I’ve always felt it’s important for those of us engaged in the wargaming hobby – if not the wider public – to support the smaller, more local, wargaming shows and not just turn up for the big events like Salute. Which arguably makes me a bit of a hypocrite as I think the last time I made it to Cavalier, the annual show organised by the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society, was over twenty years ago. There have been reasons. I don’t drive (long story involving a visual disability, that I won’t go into here), and trying to travel north to south, or south to north, through Kent on public transport is about as easy as crossing the Sahara on a skateboard. For six months, many years ago, I was working one day a week in Tunbridge Wells, and I am still scarred by the memory of those rail journeys, and the convoluted connections I had to make in order to get there, and then come home again; on one occasion I found myself stranded in Swanley, which would be enough to put even Sir Ranulph Fiennes off travelling.
However, my partner does drive, and since retiring last spring has become surprisingly forgiving and indulgent of my strange (to her) interests. Which is how, at long last, I managed to attend Cavalier this year.
I’m going to start by levelling a criticism, not at Cavalier in particular, but at wargames shows in general – or at the attitude of, it seems, some wargamers at them. There is a problem with the way demonstration games are presented. Not with the visual elements – the painting, modelmaking, and so on – but with the apparent disinterest in actually demonstrating things to, and interacting with, the general public. This might be down to widespread shyness. But I have lost count of the number of times that I’ve obviously taken an interest in a demonstration game at a show, and been studiously ignored by the people who are putting it on, even to the extent of some pretending not to hear me when I’ve asked questions. Being a wargamer myself, at least I have some inkling of what’s happening on the tabletop. For a member of the non-wargaming public, the whole thing must remain utterly perplexing, not to mention a bit unwelcoming.
At Cavalier, only the guys from the Anti-Alchemists, with their game set during the 1835 Texan War of Independence, broke that mould, at least within my experience of the day (note: this is easily subjective enough to be unfair to others!). If anything, Diane probably learned more about General Santa Ana than she ever wanted to know, but the principle of actually engaging her, a non-wargaming member of the public, in a conversation about the game and its background was a sound one.
Another good approach to presentation was exemplified by the North London Wargame Group’s refight of the Battle of Crug Mawr 1136. The historical background was set out on a large noticeboard, with illustrations and maps to accompany the text, and a bit of a hook to the story to draw people in (think headlines – “Freddy Starr ate my hamster” – that sort of thing); in this case, if I recall correctly, “Birth of the Longbow”, as it did indeed mark the first significant impact of the longbow on a mediaeval battlefield.
As for the other aspects of Cavalier…Free parking on a Sunday, in Tonbridge, is a bonus and there’s a main car park right outside the venue at the Angel Centre. There was a good mix of traders, although I’m saving much of my wargaming fund for a couple of new releases due at Salute this year, meaning I was hardly a big spender this time around. In fact I limited myself to some Thracian heavy cavalry from Essex Miniatures, thereby plugging a small gap in the 15mm Thracian army I’ve been building, and with Gaslands car conversions in mind I picked up a handy bag of machine guns in 20mm scale from Sgts Mess.
Naturally, I envied the painting and modelling skills on display as well. Probably my most-used phrase at these events is, “I wish I could do that”. Because, all too often, I can’t. Special mention must go to Crawley Wargames Club and their ‘Siege of Girona 1796’, especially the modelled section of the city of Girona and its fortifications, altogether an impressive looking game and a deserving winner of the “Best Demonstration Game” award on the day.
Will I go to Cavalier again? Yes, I am sure I will, non-wargaming driver allowing. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Medway, even when the residents of West Malling barricade the main route with a Farmers’ Market for the day, and as I say these local wargaming events can only survive as showcases for the hobby if we wargamers keep on showing up at them. Which is, I suppose, the moral of the story.