Northern Kings GT22: A Decompression

Nick: Is exhausted after a weekend of drinking and running an extremely stressful event. Finally gets to bed at 11pm on Sunday.

Nick’s Brain: Wouldn’t 4am be a perfect time to wake Nick up and then not let him get back to sleep?

So let’s review how the Northern Kings GT22 went from my perspective.

The Overall Event

This was our first event in 3 years, so of course we wanted to go big. I think, given the overwhelming positive feedback, that we smashed it.

As a TO, you have a very biased view of an event. You have a lot of downtime early to mid round where you’re bored, sat twiddling your thumbs but then at round end and during breaks, you’re rushed off your feet and stressed. You welcome any kind of rules queries during that early round stage, and then you long for 5 minutes to yourself at round end. You see every stress point and let me tell you that running at a non-gaming venue increases those stresses several times over. You don’t have the excitement and enjoyment of playing games.

I had moments on the Saturday where the stress almost hit my breaking point and I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry.

However, everyone who has spoken has said how well run the event was and how much they loved it. They didn’t notice the snags that we were stressing about because Paul and I handled them. The perspective is that we nailed it. The venue, the games, the organisation, the atmosphere and all the little things that we do to try and make Northern Kings events stand out from the rest. Multiple people specifically said it was the best event they’ve been to all year, and I hope on December 31st that it remains the best event they’ve been to all year.

We had specific feedback from people who had accessibility requirements that we’d catered to them perfectly- having a row of tables with easy access and helping them move their things at the start of each round. Paul and I were a bit taken aback by this feedback since we felt that we’d just done what was right, what was our duty as TO’s to make sure that players needs were met, but it’s great to know that we got it right.

New players attending their first event loved it and said they will be coming to our next event, no hesitation.

We had players from all over the country, and an international attendee. It was, once again, fantastic to see a Scottish invasion. Just a few years ago the Scottish and English tournament scenes seemed to be worlds apart with only Simon Heaney occasionally crossing The Wall. Now we regularly have invasions going either way and it’s great to have that integration and recognition between the two communities. People seemed to have no issues travelling from all over the rest of the country. We had attendees from London, the South East and South West. Brilliant.

Overall, we’re exhausted, but extremely happy with how the event went.

The Venue

Almost perfect.

This was our first time running an event at a non-gaming venue. We’ve previously used gaming venues such as Element Games or The Outpost for our events and moving to a non-gaming venue was certainly, in retrospect, the right decision.

There was a massive financial and organisational gap between running an event at a gaming centre and running it at a 3rd party venue. Going 3rd party not only had much higher venue hire costs, but you also need to organise table hire, mats and terrain.

Post-pandemic, the financial gap between the two has closed considerably and, from an organisational perspective, I now had the ability to build as much terrain as we need and store it in my workshop. It was a leap, and it’s one that paid off.

The venue was almost perfect. Having a massive hall meant that we could give everyone tons of room at their tables. We had the venue to ourselves so we weren’t competing with or intruding on other events running at the same weekend (this has been a significant issue in the past at Element). All feedback on the venue has been overwhelmingly positive, from its location to just how nice the venue is.

The only downside is that the bar was cash only. This caused a lot of problems at the weekend, especially since all the cash points nearby were out of order. The solution was for me to draw out a ton of cash at the post office mid-round, and operate The Bank of Nick. Paypal me £20 personally and I give you a crisp £20 note. It worked, but far from ideal.

We spoke about this to the venue afterwards. It’s run by committee and decisions like getting card readers takes a long time to make. Tom, the owner, said that if we can provide this feedback (and we will), especially that we think that bar takings would have been much higher, then it should be enough to tip the committee over to getting a card reader for our next event.

I’d also like to see the bar open earlier. While their license only allows selling alcohol from 10am on a Saturday and 12pm on a Sunday, we could really do with non-alcoholic drinks being available earlier and easier access to teas and coffees (this was left to Paul and I, and we were often too rushed off our feet to look after tea/coffee requests effectively).

The organisers liked having us there and said they would love to have us back. Players all loved the venue and thought it was perfect (cash-only situation notwithstanding).

The Food

It worked, but could have been better.

