I will deal with the games in a couple of separate posts, one for each game. First though I thought it might be a good idea of giving you a feel for what the experience was like for me and what you could experience if you get a chance to go.
First up the Wargames Holiday Centre (WHC) is under I believe it's third ownership and has been transferred from Scarborough in Yorkshire down to Bassingstoke in Hampshire and is now ran by Mark Freeth who is using a mix of the previous centres figures and new units he is steadily collecting. Some of the original figures are now looking tired but mark is cleaning these up and breathing life into the old dogs of war.
Lee was picking me up, the idea being he would call round at 10am for a coffee, chat and sought out the various items each of us have got the other (it gets complicated). After that we would collect Adi and Andy. Well as always plans don't work out exactly as planned as Lee collected me at !! and we shot straight off for Adi after exchanging goods. Andy was now not coming as he had work to do at home (bummer that) and we were soon on our way down south.
We paid our respects and sacrificed our pocket change at the Golden Archers as I am sure so many Generals have done before us and finally made it to out destination about an hour early. Lee game Mark a call and he made his way over to us about 30 mins later. The outside of the Holiday Centre will not inspire any Armchair General, it's main characteristic is it's totally normal and boring industrial unit look about it. New unit I grant you but boring none the less. Just behind Mark was Ken, very much a WHC vet and not long after Ken Mike and Ralph arrived with the bad news that the last gent was also not able to make the trip. No boring chores in his case unfortunately, his was more dramatic as he was in hospital with a leg injury! Ralph had played the rules some years before but had not in years whilst Mike had only played at Naval in any period and even though that was Napoleonic it really was not a good basis to work from. I on the other hand HAD played Napoleonic many times with many rules but never with the rules they use. These are In The Grand Manner, designed for the use at the WHC but used by plenty away from the centre as well. Most of the way down, Adi and Lee had been giving me primers on the rules which surprisingly helped when it came to the games.
When it came to sides Ken stated he would like British but would play the French almost as happily (just the week before Ken had been mauled rather badly in a game so we all felt for him and agreed to his choice). The rest anyway may well have had sides they would have liked but not enough to request it. Me and Mike were drafted into Ken's side whilst Adi, Lee and Ralph had the French. This meant the least two experienced players were on the same side and this was no problem as it meant we would automatically be opposite an experienced player. We as the Allies had to set up first after assigning Divisions. As it worked out I was playing mostly against Adi with some of Lee's troops coming in as well. Lee had Ken and Mike was fighting Ralph who he had traveled across with. I was to find out in the second game that being paired to fight Ralph was a rather nice experience. He took his time to explain some of the details of the rules which helped build more depth to my rule knowledge. Adi had also done plenty of this in the first game so I was fortunate indeed. Basically we had a good bunch of players and it has to be said that all the vets had significant number of games at the various incarnations of the WHC and could only come up with a pair of bad experiences with players they would not wish to play again but even in these cases they said it did not spoil the experience. I think that says a lot about us wargames and dispels my concern that when someone pays for such an experience the need to win can reduce the experience. Winning it seems is good, having a great weekend leaves the rest so far behind it's almost invisible!
You do not put units on the table at start, rather it's sets of Formica tiles which can represent between zero and two units with a maximum of 8 blanks for our force. To make our force look rather chunky we had 1 unit per tile. The French mixed it up rather more.
The Unit is fairly square in shape and the three tables are 28 feet long!! and 6 feet wide with a good alley between the tables to allow constant movement of the players. What makes this more impressive is the racks shown above line one side of the building and hold a mix of buildings and units. WWII and Napoleonic occupy half the wall.......
......the other half the wall is all Napoleonic and buildings. The shelves are deep and packed with figures. We had plenty of French that did not grace the table, never mind the other nationalities such as Prussian and Austrian.
These are just some of the other buildings that are on the opposite wall. Simply put he has buildings to cover all theatres and scales.
Under each and every part of the three 28 foot tables is racks of either WWII tanks and infantry or yet more terrain squares or yet more buildings. It's hard to get a grip on just how much gear is stored here. No wonder the place has a modern alarm system and security. The site itself is only accessible trough barriers and protected by 24 hour on site security. Mike obviously took a great deal of trouble picking a site. I was talking about this and along with the obvious security needs was a second and to the user more important aspect. As the unit is so new it was already clean and dust free. The upper walls were clad in wood that had been painted brilliant white (Mike has painted the lower walls a light blue. With the ceiling being made up of metal panels with large clear see through panels the need for artificial light is postponed till mid afternoon and the lights are powerful. At no point was light an issue.
It also has a small kitchen and a rest area away from the action and lunch break. Mike has a way of running the whole weekend that promotes a relaxed atmosphere but still keeps the turns moving along at a pace that gets results with out a feeling of being rushed.
Weekend games such as the ones we had are £150 which includes playing from about 3.30pm to gone 7pm on the Friday, Saturday from 9.30 till way past 7pm and starting again on Sunday at 9.30 till finished which in our case was pre 4pm but can go on past for longer if it's close to conclusion.
For those of us staying over a B&B is £30 including breakfast (£25 without) or better value was the Hilton at £35 twin room (each) including a buffet breakfast that really set you up for the day. The negative with the hotel is eating in is very expensive but the town centre is not a terrible walk in or a quick nip in the car. If you take the latter two options plenty of restaurants to choose from including a excellent buffet Chinese that we used on the Friday night. Mark puts on a great lunch and I never thought I would say this but spending £150 on wargameing and not getting a single figure, building or paint can be great value!