From: The bright side of life
I have been attending many boardgaming conventions in Europe and North America during the late 90s. When I eventually re-focused primarily on computer games, I was often thinking of the old times. It was always so exciting when I had the opportunity to meet and greet with the designers of my favorite games and also to have a face-to-face chats with other players.
When Slitherine/Matrix announced earlier this year that at HoW14 for the first time gamers would be allowed to join, I quickly decided to attend it. Now last week the event took place at a lovely medieval castle, some 40km east of Milan, Italy.
I arrived early morning from Berlin, Germany at Milan airport and was picked up by a driver along with 4 other attendees of the event. It was immediately clear, that this would be a very international event. On my bus we had 2 Germans, 1 Romanian, 1 Belgium and a French gentleman. We arrived after a 45min drive at the castle off the highway next, already visible from quite a distant, just next to a small town.
After registration at the Castle Hotel, we received our welcome package with the program for the next 3 days, a USB-Stick with all presentations as well as some other gifts.
During the morning many other people arrived as well. When HoW14 officially started with Lunch, we were about 40 attendees in total. Without having the exact figures, I estimate that the split was roughly10 Slitherine staff, 14 Journalists/Bloggers, 13 Developers and 3(!) Gamers. For the first time we also met Slitherine management, Chairman JD McNeil, Development Director Iain McNeil and Marketing Director Marco Minoli.
The event continued with some official business review presentations by Slitherine’s management, touching their past and future activities. We received an interesting insight into their business operations and plans to expand the business. This year will be record year with the release of a total of 22 games. Interestingly the company is growing year-by-year by 38% and continues to expand into a broader range of games. JP McNeil confirmed that the focus will remain on strategy and wargames, however there is a wider topics to be covered, like the “Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager”. Also the expansion into the tablet market will be important for future growth.
Marco Minoli pointed out, that the typical Slitherine customer is male, 30-65years old and well educated. 60% of the business is US, then UK and Germany, then the rest of the world. Interestingly Germans still prefer to purchase boxed copies, while the rest of the world tends to focus on digital downloads. With the recent addition of Steam as distribution channel for some games, Slitherine attempts to replace the retail business.
Next was a quite interactive press conference that was also streamed via Twitch.tv. This allowed for online participation all over the world. It took about 2 hours and all types of questions where asked with no specific restrictions. The topics covered the addition of Steam, the absence of female wargamers and early access policies when developing new titles. JD, Iain and Marco did their best to answer all of them with quite an open and honest approach.
That pretty much closed the official part of the event, and we all as a group received a guided tour through the different parts of the castle. After that and we were invited for an evening dinner feast, medieval style. This all was highly interactive and I was able to talk to many attendees, Slitherine staff as well as developers, journalists and bloggers.
The evening finally ended at the bar with a lot of beer and red wine. Eventually me and a couple of other dudes closing it at around 1.30am.
This was the day to finally learn about all the new games in the pipeline. We were divided into 4 groups which would rotate between 4 rooms of games presentations. In each of the rooms, there were 4 games to be presented by their developers, about 20min for each game. Due to the interactive style and small groups, we were able to ask a lot of questions. Over all I was very happy to be able to discuss certain topics directly with the developers and also to provide them with some immediate feedback from a customer’s perspective. HINT: Please make sure you consider the new 4K monitors with their monster resolutions as well as 21:9 ultra-wide monitors.
The games that I was most impressed about where: Ageod’s “To End All War”, “Gary Grigsby’s War in the West”, “Sovereignty” and “Qvadriga”.
"To End All War" covers the whole globe during WWI and certainly is a refreshing and complex approach to a subject regarded by many as boring. This is not the endless trench war in the west, it offers quite unique options all around the globe, including naval power and the war in the colonies. Very nice, very complex. I am looking forward to it.
“Gary Grigby’s War in the West” has been discussed here at the forum for quite a while. I was pretty impressed to see it live. Especially the integration of the air war bombing campaigns almost represent a game in itself. If you have ever played Bombing the Reich, you can get an idea, how detailed the bombing campaign will be represented in “Gary Grigsby’s War in the west”. I am excited.