Our Saturday caterers were a highly reviewed restaurant and recommended catering company from Wakefield. They said they could gladly offer us Yorkshire pudding wraps. Given their reputation and how ideal Yorkshire pudding wraps are, we went with them. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball. The food was 30 minutes late and the meal wasn’t a wrap but a roast dinner in a Yorkshire pudding. We are extremely lucky that the venue had cutlery. There was also insufficient gravy.

That was one of the big stress points I talked about at the start. It worked, but far from ideal. We were not impressed with the caterers and we will not be using them again.

Saturday evening food was alright, I think, but still not quite where it needed to be (see Costs and The Afterparty).

Sunday for our fish and chips, feedback has been mostly positive. While you can’t please everyone, almost everyone was pleased. It was simple and stress free, so something we’ll look to repeat.

Dietary requirements we struggled with. My local M&S frustratingly had an empty shelf on Friday where a big batch of Free-From meals should have been so I had to cobble something together from elsewhere. I’ll be looking to try and find some local places that can do dietary meals in future.

The snacky-snack tray, filled with treats and making the rounds twice per game was a massive hit, again.

Costs

We ran an event spending £50-£55 per person and charged £45 per ticket.

We knew going in that budgets were going to be tight, that costs have gone up post-pandemic, and that we were competing with the too-cheap tickets usually offered at Kings of War events, something I’ve previously ranted about. We knew that if we hit that £50 price point them we would be competing with Mantic’s Clash of Kings event and might not hit the numbers we needed to break even (not that we did anyway, considering we overspent).

However, Paul and I had a grand vision of what we wanted the event to be and we were happy to spend out of pocket to make that event happen. The biggest expense out of pocket was the food on the Saturday evening. We wanted people to come to the afterparty, we didn’t want groups breaking off to try and find food, and we didn’t want a lack of budget to get in the way so Paul, Adam and I bought the pizzas out of our own pocket. There were lots of other things such as the welcome drinks and the snacky-snack tray we also spent just to have the event we wanted to run, costs be damned.

This doesn’t include branding investment costs such as the banners and table number holders, which Paul and I bought and don’t even consider part of the event running costs.

While we were happy to do it this time, it’s obviously unsustainable. We will be raising ticket prices at future Northern Kings events. I think we’ve proven that it’s worth the extra £10, especially when the last few kinks are worked out. If you weren’t there and think we’re too expensive, ask someone who was there. Everyone I spoke to about it said that they would happily pay the extra money, especially given the quality of the event.

The Afterparty

We were a bit taken aback. We only expected ~50% of attendees to return for the afterparty, and for a lot of people to get an early night or go elsewhere on the Saturday evening. Almost everyone returned. This is a good thing, but it also meant that Paul and I doubled what we were intending to spend on the pizzas and it still wasn’t quite enough.

The party itself was great though, the quiz went down well and people stayed around to the late hours having a great time. While I bailed pretty much straight after the quiz due to sheer mental exhaustion, feedback was all positive and I could tell from the numerous sore heads the next day that people enjoyed themselves. It is definitely a thing that we will continue to do, albeit with more pizzas and spending that money out of the budget rather than our own pockets.

Terrain

Not to toot my own horn too much, but this was nailed. People were constantly coming up throughout the event saying how much they loved the terrain. It was extremely playable, thematic and matched the mats. Players loved that we had a list of terrain types and their heights on our event website.

Ronnie Renton came up to see the event on Saturday, with a bundle of sugary goodies for us all in his hands. One of the many things he and I chatted about was the terrain, and he commented that he’d been wandering around the room and loved every single table, especially how well I’d managed to walk that tightrope between visuals and gameplay.

I had a brief discussion with Jon Quayle about hills at one point. They’re the only slightly awkward bit of terrain to play on but we both agreed that having flat hills is crossing that line where you’ve gone too far towards gameplay and away from visuals. I had intended to make a foam block hill-helper for everyone (one of the advantages of having uniform height hills) but hadn’t gotten round to it. I will do it for the next event.

The Website

The event website is here: http://northernkings.42web.io/

This was, on balance, a good success. Having a dedicated, thematic site with all the relevant tournament information including standings, matchups and scenarios on was a huge help for players. Being able to see an opponents army list, see a player’s current points total, get the scenario, terrain heights etc. went down really well. Having the pairings and table numbers communicated easily through it was a massive assistance, and saved players crowding round a TV at the start of the round trying to see where they were meant to be, or worse – listening to a TO shout out names and table numbers.

