It’s been a busy few days since the Partizan 2019 show on Sunday, but at last I’ve got the chance to catch up and give you a rather more in-depth report. I had fully intended to record some interviews to stitch together a podcast from the show, but I was so busy all day that this proved impossible. Let me explain why.
As usual, I arrived at the George Stephenson showground before the doors opened and flaunted my press pass (a lie, the guys just said “Oh, hi Henry, it’s you, come in”) to gain access to a hall which was already heading over 20 degrees Centigrade because of the bright sunshine. It got warm enough that day for the deployment of large floor fans to become necessary – a glass building full of overheated wargamers was not something that the organisers were prepared to risk!
I sensed that there were more games than previously, and perhaps a few more traders too? And certainly, once the doors opened to the public at 10am and the punters started to stream in through the door, it was apparent that Tricks and Laurence had a success on their hands, a sixth sense that was borne out once the real numbers were assessed.
This is great news, and goes against the flow that some were assuming to be the case for wargames shows, especially with the sad failures of some other UK events in recent years. So, why has Partizan scored such a stunning success?
First of all, we should probably acknowledge that good weather helps. But there’s also free parking to consider, compared to, say, the compulsory £20 all-day fee of the ExCel Centre in London which hosts Salute. Then there’s the venue, a light, airy, spacious, glass-fronted hall purpose-built for exhibitions of various kinds, which happens to facilitate the display of wargames extremely well. Compared to the gloomy old venue of Kelham Hall (we won’t dwell on the temporary aberration of the ‘marquee in the park’ year), it’s paradise, particularly for photographers.
Then, there’s the catering. The little cafe in the corner of the hall is nothing fancy, and personally I wish it would offer some more carbohydrate-free options (not just because bread and chips have a devastating effect on wargamers’ waistlines, but also because all those carbs lead to an insulin-induced doziness an hour or two later), but again, compared to many (most?) shows, the offerings are positively Cordon Bleu. In my experience, only Salute, with the vast concourse of the ExCel centre has a (much) superior range of comestibles on offer from familiar, high-street franchises, but the inflated prices charged there verge on the criminal. (Nothing the Salute organisers can do about that, of course.)
But all these factors are peripheral compared to the fundamental draw of the show, that thing which is so hard to define: the “atmosphere”.
Is the general quality of the games in the show of a high standard? Yes, and usually higher than you will find anywhere else, making the judging of Best Demo Game, Best Participation Game and Best in Show agonisingly difficult. (Thanks to fellow judges Guy Bowers of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy and Dan Faulconbridge of Wargames Illustrated for their wise input – I think we made the right decisions.) The calibre of layouts is certainly a major factor in that “atmosphere”.
But – and as soon as you start moving around the show, this becomes obvious – it’s the people that make the difference.
First of all, the Newark Irregulars, headed by Tricks and Laurence, are marvellous hosts, friendly and helpful to a fault.
Secondly, the traders are all happy, not just because this year a record level of attendance led to healthy takings, but because they like the venue and the help they get setting up and taking down their stands too. I refer you back to my previous point on that. If you are running a small business, and may have travelled long distances to get to a show, then the welcome you are given long before the doors open to the punters can make all the difference to your perception of a show. How far have you had to carry all your stuff? Has anyone offered to help? Is your stand area clearly marked? Are the organisers ensuring that you get the space you were promised? Can the traders gain access to the venue to set up the day before, so that they can relax overnight and start the show day fresh? All these things are important, and if they aren’t sorted, one of the first things you notice as a punter are scowling faces behind the stands!
Thirdly, the people and clubs putting on the games are happy because again, their areas are clearly delineated and there is sufficient space between the tables to ensure that they aren’t constantly colliding with the game next door. This is crucial for a successful participation game especially, because they may – and frequently do – draw crowds several people deep, not only of participants but of spectators too. Some of the large demo games also have issues with needing to bring in and then dismantle large pieces of scenery and hundreds, occasionally even thousands, of precious miniatures, as well as drawing crowds.
But finally – and of course all the above feed into this outcome – the general level of enthusiasm and friendliness amongst and between the people putting on games, the traders, the organisers and the punters has to be experienced to be believed. Despite being incredibly busy all day, taking photos, the one thing I never feel at Partizan is rushed. Everyone finds the time to stop and talk to old friends and to make new acquaintances. The people putting on games, almost without exception, go out of their way to explain the whats, whys and hows of what they are doing. Indeed, some of the demo games don’t progress very much during the day because their guardians are far more interested in sharing their passion and interest with onlookers than doing what they could do on any club night, simply shoving lead or plastic around and rolling dice. In short, despite the busy-ness, it feels relaxed.
