For the uninitiated, Salute is one of the biggest one-day war games conventions in the world, occurring on the 25th April from 10:00 ’til 17:00, and organised and hosted by the South London Warlords. Taking place this year at the London ExCel Exhibition and Convention Centre, it featured around 150 traders from all over the United Kingdom and overseas, and around 104 participation and demonstration games, packed into 12,000 sq. ft. of convention hall. Whilst the theme this year was the Battle of Agincourt (to celebrate the 600th anniversary) and historical war gaming was definitely well-represented, the miniatures and systems on display (and available to buy) ran the full imaginative gamut the hobby can provide.
It is also something I have never been to before, and it was glorious.
Travel & Entry
Considering not only the volume of traders present and the range of products on show, but also the location, £10 for advance tickets and £15 on the door makes Salute ridiculously good value for money compared with other major conventions of a comparable floor size. For example, the smaller Sherlocked Convention, occurring on the same day in another part of London ExCel, featuring only material from the modern TV Show (and nothing of the original, wider Sherlock literature), not to mention being aimed simply at promoting the Christmas Special, cost £30 for 1-day entry and was, to quote a friend attending who I met up with for coffee as we both took a breather from our respective conventions, “Pretty shit”.
Fortunately London is just over an hour by rail from Suffolk, allowing me to splash out on a reserved First Class return ticket to Stratford (the transport hub for the London Olympics), from where you can quickly take the Jubilee Line of the London Underground to Canning Town, before switching to the DLR to Custom’s House for London ExCel, made especially easy if you happen to have an Oyster Card. Total journey, is just under what it would take to go to direct to London Liverpool Street in the heart of the capital.
I began travelling just before 10:00 and was actually ‘in-hall’ by around 11:00.
Anyone who has ever visited the London ExCel before will know that the venue is superb. I have attended conventions at other centres both in London and other parts of the country, but the ExCel is the only one where I feel guaranteed a comfortable convention experience, and this is no small ask as I am a generally introverted person, who finds large groups of people in enclosed spaces incredibly challenging, and suffer a considerable amount of anxiety in relation to my IBS when travelling. Sensibly designed, scalable, with a formidable array and number of amenities (including a decent number of well-maintained toilets versus volume of attendees), it is by far-and-away one of the best places to have a good convention experience. Fill the 12,000 sq. ft. of hall allocated to Salute with the aforementioned 150 traders and 104 participation/demonstration games, in a sensible and accessible layout, and you have yourself a small slice of war gaming heaven.
And it was beautiful.
The walls around the hall were lined with traders’ booths, with the central floorspace divided up by alternating columns of Games-Traders-Games and so on, with a central avenue running perpendicular to this through the middle. The effect being that the Traders columns were nicely spaced out, with the area around the intervening participation/demonstration games providing free-flow of foot traffic. Whilst the hall was packed, nothing felt ‘squashed’, despite the variance in size between the different booths and tables, and everything felt accessible, although the layout of individual traders’ booths varied, and some were better than others; 4Ground’s area for instance, whilst sizeable and superb with some stunning displays, was hampered by the fact that some product on sale was displayed in small ‘alleys’ which were quite cramped and some of their most popular lines, such as Fabled Realms, were in these little alleys rather than the hall facing hoardings, where less popular materials had been given preference.
However, whilst the well-ordered nature was impressive (must come from regularly lining up blocks of infantry), the most striking thing about Salute was the sheer variety. As, despite my disgruntlement with the company, a primarily GW gamer (and my perceptions tinted as such) it was both amazing and heartening that (apart from the obligatory FW stand), there was almost no GW product to be seen anywhere, even amongst the traders such as Wayland who are essentially resellers rather than producers. What this meant in real terms, was 12,000 sq. ft. filled with non-GW games and miniatures. I’ll just give that a moment to sink in. 12,000 sq. ft. of games and miniatures, and virtually none of it was GW. It was hugely indicative of the fact that, taking the 70’s and 80’s to be the perceived ‘Golden Age’ of war gaming, we are currently living in a true Renaissance with a bewildering and creative plethora of products available to the discerning gamer.
