Enfilade 2021: Planning a Convention Without inviting the Delta Variant

Planning a convention is always a chore. I’ve done it before. It takes some time and diverts attention from what I really like to do which is running games. But someone needs to do it and I’m willing to be that guy periodically.

2019 is significant to this discussion because it was important for a couple of reasons. First, it was the last successful Enfilade. That was run by Alyssa Faden and Vic Cina. It was terrific. It was the most crowded and loudest convention ever in Enfilade’s nearly 30 year history. Tons of great events. They fully implemented digital game online registration for events, which I never had the courage to do. It was a blazing success, it was possibly the best Enfilade ever and I’ve been to all of them and had a hand in running many of them . We had every reason to look forward to simply getting better-though we also worried about out-growing our space.

Needless to say 2020 didn’t happen. I was in San Diego March 6th when my cruise to Mexico was canceled, but in the days before I came home I received an e-mail from a friend letting me know the president of NHMGS was gravely ill and would I be available to help. I was newly retired, with time on my hands. When I came home, my first job was to stay in contact with the convention hotel and in the end, due to the strict lockdown of the economy and social distancing, Enfilade 2020 became a footnote rather than an event.

Photo from Enfilade 2019. It was a very full, very busy convention. Not Covid-friendly

In the months since the virus has ebbed and flowed and spiked and mutated. The NHMGS Board has really grown and fostered an air of quiet competence. We’ve met monthly, updated our by-laws and formulated a process for regular elections. But at the heart of everything was returning some sort of Enfilade, even if it is a rump get-together, not as big as its former self: understanding Covid would likely deter many from meeting in large groups until a more permanent solution began.

By November 2020 we were plotting. We needed to replace our registration website. This fell to yours truly retired guy. Mistake. The best, easiest web-building platform in the world still takes me three times longer to do than your average six-year-old. We looked for a February opening for our website to serve our normal Memorial Day weekend convention.

Covid spiked again in the winter. By late January vaccines were becoming available but they were rolling out slowly. At our January board meeting I pitched the idea of moving the convention to September assuming hotel availability. The Board approved, and I inquired. Labor Day weekend was available, and we agreed to plan for a different Enfilade.

We, were thrilled. Plus it allowed me some extra time to deal with the registration website fortifying my natural inclination to procrastinate.

Winter wore into spring. I was vaccinated in February and was raring to go. Played some games with friends in basements and began eating in restaurants. I was still carefully masked in public places. My friend David and I leaped into the Vietnam period, and became regular customers with Gringo 40’s. We adopted a Saturday night Zoom session so those interested could hang out and paint together while discussing whatever came to mind. We wisely avoided politics.

As Memorial Day weekend approached and vaccination levels were still increasing, we were feeling pretty good. Washington State was getting ready to fully open. No more phases that seemed to favor the Seattle area. No more capacity limits. We were poised for an awesome Enfilade comeback. But there was a troubling trend: Seattle’s vaccination rate was about 70%, but in Pierce County, where I live, at less than 40%. And that was a worrisome trend line the followed into the summer. Some parts of the state were doing really well with vaccinations, others were doing very poorly.

By the end of June, the Covid numbers were still quite good, but there was news of the Delta variant making its appearance. The numbers multiplied, spiked and spiked again. For those brave enough, naive enough or foolish enough to plan a convention for Labor Day, we sucked in our breath.

I have no illusions about those who attend Enfilade. Good people all. Wonderful people. Incredibly kind, helpful and generous people from all over the Pacific Northwest. Great gamers, wonderful modelers some of the consistently best painters I’ve ever seen. Fire and Fury gamers from Centralia, Armati players from White Rock, and my friends from the Puget Sound area who are just too busy with too many things to identify. I love them all truly.

But we are divided by politics. We’ve resisted the call for verification of vaccination. Though we believe the vast majority of attendees would be vaccinated, we estimate a good many would not. We held the line. No vax mandate. Maybe that was wrong. As the numbers mounted registered attendees began to dribble away. Not in droves, but maybe ten. Things in Olympia were rotten.

Even more worrisome were conditions at the border. No, not that border. Washington is a border state and documentation of the misery the border closing had was a popular topic since the March closing. Stories about loved ones who visited each other at Peace Arch Park, marriages at the park, and the odd case of Point Roberts and its unique geographic location are constantly in the news.

But Enfilade has a border problem too. Between 30-40 Canadians regularly attend Enfilade. They are great guys. They host wonderful games and an annual Saturday night party. They rent rooms. They are integral to the convention paying its bills. Despite what seemed to be clamoring by Americans to open the border and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeming to be the obstacle, we were pleased to hear in July that there seemed to be movement. Of course, this was all dashed when the Biden Administration followed a scheduled Canadian opening of August 9th with an announcement the US border would remain closed, confirmed on August 19th until at least September 21st. My Canadian friends would remain locked out of the convention.

Two weeks ago a crowd of 25K at an outdoor concert at the Gorge suffered over 200 infections. Vaccinations suggested, masking for those not inoculated. Sigh.

We’ve always held we would follow state Covid mandates reflected in our hotel rules. August 14th the State of Washington issued a mask mandate requiring that people wear masks in public areas including grocery stores, gyms and other public areas. The governor also announced required vaccinations for state employees, which is another story, but shows the requirements ratcheting up. When I asked the hotel about this they replied that guests would be required to wear masks out of their rooms and public spaces BUT NOT in the ballrooms and gaming spaces.

A mask mandate was going to be problematic. From my point of view it was desirable. The ballroom in a normal year would be terribly crowded. If Covid was present, if the unvaccinated were present, a mask would probably be a smart move. At least in theory. Of course wearing a mask to the grocery store and wearing a mask for three game periods of four hours each with an hour’s break in between, that’s a different problem.

