Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Introduction to my gaming background

I have been wargaming for about 45 years now. I started gaming around the age of 10 using rules devised by myself. I was never happy about the haphazard way I and my childhood friends played with toy soldiers: surely a man on horse would move faster than one on foot; it must be easier to shoot an enemy if he was closer to you etc. The rules I ‘developed’ were very basic but did use dice: e.g. foot move 6”, cavalry move 12”; shooting hits on 4,5,6 if within 6”, 5 or 6 if within 12”, or a 6 if further away; hand-to-hand combat involved both rolling a D6 to score higher. Pretty soon modifications started to be added, such as obstacles for movement, benefits for cover, and additions for ‘better’ weapons or armour. Shortly after these small personal steps into wargaming, I discovered Donald Featherstone’s landmark book Wargames in the local library. I suddenly realised that I, and a few school friends, were not alone. There already existed an established hobby in the wider world that actually used rules similar to those I had developed for myself. Two other significant factors impacted my interest at this time: Firstly, within 15 minutes of where I lived there was a shop that sold wargame figures (Michaels Models in North Finchley). Secondly I made friends with a boy, Graham, two doors from my house who shared a similar interest in military history and wargaming.

My wargaming activity now expanded. I brought my first metal figures (25mm Minifig French Old Guard officer and standard bearer, which I still have and occasionally use). I started painting my figures using Humbrol enamels, although the standard was basic (no undercoat, and a few glaring mistakes e.g. my Brunswick troops had green coats because Humbrol produced a paint called Brunswick green, so it must be right!). Graham and I played large battles lasting days using rudimentary terrain, with massive losses to both sides (frequently to the last figure standing).

The next step in my journey was joining a local wargame club (North London Wargames Group). Suddenly I saw beautifully painted, historically ‘accurate’ armies of different historical periods. A plethora of wargame rules were revealed, and a range of helpful fellow gamers were happy to provide advice and information. Now all my pocket money was spent at Michaels Models and my armies grew and were painted to a better grade. This expansion of my armies increased dramatically once I got my first job after leaving school. My friend Graham also discovered hex-based board wargames which we played frequently. I particularly remember a huge game he got for his birthday which depicted WW2 on an epic scale. The maps were so large that they covered one wall of his bedroom and hundreds of unit counters were pinned to the map and wall behind (we had to use thimbles to push them in!). A single game turn took a whole day to play, and the game went on for months. In fact we never completed the ‘war’ because game fatigue set in. I was the Allied player and successfully defended Britain, kicked Rommel out of North Africa and launched a counter-invasion of France ahead of historical schedule. But I was losing badly on the Eastern front and Russia was going to be knocked out of the war.

In the 1980’s wargaming took a backseat and my armies were mothballed. I went to university, I left home, met my wife and then I undertook a PhD. There were better things to do instead of painting miniatures and playing games; beer, women, clubbing etc. were the order of the day. But I never totally abandoned the hobby of my youth; I still read historical non-fiction, I still flicked through new wargame rules, and I still played the occasionally game with my mate, Graham.

In the 1990’s, my studies complete, I had the time and inclination to resume wargaming. I again joined a local group (Scimitar in Coventry) and met a great bunch of gamers; Pete Duckworth, Ian Wilson, Nick Meredith et al. It was clear wargaming had moved on considerably. The standard of gaming was now remarkable; enamels were out and acrylics were in; single colours were out and shading and highlights were in; complex, sluggish, table heavy rules were out and fast, innovative rules were in; sparse, basic terrain was out and beautiful table set ups were in. My best wargaming years now occurred. Ancient period games emerged as a major interest, largely through the DBA and DBM rules, but I also expanded the range of my armies to cover new periods of interest to the point where I had matched forces for pretty much any conflict you could name.

At the end of the 1990’s I moved away from Coventry to Hungerford due to work. I struggled to find a new gaming club for many years and my gaming largely became a solo affair. Still interesting but frustrating (in fact, I still like to play solo today, mainly to explore ‘new’ rule systems). In the 2000’s I met a fellow gamer at work and he introduced me to the Devizes Wargames Club which is about 45 minutes drive from home. Although he moved away fairly shortly after, I have continued to play at Devizes regularly since, and now enjoy a better balanced gaming hobby.

I have reached the stage where I have a large collection of armies covering all periods of history from the late bronze age through to the modern era using various scales of miniatures. I have dabbled with fantasy and SciFi gaming to a limited extent, but I have never played either Warhammer or 40K. I currently don’t feel the need to start any new armies and I am now looking to titivate my existing collection by adding vignettes for my commanders and baggage elements. Of course this may change if I see some eye-candy at a show, or a new, exciting rule set emerges. New rules remain an addiction for me. I have a large collection of rules going back years and cannot resist buying newly released sets, particularly if well presented, even if I am unlikely to ever use them.

A parallel hobby interest has emerged in the last few years: boardgaming. I discovered a subset of my non-wargaming friends who share a love of more general gaming, and to my surprise I found that my wife also enjoys these games. In contrast, she has never had any interest in wargaming, but has never-the-less supported me in my slightly ‘strange’ hobby. Therefore I spend more social time playing Dominion, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan etc. etc. than I do wargaming.
Finally is my decision to start a wargaming blog. The internet provides a feast of wargaming related sites and many excellent blogs, so I thought “why not add to it”. My intention is to post a monthly series of updates covering my activities together with personal reviews of wargame rules that currently hold my attention. I plan not to give detailed AAR’s with step-by-step accounts of the action but instead convey my thoughts about how the rules work; where they are strong and where weak, and my ideas about potential house rules that may add to the systems.

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