Last month, during Veterans weekend, I drove to California to attend the San Diego Historical Games Convention, or SDHistCon for short. It was their first time having the convention in person since 2019, and my first time attending it in person; I’ve only attended virtually during the pandemic. The convention this year was held at the San Diego Jewish Academy, which was a gorgeous location and lots of space for gaming. SDHistCon is an intimate, laid-back and friendly convention, with about 130 attendees, and a fantastic place for game designers, especially those in the historic gaming realm, to meet with industry veterans.
The convention went from Friday, Nov. 11, to Sunday, Nov. 13. On the Thursday evening before, organizers held a casual event at Sky Deck in Del Mar Heights, which was an indoor/outdoor food court with some yummy restaurants and breweries within it.
I then met some cool designers for the first time, and reunited with some friends that I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.
On Friday morning, I showed up at the convention to check in and scope out the gaming areas. The gaming areas were on two different floors, with each space very sizable and tables spread out.
The upstairs had games on display for the raffle, and where most of the demos were happening. There was also a smaller room for panel and game design discussions. The bottom floor had the snack bar and sodas for purchase, as well as large tables for open game play.
I ran into Harold Buchanan, wargame designer and founder of this cool convention, who then introduced me to Terry Leeds, an artist who designs a lot of the artwork for GMT Games.
I got a chance to see a copy of Fort Circle’s upcoming game, Votes for Women, which is said to be arriving at my mailbox pretty soon! I’m super excited by that game and can’t wait to get my hands on it.
My first game of the con was a quick route-building area control game called Streetcar Suburb. This was a quick 2P game where you’re building a streetcar line and maximizing placement of buildings around the track and running it throughout the city.
My first game of the convention was learning and playing Twilight Struggle: Red Sea — Conflict in the Horn of Africa. Game designer Jason Matthews was on hand to teach multiple games, and a tournament was even on the convention schedule.
Jason said that impetus behind TS: Red Sea was so that people can learn and quickly jump into the Twilight Struggle system with a game that lasts about an hour. This game is part of the GMT Lunchtime Games series meant to be played in under an hour. The original Twilight Struggle game can often last 2-3 hours if you are not familiar with the cards, and can be daunting to folks new to this style of gaming.
The deck is smaller, and you get dealt a hand of cards, with players going back and forth playing cards, until the turn is over. The game only plays three turns, unlike the original game. I unfortunately did not win my game but enjoyed learning it from the designer himself.
I then learned a trick-taking prototype game about getting tenured. When you win a trick, you can either place a card from your hand to one of the matching stacks in front of you or take a card from the trick to place back into your hand. The stacks in front of you represent books, and you’ll need three of the same type to “publish” your book, eventually making tenure when three of your books are “published.” It’s a neat take on a trick taking because you want to keep your cards to win tricks but you also have to save some cards for those stacks in front of you.
I then got to meet Kai Jensen, game developer extraordinaire, who was interviewed on an episode of Dan Bullock’s podcast Game Design Deep Dive. After listening to that episode, I was just in awe by her experience and knowledge in developing games. As a side note, Dan’s got some really excellent interviews with game designers, so you should check out the podcast.
We all then took a dinner break at Urban Plates, which is a yummy, healthy place in the plaza with the Sky Deck. Here’s the dinner gang.
After dinner was a raffle. There were so many games, and a different set of games to win for Friday night and Saturday night. Everyone received one raffle ticket with their SDHistCon ticket, and people could purchase more tickets to drop in.
The last game of the day was 1714: The Case of the Catalans. 1714: The Case of the Catalans is a strategy and negotiation board game set in the War of the Spanish Succession at the beginning of the 18th century. The players represent the powers of the Grand Alliance constituted in 1701 to prevent the dynastic unification of France with the crowns of Castile and Aragon by the Bourbons after the death of Charles II.
I’ve never encountered a wargame such as this before — there is sooo much negotiation, and I’m here for it! Each power — Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Austria, the Duchy of Savoy and Portugal — is trying to obtain concessions that match the goals of their countries, while moving troops across the map and attacking Bourbon armies. Sequence of play also factors into this game a lot, as depending on which concession you obtain, determines your turn order on a future turn. I ended up coming in second place, missing first place by one point! (All that negotiation did me some good!)
