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.

2020 Year In Review–You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me.

It’s hard to know what to say when this hobby desperately depends on the social interaction we are virtually forbidden by law and common sense from having. Let me simply posit that 2020 has been a shitty year in almost any quantifiable form.

I’ve probably been more fortunate, or dumber, than many of my gaming friends. I’ve been able to squeeze some games in. I’ve commented on Dave Schueler’s summer gaming series. I squoze a few games into George Kettler’s gaming bunker. I managed to host my first ever gaming hoo-hah in my garage.

No Enfilade. No Fix Bayonets. Enfilade 2021 has been moved to Labor Day Weekend. Drumbeat likely won’t happen. No Museum of Flight. Not much of anything on the calendar. Even gaming with my friends looks like a springtime activity if we can play outside.

The worst part is not being able to see my friends. Play a game, grab a beer, talk about wherever gaming nerds go after a game, I miss that most of all.

Still there were some memorable games. David Sullivan and I ran our Dan Crossing game at Drumbeat in February using the Rebels and Patriots rules. The Dave Schueler Outdoor series was a bunch of fun games, but my favorite was the Philippine Insurrection game from August. Had a blast with George and Michael playing Ironclads. Of course struggling through the chill of the Manila Bay game was fun, if a bit tingly. Unfortunately, I’m left with that empty “but when are we going to get to play again” feeling.

If we missed out on a lot of games, there were also some good things that came out of the pandemic year. Here are some of them.

John Gee. John is new to the Pacific Northwest. He and his wonderful wife Susan left the Bay Area for Bellingham, which is not terribly close to Puyallup, but much closer than Richmond, CA. John was always a memory from my gaming experience in California from the early 70’s. He’s a bit older than me, but as passionate about the hobby as anyone I’ve ever known. John has pushed the expansion of the Tiny Ships project and I so appreciate him. New friends are better than new stuff.

Ships. That’s all my 1/1250 stuff for now. I have more awaiting paint.

Which segues nicely to the Tiny Ships. When I began the year I had a dozen 1/1250 scale ships. They were really nothing. And what was I going to do with them? Today I have 105 ships. I have another fifteen models that need building. The majority of them are American ships. About a quarter of them are Spanish. They are largely of the Spanish American War era. I also have some Germans, some Chileans and a few Swedes. The project began as a no modeling, no painting project but a few things threw a monkey wrench into that plan. One is cost. The Hai, Navis and a couple of other makers models are really spendy. Another issue is because they are largely of German and Austrian manufacture, they are mostly unavailable. My suppliers can’t get the ships even if I could afford to buy them. I have become a ship model dude. But most importantly, I really enjoy building the ships. I’ve pretty much stuck to Wartimes Journal and Brown Water Navy miniatures. I’m happy to build masts, and painting is simply no big deal. The Spanish-American fleets are almost built out, but I’m sure I’ll continue to add other pre-dreadnought ships, because they’re sort of like Lay’s Potato Ships.

Projects. It’s been a good year for painting. Except for the ships and few planes early in the year, I really haven’t bought many figures. I also made it a practice to juggle a few things at once. Ships, planes, and 28mm figures kept me from getting bored with what I was doing. I did finish some important stuff in 2020:

The Philippine Insurrection project–It took three years to finish up the 400 figures plus for this, but now they’re done and I’m really pleased with how it all turned out. I just need a chance to use it a bit more.

1/600 ACW ships–When the pandemic began I had about eight unpainted, unbuilt ships. I’m down to two. That’s after ordering and building four plus what I had. It was a very useful activity for me. I enjoyed the painting, as always, but the rigging was something I never thought I’d be able to do. It was fun.

1/300 planes. I’ve focused on Japanese planes the last couple of months, but planes just make their way into my painting plans. There were A-6 Intruders, Australian P-40’s, Beauforts and Beaufighters, F-8’s, and A-4’s. I have lots that need paint that I’ve acquired over the years, but like most things I work on, I just enjoy doing them.

So what will 2021 look like?

There will be more ships and more planes. But as with each year there will be projects. I did make progress on painting leftover figures from America Rampant. Those units were originally sized at ten figures. But I really want to do Rebels and Patriots, which require 12 and 18 figure units. I’ve filled out my American units and added a few more. I have about 50 Woodland Indians to paint. I run into trouble with my Spanish figures. I’ve painted all I have and need more, so I’ve placed an order for the RSM figures I use to fill them out a bit.

I don’t usually let new and shiny figures suck me into a project, but the Gringo 40’s Vietnam range is just super. Lots of action, great detail. I’ve ordered a handful of figures from them–Marines and NVA for Hue. I’m thinking Flying Lead! by Ganesha Games. In many ways this is just a vanity project. The figures are nice, I like to paint. I want a shot at painting these really nice figures. David Sullivan may join me. There’s plenty of room in the pool.

I could name all the projects I have to work on, but that would be a bore. Just be assured there are plenty of things to paint and I’ll be posting them as I go along.

Most of all, I’m just pleased for 2020 to end. I’m hoping that eventually we’ll all see one another in person, worry less about elections and vaccines, and enjoy that post game beer together.