Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Problem with Natcon

So NatCon starts on Friday and continues through to Sunday. Fantasy has drawn a disappointing field in terms of numbers – only 14 – put given it is New Zealand’s only three day event I am keen on its uniqueness.

The first NatCon was held in 1975 in Wellington. I remember going to the 1982 event in the Hutt where I played 15mm Ancients. In those days the tournaments were generally knockout with informal gaming for those who were eliminated early. They were multi-system conventions heavily slanted to historicals. NatCon was typically one of three conventions – the others being Call to Arms, Nicon – held each year. There were other events run by AWC and CWS but I remember the Nats, Nicon and CTA as the big three. They were also incredible pissing contests as there were so few events….this was serious business. As a teenager I was pretty intimidated by the whole scene.

When I returned to NatCon in 2002 – also playing 15mm Ancients – the scene had changed somewhat. Natcon was still very big but the three main events were 15mm Ancients, 40k and WHFB. Tournaments had shifted to the Swiss Chess format and some of the mainstays of the 1970s – WW2, Moderns, Horse and Musket – were struggling to get double figures. The thing was still incredibly political – wargaming was still serious business – with wannabe National Bodies, backroom bidding deals etc. NatCon was still a big deal as there was still a limited number of alternative events.

Fast forward a dozen years to today. NatCon looks more and more like a faded madam on the national scene. The last decade has seen the rise of the independent tournament organiser and the number of events has grown significantly. I will typically run 5-7 events a year for instance. Rather than conventions the other major change is that these new events are single focus and will attract 20+ participants.

So what does that mean for NatCon? Well I think that there needs to be a re-think of the event. It is no longer the 70s and for a lot of people Natcon is no longer an “event”, it is just another tournament. Following on from this I believe that there is a reduced appetite to spend three days gaming. The call of families and other attractions makes the commitment of three days of the last big holiday weekend until Xmas less appetising.

I’m sure there would be howls from the traditionalists but to a certain extent it is not the “old school” that pays the bills. The big four systems at the event are 40k, Fantasy, Flames of War and Warmachine, and I suspect they don’t view Natcon through the rose coloured glasses that those that insist that it must be 3 day and offer a plethora of periods do.

I really think NatCon is at a crossroads and unless it adapts to the “new market” it will continue to lose relevance.


  1. It's the historical gamers that need NatCon as they (FoW aside) have less tournaments.

    Hamilton also generally has smaller numbers, you have to be pretty committed to commute from the SI.

    Ps. Don't believe everything you read on the internet the first Nationals were held in Kapiti

    1. C'mon Ray. We all know Kapiti really is part of Wellington. :-)

      You are right though it was held in Kapiti.

  2. Im not sure I entirly agree with all your sentiments. You raise some good points and ask some hard questions (are you sure your not a journalist that has kept his ethics and integrity intact?)

    I think there is still a place for a 3 day event. You are right to point out that it is the "younger" systems that are drawing the numbers (not so sure about bank rolling the event, as im sure that the other systems would still want to do waht they do, but in a smaller venue)
    However having a venue for 3 days dosnt mean all the events need to run for 3 days. Where some of the bigger ones can and should to offer something different, other smaller systems could run 1 or 2 day events alongside. Theres scope for large "apocolypse" style games on the third day, draw cards that could get the wider community involved. I think sometimes we forget that there is "warhammer" for the sake of "warhammer" outside of these events.

    I find it interesting that Equinox can draw 50 participants with a waiting list, yet nats only draws 14. Ive heard everything from ticket price, 3 day weekend, travel cost, comp system, points value, venue and timing as reasons why people are not attending.

    It would be worth running a survey to find out what people want to see at the nats, and why they have/havnt gone to them before

    From my point of view:
    - Hamiltons a pain to get to, Auckland, Wellington, or ChCh are better options for me.
    - 2K points/comp for fantasy is off putting. Yes there may be a demand for variety in a given system, and it is great to have, but the "Nationals" should imo conform to the accepted/popular standard of the time to draw the biggest crowd
    - As mentioned, 3 days yadda yadda ya. I think there is room for a 3 day event, but it dosnt mean all systems have to run over 3 days

    1. We're on the same wavelength Tim. i think that the nats would be a lot more attractive if there was a 2 day comp and then a final day for more freeform gaming.

      But not Apocalypse....never seen a game completed :-)

  3. I think it's more like most of the "young pups" around nowadays just don't have the stamina for 3 days of consecutive gaming. They've been brought up soft - and its showing.

    Now, when I was a young lad...

  4. I think Pete, that the crossroads may be dissappearing in the rear vision mirror. This Easter a 15mm FoG competition is being held in Nelson. There are 18 competitors including 8 from the top 10 ranked players in the country. This is probably the healthiest NZ FoG competition for a long time if not ever. And the cost is only $40.00

    A number of reason for this - few of the 18 likely to travel to hamilton, no formal dinner, concerns about the early closing time, few local players to turn up let alone local umpire. and of course --- it is Hamilton...