Obviously there were the bigger names in the business present, such as Mantic, Spartan, Hawk and Prodos, and it is incredibly telling that Mantic, Spartan and Prodos were all showing off franchise games at a time when GW has essentially exhausted the life of the LotR and Hobbit. For Mantic this is obviously their new Mars Attacks! title. In the case of Spartan, this was their new Halo fleet-based game (for which the Covenant vessels look outstanding), and Prodos with their forthcoming AVP title (for which the sculpts are delicious). Hawk were also not to be outdone, as they unveiled the initial sculpts for the their own fleet-based title based on their Dropzone Commander setting. To put this into context, at a time when GW has scaled back to two core games, one of which is being downsized, Mantic are supporting two core 28mm systems and various spin-offs, Prodos are expanding to support two battle-scale 32mm games, Spartan three fleet-based games, a 10mm game, a 32mm game, and an, albeit limited, scenery range, and Hawk a 10mm game and fleet-based game. But there’s no market for Blood Bowl, Mordheim, Necromunda or Epic.
There were also the smaller, one-man bands, such as Infamy and Meridian to name just two amongst many. Infamy in particular stood out with their seminal, Welcome to the Big Smoke title. Set in a fictional London at the turn of the century, where Mycroft Holmes’s creation of what is essentially the first computer or ‘Cogitation Engine’ has sparked a new Industrial Revolution, the game puts you in charge of a ‘Kingpin’ in London’s underworld and a small band of henchmen/women/things in a small skirmish setting with ingenious mechanics loosely based on the game of Black Jack (and actually using the cards too!). Having already undertaken a successful Kickstarter, with a living rulebook due to go live early next year, the most phenomenal thing about this (apart from the outstanding quality), is that it’s the Magnus Opus of one man, supported only by his Mother, Father and Partner, all of whom are lovely people.
And that’s the overwhelming characteristic they all had in common, from the big names to the small one-man-bands; quality.
Apart from the historicals still mainly hand-sculpting and casting in metal or exploiting more affordable technologies in the production of multi-part plastic kits, the majority of companies seem to be producing computer-aided designs in high-quality resin. It was very noticeable that Prodos’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous and highly-detailed sculpts for Warzone: Resurrection which made me instantly want to buy all the updated sculpts of the Bauhaus miniatures I already own from the 90’s iteration of the game, were well-matched by the equally sleek and beautiful miniatures produced by Infamy. And I’m not talking about the display cabinet models, I’m talking about the actual miniatures in the boxes and blisters, where the quality was as high as what you found assembled on display.
Similarly, seen up close, the resin multi-part kits of companies like Anvil Industries, do seem to come out on top when compared directly to their supposedly more upmarket FW counterparts. I felt this latter point particularly as I visited the Forgeworld stand (or rather, the queue for the FW stand), to pick up Death Guard MKII shoulder pads and Volkite Culverins to go with the 5x MKII bodies Big Steve got me for my birthday. This is a total of £45.50 to purchase the separate components to build five miniatures, requiring considerable clean-up due to inordinate amounts of flash and bubbling. The Culverins in particular have an inordinate amount of flash flakes. Compare this with 37.50 (plus P&P) for the Bauhaus Starter from Prodos featuring 12x multi-part 32mm resin miniatures, including a ‘monstrous’ sized figure, at a quality as good as that shown in the promotional photo, if not better.
The overwhelming sentiment I garnered from Salute was the absolute need to diversify as a gamer. If you are collecting and painting miniatures, and most especially if you are playing miniature games, you need to be broadening your horizons. Quite apart from the fact that there is a huge range of broadly diverse games out there for you to enjoy, it makes sense intellectually and financially. Infamy’s new game is a case in point: Based on my conversations with them, it is not unreasonable to assume that you could pack up a Big Boss, maybe half-a-dozen henchmen (if that), a PDF of the living rulebook on a mobile device, a pack of cards, a bag of dice and a couple of buildings, in messenger/tote bag, head to a friendly pub with a mate who also has a mob, hole up in a booth, and spend an hour having a quick game and a pint of beer. This encourages a gaming on the go attitude which is more conducive to regular gaming. Then consider to achieve the above, your outlay for a faction is probably in the region of £60 for miniatures, £20 for gaming cards, and possible £30-40ish for scenery (especially if you go the MDF route), less if you go halves on cards and scenery, and you’re looking at a pick-up and play game for around £120, which will encourage you to play more and play socially.
