Monday, September 6, 2010

The Path to Miniature Wargaming

Warning: This post is one of those self-reflective ones that authors tend to love but elicit decidedly mixed reactions from readers.  Read on at your own risk, the blog owner takes no responsibility for any ill effects.

OK with the legal mumbo-jumbo out of the way, lets get on with it.  The other day, I was talking with a friend and we were both reminiscing on how we got into the hobby.  We're roughly the same age (late 40's) but come from very different backgrounds - my friend from somewhere near "Thunder Road" in the "Wilds of Jersey" and me from the deep south of the US, Bayou La Batre, Alabama (yes, there is such a place - it was in the movie Forrest Gump, so it has to be real).  While our backgrounds are very different, our respective paths to gaming where fairly similar.  That conversation made me wonder if it's a similar path for other gamers.  Now I'm not saying gamers are a homogenous group, but after experiencing a large number of "our kind" at Historicon this summer, I have noticed that the population had a large number of , ummm - shall we say, "similar properties".  Rather than discuss those, I'd thought I'd lay out the winding course I took to gaming:

Late 60's to the  mid 70's:
- Airifx 1/72 figures and Rocco Minitanks
Aside: I never played with any rules, my friends and I would set up our unpainted troops and throw or shoot stuff at them - last man standing wins!  At first we used rubber bands, then sling shots and finally ended up with bottle rockets.  During the heat of battle I learned the true value of suppressive fire on one's opponent rather than his troops.  I must confess that, as a youth, I was drawn to things that "blowed up, real good" and being in the deep south were things like safety regulations are viewed as Yankee impositions, access to fireworks was both easy and cheap.  Ahhhh, the glorious stupidity of youth.

Late Seventies to the Early 80's:
- 1/35th military scale models
- Board war games (SPI / Avalon Hill) - did anyone every really finish one of those monster SPI games?

Late 80's through the 90's
- I got out the modeling hobby to pursue silly things like climbing the corporate ladder and making money.  I also managed to get married and produce (with my wife, of course) a son - both of which were the most noble and finest accomplishments of my life.  (OK that was a bit maudlin, but it's my blog)

- A return to modeling via scale model rail roading.  Now I have a confession to make.  The original entry into scale model rail roading was my son's Christmas present when he was 8 - an HO scale electric train.  We spent about 4 years building various layouts but both lost interest because after your done, all the trains do is go around in circles.  Some people like to simulate railroad operations with their layouts but playing at working in a distribution center never really appealed to me.

My son discovered something called Warhammer 40K (via one of his friends).  Here was a hobby that combined the best of the rail roading hobby - scale modeling with both a sense of competition and the social aspect of gaming with others.  I was hooked and a new hobby was born.  I was also lucky enough to stumble onto to a local gaming group (ECAMGA) that is sponsored by my friend Ernie (mentioned at the top of this rambling diatribe) which really exposed to how a top-of-the-line gaming experience should be the setting and ambiance is as important as the game itself.  There's a bit of theater to staging a good games night that makes hosting an event both fun and challenging.

My son being a teenager (15) has lost interest in modeling, but still likes to game.  He's more interested in competitive sailing (my other hobby) so I can't really complain.  I'm still going strong and now have a dedicated (liberated?) game room and armies/navies for a bunch of rule sets: Flames of War (US and German), 28mm French Napoleonics, 6 mm ACW, ACW Ironclads, WWI Naval, 1/1200 Sailing ships etc).  I am about to embark on yet another period - ancients via Warlord's Imperial Romans - every gamer needs a Roman Army, right?

While I enjoy painting figures, my favorite aspect of the hobby is terrain making - perhaps that's a sign I'm a recovering model rail roader?

Let me know your path into the ranks of the lead-addicted.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I need to bring this up to date.... :o)

indierockclimber said...

Yeah, this is pretty spot on. I was writing wargames rules when I was younger, playing out massive space combat with US currency, with paper clips and slips of paper affixed to denote which ship was which.

At that time I had no idea miniature gaming existed. Some friends got into 40k, we played that for a bit. I didn't particularly like it, but realized that better things existed! 5 years ago I discovered FOW and have been playing it ever since!

paulalba said...

Yip, pretty close to the mark with only the dates and names changed.

