Gulf Wars: A 'Review' by a first time attendee

Siegfried Sebastian Faust, a first-time attendee at Gulf Wars XVI, has posted a review of the event on the Atlantia list, touching especially on how the war compares to Pennsic.

Siegfried writes:

Gulf Wars - A 'Review' by a first time attendee

I just got back from attending my first Gulf Wars. I've heard all the rants and raves about how great this event is, and therefore decided to attend this year for the first time, after about 10 years (at least) of 'wanting to attend', but just not getting around to it.

For those that don't know me (or know me well enough), I'm a target archer, A&S junkie, combat archer, heavy fighter ... roughly in that order. I've been in the SCA for nigh 12 years now and been to Pennsic 12 times, 10 of those times, for the full 2 weeks. And I attended the event with my lady (also target archer & A&S junkie), and my 2 year old son (junk food junkie). We had approximately a 15 hour drive to get there, not counting numerous stops (with a 2 year old).

In general, I'm sad to say that Gulf Wars just didn't seem to meet my expectations, nor the hype that was being based around it. Let's talk about a number of points.

First of all, was a general lack of planning. Actually, let me change that, there was plenty of planning, there was even a nice book that tried to rival the Pennsic Book. However, you might as well throw it away, since very few things were done exactly as what was in the book. Battle scenarios were changed, timing of various activities were changed, prices for food were different, etc. Without going into details, I was just really surprised that it didn't have the 'Book is Law' attitude that Pennsic does. On top of that, there wasn't a daily paper, nor 'daily announcements', to let everyone know about these changes.

This especially fed into the battle scenarios, where combat archery was removed from one battle, Siege was essentially removed from all battles except for the last one, victory conditions at the end of a battle were changed, etc. Also, while Pennsic is often known for it's hurry up and wait attitude, Gulf Wars seemed worse. It is a small site, and small event, giving an impression that things should happen more on time. However instead we seemed to wait long times for the battles to begin (especially the one where we had a horse demonstration put on beforehand, which granted, was neat ... but did the entire bulk of the army need to be on the field in armor for that to happen?)

The marshalling also seemed a bit 'lax', causing issues such as 'lay on' always catching people off guard, causing people to not have their helms on, or no one really knowing what the res point was, for res battles.

As far as the battles themselves went, well, again, I was a bit underwhelmed. Now granted, they were nice, big battles, lots of fighters. However, you see, I had heard of the 'great Gulf Wars fort'. Which when seen after the Pennsic fort, kinda pales in comparison. It's at a much smaller scale. (even if it does have better 'sides'). I had also heard of the 'fun stuff', like foam anvils, war elephants, etc. None of that existed.

I had been told about how there was so much combat archery, and how the skies darkened with all the bolts and arrows. Yes, there was alot of combat archery; however, there wasn't 'massive amounts', at least, compared to recent Pennsics. Yes, there was always a combat archer on the other side of me, sometimes 2 or 3 ... but that is always the case at Pennsic as well. It was impressive seeing the huge piles of ammo at the end of the ravine battle; however, that seemed more due to unlimited ammo, and people showing up with hundreds upon hundreds of ammo each ... not there being a much larger percentage of archers, and again, if there was, it wasn't significantly so, to the point that I 'felt it'.

I had also been told of how much siege there was, again 'darkening the skies' analogies had been used. Instead, I saw FAR LESS than at Pennsic. Not only was siege really only allowed in 1 battle, instead of many that it's allowed at Pennsic, but there were only a few engines ... In fact, I think I saw 1 onager, 1 treb, and 2 ballista. At Pennsic there are dozens of engines in use, and it grows each year.

So, for now, I've been talking about the fighting aspects ... but I wanted to touch on the other aspects as well. The shopping, was great ... really ... and the food excellent. Those I cannot fault. However, the A&S class schedule was lacking in breadth and quantity. The target archery range was very limited in it's capacity, and it's variety. (It also was being run very strict, not allowing the traditional before/after shooting that Pennsic does).

