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)