A Force 10 Gale Can’t Stop Cthulhu (Or Our Island Gaming Mini-Con)! Can It?
It’s midday on 15th March 2019, the 82nd anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft’s death, and I’m sitting in the Wrecker’s Retreat, a wind-swept old 19th century smuggler’s tavern on the Devon coast.
I’m surrounded by fellow tabletop gamers as they enjoy various Lovecraftian titles in honour of the day. Everyone is having a ball is this thematic Innsmouth-like setting.
Everyone except me.
We shouldn’t be gaming here. We should be doing it across the water on an even more thematic remote and windswept island. But there’s a storm on the way, and it’s mocking my carefully laid plans. Beware the Ides of March.
I’d been planning the event for months: 15 gaming geeks helicoptered onto Lundy Island (a 3 mile long, 150 metre high slab of granite in the Bristol Channel, 12 miles off the UK coast) accommodated in a 19th century lighthouse and playing Cthulhuesque games all weekend in a converted barn.
But all that was now in jeopardy as an Atlantic storm tore in from the West, grounding the helicopter for that morning’s flight, and now threatening to ground it for good.
This wasn’t my first time visiting Lundy for gaming. I’ve been travelling there annually with friends since 2006, but this was the first time I’d tried running an event there, and despite everyone being in amazingly good spirits about the adverse weather and delays, I felt it was all going pear-shaped.
As everyone enjoyed their first pint of the day and continued gaming, I sat fretfully in a window seat, staring forlornly at white-capped waves battering jagged black rocks and waited for the final, fateful call from the Shore Office that could doom the entire enterprise.
The phone rang. There followed a muttered conversation, barely noticed by the rest of the gang, who had seen me fire-fighting on the phone for the past 24 hours. But when I got up and stood at the end of the long table where everyone sat, a dozen expectant faces swivelled my way.
“So I’ve got a bit of an announcement to make…” I said, with what I hoped was an inscrutable expression.
I shrugged and couldn’t help breaking into a huge grin. “Who wants to go to Lundy then?”
Once the uproarious cheers had died down, I explained that Castle Air, who run the winter helicopter service to Lundy, had decided there was a window of opportunity the following morning.
We’d have to be at the heliport for 8am sharp, to fly at 9am. They’d use two helicopters instead of one to get 75 people off the island, 34 people on (including us), plus a load of luggage and supplies in around two hours.
I was elated. Relieved. Exhausted. But I cautioned everyone: until we’re there, don’t count your chickens. I could also finally get the Welcome Packs I’d made for everyone from the car and hand them out, much to everyone’s delight.
As it was I needn’t have worried. After a great afternoon of gaming at the Wrecker’s, an equally good evening at a local Pub in Hartland and a restful night at the B&B, the pair of whirly-birds ferried us to the island without a hitch, despite the blustery winds and ominously low clouds.
By 11am we were all on the island in the only tavern, doing pretty much exactly the same as we’d done on the mainland, yet most of us couldn’t stop grinning. We were here, and maybe if the weather closed in we’d be stranded here gaming for a week!
There’s something incredibly relaxing about the isolation of somewhere like Lundy. Whatever stresses and troubles haunt your life on the mainland, they melt away with the realisation that barring an emergency, that helicopter isn’t going to be back until Monday morning, so there’s no use worrying.
Plus for us, on an island with no TVs or internet and precious little phone reception, the place feels custom made for tabletop gaming, and we wasted no time in breaking out a few titles as we waited for the bar to open and our properties to be readied.
By the time we made our way to our various digs around 3.30pm, we were all fairly rosy from our time at the tavern, but our trouble keeping our feet was more to do with the Force 10 gale that was beginning to tear into us. Yet all this achieved was to make us laugh as it tried to blow us over and added to our thematic surroundings.
I escorted the folk staying in the lighthouse and then gave them a tour of the lighthouse tower, where we stood revelling in the view and the sound of the wind battering the venerable old Victorian sentinel.
A few hours later and we were in the Barn, the main gaming area I’d rented for the weekend. I got the fire started (just as well considering the bedraggled state of a few arrivals) and we carried on as we had before, stopping only for dinner in the tavern.
Everyone had an predictably exhilarating walk back to the lighthouse later, and then the next morning, which dawned bright and sunny (and about a quarter as windy), they got back to the Barn for the pile of american pancakes that I’d rustled up, before setting out for a quick tour of some of the island’s sites.
With smuggler’s caves, a 12th century castle, 3 Victorian lighthouses, a vaguely spooky Victorian mansion, a graveyard with burials dating back to the 6th century, several gun batteries from the 16th to 19th centuries (and even a mangonel battery site from the 13th!), Lundy could have stepped straight from the pages of many a gothic or eldritch novel.
In fact there was so much to see, the party decided to skip lunch and explore more of the island, not returning to the Barn until mid-afternoon, tired from many miles of trekking, but still grinning and bang up for the cups of tea, slices of cake and predictably, more games.
Late afternoon we hit the tavern again, taking a break from our Lovecraftian theme to play a nice quiet game of Hanabi, and a not-so-subtle game of Ca$h’n’Gun$, The Mind and a few other filler games.
Then we were tucking into hearty grub and being regaled with shipwreck tales by one of the locals, who literally knew the story behind every remnant of wrecked ship that decorates the tavern.
There’s over 130 ships in all that have met their fate on Lundy’s unforgiving granite. There’s a reason why you travel there by helicopter in winter.
Since we’d missed a day (albeit gaming hard on the mainland), everyone gamed long into the night back at the Barn, including an epic eight player game of Cthulhu Wars. As a final hurrah to our final evening together, I cracked out my 3D scanner to scan a few of those latest to bed.
Originally I’d intended to just scan one attendee to turn them into a gaming miniature, but under the effect of beer, games, good cheer and the hopeful faces of those around me, I ended up doing three full body scans and half a dozen head scans, before the looming prospect of the power shutting off (as it does around half-midnight every night on the island) called a close to proceedings.
As Monday morning dawned, pretty much every one of us was hoping for thick fog that would keep the helicopter grounded on the mainland, but it was frustratingly bright and sunny and by midday we were all back where we’d started, having had a ball, made some great new friends and enjoyed some great new titles which would predictably empty our wallets as soon as we got home.
What’s more, as we’d missed a night on the island, everyone would be due a £50 refund each on the property rental. Bargain! Plus a lucky few still had their 3D prints to come.
Of course we’d have preferred the extra day, but the 82nd anniversary of Lovecraft’s death spent in the Wrecker’s Retreat was actually a great day of bonding and ice-breaking, that was just one more highlight to a great weekend had by all.
Of course it wasn’t over for me. I had 3D scans to build, edit and process and 3D print runs to complete. In fact as I type this the printer is beeping to signal the end of the final build and the end of Island of Insanity 2019.
But with the clamour from this year’s geeks eager for another trip already loud in my ears, joined by a handful more who missed out the first time and are now kicking themselves, it’s probably time to start planning the next trip!
Tickets for Island of Insanity: At The Mansion of Madness will go on sale this year on Lovecraft’s birthday — 20th August. Places will be VERY limited due to previous attendees getting first refusal.
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