And that seemed to also be the end of it, there was none of the rest of what seems to make 'Pennsic' so great ... performing arts, so many activities going on at all parts of the day and night, etc. A good indication of this, was that My Lady found herself without much to do, at all. Very little of the A&S schedule intrigued her (and the few classes that did, of course, happened to conflict with battles) ... after spending a few hours on the archery range, she had experienced most of what she would have wanted to there. And that was it. In fact, had there not been the battles for me to fight in, I would have found myself in a similar situation.

In general, for an event that has been hyped to us as the 'must go to event!' 'Better than Pennsic!' and so on ... we found it to be slightly lacking. For an event in it's 16th year, we expected it to be run more professionally, more organized, more defined and planned out. Less 'fly-by-wire'. I think someone really summarized it well for me. A fellow Atlantian (also first time) was walking around the site and talking to 'locals', and they were all talking about 'Gulf Wars' as an 'event', not a war. Saying how it was a great 'event', and how they liked the 'event'. They didn't talk about it as a war, and were constantly surprised when you mentioned you weren't from Glenn Abhan, Trimaris, or Meridies. Basically, in the locals mind, this is what 'Kingdom Crusades' is to Atlantians.

Basically in the end, it was a fine event; however, I'm not sure it's worth a 15 hour drive to get there. If it was 5 hours or less away, and I had the vacation, I'd go every year, but at 15 hours, it's a huge commitment without as much 'payback' as I would like.

It did really do one thing for my wife and I. It really made us realize how special Pennsic is. And how amazing it is and how well it runs given how large it is. We realize we've taken it a bit for granted given that we've always lived within 5 hours drive of it. And by going to Gulf Wars, it has re-invigorated our love of Pennsic.

I may do Gulf Wars again in the future, but if so, probably solo, planning on being a 'fighter-only' at the event, since it seems VERY geared towards the fighters (and fighters that don't have any other schedule commitments, besides fighting)

In service,

This is quite the end of my commentary

This is quite the end of my commentary - let me respond to both of you.

A) Expressing my opinion - strongly - that the commentary was biased and inaccurate is NOT!!! quashing someone else's commentary - but his presenting a highly negative piece with little information about the war as a "review" of an event is misrepresenting the issue, and I have EVERY right to respond.

I find your accusation of "quashing" because I dared to respond with disagreement stunningly inappropriate and rude. It's a cheap rhetorical trick at best, and unacceptable.

If someone doesn't want a response, they shouldn't post unless it's in a personal blog or somewhere where only the likeminded will read.

) No, the war wasn't perfect, but it had a lot going for it, and thousands of people enjoyed it.

Many of those people were also people over 22 with young children - any one with any doubt on that can come to my camp next year, almost everyone saving Sir Seth and myself had children under the age of ten. They still managed to enjoy the war as they do every year - it just took a little extra pre-planning, and arranging to share child care so everyone got some time out and about.

Siegfried, at least you've finally gotten closer to an honest response to the war than you started out with - to identify that some of your issues were based not in the failure of the event, but in the fact that you are a busy parent with a lot of commitments, and didn't have the time or energy to go out looking at all the site had to offer seems like what you should have said the first time.

Frankly, with the last post, I think this conversation has degenerated. My original intent was simply to point out that the negative "review" you delivered originally wasn't applicable to the majority of attendees, nor did it represent an average war experience. I further dislike in the extreme the notion that if a war isn't Pennsic, it isn't worth it.

I am sorry you had a bad time, but at least now there's something resembling an honest discussion of why - based on your own limitations as much as those of the book or anything else.

I have no use for slamming things without justification, particularly when that is presented as a "typical" response to an absolutely enjoyable event.

I am, however, quite through with this discussion.

To quote your comment

"I hope for better commentary from this web site in future"

A review is opinion. All of us have a right to ours. Frankly you concluded yours with that statement and implies that the original writer had no right to post his.

Sorry you felt it was necessary to post and run. I didn't happen to agree with all the points Siegfried made, but I'll defend to the last his right to express them.

