Saturday, 18 June 2022

Phalanx wargame show (UK) 2022

As the UK show scene continues its emergence from the Covid lockdowns, we see the return to the wargames calendar of Phalanx. This has been one of my regular show haunts that has been really missed over the previous two years, so it is good to feel its pulse beat once again.

Phalanx is held at the Sutton Community & Leisure Centre, St. Helens (North West UK) and is hosted by the local game club, Spartans - St. Helens Wargaming Society. 

Held in a sports hall, there is plenty of room for the setting out of stalls and game tables and for punters to move easily around, with a good sized side room that always accommodates the rugby scrum …. I mean the Bring & Buy!

Best described as a medium sized show, I know that previous years have drawn crowds at around the 400 - 500 figure. As the show scene finds its legs again following Covid, we are walking into a second shock wave - a ‘cost of living crisis’ with high inflation and increasingly expensive fuels. Will this impact on attendance numbers, with the associated knock-on effects for trade?

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post, which gives way to pictures of game tables and some general observations about the show.

In the days leading to the show, I checked out the trader list to see whether I needed to put together any sort of shopping list and noticed that a couple of ‘A’ listers from previous years were not in attendance and a couple of names new to me had been added. I don’t think too much can be drawn from this for the ‘return’ show and while the industry will be looking for early indications of ‘trend’, there are just too many variables in play this year to do that. The site lists 28 traders.

The website list for game tables came in at 23, though as for subject matter, quite a few had been marked ‘To Be Announced’. I did notice that Liverpool Wargames Association were putting on an English Civil War demo. Their stuff is typically very do-able and playable, so I was looking forward to that, especially as one of their previous demo’s on Hastings 1066 had really caught my imagination and has since become an ongoing project, largely due to them.

I like lists, but this year and having recently done the Partizan show, I thought that trade wise, I would just keep an open mind and buy on impulse, perhaps finding some new opportunities.

The venue used to have an upstairs cafeteria, but this has been closed for around 5 years and so the show organisers usually bring in an outside caterer - typically a food van with some tables set up and aimed at the coffee / tea, bacon balm or sausage roll and chips audience, so that is 99% of gamers happily catered for!

The only other thing of note about this venue is that it has always suffered from using sodium lighting, which plays havoc with any photography, giving an orange hue to any images and makes products in the hall look a little ‘off’ in colour terms. 

However, this year … wow, bright clear daylight lighting was immediately apparent, what a difference and the organisers confirmed that the premises had moved into modern times with new LED lighting. This really is a great step forward for the venue.

Anyway, on with the show! Sorry if your game is not pictured here, or it is and is not accredited - laden with bags (plus 2 litres of water!) and a heavy camera (with a heavy flashgun to try and beat what I thought would be sodium lighting!), it was as much as I could manage to get a few snaps off.

For reasons of juggling family commitments (lifts), I arrived at the venue super early (BooHoo), but that did at least guarantee me a parking space (Hooray). There is on the face of it a goodly amount of parking space, but it does disappear quite quickly once wargamers and swimmers! arrive.

Doors opened at 10 AM with an entry fee of £4 which is excellent value for a full hobby emersion experience.

The pay desk is immediately in front of the Bring and Buy. This is always busy and is well managed by the club members, who take a 10% levy from sales. I think there are some ‘serious’ sellers that bring their stuff here, because while you have some gamers who have a file box of various bits to sell, others are turning up with suitcases and trollies, more befitting of someone at an airport, holidaying for a month!

Anyway, across the course of the first couple of hours (typically the busiest) the Bring and Buy on this occasion was not as busy as it usually is i.e it was just a two deep melee rather than the usual 3 deep melee. It is superbly organised and is a very popular part of the show, probably the best within the narrow range of shows that I attend.

Without sounding a killjoy, with this weeks Covid stats showing 1 in 45 of the population having Covid (BA.4 and BA.5 variants seen as new drivers), I was surprised that in this particular congested area of the show that there was not a requirement for punters to mask up and even more surprised that none of the buyers that I saw voluntarily wore one for their own benefit (I was at the hospital a couple of days ago and there, in all areas, mask wearing is still mandatory). This of course is a social observation rather than criticism. 

Moving on into the main hall, a wave of delight teased the senses as I was struck by ‘the familiar’, a two year absence had made the visit all the more sweeter. I increasingly feel that our shows should be jealously guarded with nothing taken for granted.

First off - I always do a quick dash around to try and establish where the budget should be spent. This show does have the advantage of sitting on Father’s Day weekend, so I had some extra cash from the kids and Mrs. Wargamer had kindly insisted on giving me a spend donation, which of course I was just too polite to refuse such a heartfelt gesture :-)

The traders and my haul.

