Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Die Was Cast Early

 I recently finished Achtung Schweinehund! - a first-person account of one man's lifelong relationship with table-top wargaming. I won't review the book in this post, but if you're at all curious you can find a semi-literate opinion or two over at All Your Basecast (episode 13, also available on iTunes!).

While I did enjoy reading about Harry Pearson's obsessions, an unexpected consequence was having the dust blown off some long-ago memories of my own experiences with wargaming. It had been years since those memories had lit up my neural pathways, but Pearson's reminisces eventually teased a few mementos out of the quiet corners of my past.

Going back to my teenaged years (somewhere in the late 1970's), my pasty-white friends and I spent countless hours constructing small-scale WW2 tanks and warships. It didn't hurt that my friend's family owned a local hobby shop and were only too willing to extend us the deep discounts we used to amass our armies. Meticulously constructed and painted, our legions of British, American, and German military hardware spent their most useful hours in a friend's garage, where we had constructed an elaborate gaming table - complete with landscaping, beachfront, and the bombed out villages we copied from Kelley's Heroes.

I cannot recall very much about the rules for our campaigns, although I do remember they were furnished and refereed by a friend's older brother. It was all about math: how much a Tiger Tank could move in one turn, how far the Graf Spree could lob 11-inch shells at a 32-degree angle from its watery outpost, and so on. Games would run hours, days, even weeks, with the winner typically chosen by attrition rather than brilliant tactics. Winning was never really the point of it all. It was the 'act' - selecting, building, painting, arguing, and being together with like-minded geeks.

Thinking about all this led me to recall even more ancient geekery from my past. It was a board game my father brought into the house when I was 10 or 11 years old: Richtofen's War. This was not the typical Monopoly or Candyland style of boardgame. This was different.

The point of it all was to simulate WW1 arial battles - all white knuckles on joysticks and canvas stretched over wooden frames. I remember the board being an arial view of some European countryside, with an overlay of honeycombs to guide various pieces of cardboard with pictures of airplanes on them. There were dice involved and a set of rules that seemed to me like 100 pages of inscrutable gibberish. I desperately wanted to make the game 'work', but I could never explain the rules well enough to myself or my friends.

Like I say, I hadn't though about model tanks or cardboard Sopwith Camels in years until Harry Pearson's book came along. Richtofen's boxed set of WW1 has long since passed from my family's hands (probably into a dustbin somewhere along the way). As for my plastic tanks and ships - so lovingly put together all those years ago - they were handed down to my brother when I moved away to attend school in another city. I'm pretty sure they, too, have been consigned to the municipal dump. But these are good things to think about, if only to confirm that I Am Me, and always have been.


Kid Dork said...

Very nice article, sir. It is work like this that earns you a chair at All Your Basecast, however a dubious honor that is.

I never got into wargaming, though I can see the appeal, and have spent time watching the Warhammer games being played at the Comic Book Collector. It's one of those things I will do when I have time--so, probably never. I had a difficult enough time trying to decipher 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons rule sets to myself and Delaware school buddies.

Crazylegs said...

Thanks, KD! I know what you mean about 'time'. The world is simply too big for the few years we have to explore it all.

As for AYB, I'll risk dubiousness anytime to sit in the Sacred Circle of Nerds.

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