as successful as the Royal Navy had been in 1896.
Instead, pirates overtook a British boat, and the Zanzibaris were likely to be declared victorious.
“It’s been going on for four hours. We’re not very efficient,” said Charles Kadlec of Winston–Salem, N.C.
The men joined nearly 3,000 others at Historicon, the miniatures war gaming convention held for the first time in Fredericksburg after outgrowing its longtime Pennsylvania location. The city successfully competed for this year’s event against Baltimore and Hampton Roads.
From Thursday to Sunday, the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center was packed with giant game boards hosting conflicts from the Old Testament times to World War II—and even some that haven’t happened but are based in science fiction.
As Friday’s Zanzibar game continued, Kadlec rolled a handful of dice to find out what would happen next. But he didn’t get the “6” needed for his British troops to attack the fortress.
“It’s very difficult to motivate troops,” said Kadlec, who started playing in college more than 25 years ago.
He prefers the “pageantry” of moving the hand-painted miniatures across detailed battlegrounds, rather than pawns on a checkered board.
“This is just glorified chess,” said Kadlec.
Watching the game was artist Richard Nance of Kansas City, who built the board and painted the figures.
“They’ll be talking about this game for years,” Nance said.
Longtime gamer Nance said he tries to minimize costs for his sets by, for example, finding wood from old cabinets to build boats.
But for the most part, historical miniatures war gaming isn’t a cheap hobby.
“There’s probably over $10,000 sitting on this table alone,” Nance said.
Many of the players said they’d invested tens of thousands of dollars in their collections.
Some were selling pieces at Historicon’s flea market, and others were buying additional figures from vendors.
“The average person is not like this,” said Nance. “We got tired of playing at home by ourselves.”
Now, conventions across the country and around the world bring players together for days of warfare games.
At Historicon, painting classes provided basics on painting 1-inch figurines, and tournaments offered the chance for lengthier games.
Games, which usually last several hours, are led by a game host, who explains the rules and makes sure everything runs smoothly.
Assistant director Joe Swartz, who jokingly described the convention’s demographic as “overweight middle-aged men,” said that players can expect to see the same people every year.
He said Historicon hopes to return to the Expo Center next year.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975