Lord Engenulf de Vienville

Gulf War XVI

Baroness Gwen, if I may, I would like to say something before I begin to comment on this year's Gulf War. Excellency, everyone is entitled to their opinion. The last thing we need is for people to squash commentary. Otherwise it makes it hard to improve things or to help live our Dream.

There were things that could have been better. The Website could have been updated in a more timely manner, I understand that a number of classes were cancelled, etc. I know you have to have instructors to have classes, but perhaps if the coordinators for classes had started recruiting earlier or had contingency plans for the instructors who found mundane life rearing its ugly head. The Merchant Row wasn't as exciting to me this year either, probably because Midnight Madness was put off until Thursday and the rain showers didn't help.

On the other hand My Lord, I can tell you that I was one of those black-clad Ansteorran archers that you were shooting at in the ravine or the fort battles. You could have spoken to the Society Missile Marshal as he was there, part of the same War Company I belong to. Many visitors came by our camp from many Kingdoms. We ourselves commented on the low numbers of archers from our Kingdom this year. In fact I believe there were more archers at the November Melee event held at Bordermarch in Ansteorra (go to and look at their castle!) and while a rain of arrows is dramatic this is war. What that meant for the Company of St. Sebastian was that the Trimaran Houses of Ice Bear and Cerberus hunted us throughout the battles. And we hunted them right back. You certainly saw another member of our Company as he ran the Archery range this year.

I think that this year wasn't as much fun as last year. They changed the way certain things worked and frankly, I don't read minds and would have appreciated a heads up before I arrived to find I had to, for example, write my name on my tickets earned through volunteer time. But there was bardic, balls, an open A&S fair for those looking for commentary, heralds point, scribal point, the A&S competition. And I agree with you about Thursday. Lots of things seemed to have been squeezed onto the Thursday schedule. But then a lot of people begin to arrive Thursday too.

So I do agree with some of what you say. A 2 year old at war...that's tough. It is tough with my 8 year old. Sounds like you may not have had a chance to get out amongst the various camps. I saw a few Atlantians, (I am from Dun Carraig or would have been if we started playing there!) mostly at the marshalling tents. I just hope that you find an opportunity to come again and see what this event can be.

Setting the Record Straight

Hello. This is Siegfried, the original writer of this "Review".

It appears that it is not standing up well 'solo', and needs some explaining.

Let's see, where to start.

First of all, This was not solicated, nor 'forced upon', SCAtoday. In fact, this was originally just a post I meant to send to my local Baronial Mailing list. Upon urging, I also posted to the Atlantian Mailing list. I was then contacted by the wonderful folks who run SCAtoday, and asked if they could crosspost it here as well. I said 'sure, why not'.

Secondly, this was never intended to be a true review of the event. It's why "review" has quotes around it. It was my own experiences, and how they matched up, versus the hype surrounding the event. To put things in perspective ... imagine for 8-10 years, every year, you and your local group are told by everyone who attends Gulf Wars, that it is an amazing event. The words always used center around: "Better than Pennsic" "I might stop going to Pennsic" "Just like Pennsic 10 years ago!" etc.

The Hype, in Northern Atlantia, always revolved around Gulf Wars being a 'mini-pennsic that was better than pennsic'.

So that was what I went to Gulf Wars, expecting. That was what, I didn't find, and that was what, I wanted to tell people about.

That was all this was meant to be.

Many people have emailed me since I first posted this in my Local Group, and on the Atlantian List ... saying 'thank you', since they too had heard the hype, and were happy to know someone who went, that had a different experience, to put a face of realism on the event.

(I've also had a number of folks, mostly from Glenn Abhann, or Merides, who found the message, email me with 'how dare you critisize us when we are still recovering from the hurricane' type letters.)

