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John B. Spalding Memorial Con 12/5/09

posted Nov 22, 2012, 12:35 AM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: December 6, 2009

It was a modest thing, as conventions go — just a day, in a small room off to the side on the second floor of the Pasadena Convention Center, and not a widely publicized, either. But for those of us who were his friends, the little event that now bears John Spalding’s name in full holds an outsized importance; it is a way of remembering him, but specifically and more importantly, it is a way of remembering him by having fun indulging in the niche hobby that we shared with him.

Of course, the convention was John’s idea in the first place; about five years ago (IIRC) he first came up with the idea of renting out a little space in the Pasadena Convention Center just so he could invite all of his gaming buddies (as well as his parents, who seemed just as  thoroughly decent as he was) to get together for a day. It wasn’t so much a convention as a party, and John was not so much the impresario as the host. I remember playing Wiz War with someone I had never met before, and then getting waxed in an Age of Imperialism game that included John, Ken Tee, and — I think — Michael Pitts and someone else. After that, John and Rob Flores shared the work involved in making it an annual event until last year.

Kudos to Rob for keeping things going in John’s absence, and for hitting upon the expedient of using the collection he left behind as an open gaming library. It’s an idea that, I’m sure, John would have found entirely agreeable.

As tends to be the case with game conventions, though, a lot of people clearly came with their
own games and their own plans in mind. Dan Holte and Paul Marjoram kept up the playtest on Supreme Commander, and over in another corner of the room, John Leggatt and Mark Kaczmarek picked away intensely at just-released The Caucasus Campaign.

Myself, I had thought to drop by just to drop by, and perhaps get in on one of the tournaments that Rob was hoping to gin up (with a turnout of not much more than 20 people, many of whom

The Wehrmacht Never Sleeps: I can’t remember the last time I went to a convention and did not see Dan Holte with a playtest copy of The Supreme Commander.

had their own plans, I don’t know if any of them came off). But then Michael Pitts called me on Friday to suggest that we at least get acquainted with the old SPI classic, To the Green Fields Beyond, and I readily agreed. Michael’s time was somewhat limited that day, but we did at least play through the first turn as part of giving the rules a good practical study, in hopes that we’ll have more time to play later on. At least, that was a healthy way for me to look at it, as Michael took the British side — and as anyone acquainted with the Battle of Cambrai can guess, on Turn 1, the German player basically does a lot of watching and hoping that the British player rolls high on his artillery barrages.

Seriously, though, it was interesting for me to watch Michael work through the paces of planning the initial British assault on Turn 1. I have only solitaired Green Fields before, and only a couple of times, at that. I enjoyed it and am rather fascinated by certain elements of the design, so I appreciate the chance to watch another experienced gamer coping with what is arguably the most complicated and demanding aspect of the game. It goes downhill for the Brits after Turn 1, as their supplies dwindle and the tanks break down. So if they don’t get it right — or at least mostly right — at the start, they have practically no chance to win. Michael acquitted himself pretty well in the limited time that we had,

Red Tide: Michael Pitts tries to figure out the best way to get to Cambrai. If and when we pick up the game again, it will merit a post of its own.

and got some good die rolls; by the end of Turn 1 he had wiped out seven German infantry regiments and crossed the canal, and there were no trenches between his most advanced elements and Cambrai. Even then, however, it’s worth noting that the sturdy German division that begins the game in Cambrai was unscathed, and I think it would have kept the British out of the city for at least another turn or two. And with German reinforcements flowing in steadily in subsequent turns (some of them entering in Cambrai), the British would still have had their work cut out for them, even given their strong start.

After Michael packed up and left, I got into a quick

pickup game of Commands & Colors: Ancients (in part, for old times’ sake, as it was a game that I probably would not have learned without John’s suggestion) and then headed for home, stopping at Wolfe Burger for dinner on the way. Again — what has become the John B. Spalding Memorial Game Convention is a modest thing, as conventions go. It’s a day, or an afternoon, spent at a time of year when people generally have places to go and things to do. I don’t know if it will ever become more than that. But it

It’s Toaster-rific!: Everywhere I go, there’s a Battlestar Galactica game going. This time, I was informed, the Cylon won.

remains what its founder intended: a chance for his friends to get together and share a common passion, in a space big enough to fit them all. It was good enough for John, and it works for me, too.