Despite many of my blog posts looking like reviews (particularly the boardgames), the only things that get mentioned on this blog are things that I have paid for and enjoyed enough to want to spill the e-ink on them, so hopefully my comments will always be seen as independent of influence.

There is a very simple mathematical truth about shows …. no spend eventually means no traders! Accepting that we are all in different places regarding our finances, the overarching worry is of course, given the current climate, that both visitor numbers and spend might drop enough to compromise the future viability of the show. The smaller to mid sized shows might be more susceptible to this.

Later in the morning, I spoke to one of the club members and he told me that there had been over 480 people through the door and at that time, there were still people drifting in, so in terms of numbers, I think the club will be pleased that their efforts have been rewarded with at least a return to pre-pandemic numbers. [edit - I understand that numbers hit 550 - well done all].

In the hall, it looked like there had been some thinning of trader / gamer tables, giving more space to walk around, which also made it look less busier than previous years, but as just mentioned this was not the case.

There were a couple of ‘no shows’ from the trade, one of which I wanted to spend money with and a couple of stalls looked quiet, but mostly it looked like a brisk trade was going on and people were walking around with bags, so hopefully that is a sign that the money side of things was there as well to encourage the trade back. It looked rather promising from that perspective.

As for scale diversity, the show seems to have lost Kallistra (12mm), though stalwarts Baccus 6mm and Pendraken (10mm) were there. I didn’t see anyone selling the Victrix 12mm WW2. Thankfully Coritani continues a good commitment to 15mm terrain and West Wind Productions had some 15mm ancients, with some boxed armies. Overall it is fair to say that the show, as are many others, was dominated by 28mm (Grubby Tanks was promoting 20mm).

As for my haul, as readers will know, I tend to shy away from the ‘consumerism’ aspect of blogging, but in recognition of the traders that were there to support my hobby .. here we go in no particular order!

Warlord Games - The one thing that I had decided upon when leaving the house was that I wouldn’t buy the newly released Waterloo Epic Prussian starter set, not at least until I had painted some more French. Anyway after a bit of chat, the charming sales person waved his Harry Potter wand and the next thing I knew, I was walking away from the stall with said starter set under my arm! There was also a show offer of a free rattle can of Humbrol Midnight Blue with the set, so that should ensure a quick start to these.

The box has a goodly amount of content and this army will be ideal for my Plancenoit battles that I want to create to link in with one of my boardgames. The army will also have a presence in the new Waterloo scenario book that they are bringing out next month, so I will get more use out of that.

Christopher Morris Books - I keep on looking at the various ‘cut out paper army’ books put out by Helion, more for the rules rather than the armies and today decided to have a dabble. The ACW book was on offer for £10. The rules by Andy Callan are only 6 pages long and there are three generic scenarios, so I shall enjoy browsing that, together with the lovely artwork of Peter Dennis. I will try the rules and perhaps they may make for an interesting future post.

Coritani - I always pick up a bit of terrain from this very friendly outfit. They have a good variety of resin pieces, which can be bought unpainted or pre-painted.

Today I fell upon some rather nice 10cm x 15cm ploughed fields. I already have the 28mm version, so it is nice to see this done in the smaller scale too. Also, there was a nice gun emplacement for field artillery, which now enters the collection.

Pendraken - I overlooked getting the new Cold War Commander ruleset at Partizan, so made up for that today. Also, they have some new resin 10mm buildings which are very smart and good quality without air bubbles etc, it was helpful to see them in the flesh and so some ACW buildings went into the basket.

I did look at the 10mm modern armour to go with the rules, but with so much in front of me to paint, they can wait for now, but I can see a small force being a near future buy.

A good decision by Pendraken has been to make the volume slimmer by putting most of the army lists up on their website. The reduction of pages brings the cost of the ruleset down and will help postage, particularly overseas.

The Little Corporal - A new trader to me and a very personable seller. He had some of the Vae Victis / Canons en Carton boardgames and I was rather taken by a recent release in the Jours de Gloire system containing two games, the Battle of Waterloo (the full affair) and the Battle of Quatre - Bras. The contents are very attractive with everything done in both French and English translations and I look forward to getting this one to the table in the near future.

The gentleman told me that the 1809 Danube campaign is being done in a few months, so that is definitely on my radar now. 

He is also selling lead figures, doing the 15mm ancients line for Simon Hall. Of interest to me were his 14mm metal ACW figures by Raven Banner Games, that scale well with the Warlord Games Epic figures. I bought a pack of Union mounted generals (5 for £3) to have a go at painting them up. I hope he returns to the show next year.