Now, to respond to some of the original comments:

> I went to multiple fun, wild parties - some very period

If there were parties, we didn't know about them. Except for the Known World Party at the fort. We had a 2 year old with us that went to sleep at 7:30pm each night. And given the time change had just set in, it was still daylight-ish. By the time night rolled around, if we didn't know about a party, we weren't going to go (only one of us would have went anyway). Where we were camped, it was quiet, no sounds of party. Noone else from our Kingdom's encampment, as far as I could tell, was going out at night. There were no party announcements posted on the message board nor portajohns, as is at Pennsic, other than one for a Youth Party. So, other than the Known World Party, we didn't know of any, so didn't attend any.

> No mention of the Green Dragon Inn?

We had no idea what it was. The book didn't mention it, the people we were camped with were all new to Gulf Wars, and as far as we could tell, It was just someone's camp, perhaps like the Enchanted Grounds at Pennsic with the 'nothing modern' mantra. We therefore didn't visit/intrude.

> The incredible Early Period Life camp

Never made it down there. Thursday would have been the day to 'visit', but Thursday was the day of 'too full schedule'. With no less than 3 semi-back-to-back war point battles that day, plus with a Brewing Competition that I had to go help judge.

> The impressive equestrian work?

Given the scheduling of battle-schedules/etc, the only equestrian work that I got to see, was what happened on the battlefield before the field battles. Which was somewhat diminished by the fact of having all the fighters around me complaining about the fact that we were being told to stand around in our helms for a half-hour, to watch that.

> The open A&S competitions?

What open A&S competitions? There was an 'open display' on the again 'far too full packed Thursday'. Then there was a competition for 'champions only, 10 per side' on Friday. There was also the IKBG brewing competition that I helped judge. That was it. So there wasn't actually an open A&S competition.

> The great pick up fighting?

I didn't see any. After the battles, I was usually gathering my ammo, and helping with reinspections. By the time that was done, I would gather my stuff together, and look around for pickups. 95% of the battlefield had vacated. A few small pickups were happening in 'spots', but all appeared to be isolated groups of people who knew each other (households, etc). No just 'mixing pits' of fighters going at it.

> The general friendly nature of the place?

I actually found it rather unfriendly, to be honest. There wasn't the typical Pennsic 'Hey come into my camp' from people when you are just walking by. Many of the merchants were either gruff, or being 'salesmen' (out in front, trying to sell ya on their wares, etc). People helping to run stuff, were serious, semi-gruff, not 'having fun'. etc. Even my friends that I knew, who I ran into, were too busy with moving on with X, Y, Z, to stop and just chat for a while. Or to bother to come by and visit, or to invite me to do the same. Unlike (don't wanna bring it up again, but) Pennsic. Which at least for me seems to really have a much more relaxed pace. Gulf Wars seemed to be trying to fit 2 weeks worth of activity, within 1 week. The 'vibe' wasn't laid back. It was 'do this, do that, hurry to get there'.

And again, those are only my own observations.

Also, for the record, I never said that I had a bad time. There were many enjoyable parts ... and if the event was 5 hours away, I'd attend every year in a heartbeat ... being 15 hours away, changes that ... (especially, again, with 2 year old)


Then it sounds, rather

Then it sounds, rather sadly, like you didn't make it out of camp, if you missed so very, very much. I didn't even begin to list all the wonders at my finger tips. I am sorry for you.

It's clear you missed almost everything, and quite frankly, I don't think I looked at the book once this year. I simply looked around me, as I do every year, at every war. So I don't think you can blame it on the book, or the autocrat, or whoever the chosen blamee is.

You get out of something what you put into something. Perhaps a little enthusiasm would have been in order?

The tone in your original, and in this response, remains negative - and it's clear you didn't do much to explore anything GW had to offer. Ask someone where the A&S is, they'll tell you - or anything else you want to know.

Your loss.

I fear your response if you ever travel to Lilies, where the atmosphere is even more laid back. But like Gulf Wars, it too is a gem and a joy in itself.

Enjoy Pennsic.

Another Reply, and Thank you ...

Baroness Gwen, thank you whole heartedly for your reply. I appreciate it.

