It is five years since I have been to Salute. In many ways I didn’t miss it at all. Since there was no desire or ability to pursue the miniatures hobby, there was no incentive to attend. The last time I went – in 2013 – was one of the highlights of my gaming career, rounded off with a memorable evening at The Fox.
But times change and so does the hobby. The Fox is now a trendy restaurant stroke Starbucks. The hall is now mid-way into the Excel complex. And instead of the London Marathon sign up, it was the 99% female National Wedding Show (£20 entry, £15 grand exit). It would be rude and obvious to suggest a merger next year, First Dates style, and judging by the number of pregnant attendees perhaps not to be taken lightly, Mr Siggins.
So let’s get the big improvement on the table. The organisers have finally tamed the queue. A smaller side hall was used to accommodate the snake and by the time we got there, just after 10am, there was nothing to be seen. We walked straight in. Fantastic. Congratulations. I suppose technology helped a lot in the form of phone tickets, but still, long overdue and I suspect previously an issue from an elf and safety viewpoint.
The venue is…. BIG. And dark. Smaug is asleep in one corner. If there was one comment heard time and time again it was that the lighting was insufficient for our micro hobby and ageing eyes. I am not sure there is much to be done, unless the economy option has been taken on the dimmer switches. There is certainly nothing big enough outside of Birmingham and, well, Salute is London down to its toes. In case you think I am being unfair, one stand had high shelves and a labyrinthine layout: buyers were in there with phone torches and ten foot poles.
Which brings me to backpacks and crowd density. At 11.04am, for the first time ever, I was in an aisle that gridlocked. This happens at Essen all the time, despite having a dozen halls, but I had never experienced it before in the UK. The analysis is a mad initial buying flurry that creates several rows of people at most stands. In some cases this barricade persists. At this point I will say that Forgeworld had their own sub-queues until well after lunch. Balancing all this was a large seating area which is much needed when the feet start to go. And then we factor in the backpacks, at least partly down to heinous catering prices. The result is that the aisles are narrowed like a good artery and we all grind to a halt. Not great, and certainly not pleasant, but not the end of the world.
There was a standard of demo games that I have not seen before. Salute games are just games and secondary to the traders, except for the participation stuff. Not anymore. There were at least ten excellent games, and even the “two blokes and their Thursday evening 15mms” were interesting. Another time drain. The Best of Show, Ian Smith’s 40mm ACW Fort, was spectacular. Somebody on the committee has an improved eye for this type of thing.
There was an interesting, wider spread of traders. Given that the one day takings at Salute are legendary, and the hobby is growing like Topsy, we all know why. Some of the traditionals had gone, replaced and more by a large number of box shifters, mat makers, MDF cutters (can you smell burning?), generic fantasy companies, specialist modelling and painting outlets, and lots of boardgames. In parts the show looked like Essen or UK Expo with multi table gaming and trainers. There were even a couple of ‘Coming to Kickstarter in 2020’ set ups, which I call pitch stands, or Death Row. Nothing to see here. Move along.
There was also a decent presence from Europe and beyond. Eureka has been attending for years, but a French company had some wonderful terrain items and Greenstuff World never actually got clear enough for me to buy anything, but I have mail ordered and they have some must have kit.
In keeping with the above, the general standard of display has crept up. There is obviously some serious money in the hobby now, and some stands are standouts. Sorry. Uniformed staff, display units, outlying salespeople, multiple cash points, even a couple of stand bunnies which is a road we do not really want to travel. It is nice to see professional marketing, but I will always talk to the guy with the bedsheet and pasting table – that is in common with Essen, where the hidden gems are exactly that.
My position is slightly compromised by my semi-retired status, but I felt that the speculative purchase has gone the way of landlines. I saw three or four sets of rules that I would happily have bought and tried, but at £20 or more that is no longer an option. And it is not as if there aren’t fifty rulesets, all different yet all alike, competing for your wallet. The corollary is that we saw a lot of highly stylised and expertly terrained 9 square feet games. Even a couple of 4 square footers. As Martin Goddard said, much of the hobby is Card/3 Feet/10 men. I would add 15mm. But I know this form grants easy access to the hobby and, as one gamer said to me, is all they can fit in the house. Fair enough.
There were at least fifteen companies new to me. Bear in mind I am regularly outflanked by mobility scooters, but this was both surprising and pleasing. Pleasing because the quality of the start-up product is impressive. This is the late night idea made flesh, but such is the tech and expertise these days, what emerges can be amazing. One example was Paranoid Miniatures who had a small range of beautiful figures and a set of rules called Mythos, based on Call of Cthulhu. In fairness everything is based on Lovecraft these days, because he is free on board; last week I bought some Nyarlathotep Oven Gloves (a nod to Half Man, Half Biscuit there).
I knew there was a flaw in my hobby plan – focusing down to one period, small scale big battles. I had forgotten all about hard plastics. I rediscovered them at Colours last year, but put them largely out of my head. A select couple of mail order purchases weakened me, and at Salute it was back to the fervor. Wow. How is it possible that in a hobby where I carved Airfix Cuirassiers into Scots Greys that I can buy all this incredible stuff that I can convert and paint and admire? I cracked and bought some Conquest Knights. And that was pretty much it. I could have spent £500 on books alone, but willpower is my friend these days.
Good show. Really good. Reinvigorated my interest in the hobby – specifically miniatures, but also boardgames, rules, RPGs and everything else that is crammed into the Stygian Cave that is Salute. Thanks to all involved. Today, I give an 8 out of 10.