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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Impressions of Salute

35 years wargaming – first Salute – my impressions

2013 was my first ever (and possibly only) visit to Salute.   I thought I would share my personal thoughts on my visit.  Some of my impressions were positive and some negative, but I am no way having a go at the organisers – they put on a unique event which adds much to the hobby.  It would be foolish to expect it to be perfect and no one else would share my interpretation of perfection in any event!

The only reason that I made it this year was because I was fortuitously able to combine it with a work trip, so the transport to and from London was paid for.  I arrived at Heathrow at about 7pm on the Friday and negotiated my way across London via the Heathrow express and the underground. 

As an aside I must say I found the London Underground staff very helpful, much better than I remember in previous visits, which made the cross city travel easy.   I had booked a decent room at the Excel Novotel and arrived there after 9.  It was early to bed and early to rise in anticipation of the day ahead.

The Novotel is an excellent hotel by the way and only a couple of hundred yards from the venue. I enjoyed an excellent breakfast with stunning views over the river.  I took the opportunity to check my bearings in the centre itself and found the entrance where some of the people putting on games were arriving.
The Excel as seen from the hotel - its pretty close
I went back to the hotel, packed and checked out to get to the centre some time around 9:30.  What a difference!  There were two queues one for pre booked tickets and one for cash payers.  I was in the cash payers queue for the best part of an hour.  I struck up a conversation with another two guys (sorry I have forgotten your names) and so the time passed pleasantly enough but it took the best part of an hour to get in.  Later, when talking to one of the traders, he said that the event was dead for the first hour which he found very frustrating.  I know the answer cannot be simple but the time spent queuing was the first negative.  A suggestion would be to abandon pre paid tickets, still have two queues and process them simultaneously?  Or have more stations to process people at the entrance.  Or let prepaid tickets in half an hour early. Something anyway.  Not that I am suggesting a solution is at all easy .

Once in I dropped off my case and tried to get my bearings.  My intention was to savour the experience, play some games and have a look at some of the traders.  I really started by just wandering around trying to soak up the atmosphere.  What struck me the amount of space. Most shows struggle to fit everything in- not the case here.

I looked for some of the games that I wanted to play but came up against two problems.  One was finding them.  I quickly become disorientated had to keep referring back to the (excellent) floor plan.  Then as I found them the they had all already started. I made the decision to try and book a slot at the one where the write up in the programme had attracted me the most.  This was ‘Drop the Bridge’ by the North London Wargames Club.  On inquiry the next game was due to start in three quarters of an hour, so I agreed to come back then.
This left me some time to browse traders, chat to some friends and look to see what else I might want to play later.  I even bought six Salute dice for £1- I fancied a T shirt but deliberately had not bought much cash with me and wanted to keep it for any impulse purchases.  The one trader that really caught my eye was Antenocitis range of SciFi vehicles, but I resisted temptation.

Getting back to the game I found that they had taken lunch and the next game was not going to start until one, but that they would definitely hold a place for me.  This gave me another half an hour to wander around and also grab some lunch.  I thought the in house catering was good quality, perhaps a little pricey but not bad for London.
My next negative was the toilet facilities.  Of the 3 potential ones only one was open.  I had to have my hand stamped before going to use them as there was also a car park entry/exit through the same door.  With that number of people one set of toilets is not enough.  I also object strongly to having my hand stamped.  No-one else seemed to mind so that one is probably just me.

Finally the game!  What a good one it was too.  Steve, Ray and Ian (I think – sorry if I got any of your names wrong guys) helped four of us through the scenario.  A flight of Sturmoviks escorted by LAG 3s where attempting to bomb a bridge.  A heavy concentration of flak and my 4 Bf 109s were tasked with defending it.  The rules were simplified Wings of War and we all had an absolute blast.  I failed to get my fighters on until turn three but  then raced in causing some real damage and shooting two of the light bombers down, whist losing two fighters.  With the help of the flak we nearly held the Soviet hordes at bay but Robert managed to time his bomb run precisely and boom! up went the bridge.  This game was definitely the highlight of my visit.
The Soviets begin their mission to destroy the bridge
What of the other games?  I had a chat with the chap running 'Grace O'Malley - the Pirate Queen' where the kings men were trying to smoke out a pirates lair in late 16th century Ireland.  A case of truth being stranger than fiction and I liked the simplicity and the fun of the scenario. 
The English attack the tower as a galley brings reinforcements for the pirates
There were many other games of varying quality but nothing really caught my interest for long.  There was a huge representation of the Battle of Waterloo manned by chaps in period uniform but to be honest it left me a little cold.  I have never been fond of tables set up purely for visual effect – I like wargames to involve gaming!  I also took a membership pack from the Pike and Shot Society – I will join sometime this year I promise.
Towards the end of the day I revisited Antenocitis stand and bought a power armour suited figure which had caught my eye earlier.  That, the dice and a couple of pained second hand figures were my entire purchases for the day, a grand sum of £18.99.