If you don't mind, I'd very much like to continue this conversation of sorts (in the public eye), if for no other reason than a selfish enjoyment of hearing what you have to say ... On that note, I will provide a few more responses, and hope that you reply. Please excuse my cutting/rearranging of your statements, to make my reply more coherent.

> Perhaps a little enthusiasm would have been in order?

I was actually EXTREMELY enthusiastic about the event, chomping at the bit to go, to be there, to experience it. The #1 main thing that I was really looking forward to, was the combat archery & siege aspects of the fighting, as well as the fort. And as my words have stated, those were FUN, great FUN, but fell short of the hype, and the enthusiasm derived from pushing off real world projects, in order to make more ammo in preparation, and a 15 hour drive, making more ammo, bouncing with excitement.

I was also very enthusiastic about seeing all the rest of the event. I did, IMO, see much of it, but that said:

> Then it sounds, rather sadly, like you didn't make it out of camp
> it's clear you didn't do much to explore anything GW had to offer.
> I don't think I looked at the book once this year. I simply looked around me, as I do every year, at every war.

These three statements fit very well together. However, they seem to really match a completely different attitude, or perhaps world-view. A difference of opinion, no better, no worse, just different.

You see, at wars, I'm very active in the fighting, and wish to be in as many battles as possible, I also want to be at any brewing type competitions or classes, and to spend some time on the archery range, not only shooting, but as Kingdom Archery Marshal of Atlantia, I feel it my duty to help marshal as well.

Then there is my Lady, also an avid archer, vast diverse interests in many A&S fields, and warranted shopper ;). Now add to the mix having a 2 year old with us, who needs 1 or 2 naps per day, on semi-set schedules, who needs at least 8 meals a day ;), and who goes to bed around 7:30pm each night, while awaking, on the dot, at 6:30am in the morning.

You might also, just for kicks, want to throw into the mix, that our camp site as 'as far as possible', from any active area of the site. We were camped with Atlantia, which is by the main entrance gate. The farthest walk possible, to any of the 3 main areas (merchant/food/fighting/a&s, archery/thrown, early-period) ...

Now, if you add all that together, you see that our schedules, at Pennsic, at Gulf Wars, at even a weekend event, is tight, and has many things that it has to take into account. Therefore, before going to any event, especially a big one, like Pennsic or Gulf Wars, the schedule has to get decided, written down on paper, negotiated. What battles am I fighting in? Stick those on the paper. Oh, the brewing competition, put that to. A meeting of all archery marshals, need to be there. Leave some open time for me to volunteer to help run the range. See how all of that matches up with an estimated nap/bed schedule of the son. Now my lady comes in and fill in gaps with time for her to go do things. Including bumping some of my own planned times out because she has something that is more important. Next thing you know, the week is planned, with very little flexibility, to just 'ignore the book, and wander the grounds to see what mischief we might end up in.

It's because of that, that I do come back to mentioning the "wasn't in the book" aspects ... Many people have a number of commitments, both SCAdian and personal, that lead to tight schedules at events. We are ok with that, we enjoy the events still non-the-less. However, I don't think it's really fair to say that "Since you didn't just wander the event, you didn't really give it a chance and truly experience the event." It's simply not an option for us to just wander the event. We have to plan around the schedule.

> Your loss.

I agree; however, again, I think that part of my original point was missed. We did get to do many things, archery, heavy fighting, shopping, judging a brewing competition, attempting to find classes to take ... These specific things, all fell short of the 'hype'. We had fun, we enjoyed ourselves. Will we do as some people in our area are, and give up Pennsic for Gulf Wars instead? No, we won't. Do we think it's worth 15 hours of driving, for the 'fun level' included? Versus other, closer (and even smaller) interkingdom events, such as Kingdom Crusades, and Blackstone Mountain Raids? No, we personally don't think that it is.

Perhaps it is, if you are young, single or married without children, and can wander the site at all hours finding mischief. It doesn't seem to play out so well, with the 'approaching 40 crowd', with young young kid, who have to pick only a few activities to do, so tried to pick the ones hyped as 'the best'.

