07 September 2009

Article Ruminations, Part III. . .

This is the issue that started it all, the March 1981 issue of Military Modelling, including Battle for Wargamers!

A rather quiet Labor Day here in the United States today. Cool weather has meant that I have managed to get a number of domestic things done around here early in the day, leaving me feeling especially virtuous. So, what better way to fill the available time than with the third and final installment of the "Article Ruminations" series, in which I provide a retrospective of those magazine articles that have influenced my wargaming over the years. Ok, here we go.

Let's start with the March 1981 issue of Military Modelling, picture above. In the fall of 1981, I was in the midst of my new fascination with Dungeons and Dragons. One day, while I was at school, my mother was out running errands and happened upon a local gaming shop (remember those?). On a whim, she went inside, where she purchased a few Ral Partha fanatsy figures and this magazine for me. When I came home that afternoon, good ol' Mom presented me with the small paper bag containing everything.

The Ral Partha figures (a wizard, and several other figures still in my possession) were great, and I sat down to paint them later that weekend. But perhaps even more fascinating was the magazine, which featured all manner of information on wargaming and military miniatures. But best of all was the small booklet supplement that came inside -- the Military Modelling Guide to Wargames and Boardgames! I was immediately hooked by this concise summary and explanation of our multifaceted hobby, especially by the photographs of Peter Gilder's Waterloo set-up and a Rorke's Drift game on the front page. Fantastic stuff to say the very least! So, my interest in wargaming can be traced back to this momentous occasion in late 1981.

While I labored on under the D&D banner for another few years, my real interests gradually moved into the area of historical wargaming rahter than that fantasy variant of the hobby. That was helped by the discovery of a great new magazine in the Autumn 1983, called Miniature Wargames, which I coincidentally purchased at the very same gaming shop discovered by Mom two years previously. Issues 6 and 7, in particular, contained several articles that provided ample food for thought, and these continue to inspire me today.

Issue #6 of Miniature Wargames featured a fascinating article, entitled "Fighting in Built Up Areas" by one C.S. Grant. Who would have thought, when I first read this article, that Charles S. Grant would visit the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog once in a while and even drop the occasional line to me via e-mail? Anyway, this article focused on the various factors that are involved in in house-to-house fighting -- problems like artillery effects, communication, small arms and hand-to-hand fighting, and casualties -- and how we might reproduce some of this on the wargaming table without delving into too much complexity.

There was also a brief description of how (now) Brigadier Grant built and painted his own buildings along with a few photographs of said buildings. My own buildings for the Grand Duchy of Stollen project are, I like to think, direct descendents of these -- attractive, whimsical, and stylized structures that add interest to the tabletop, serve a tactical function, but don't take up too much valuable maneuver room. They cost little or nothing to produce, are easy to paint, and durable. Just what the doctor ordered!

Both issues of MW presented pieces by Mark Clayton, who wrote "Tolstoy and the Wargame", in which he described how his reading of the epic War and Peace served as the basis for simplified morale rules. Since I was already tiring of the overly complicated way of resolving combat in the D&D system, these two articles caught my eye. As I write this blog entry now, it occurs to me that Clayton's rules might possibly fit well into Young and Lawford's rule system as outlined in Charge!. Hmmm. That sounds like something I'll have to examine more closely. As many of you, no doubt, know alread, one strength of wargaming is the endless rules tinkering that's possible. But that's a subject for another time I think!

Another article found inside of Issue #7 of MW was "The Lazy Way: A Faster Method to Getting That [Painted] Army into Action" by Dave Hoyles. Here, a very convincning case was made by Mr. Hoyles for a less busy approach to painting one's figures. The article presented his straighforward, readily applicable process for turning out neatly and attractively painted armies in fairly short order. The large photograph of Hoyle's ancient Indian army that accompanied his article demonstrated that what he described was entirely possible. It would be Summer 2006 before I adopted a similar painting approach myself, but Hoyles' approach to painting has certainly been helpful with the Grand Duchy of Stollen project.

"Defence Cut Blues: Hints Ideas, and Advice for the Low Budget General" by Paul Wood from the same issue of MW, has also been influential for many years. This was the article that made me realize that various kinds of household "trash" could be rescued and used in the construction of tabletop scenery. We can, therefore, place the blame for my love of the heavy cardboard from the back of writing and graph paper tablets at th feet of Mr. Wood! After reading his article, I suddenly realized that you didn't need the funds to purchase expensive model railway scenery. Nope, with a little imagination and ingenuity, it's possible to create much of what you need to provide convincing villages, woods, rivers, hills, and the like for your miniature armies to maneuver and fight over. This is that do-it-yourself spirit that seemed so much a part of early wargaming, and which the current series of articles by Diane Sutherland in Battlegames certainly calls to mind.