Warbases - Of course! I joined the queue and topped up on my MDF stash. The Epic figures come supplied with 60mm bases, but I am not keen on the gap that this causes between bases as the infantry strips are around 55mm wide - so I picked up some 55mm x 20mm bases for the infantry and for the cavalry, I am going slightly deeper with 55mm x 25mm. 

I had been trimming the plastic bases that come with the Epic sets, but thought going MDF might just be a short cut to doing that.

[edit] Colonel Bills - I picked this pre-owned command base (below) up several times at the show to admire it, undecided, I left it ….. definitely a mistake. Once home I ordered it!

It is now winging its way to me and hopefully will be here in the morning. It is actually a crusader based diorama, but I will be using it in the 1066 collection.


The games.

The games were mostly using 28mm figures on big tables and of course a certain magnificence falls from that. An obvious exception was the 6mm Imjin River game with its rather wonderful sculpted terrain bringing its own magnificence, with its landscaped vista. 

Period wise, there was a goodly amount of English Civil War / 30 Years War, which in my opinion stole the show, plus a healthy helping of other horse and musket armies. Ancients and WWII were largely absent.

Please click on the photographs for a larger image.

Above -  This was a 28mm static demo scene on a 4’ x 4’ board. The opening title shot to this post gives a close-up.

I noticed Baccus 6mm were doing boxed WWII armies that were bundled with the ‘O’ Group rules and that Pendraken had WWII army packs in 10mm for their Blitzkrieg Commander rules and Grubby Tanks were doing 20mm and selling the Rapid Fire rule sets / supplements.

Above and below - Tiger Miniatures put on a game covering 28mm Dragon and Peacock Wars. This encounter sees a Qing force encounter a mixed Burmese force.

Below - ECW, a nice sized table with good use made of buildings being sited at both ends of the board, adding presence without disrupting the deployment. I think this may  Tockwith July 1644 using DBR and 100mm frontage elements.


Above - This was a nice compact game and I think it was only this, plus Battletech and the game Armada that could be classed as genuine kitchen table games. The cleverly crafted stones look very realistic.

Above - Just part of a bigger table, there was a respectable number of sci-fi / fantasy games going on and I note that this year as a change, the host club (Spartans) had put out two such games and nothing historical.

Above - A hexed game dealing with the battle of Plattsburgh 1814 by Furness Warlords.

Above - Imjin River done in 6mm. The camera has not really done the rolling terrain justice, but if you take the black edge as a guide, the elevation changes of smoothly contoured ground can be appreciated - a true labour of love. The All Hell Let Loose rules (Jim Webster) are in play.

Above and below - This was as deliciously attractive as the camera suggests, no camera colour boosting here, this display was naturally vibrant. Ribble Warriors put the game on using ‘Blood and Thunder’ rules.

Above - 30 Years War by Mailed Fist Group The cavalry flanks are beautifully represented. The period needs a lot of horses, but they do look lovely. Note the nice game markers in the bottom right of the photograph.

Above - The Battletech game was getting a lot of interest and it was nice to see this solid game from my own younger years still inspiring a new generation.

Above and below - Part of a bigger table, I think these are Russian columns, though the camera does not really do their ‘presence’ justice. This mass as you stood over them looked quite spectacular.

Above and below - Again, the camera fails to do due justice, as to the eye, this was just a stunning collection. It is a reproduction of Marston Moor with 54mm troops, a clear labour of love. The cavalry in the wooded area looked magnificent. I kept coming back to this just to admire it.

Above - Liverpool Wargames Association, put on an eye-catching Old West game. The full table was quite a spectacle.


Above - Siege of Buda 1541 put on by the Lance & Longbow Society. Via a group of friends and members of The Gentlemen Pensioners (check out the blog of 'wargame amateur' for more pictures). 

Part of a bigger table, the besieged walls can be seen top left of photo and there are more forces to the right, using Renaissance Rampant variant.

 Above and below - Another ECW game, this one by Liverpool Wargames Association. It looked spectacular with a high figure count.

All-in-all, it was a very successful and enjoyable show and I am really pleased that the club had the confidence to put it back on after a two year break. 

Thanks to everyone who did the ‘behind the scenes’ thing to get this up and running again, for the traders who gave up their day and made the journey (for many several hours) to the show and for those putting on such splendid games, sharing their figures and tables and being very happy to engage with the punter audience. 

This show has always enjoyed a solid gaming contribution from other wargame clubs - as always, a great hobby!

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.


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