A Pint of Theakston's

by Brian Creese

About the only contact with the hobby at large that entered the pages of NMR! over the past few years was a MidCon report, and somehow I can't quite lose the habit.  If it's cold damp and November, it must be Birmingham and MidCon.  And yet, this year, it seemed to me that less was, contrary to the claims of the commercials, in fact less. 

The car found its way back to the Royal Angus by instinct.  Once the first strains of piped music had swept over me, it was as if we had never been away.  The only problem with the Angus was the staff and management who didn't want us; in the current economic climate such extravagances are no longer open to anyone.  The only thing in favour of the Midland was that it was slap in the middle of town and a vastly more interesting building with rooms that were not meticulously square.  I found no-one over the entire weekend who voted for the Angus, but equally found no-one too worried about the result. 

So, here I was, ready to start gaming and drinking, and there were a few familiar faces.  Walkerdine tried to sell me an aeroplane; clearly things are bad at British Aerospace when they let RJW hitch an Airbus to the back of his Rover in the hope of flogging one to someone at a Games Convention.  Unfortunately there was no sign of money in abundance at MidCon.  In fact, the Con was most notable for who wasn't there, and I suspect money was a primary reason for that.  Of the group with which I spend most time, so very many were missing, but most crucially there was no Martin or Dianne Hammon, and the lack of their company, and their particularly apposite games collection, ensured it was the least enjoyable Con for many years.  Thank God for Ray Miller. 

Saturday 

It was difficult to get going on Saturday morning - less people to play games with and less games to be played.  Nonetheless we finally got a South London dominated game of Hols Der Gier under way, and then followed with a six-player game of Six Day Race.  Then it was an excellent 5-player game of Acquire.  As ever I played my single game of Subuteo, dominating the game but still losing by the traditional 1-0 score to Rob Lozynsky.  The rest of the afternoon was spent playing games with Nicky and Geoff Challinger, and Paul Oakes. 

Saturday evening in the bar was very, very strange; there was no-one there.  The bar was empty.  I'm sure the Diplomacy field was strong, and the Railway Gamers were as busy as ever, but the hobbyists, who like a drink and a quick German game, they just weren't there. 

A few hobbyists were dragged together for a meeting about publicising the hobby.  This was a discussion which, I suspect, was called by those who don't like Danny Collman and/or Springboard, but unfortunately no-one was prepared to accuse Danny of anything other than brilliant achievement.  It was therefore very hard for the neutrals to see what the purpose of the meeting was; it was agreed that Stephen Agar and John Dodds would do something about the hoards of new entrants that may flood into the hobby not via the Diplomacy flyer.  To be honest, I think this was a bit of meddling from Mr Agar - if his efforts bring in too many subscribers I am perfectly certain he can make good use of them without resorting to calling meetings!! 

A new idea was the MidCon Meal.  I scorned this attempt at imposed organisation, but this seems to have been a mistake.  Our visit to Imran's was less impressive than usual, the food moderate by their previous standards, and the service utterly abysmal.  The Organised Party, however, were entertained by a belly dancer who persuaded one of the group to strip his shirt off and join her - in a sequined bra I was told... 

The Quiz 

The Quiz at MidCon is something of an institution, one of the primary events for the non-18xx fraternity.  After being one of the highlights of the weekend, control was wrestled from Dodds by Simpkins, and the tedium level has since soared from year to year.  Dodds was back in control this year, and Simpkins absent - it was rumoured he'd been asked to pay for his own room - which meant some format adjustments. 

The first round was, as usual, on Friday evening.  Our team (Oakes, Challinger and myself) sat with Team Six (Birks, Gambol & Woodhouse).  One innovation was virtually instant scoring, and we tracked Team Six solidly in sixth (there were six qualifiers this year) while we sat in seventh or eighth.  There was an innovative final round, to be worked on between questions, which dramatically pulled us up to fifth (Team Six were OK with sixth).  SO far so bad; my achievements in answering questions in public are pathetic. 

The semi-final saw more changes and an intriguing, but over-complex method whereby each category of answers can only be answered by one team.  Although our winning margin was small, we held a lead throughout, and I never really thought we wouldn't get to the final. 

In the second Semi, the rules were changed (very much for the better) and Team Six's superior gamesmanship froze out the Webley monopoly - a brilliant performance. 

So, astonishingly, it was a solidly London Mafia Final, and despite more rules changes - this time you had to bid for each question - we started off in the lead and simply continued to pull away.  The only hiccough came when Challinger decided he had to get home to relieve the child-minder, so we plucked Kinzett out of the crowd to answer a couple of token questions. 

So after all these years I've finally been in a winning team!!  I owe it all to Paul and Geoff, of course... 

Sunday

I need hardly say that Sunday was quiet.  Breakfast with Bryan Betts and RJW - before the latter disappeared to his second love - the plastic modellers exhibition.  Eventually, however, I managed to find a couple of German games to play.  Pit Stop (is that right?) the racing game where the squares are randomly set, is an excellent game which I have only played once before.  I need hardly say it is very clever.  We then played the Sheep game - it dopes have a german name, but...  In essence this is a classic screw-up-someone-else game.  You have a farm, some fences and some sheep counters.  You place sheep face down, move them with a dog, turn them over or build fences.  That's about it, really, but plenty of double and triple bluffs and always so many things to do when you can only do one of them.  Good game, good game. 

And so it was time to head back for London.  It was a very pleasant weekend, and the Theakston's in the bar was an improvement, but the combination of a very bad cold and the smaller turnout made it less enjoyable than usual, which, when you only get one weekend away each year, was a bit of a disappointment. 

No doubt the Government's Dash for Growth policy will ensure a larger turnout next year... 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 7

 

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