On Saturday morning, I learned how to play Stonewall Uprising with the designer Taylor Shuss himself! This 2P deckbuilder pits Pride vs. The Man and covers the period through the 1960s to the 1980s. There are also three different tracks that represent the tug of war between the two sides: systemic support, public support and individual support.
The Man’s goal is to detain and demoralize 10 people from Pride’s deck to take the wind out of Pride’s movement. Pride’s goal is to shift the Overton Window and to organize protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins to sway the public, represented by their dice pool, to keep their movement’s momentum going well past the ‘80s. I love the theme of this game, one hardly ever seen in games, much less a wargame, and while events can feel bleak, it’s a period in history worth learning about and exploring.
I turn played this neat little game called Turncoats. The game is literally glass pebbles in red, blue and black, all in this little cloth pouch that doubles as the game’s cloth board when flattened and opened up all the way, revealing a stitching of a map with territories.
The game is about area control on the board and which color is the dominant pebble, all the while having a hand of pebbles in your hand, hidden from the rest of the players. The struggle is setting up majorities on the board using stones from your hand, while keeping stones from those majorities to score in your hand at the end of the game. Elegant and simple to learn, but strategically difficult and so tense!
I then played a game of John Company with the designers themselves: Cole and Drew Wehrle. I had a blast meeting these guys for the first time at this convention, and it was so neat to see them in action, whether explaining the rules of John Company, checking out a new prototype at this con, or talking about the inner workings of board game publishing.
I am still not confident in myself to teach John Company to others, but I feel like I had a better grasp of the game, especially now that the 2nd edition board is much, much better and easier to follow along!
After dinner, there was another raffle drawing, and this time I won Nicaea by Hollandspiele. I had been eyeing this game recently and had been planning to buy it during the Black Friday sale they have every year so this was a total score! I still did purchase a few games during their sale though because I enjoy their games so much.
I then stopped by the giant Liberty or Death game, which pitted Harold, Volko Ruhnke, Mark Herman and Jason Matthews as the four factions, but I couldn’t stay when they started as I had another game scheduled during the time slot.
I finally got a chance to meet and chat with Volko, whose COIN games got me into this niche corner of board gaming. My first COIN game that I played was Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar.
I then went downstairs to play an 8P Game of Thrones, which included the Mother of Dragons expansion, which adds House Targaryen and House Arryn into the game. The game included some cool dragon minis for House Targaryen and while we didn’t finish our game before closing time, I had a lot of fun! I don’t think I’ve played GOT in over 6 years and I loved revisiting it.
Before closing, I took a quick photo with Treg, one of the guys I had met back at GMT Weekend at the Warehouse many years ago. Even though we didn’t get to play a game together, it was good to see him and catch up all weekend!
On Sunday morning, I taught a 4P game of Twilight Inscription. I love this game so much! The game plays for about two hour and always preface a teach by saying it looks so overwhelming at first, but once you get going, it’s not as difficult as it seems because the symbols and iconography are well done and easy to understand. It’s a epic roll-and-write in the Twilight Imperium world, and each player gets four player boards. When an event is read out loud, you choose one of those boards to be the active sheet, and you cross off symbols matching what shows on the event card. Then, the speaker rolls these big, nice chunky dice, and players then get to place those symbols on the active board they chose for the event. The four boards are navigation, warfare, exploration and industry. It’s seriously so epic.
By noon, I had to get back on the road to go home. I had a blast in San Diego gaming with friends and meeting new people. The SDHistCon organizers really make you feel welcome, and everyone I had encountered was so chill and friendly. If you’re a game designer, especially in the historical gaming field, this is a great convention to go to with your prototype. I saw so many people with their prototypes out on tables because experienced designers will play your game and give you feedback. The weekend went by so quickly that my only regret is that SDHistCon isn’t one day longer! I’m definitely planning to come back next year.