My older brother and I share the same interest. I watched over his shoulder when he was building those Airfix tanks and I chucked stones at the larger figures as a boy. I believe my brothers and their friends used slug guns (health and safety had kicked in with my parents before I got my hands on a slug gun).

Drifted out of the hobby and drifted into scale modelling when my nephews came of age (my brother built a train layout in his loft/attic. The nephews descovered 40K (I had played it at high school). We stumbled upon a local wargames club and the old Minifigs Napoleonics reappeared from the loft after 20 years!

A pretty similar story as your own. Throw in figure painting and wargaming don't go down well with every member of the opposite sex and that's why I drifted from our hobby in my late teens.

DeanM said...

Wow! I'm very close - well, I grew up in Hawaii, but am in my late 40's too. Everything is pretty much what I did, save the boardgaming. Started wargaming-proper around the same time, modeling (& N-gauge railroading!) in between. Took teen-time off when I discovered girls & perfected my surfer persona. My youngest son was into Star Wars figures (& the movies) for some time, but now is hooked on X-Box. Interesting read! I look forward to even better years ahead! Regards, Dean

Kelly Armstrong said...

I have some parallels as well, particularly the "late 70's/ early 80's" period. I too am in my late 40's and it's gets later every year.

We did manage to finish an SPI game of "Wacht am Rhein" and Terrible Swift Sword 3-day battle. We played the First day scenario so many times that the Union I and XI and CSA I Corps counters have rounded edges. Loved that game.

jmilesr said...

Great comments everyone.

Kelly - I also played TSS and loved the game. I also managed to almost finish "Highway to the Reich" the giant market-Garden game - the one with the 10' map. It was a pretty convincing allied win with a few turns lefts and our dogs got into the room and blew up the counters!

jmezz382 said...

Awesome post !

I was always into the scale models as a kid thanks in part to my father and my best friends father.

I RPG'd the D&D scene and West End Star Wars RPGs in Jr High and High School, always reading fantasy and science fiction. Sports and playing the saxophone rounded out my persona in HS.

Later in life I found WH40K and loved the idea of modeling and wargaming. I found the older crowd whom loved PAINTED models on the board, awesome terrain along with good sportsmanship and the camaraderie of those whom love history and gaming. So I left behind the WH40K scene and got into Flames of War and other systems with some fun play and good rules.

I have been very fortunate to find a great gaming scene here in Richmond, VA and meeting a good friend of mine Steve, What Would Patton Do ? fame. He took me under his wing as a noob FOW player and I have learned tons !

JAM said...

Funny how your entry into gaming almost exactly parallels mine, even down to the son with GW (although being 17 now interest has completely waned).


Docsmith said...

Ah yes young Padawan, the path you have followed similar it is. Being in my youthful 50's I too recall as a young lad having a perfect 'sand table' underneath our house in Papua (now PNG) and together with similarly minded companions, constructing every kind of Airfix WWII tank and gun, setting up large armies of Brits, Germans, Japanese and Americans and blowing them up with projectiles (marbles preferred) and low-yield explosives (po-ha's from the local Chinese merchant who also conveniently supplies the Airfix models and soldiers!) We also discovered gunpowder and explored old battlefields. Ah, those were the days! Back in Australia and the high school wargaming club - same Airfix and some Hinchcliffe figures (the first metal ones which no-one could afford!) and discovered Napoleonics. All of that put aside with the rapid onset of puberty and my desire to become a fully-fledged surfie rock star.

At college as a 'mature age' (yeh, for sure!!) nearly 20 years later, a fellow student is reading a Eureka Miniatures catalogue. "What have you got there?' I asked inquisitively. The good chap lent me it - it was full of the most beautiful Napoleonic figures (15mm) that I had ever seen and in a flash, I was hooked again. My fate confirmed when parents sent me an old metal trunk fished out of the attic that contained thousands of my old soldiers and model collection - thousands of Airfix etc etc. Same chap with the miniatures catalogue then invited me along to a game one hot summer's night. DBM ancients - the boys were in the middle of the Carthaginian campaign in Italy. That sealed it. Never looked back. Now over ten years of re-capturing my youth and indulging my passion for wargaming miniatures. Also aiding and abetting three sons to collect and game Warhammer, then LOTR - none of whom have kept it up or wish anyone else to know their nerdy little secret. But I don't care. I'm still havin' fun!

Great post Miles, thanks for sharing.