“Sovereignty” is a grand strategy title set in a world of Medieval-fantasy. Nicely done, you can play many different races all with very unique abilities. It comes with a fantasy map and is an easily learned, and nicely crafted piece of art. While not directly my personal main focus, I can imagine that this game will trigger some people’s interest.
“Qvadriga” has been around on the PC for a couple of months, however it never caught my attention. Now Slitherine presented the ipad version and for the first time I able to play this game. Wow! While not a wargame in itself, it does represent roman horse races as a strategy game. Fun, fast paced and pretty bloody. If they only could add a multiplayer version as well. Absolutely exciting game and I immediately purchased the PC version of it.
So much about my personal favorites. However all of the games presented during the day were quite impressive. “Order of Battle: Pacific” looks exciting as does “Battle Academy 2”. “Warhammer 40000: Armageddon” was still in the early stages, but it was already quite clear that the developers try to stay as close as possible to the theme of that specific gaming world.
I am convinced that also the upcoming tablet games like “Magnifico” and “Field of Glory” will be a success. I have my doubts though whether “Grigsby’s World at War: A Worlds Divided” really fits to the ipad due to the high level of info and interaction that needs to be tackled.
The only game that I am not overly impressed with are the 2 titles for the Close Combat Series. I own 3 titles, but never really got into it. That probably is mainly me being not really interested in non-pausable realtime strategy gaming. Adding another 2 titles to the series does not excite me too much. “Close Combat: Gateway to Caen” is a direct successor of the earlier titles, while “Close Combat: the Bloody First” will take the series to an additional 3D viewing angle. Again, this is just me, but it might excite other players though.
“Distant Worlds: Universe” also looks quite exciting, if you are into 4x games. It will include all the features of the earlier Distant World Titles plus nice additional extras. As I own all of the earlier titles of the series I asked Slitherine if there will be a special discount available. They confirmed that they will take care of gamers that have purchased the earlier versions of Distant worlds.
After a long day of game presentations, we were able to finally test and play with those presented games ourselves. For about 2 hours we could test our skills and also discuss them with the developers and Slitherine over a beer before the agenda called for the evening gala dinner.
The day ended with another night at the bar, along with drinks came some dice games and cool discussions. I got closer with another bunch of guys that I was not able to talk to before. The evening ended for me at 4.45am. Ouch!
The final day of HoW14. Right after breakfast the Slitherine guys had arranged a small tournament based on the new "Battle Academy 2" game. We all had the chance to play a scenario against the AI. The task was to attack as Russians a german held castle and to make as many points as possible within 6 turns. The scenario was actually deigned to look a little bit like the event castle with its surrounding village. Quite fun to play with a lot of offboard extras like spotter planes and air support available. I ended up with 437 points, somewhere in the midfield of results. The tournament winner eventually achieved about 900 points and took away a nice plaque as a price. After that we had lunch and a first group of people had to leave to catch their flights home.
For those who could stay a bit longer, Slitherine also organized a nice bus tour to visit the Fort di Bard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Bard) in the afternoon. This is a historic fortress built at the mountain pass from France into Italy, located which is at the entrance to the Aosta Valley. Both Napoleon and Hannibal invaded Italy during their campaigns via this route. We had a nice guided tour climbing many stairs to finally reach the top building of the fortress. This was a fantastic final to an outstanding event.
I am very impressed what has been setup by Slitherine. For me as a player it was possible to get an insight how the company works and under which considerations games are actually developed. It was also impressive to see how developers and Slitherine corporate to ensure that we as gamers will continue to receive interesting, challenging and exciting games in the years to come. Let us be honest, strategy and wargames are a niche hobby. Only if companies like Slitherine will continue to make money, this will ensure that we as gamers will receive exciting products quite a bit outside of the mainstream.
In regards to journalists and other players I was able to discuss experiences and ideas which I enjoyed a lot. I exchanged email addresses with many and I hope that I will be able to stay in touch with some of my new friends in the future.
I personally would like to thank the staff of Slitherine for hosting this event and allowing players to participate. If the opportunity arises, I certainly will be back next time.