With Covid cases skyrocketing and increasing evidence of breakthrough cases, the idea of requiring masks in some places in the hotel, but not where most of the people seemed to be congregating was a disaster. The chief response on our sizable Facebook page was one of outrage. We were sacrificing safety for the cover of misapplied rules. A trickle of non-attendees threatened to become a flood. I was on the verge of asking for an emergency board meeting to extend the mask mandate to the game areas, when we were saved–by the governor

Jay Inslee is a polarizing figure in Washington state. I have never been an enthusiastic supporter, but voted for him three times. Let’s not get into why. But he’s done a great job of protecting the state during the pandemic. Remember, the outbreak started here and he acted immediately. If you live in a state like Florida or Texas that has taken a lot of hands off measures, Inslee is the opposite. He locked the state down quickly and has only gradually let go of mandates and lockdowns. He’s earned a lot of enmity from conservatives, business organizations and the tourism industry, but was easily re-elected in November.

On August 18th he extended the mask mandate that forced the hotel to require masking in all public areas in the hotel including the ballroom and game spaces. The reaction on the Facebook page was almost a universal sigh of relief. Some didn’t like it and made plans to exit, rolling over their registrations to May 2022. Others claimed the crisis was hoax and others refused masking very pointedly. Though these issues have since been addressed and we are moving on, it made for a very uncomfortable 24 hours.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share the financial implications of all this to the convention, NHMGS and to the hotel . Like all conventions, we contract for services with the hotel. Both sides have to perform. The hotel provides services included in our contract, we promise to rent rooms, eat food, and be nice. We’ve been at Olympia Hotel (formerly the Olympia Red Lion) for twenty years and have never had difficulty exceeding our promises. It keeps our ballroom rental costs low and hence registration costs low. It’s a really great space, and our long relationship has been mutually beneficial.

It’s unlikely we’ll meet our obligations this year. As the Delta variant and rate of infection has mounted, we’ve shed room nights like rain running off a roof. We aren’t clear about attendance. All numbers are in jeopardy and the the convention and NHMGS are exposed to considerable loss. We can likely meet the number, but it’s going to be a tough year. And just to be clear, the effects of a down year are mutually destructive. The hotel puts on extra staff to provide service to us, prepares food for anticipated guests. They will likely share the pain (which we will need to make up.)

To date, August 25th, we have 43 cancellations. Of those 19 are Canadian attendees. I put them in a special class of attendees who don’t have a choice. They simply can’t get here. That doesn’t include a number of Canadian regulars who always register at the door. There are 12 attendees who have asked their registrations be rolled over to 2022. There are a further 11 attendees who are not going to attend but will donate their registrations to NHMGS. The last group is significant. Those donations are appreciated, but their loss also represents room nights lost at the hotel, not just dollars at the door and it complicates our obligations to the hotel. Two weeks ago we’d met our room night obligations. Today we’re in the hole. We’ve had a number of supporters who have donated significant funds to NHMGS in anticipation of our losses. I can’t thank them enough.

There is no blame that goes with any of this. Unfortunately it is what happens in the middle of a pandemic when infections spike. We seemed like such geniuses a couple of months ago when things were looking good. I certainly don’t feel quite so smart today. Hey I’m not looking for pity, dear readers, I’m just sharing our story with you. If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for listening

I’ll write a follow-up to the convention in a couple of weeks.

6 comments on “Enfilade 2021: Planning a Convention Without inviting the Delta Variant

  1. Randy Miles says:

    Hi Kevin,
    An excellent write up about a very difficult situation. A big thank you for all the hard work the board has done.
    Sadly there is no right answer for some people, no matter what is decided, some will not be happy.
    It is the world we live in now.
    Please be safe.
    Randy Miles

  2. kgsmyth55 says:

    Thanks Randy. It really is a challenging situation, and you’re right there is no good answer. People need to choose what’s right for them–as long as it isn’t endangering others. Yeah, I’ll be self-quarantining after the convention and may even get Covid tested. We’ll just have to see. Next year my friend, next year.

  3. Daveb says:

    Thanks for the insight into whats going on for enfilade. It was quite sad that May didn’t happen. I hemmed and hawed about the sept event but decided I couldn’t swing it with travel from Canada and managing an additional 1 year old child. I suppose I am ‘lucky’ I didn’t get disappointed with the border closures. Hopefully in light of the situation and continued surge of Covid the hotel will be understanding about penalties/financials/etc given enfilades long history. Or, you know, maybe another declaration of emergency will trigger some sort of get out of danger option.

    • kgsmyth55 says:

      Hah! Dave, I can’t tell you how much I’ve hoped an emergency declaration would get us out of this jam!! Unless it happens in the next day or so, there will be an Enfilade 2021 and I will be there as one of the ringleaders. Thanks so much for reading and understanding. Let’s hope that 2022 is better and we’ll all get to be together then.

  4. Vlad65 says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I’ve organized some events and open houses in my day – and it is a ton of stress and thankless work – and I would never want to deal with all the extra pressure and uncertainty of organizing during a Pandemic. Great job for not abandoning your position despite heavy obstacles.
    As one of the absentee Canadians, I really missed coming down and seeing old friends and spending lots of your pricey American dollars.
    There is always hope for 2022 but with this Covid rollercoaster you can never tell.
    All the best – look forward to your followup report on what we missed.
    – Walt/ North Shore Gamers.

    • kgsmyth55 says:

      Walt, I did make a couple of follow up posts. The convention was good, if sparsely attended. You and all of the Canadian brethren were much missed. My fingers are crossed for May. I feel like we’ll know better how to deal with the virus by then, though it’s likely to remain a part of our lives. We’ll see.

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