Speaking of encouraging play, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also talk about terrain.
The future of war games terrain is here, and it is laser-cut MDF. As well as demonstrating the trend towards high-quality CAD-produced resin miniatures, Salute also underscored the fact that laser-cut MDF is now the de facto medium for the construction of war games terrain (as well as a wide variety of gaming and hobby aides). There was a cornucopia of companies producing or reselling MDF terrain and accessories, with the triumvirate of 4ground, Sarissa Precission and War Games Tournament comprising the ‘big names’ in this developing market. War Games Tournament are probably the rough ‘n’ ready bottom head of this trio, focussing mainly on MDF restylings of the type of terrain GW previously produced in plastic and card during the 90’s, with Sarissa Precision placing above them as a more professional outfit, with a broader range, and certainly your go-to if you’re looking for Sci-Fi. However, the undisputed kings have to be 4ground. Despite not producing a 28-32mm Sci-Fi range at present, what they do do that their nearest competitors Sarissa don’t (and WGT don’t even come close to), is provide beautifully pre-painted kits with fully detailed exteriors AND interiors, hinged doors, and comprehensive (full colour) instructions. Throw in their line of weathering and basing powders, the fact that you can buy the paints they use, their new line of trees AND the fact that they use the laser-cutting process itself to add shading, and you begin to see why I’m waxing lyrical about them. Did I also mention the fact that almost all of their 28mm historical buildings are available in 15mm (although they lack the internal detailing), that they’ve just started producing a comprehensive range of 10mm Sci-Fi buildings (which Hawk Wargames fully endorse), AND they produce a sizeable range of furniture and other set dressings (scale wooden shipping crates anyone)?
I cannot even begin to overstate how superb 4grounds product is, visit their site, have a look at the unboxing videos from Beasts of War, and pick yourself up one of their £16 Fabled Realms buildings, you will not regret it.
I was at Salute from about 11:00 until 15:00 as I wanted to avoid the rush out of London later in the evening. In that time I managed three slow circuits of the hall, visiting each stand on every circuit, stopping to chat with people at various stands, making purchases at Infamy, Prodos and 4ground, as well as queuing and purchasing at Forge World. I also had a couple of breaks where I retired to the central food court, peeked in at some of the other conventions and met a friend for coffee. Whilst I could’ve happily stayed longer (and spent more), I was happy that four hours was a comfortable amount of time to have a really good look around, and I stayed within my budget of £150, coming home with about £30 unspent. Realistically however, it would be very easy to up your budget based on your income, as you would not be short of things to buy; if I had it to spare, I could easily have dropped a grand without breaking a sweat, the only hindrance being carrying it all home. Speaking of sweat, I was really glad of my Golden Throne polo shirt! Quite apart from the fact that the guy on the Prodos stand chucked in a free miniature as a consequence (thank you!), whatever the weather, if you’re going to attend a convention make sure you wear comfortable, ‘hot weather’ clothing and decent footwear, and travel light – A messenger bag is ideal.
Speaking of the generosity of Prodos, it is also worth mentioning the willingness of all the people behind the various stands and games to chat with the attendees. As already mentioned, I had a fantastic time chatting to the family behind Infamy, talked with the guy manning the Prodos stand, shot the breeze with the bloke running the Mars Attacks mini-demos at Mantic, and had some really friendly conversations with a whole range of people, including other attendees. It is was also great to see the likes of Hawk’s head honcho, front and centre in amongst the crowds in front of their stand, talking freely about upcoming projects, answering queries, talking through fan suggestions and just generally engaging with the customer base in a way I am just not used to seeing.
And that’s really what characterised Salute for me; a friendly, vibrant community coming together to share their love of the hobby, with little or no distinction between producers, retailers and consumers. If you’re in the UK or can get to it, and want an experience which affirms your love of the hobby and its community, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than paying the £15 to get into Salute for a day.
Originally published on The Golden Throne. Republished with permission and love.
No comments on this article yet. Why not add your own?
You must be logged in to leave a comment.