I did not stay until the bitter end but made my way back to Heathrow, had an excellent meal and a couple of pints and then headed back up to Scotland arriving home at about 11:30pm.
So – pros and cons.

I have always wanted to visit Salute and now I have.  That just leaves Historicon.

I liked the spacious feel to the venue.

More traders than you could shake a stick at.  It was not their fault that my wish list was short and funds low.
Lots of games to take part in- I am sure if I had tried harder I could have done more than one and the one I did play was excellent.

Enjoyable conversation in the queue
The catering was fine

Bluntly the cost.  Even with my employer paying for my flights it cost me £250, not much of which was on wargaming products.
The spacious feel came at the cost of the buzz that surrounds smaller shows

Finding it difficult to get into games

The queue, the queue. And thrice the queue.
The facilities and accompanying stamp on the back of my hand.

Overall impressions – would I go back again?
On reflection I have mixed emotions.  Salute is different to any other wargames show I have been to before, both in scale and feel.  I am glad I have experienced it so on balance a positive verdict.

I would like to end by congratulating the organisers for hosting such a complex event.  I would go back again in principle but to be honest I will probably find a better use for £250 next year. Still - never say never.


  1. Nice one David! The queues to get in was awful!!!

  2. Was in the pre-paid que from 09:20, didn't get in until 10:10 either. From conversations overheard over the last few years it seems to be Excel staff mucking about with the queues that causes a lot of the problem.

    1. However, given that the show opened at 10:00, how much earlier could could you honestly have expected to get in?

    2. However, given that the show opened at 10:00, how much earlier could could you honestly have expected to get in?

  3. The queue was a bugger this year. I was in the pre paid queue and joined it in another timezone! I got inside the hall about 10:15 but I know many others got in much later.

    Part of the problem with Excel is Health and Safety. The South London Warlords have to ensure that all exits are clear etc before the show starts and I think they have to check the whole are with someone from Excel before they can open the doors. If a trader has 'accidentally' moved outside their allotted space and blocked an exit the problem needs to be rectified before the doors can be opened. That might mean moving an entire stall and has delayed entry at previous shows. No idea if that explains this years delay but I'd lay money on it.

    Great show report btw.

    1. I can understand why the Excel people need to make sure that the exits are not blocked - imagine if there was an incident and people could not get out. Although it may be difficult that is something the Warlords guys do need to police if it is a known problem

  4. Very good, and very fair report, David. I got in early as I helped set up the game, but the stories people mentioned about queueing and getting in sounded enough to dampen many people's fun. And that's a shame. I know what you mean about the space...there being a lot of it and the atmosphere being less than at some small shows. I thought this year there was more atmosphere, but one thing which makes a huge difference is where you are located.

    We've had games at the front of the venue, near the doors, in the past and it's been difficult to catch people's attention - they sometimes just want to get to the traders or the action in the centre. This year we were at the back, and I think that helped. Swings and Roundabouts, I guess.

    Anyway, super report and I really liked the pros/cons list - they were very fair I thought.

    1. To me the atmosphere is just different to other shows I have been to. In terms of buzz not all other shows have it of course. Ihave been to a few where the atmosphere was more zzzzzz

  5. By the sound of I think I'll stick to Carronade (counts as an expedition from Aberdeenshire) and Skelp. A very fair and balanced report, clearly written, well done Sir!

    1. I hope you enjoy Carronade - its on the 11th May this year