Round 3 went kerplunk though. Here’s the process for updating the website:

In round 3, I screwed up step 3 – manually converting the spreadsheet to the database format. I was exhausted, extremely hungover, had medical issues flaring up and made a simple mistake. I got extremely flustered when I suddenly had 20+ people stood around the TO desk all talking at me, saying their scores were wrong, and I had a complete brain meltdown. This was where I was a few moments from crying and I’m extremely grateful to whoever asked everyone to disperse while I worked the problem. You saved my remaining shreds of sanity.

I had to quickly draw up a table from the spreadsheet and send that around on Facebook rather than try and fix the website. This led to a 15 minute delay to the start of round 3 and a lack of scores and matchups for round 4 until Sunday morning when I had been able to sleep.

People sometimes ask why we insist on using our own spreadsheets and software rather than one of the online event management portals such as TTO. Honestly this problem is why. If this problem happens on the management software, the event is screwed. If it happens with our software, we can bodge a fix there and then. I’ve been to so many events and heard of so many events where the management site shits the bed. I last saw it at the Scottish GT where TTO just completely fucked up and Gofur was screwed, until I could step in and throw a spreadsheet together for him. While these issues can crop up with our own stuff, at least we can fix it when it does happen.

Despite the round 3 issues, I think the website was a good success. Paul and I will build on what I’ve done so far, certainly to automate steps 3 and 4, and make a few further improvements to the site itself.

Other Thoughts

  • 55 minutes per player on the clock at 2300, not 50. No additional round time needed.
  • Nick will take it easy on the booze on Friday in future.
  • We know now that it takes 2 of us 3 hours to set up the venue on Friday night.
  • I am extremely grateful to the army of people who helped us clear down on Sunday.
  • Nailed the trophies and prize support (thanks Paul, Tom and Adam).
  • 2 TO’s and a spare player at a 3rd party venue are a must.
  • I love that I have a friendship with Paul where we can each have a stress-strop, take a 5 minute breather and then get on fixing the problem together without any ill feelings either way.
  • The soft scores worked fantastically again. People were constantly chatting about their armies and how they’d been incentivised to just try that little bit harder, try that other little technique out that they otherwise wouldn’t. It felt like everyone was excited about hobby effort, not just those competing for the best painted awards.
  • We were actually lucky not to sell out all 48 tickets. The number of tables we had and the spacing was perfect. Our capacity at the venue is 38 tables in future.
  • It was great having Ronnie show up. I think it makes a huge impact having a “celebrity” like Ronnie there, and that players get the chance to chat with him directly. We’ll nag him to make an appearance at our future events, maybe even get him to play?
  • We need to take payment through a website. Paypal was a nightmare for communication.
  • We collectively won at the bar. The owner had to rush out and buy more alcohol because we drank it all.
  • Let’s not book it on fathers day in future.

Up Next

We feel that we have a template now for running these events, which means that they will gradually get easier and easier to run. If we sort out the website & food kinks then it should be much less stressful, and once that template is locked in place we’ll be entirely stress free.

We’re definitely running Northern Kings GT23 at the same venue, at around the same time next year. I’m just waiting for payday so I can pay the deposit.

I’m also planning on running a winter 2 day event in January and Tom is planning on a 1 day event at Elysium games later this year. I think we should also try and squeeze another one day event in before December if we can. There seems to be a lack of events in the north at the moment. We will be running one day events at gaming venues though, it’s too much effort to run one at a 3rd party venue.

A massive thank you, not just to the other Northern Kings, but also to all the players. I’m glad the event went so well and despite all of the stress we were under, none of it was due to the players. Thank you.

3 thoughts on “Northern Kings GT22: A Decompression

  1. Nick this was a superb event. As a player I did not notice any of the glitches and was impressed with the organisation. My 16 year old son was also made to feel very welcome and we both want to join you for your next event! Thank you for all the hard work.

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  2. I had a great time from the moment I left Edinburgh to the moment I returned. I’m still enjoying looking at the pictures.
    From my perspective, it was a very organised and smooth experience. All the advantages of a small professional venue in a large hall with plenty of seperate seating in the bar area.

    Like

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