Will we go back, if given the chance (and unlimited vacation time and money for Gas? ... man that was $$$ at 12MPG hauling our trailer of stuff), sure, it was a fun event. We enjoyed ourselves. We were just surprised, at it not living up to the hype, when so many people had passed on the hype. Perhaps you have to live in Northern Atlantia, and Lower AEthelemarc, for 12 years, to understand the level of hype that comes up, every year in February/March timeframe.

> I fear your response if you ever travel to Lilies, where the atmosphere is even more laid back.

Actually, Lilies is next on our radar for a future year, given that it is also a 15 hour drive for us we realized. However, Lilies seems, at least, at first glance, again fairly well organized, with interesting heavy battles, at regular times, and interesting archery shoots already listed on the website (for us pre-planners). Also, Lilies, doesn't have any hype surrounding it as 'the end-all be-all only SCA event that matters', which Gulf Wars has. The people we know that have gone, have said: "It's a fun laid back event". And the fact that the 'versus' isn't interkingdom, tends to remove most politics, which is a good thing often. So we look forward to experiencing it.

> Enjoy Pennsic.

We plan to, and hope you can do so as well


Having been in the SCA since

Having been in the SCA since I was 11, and having attended many, many Pennsics, Gulf Wars, Estrellas, and Lilies over the past two decades, I thought this "review" unfortunate - to say the least. It told me nothing about the event at all.

No, Gulf Wars isn't Pennsic. I hope it never is. The counter to the review is that Pennsic's sense over-zealousness has grown over the years, so that some people take it so seriously it sucks a lot of the fun out.

I love Gulf Wars, I had days of great A&S events, I went to multiple fun, wild parties - some very period, and I spent time with friends. I like that it's more laid back than Pennsic, and that there isn't the huge influx of Ren Fest-esque folks in bad, merchant-bought "Elizabethan" garb, or the crowd of people in Con costumes, or the usual thousands of non-SCA Pennsic gawkers in their sports bras, harem pants and sneakers that overwhelm the Pennsic market place each year.

Yup, you can find serious down sides to almost every event. Of course, an actual event review might examine the things that truly happened during the week, instead of whining that the fort was smaller than Pennsic's.

No mention of the Green Dragon Inn? The incredible Early Period Life camp that opens for the day on Thursday with great demonstrations? The impressive equestrian work? The open A&S competitions? The great pick up fighting? The general friendly nature of the place? I've enjoyed those thing tremendously, as have many of us who attend year after year: those of us who also attend other wars, and like most people active in the SCA, are willing to drive more than five hours for a weekend event, let alone a 4000 person war.

If I read a "review," I expect far more than a complaint that the event isn't Pennsic. Casablanca isn't Citizen Kane, either. I hope in future, SCAtoday will focus on material with better content. If not, please don't call it a "review" of the event - it gave us no details of the war at all. Call it somone sharing opinions and be done. Better yet, solicit actual reviews. This is better suited to a personal blog entry.

If the author had a bad time because he expected a small carbon copy of Pennsic, perhaps he should stick to Pennsic - safe in his familiar comfort zone - because there are thousands of other people who enjoyed the week, who worked hard, and played hard and had their SCA experience brightened by it. People who are very, very active and very committed to the SCA, and have been for years - not just the poor newbies who might not have gone to Pennsic yet.

I personally don't regret for one minute that Gulf Wars. . . or Lilies, or Estrella, aren't little Pennsic clones. Nor does the fact that they are not in any way limit my enjoyment of them, whether I drive the 6 hours to Gulf Wars, or take the long flight to Estrella.

I hope for better commentary from this web site in future.


I must say that I agree with Baroness Gwen. I've been to good and bad wars, had fun and not had fun. But this Gulf Wars was great - and comparing it to Estrella this year, the shopping was much better and there were far fewer mundanes/ gawkers/ chain mail bikini folks. Gulf Wars isn't Pennsic or Etsrella, and thank god it's not! I had a lot of fun at Gulf Wars this year.