NOVA Open is a gaming convention on the Virginia side of the Potomac. More specifically, it’s devoted to miniature wargaming, but, unlike HistoriCon, the NOVA Open is an entirely competitive event. Sure, there was the vendor area and some guy running a demo game of Dropzone Commander (and there were a few cosplayers at one point), but the hundreds of players showing up were there to compete in multiple rounds of their favorite miniature games for prestige and prizes.
For anyone unfamiliar with miniature wargames–think of a big chess tournament. (I recently watched the documentary film “Bobby Fisher Against the World” (2011) with my wife, and she is a mean chess player, and we both enjoyed the film… but I still can’t imagine spectators at an international chess tournament, as many were captured in the film, watching two chess masters face off across a table–even if it was the height of the Cold War, etc.) To anyone with a passion for toy soldiers and competitive tabletop gaming, as myself, the NOVA Open was an exciting event.
It all happened in a big hotel in Crystal City. The Hyatt, to be exact. I was relieved to discover, when we arrived, that I didn’t need to use the valet parking–paying someone else to park my car causes me to feel something like an intruder, even if it’s more efficient in regard to both time and space; I always prefer parking my own car in the economy garage and walking the extra block. I took the escalator down to the lower level reception area where I met my teammate, Isaac–I had dropped him off at the main entrance while I found a suitable parking slot, and he had already registered at the reception table.
And then we descended a second time to the ballroom where we had registered to play in a Warhammer Fantasy doubles tournament. We were actually playing at a table at least 30-feet below the street, but the lack of windows didn’t matter–we were too enthralled with our game. As a side note: later that day, when I rode an elevator with a glass window open to one side of the hotel, a fellow passenger said, “This is the closest I’ve been to outdoors all day.” And it had been a beautiful day. The drive up to NoVA (a common contraction to designate the general metro area of Northern Virginia which largely serves as D.C. suburbs) was clear and without incident–we actually made the 70-mile trip in 100 minutes, something I didn’t exactly expect because I’ve clocked the same trip to nearby Reagan airport at around 3 hours with traffic. But after we stretched our legs a bit after the relatively brief drive, checking in at the booth set up by our Friendly Local Gaming Store and saying “hello” to Ray, we started our first game.
Of course, from the start of the first game, my suspicious Elves didn’t consider supporting the Imperial artillery on the left flank, so when the opposing Dark Elves smashed through the minimal troops supporting the flank, they simply rolled up on the artillery which was helpless against swift cavalry. It was a great learning experience against some fun opponents, and Isaac selflessly sacrificed many of his Imperial units so that my Elves could live. During the last turn my animated pumpkin man nearly tore apart a Dark Elf bolt thrower–we at least scored points for having a unit in the enemy deployment zone at the end of the game. Our opponents offered us some good tips, and we ascended to the main level where we enjoyed some lunch across the street (which was being repaved) at a sun-lit deli.
And it wasn’t all games–there was a big display of beautifully painted models as part of a hobby competition called the Capital Palette. My friend Mike was busy managing the display, photography, and judging, and some extraordinary pictures of painted minis can be seen on his blog: http://minimayhem-theblog.blogspot.com/
The second game we played was more evenly matched–our opponents had lost nearly as completely as we had. The format is dynamic in the concept that players losing the first round then play another team which lost, and winning players play winning players. It was a close game, both teams playing conservatively, and when we were close to time being called I pushed forward my dryads into a ridiculously vulnerable position where the enemy hit them on three sides and scored enough points to tip them into winning. But it was fun, and the first time I had played against Wood Elves and Ogres.
Our third game was a bust–our matched opponents were too tired for a match, so they forfeited the game. So Isaac and I decided to sit down and put into practice some things we learned in the two previous games. But half an hour into the round, a medical emergency effectively took another team out of the competition, so to even things up, we started a game against a very experienced team which proceeded to take us apart–but they were perhaps the most helpful in explaining why they were doing what they did, and I certainly learned a lot from that match.
We played the length of each round, almost 8 hours of gaming, and we both enjoyed some time socializing–adding up to a 16-hour day with the drive time included. My take away from my first competitive gaming convention is this: it’s something like the best of a sporting event where each attendee can actually participate in the competition. Before, after, and in between games we talked about gaming, but then we actually played games too! And the structured format of a tournament created an atmosphere which felt so much more exciting than our humble games in our local game store, but there was still an atmosphere of friendly competition. And plenty of awesome toy soldiers on every table. And a cool aspect of this event was the charitable component: there was a raffle for miniature armies painted and donated by a variety of hobbyists, and the proceeds went to charity. One thing I really like is how mini wargaming is adding these extra charitable components. Some guys play golf for charity, but I’m playing tabletop miniature games. I’m definitely planning to come back next year.