I only have very limited experience with these participation games, but I suspect there is something I can learn from them. They contrast quite a lot with demo games at a boardgame event, which would generally be done by, or on behalf of, a publisher or designer, where the aim is, when it gets right down to it, to sell you something. What I have seen of participation games at wargame shows, while some are put on by publishers, most of them are actually run by wargame clubs and they are presented both as a service and as a way for the members of a club to show off what they can do -- and have fun doing it.
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If it was clearer you would see a bunch of Jeeps driving around blowing stuff up.
The games I have played (those more casual ones) seem to have been either simplified versions of published rulesets, or custom built. These latter are probably closely based on something else, and even if they are not consciously, the general pattern of roll-to-hit, possibly followed by roll-to-defend, and/or roll-for-damage, is a familiar one that turns up in so many games that it doesn't require a big investment of time to set up.
Something I wish I'd asked was whether clubs take the same game around to multiple shows, or build something afresh each time. I suspect there is something of a mixture in this.
What I really like about these games is that they were constructed with a particular audience in mind. The games I have played were targeted as people like me, who aren't deep into the wargaming world, and don't want to spend ages learning intricate rules. They provide an excellent window for me to see some of what there is out there. I like also that they tend to focus clearly on one thing and, while they may have some wobbles about them, they generally do that one thing well. This year I played one game where we cooperated to blow stuff up against an enemy controlled by a member of the club running the game, and another where we were tank commanders trying to be the one to kill an enemy tank, again controlled by an expert. Last year one game involved battling for treasure at the bottom of the sea -- with Lego! All of these felt clear, simple, and enjoyable.
I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with all this, or what it is I can learn here, but maybe it is just a general reminder that visuals matter, focus matters, context matters, and knowing your intended audience matters.
If anyone reading this has any experience playing or running a participation game at a wargame show, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. :)