MidCon 2002

by Stephen Agar

This is the first con report I have written in a very long time, for the obvious reason that this is the first con I have been to in a very long time. The first thing that struck me (which was both comforting and a touch depressing) was how little had changed. It could well have been MidCon 1992 rather than MidCon 2002. That is not supposed to be an unduly negative comment, indeed it gave me confidence that the first person I bumped into in the hotel was the legendary Pete Birks, rather than a lots of unfamiliar faces. Although this cons was clearly a success – attendances well up on last year and the first signs of a proper MidCon committee emerging out of the chaos of previous years – the fact that the attendance is largely old-timers coupled with a reduction of numbers down 35% from 5 years ago, gives the new MidCon Committee a challenge.

As ever, for me the con started in the bar on Friday afternoon and remained that way until Friday evening. I have never regarded Cons as primarily about playing games (although I enjoy playing games) – for me it is about meeting people. So by the time I left for dinner with Pete Birks, Geoff Brown, Mick Haytack, Peter Berlin, Paul Oakes, John Harrington and others I still had not actually played a game. Being brave souls we walked into the centre of Birmingham and went to a pleasant Mexican restaurant (with loud music) in the Arcadia Centre. It was clearly an in-place for young Brummies to take their girlfriends judging by the number of couples around us – the number of young women wearing dresses that must have left them rather chilly on a cold November evening, certainly proved a welcome distraction for the middle-aged males from MidCon..

One advantage of eating with John Harrington was that as he had the responsibility for the Quiz on the Friday evening, you knew that you couldn’t be late for the start of the Quiz however late we got back. Unfortunately, John himself could – with the result that things got off to a start well behind schedule. I suspect some potential pundits had been and gone before John was ready to entertain us with his new-style Quiz (the principal characteristic of which was the way in which it minimised actual knowledge and reduced players to continual guessing – apparently in an attempt to construct a Quiz which John Webley would not automatically win again). A couple more drinks after John’s Quiz and I retired for the night, feeling ever so slightly the worse for wear.

I forced myself to get up in time for the 9.00am Diplomacy Tournament, as I felt that I should be around in case Jeremy needed someone to help fill a board. Although I wasn’t desperate to play, I was once the Tournament Director at MidCon and know what a hassle it is to fill the boards up – you don’t want to disappoint players who want to play, but seven is an awkward number. It soon became apparent that the number of volunteers willing to “make the numbers up” was a sizeable proportion of the people willing to play – at one stage it looked as if we would have a whole board of people just willing to “make the numbers up” – which would have meant that seven people who didn’t really want to play would have played just to allow the others who also didn’t want to play to get a game. In the end we were just short of three boards so the Tournament organisers, Neil Duncan and Jeremy Tullett had to stand in to make the numbers up.

My Dip game was all over by 13.30. Basically, I drew England and resolved to attack Dan Lester (France) with the help of Steve Cox (Germany). However, Steve mis-ordered in Spring 1901 by ordering A(Ber)-Den! This meant that I could convoy into Denmark unopposed in autumn 1901 as well as taking Norway. That was too good to resist. Even though Steve knew it was all over for him, he gamely kept fighting until the bitter in a display of great sportsmanship. I allied with France to take apart Germany, quickly kicking Mark Wightman (Russia) out of Sweden – but then things got a bit bogged down as my units found it difficult to manoeuvre to get a clean attack on Germany while making sure that the Russians didn’t get back into Scandinavia. So I got stuck on 6 centres. Dave Wreathall (Italy) and Mark had quickly eliminated Chetan Radia (Austria) and were now dispatching Turkey. Dan hesitated about either stabbing me or sending his two fleets into the Med – when he eventually decided to stab me (when he was on 9 centres and I was still struggling on 5), he timed it wrong and mis-ordered a fleet, so that he never made any headway at all. Fortunately I had left a F(IRI) as a nightwatchman and it did its job well. I then abandoned Scandinavia to attack France, picking up Hol and Bel. France fell back to 6 centres, while Turkey was eliminated. At this point (Autumn 1906?) there were only four players left Mark (13), Dave (9), Dan (6) and myself (6) and we all voted for a draw. Mark felt he would have to spend all afternoon battling for an extra centre if we continued and the position on the board looked fairly static. Had the game continued I think Italy could have taken a few centres off France, while my position would have been fairly secure for a couple of years.

After the Diplomacy, Steve Cox suggested a game of Puerto Rico, claiming that it was the one game I really had to learn. It was undoubtedly the most played game at the con and in heavy demand – it’s a resource management game based around the notion of developing the economy of New World colonies. I quite enjoyed the game, though by the time I had worked out what I was supposed to be doing it was too late to try and develop a strategy. At around 2 –2½ hours it is a good length for game, but definitely not a game for casual family playing.

The MidCon Committee meeting was scheduled for 5.30, but was delayed due to the amusing development in the Diplomacy Tournament. You will recall that I mentioned that Jeremy Tullett (the Tournament Organiser) had had to step in to fill the last board. Well, by 5.30 Jeremy was still playing and on 16 centres! After 25 years of playing Diplomacy he was on the threshold of his first solo win – and he was determined not to let it slip through is fingers. The remaining players were united in trying to stop him, but they were on a 50/50 guess to stop him getting the 18th centre he needed – and they guessed wrong. So Jeremy had achieved a solo victory in his own Tournament (which made him a clear favourite to win the Trophy).

The Committee meeting got underway half an hour late. To cut a very long story short, everyone agreed that this year had gone better than last, that SFCP were going to take aback seat from now on and Jeremy Tullett was proclaimed the new Chairman, taking over from Theo Clarke. Lots of plans for revitalising MidCon were discussed, with yours truly joining the Committee to handle the publicity side of things (though this was decided after I had left the meeting to go and get some dinner).

Saturday night was a balti at Imran’s, with predominantly the same crowd as I had dined with on Friday evening. I have to make a confession here – I have never really liked Imran’s much, the curry as struck me as average and the main attractions for some seems to be the fact it is very cheap and unlicensed (so you can buy booze form the off licence next door). Now the company may be excellent, but in my opinion the food and ambiance don’t make for a great evening out. Don’t think I’ll go again.

I had intended to take part in the music quiz when I got back, but instead ended up playing Puerto Rico again with Toby Harris, Vic Hall and David Norman. After that bed – I am just too old to play well into the early hours.

I made no effort at all to get up to play Diplomacy on Sunday morning. In fact, I made no effort to get up at all, putting the “Do Not Disturb” notice on the bedroom door. Eventually I got up around 10.30am and met up with Malcolm Cornelius to collect some zines he was donating for the Zine Archive. A further chat with members of the MidCon Committee making plans for next year continued over Sunday lunch in the hotel (which was rather good). I didn’t make an effort to play games on Sunday, as I was keen to start the drive back to Brighton  - I’d promised myself I would get home before the kids went to bed. I finally got away around 1.30pm – an uneventful drive back got me home by 5.30. An enjoyable weekend which went some way to restore my enthusiasm for this rather peculiar hobby.


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