One of the characteristics of Partizan is the blurring of the lines between demo and participation games. Yes, there are sort of delineated zones of games that set out to be participation games, but of course, they are also often demonstrating a particular ruleset. On the other hand, you have demonstration games where their creator actively encourage passers-by to ‘have a go’ or, indeed, spend a fair chunk of their day playing the game, even if that game is on beautiful terrain and using miniatures of such exquisite quality that many might blench to allow a stranger to touch them.
This creates an interesting problem for the judges, because it’s not easy to categorise some games, and it means that at the end of the day, there are some games that are outstanding in may ways, either in how they look, or because of the activity of those putting on the game, or indeed both, but which come away without a trophy to their name. Perhaps this is something we can address in the future, with a form of ‘mentioned in dispatches’ category of award. We’ll see. But a couple of names that leap instantly into my head are, for example, Rich Clarke of TooFatlardies, who poured his heart and soul into demo-ing, on this occasion, Chain of Command set in Malaya; or James Morris with his huge Of Gods and Men table, complete with earthen banks and roundhouse; and Andrew Brentnall, a man with a brain the size of a modest planet, who was encouraging the hoi polloi to shove vast numbers of his delightful 10mm ECW figures around a recreation of Marston Moor using the “For King and Parliament” version of To the Strongest. These are just three out of a list that is really much longer.
Is there a downside? The only feeling I had perhaps was that the one day show was effectively only about five hours long. With the doors opening at 10am and the first traders starting to pack up not long after 3pm, it’s an intensive experience if you want to get around everything or, as in my case, want to make an initial ‘recce’ circuit and then go back to dive in more depth. It seemed in no time at all that I was being called to help adjudicate the games, and by the time that was done and the prizes awarded, it seemed clear that traders were wanting to get stuff packed up and start heading home. A good sign, however, was that there seemed to still be quite a lot of visitors milling around the hall, which can’t be said for every show.
From my perspective, therefore, it’s hard to fault Partizan as a show, and I’m already looking forward to The Other Partizan in August. There’s great news about that, too, because the guys have managed to secure a later spot for 2020 onwards, when the second show will shift back to an autumn slot in October. This makes great sense, because T.O.P. does suffer from the closeness of the August date to the May slot, and the hope is that the later event will lead to an increase in numbers.
So, well done to everyone involved in staging yet another memorable Partizan, and I want to wrap this up on a personal note.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to come up to me and say hello, and to comment on what I’m doing with the Patreon gig, the Wargaming Campaigns book and my articles in WSS. There were far too many to mention you all by name, and I came away truly fortified by the kindness of you all.
But I want to make a special mention for those handful of people who took the opportunity to share their worries about mental health issues. I have never been to a show before where so many people seemed not only willing, but keen to talk about life’s challenges.
One the one hand, this is of course sad and worrying to hear of the dreadful issues that some people are facing; but on the other hand, I see this as a tremendous breakthrough. If we have reached a point where, let’s face it, mostly middle-aged men can find the courage to talk about these issues and place trust in others to take their woes seriously, then that is a Good Thing. That these individuals were willing to open up to me was deeply moving, and has left me determined not only to make myself more available to those wishing to discuss such matters, but also to deepen and broaden my education so that I can give more informed responses. As it happens, two of my dearest friends work in the field of psychology – one even lectures on the subject at a university – and I have indicated my willingness to become their informal student.
I am not a trained counsellor, but it’s clear that simply being willing to shut up, listen and empathise can make a big difference. There’s nothing special about me. All of us can do this. One of the great strengths of a hobby like ours is that it creates social networks of people, all passionate about the same creative and engrossing pastime, who can look out for each other. At its best, it is a wonderful thing to behold with, say, younger club members keeping an eye on the more elderly, and the fit and healthy doing whatever they can for the unwell. It’s not rocket science, and being willing to engage with those facing challenging times is a simple starting point.
This is where social media can be a powerful tool: it’s all to easy for those who are not members of clubs that meet regularly to fall off the radar; so if you notice someone who has been tweeting or posting online elsewhere regularly suddenly go quiet, that may well be the time to get in touch. It could be that they are simply fed up with the chattersphere, or a change of circumstances mean they have less spare time, but on the other hand, your intervention might literally save someone’s life.
Let’s see where this might lead.
Enjoy the gallery of pics – these follow on from the previous set, once I had a chance to go round looking at the demo games in more detail, and then the presentations of the trophies for Best Demo Game, Best Participation Game and Best in Show.