It was going to be a busy weekend, driving down from Stockport with my son on Friday afternoon to reach Newbury for Colours, and then back up to Birmingham on the Saturday ready for Games day on the Sunday. And the gods of the roadbuilders were feeling mischevious, as every single route I took, especially those to avoid the log jam around Birmingham, turned out to have major road works of traffic accidents on them. Particularly impressive was one at the Oxford turn off on the M40 where a speeding sports car had been clipped by a lorry, left the carriageway and flown in a graceful parabola across a small valley and stream to land nose down in a small collection of elder bushes. Luckily no-one was hurt, but the rubberneckers caused a six mile tailback, that radio reports told us were getting longer as we crawled past.
So we were later than planned arriving at Newbury racecourse the new home for Colours. For those who do not know the story, Colours has been held in the centre of Reading for years, and has been the centre of local controversies. The show used to be called Armageddon, but protestors, including contingents from the peace campaign camp at Greenham Common picketted the show, and pressure from the local council, whose offices housed part of the show, led to a name change. The main venue though was really outgrown by the show, and the Hexagon proved cramped and poorly lit for a major event, and this was starting to tell on those attending as salute overtook Colours as the South's major wargaming event. I stopped being a regular attender some years back, because of the growing costs of travel and accommodation, and the fact that with my increasing age, and grumpiness, I found that I simply did not enjoy the event, and for a number of years I have actively promoted a change in venue.
The Newbury and Reading wargames Club had taken on board the comments of gamers and had been actively seeking a new and affordable venue, no easy task in the Reading area. However they had earmarked a site for a move in 2004. Then the bombshell, with all arrangements made and advertising having been in place for 12 months the Hexagon proprietors informed the show organisers that asbestos had been discoverd in the building and remedial work would be undertaken immediately, and the venue would not be available for the 2003 show. This was potentially a disater, but the organising committee moved fast, and as luck would have it the new venue was miraculously unbooked for the required weekend, and so a gamble was taken in moving the entire event at short notice. Messages were sent out to traders and clubs, the wargames discussion groups on Yahoo were asked to pass on the info, and the Wargames Forum and Journal did their bit to spread the word, that Colours would now be held at Newbury racecourse.
Despite the comments of some doom and gloom merchants regarding the move, I decided that the hard work put into staging the event needed reporting, and as I had been calling for a change of venue it was incumbent on me to get myself down to the show, and give my own assessment of the move. And first impressions were very favourable. First of all there is loads of free car parking, which has to be a bonus, and this went a long way to negate the small amount of additional travel undertaken by visitors and trade. The venue itself is spread over three big floors, accessible to the disabled and heavily burdened stall holders by two large lifts (and plenty of willing club members for lifting and carrying). The amount of natural light was amazing, thanks to the main stand being designed for maximum visual access for the punter to the racecourse the building is constructed in steel and glass.
Walking around the floors before the arrival of the trade there seemed to be acres of space. The one fly in the ointment is that the rail station, a mere hundred yards or so from the show does not have a Sunday service and this may well had an impact on attendance. Even so given the change of venue, and the additional travel wargamers arrived in droves on Saturday, and their general opinion on the new venue was as positive as my own. It was even pointed out to me that the re-enactment societies, which so annoy some gamers, had plenty of room to set up their camp and carry on their displays without the usual clash if interest, and to the benefit of all. Having said that The Hounds of Morrigan, a fantasy reenactment (?) group wandered around the show, and I found them a puzzling distraction at times. Can anyone explain to me just why any warrior in their right mind would wear a mailed coif back to front while in battle?
There was a large selection of games to catch the eye, and Richard disappeared early on the Saturday to join in the brilliant First World War game presented by which quite rightly went on to win he best participation game award. It was great to see a collection of kids really enjoying themselves in this fun, but very professionally presented game, from the Herne Bay and Whitstable Club club. Richard also enjoyed a playing tank commander, steering large scale radio controlled tanks with laser cannon around a simple assault course, though at a couple of quid a time he soon got through his spends.
Meanwhile I hung around the English Computer wargames stand helping to play test the World War One rules that will probably be the next release. Played at a skirmish level my French infantry swept into the attack, held up by a stream one platoon took cover in some hedges and kept up a desultory fire on the German firing line. Meanwhile the second platoon stormed across a bridge and using grenades and bayonets pressed the defenders from cover. Meanwhile Dave Millwards company drove the Germans from a walled churchyard. Not believing our luck, or of course our pure military genius we regained our breath and then swept forward again and the Germans broke! However in the next game the Germans were more careful in choosing their field of fire and the French were shot to pieces trying to cross the stream. The rules worked pretty well and I will keep you posted on their development.
The Society of Ancients staged a large representation of Alexander the Great at the battle of the River Issus. This looked excellent, and the players seemed to be having a good time each time I passed.
I always like to look for the unusual at shows, and the Skirmish Wargames Society gave us two games that were of great interest. Both were played in 54mm scale, the first an English Civil War action, the second was an African jungle adventure with courageus explorers,ferocious wildlife, and savage warriors, real Boy's Own adventure I know, but very nicely done. To keep in the Colonial expansion mood, Petard Wargames from Bristol refought the events around the Seymour Relief Expedition (click)during the Boxer Rebellion. Again plenty of fun to be had in this game with small allied units hacking their way through a maze of Boxer filled streets.
I have to say though that my own favourite game was perhaps the simplest in many ways, the Portsmouth Napoleonic Society and their Peninsular Cavalry action at Sahagun. A snow covered terrain with a handful of cavalry units; this had an impressive visual impact and a very pleasant game. But I was also very impressed by the knowledge of the Society members presenting the battle. They obviously have a great enthusiasm for the period, and an equally impressive depth of knowledge. The were also handing out an extremely professional looking booklet describing the battle and containing colour photographs and illustration. With their permission this will provide much of the content of the next Random Shots.
Meanwhile Richard had fought his way as King Arthur to a Holy Grail success, avoiding savage rabbits and catapult lobbed cows, and brimming with success was now commanding a force of Elves and their allies in Braintree wargamers superb fantasy display, a four sided participation game fought to the last man standing. Great laughs, and many thanks to the Braintree guys who tooks great pains to help the youngsters understand the game and its tactical options. Richard won! It is becoming clear I am going to have to watch that lad before he shows me up....
There were really such a good collection of games on show that it is difficult, and maybe unfair to keep singling individual ones out for mention. the various societies, Seven years war, pike and Shot, Lance and longbow, and aforementioned Society of Ancients all pulled out the stops to show what they were capable of, and the clubs all did themselves great credit. I really enjoyed the show, both for the games, the atmosphere and the craich, and I though the journey well worth the effort. talking to a selection of traders takings seem to have been perhaps a little down on last year, though many were very happy. Out of what could have been a complete disaster the Newbury and Reading Club created a first class show, and one that I hope will be fully supported in it's new home.
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