The Battle for Wargamers Wargames Manual, issued by Model and Allied Publications in 1983 featured another inspirational piece by Charels S. Grant, which sowed the seeds for my current interest in 18th century warfare. Grant's "The 18th Century As a Wargame Period" demonstrated that the era had more to offer than static sieges and the American Revolution. Indeed, he emphasized that there was considrable variety where armies, weapons, tactics, logistics, and theaters of war were concerned.

Grant's article concluded by pointing out that the era provided considerable scope for tabletop affairs, whether historical or fictitious. And, of course, the two photographs of his own 18th Century set-up, plus a picture of Stuart Asquth's (with their BIG units), made the period eminently attractive to the teenaged Stokes. And I have returned to this article many times over the years if for no other reason than to gaze reverently at the pictures of Spencer Smith figures and Brigadier Grant's stylized balsa and card buildings.

"Terrain for Wargamers" by Terry Wise featured in that same special issue. Here, Mr. Wise explored several different methods to create tabletop battlefields, including the modular square method, which was also described by Steve Dunn in his piece "Steve's Terrain" from Miniature Wargames issue #12 . Both articles featured inspirational photographs, detailed discussion, and explanations of how to create versatile terrain systems that provide varied, tactically interesting battlefields without bankrupting the domestic warchest. My own table that I assembled and painted for the Grand Duchy of Stollen project during Summer 2008 owes much to these two articles.

Winding down, I feel the need to mention one wargaming personaltiy, who featured prominently in many issues of Military Modelling, Miniature Wargames, and Wargames Illustrated from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Ian Weekley is unfortunately no longer with us, but his various how-to articles on wargames real estate and scenery are still worth digging up and reading today. Mr. Weekley produced too many project description articles for me to highlight only a single one here. Well, ok, if you insist, "Building Hougoumont in 15mm" from the December 1983 issue of MM would do it!

But there were lots of other terrain and scenery articles too, and it's a shame Ian Weekley never published a companion to his book on wargaming scenery from 1987. If you can track it down today, buy it. But back to the Hougoumont piece! The description of how Mr. Weekley produced this complicated assembly of barns, sheds, and gatehouses along with the chateau inspires me to this day even though my own buildings are now much simpler in style and construction. And all of his articles are as engaging as the books and articles by the Grants, Featherstone, and Young & Lawford, the same conversation style that just exudes enthusiasm for the hobby.

Well, there you have it. These are the articles that I return to again and again whenever my imagination or activities need a creative kick in the seat of the pants. The pieces that I've summarized in the last three posts all have that certain something that keeps me coming back even after all this time. The reasons why are many and varied. But at the heart of things is my nostalgia for a simpler time in life that was a bit more innocent and more full of wonder. Ham radio enthusiasts call it the "gee whiz factor".

When I first read many of these articles, wargaming was a relatively new activity for me, and each piece provided another important part of the wargaming puzzle. Every article generated a terrific sense of wonder about this absorbing hobby. And that's one of the reasons why the old school/class wargaming movement is so attractive. It strikes a similar chord and produces that same sense of limitless potential and wonder that I felt in, say, 1983 or 1984. A time when pocket money was limited and units were small of necessity, but imagination, ideas, and ingenuity were plentiful. What a time that was. What an infinitely rewarding hobby wargaming has been and remains!

Ok, enough nostalgia. My next post will see a return to painting as we get started in earnest on those 30 RSM Austrian cuirassiers. Oh yes, and there are a few pictures of the now painted baby's room to share too, an entirely different exercise in painting!

5 comments:

tradgardmastare said...

Stokes
Look forward to pics of baby room. I remember the article on how to paint Indians and others you mention too...
Fascinating how we all got into wargaming. I was into D&D too many moons ago.
As a teenager I went to an exhibition in Edinburgh of Crimean War photography. As part of the exhibition was a massive Balaclava game with 15mm Peter Laing figures. I watched ,talked to those demonstrating ,was given a few figures to command and the rest is hobby history...
cheers
Alan

Steve Turner said...

Stokes,
I remember MM when it contained "Battle for Wargamers", and I still have all my own UK copies. They probably have roughly the same contents as your US publications, but with a different front page (I don't recognise the one in your photo).
"Battle" was originally a completely separate publication, but got swallowed up by MM (much to the disgust of the diorama & "static" model makers I might add - by the way, what do they do with those models once they've finished them? Personally, I see no point in making a model only to let it sit taking up space on a shelf somewhere).
I tend to hoard ALL my old wargaming magazines, and my own collection of "Battle" mags. goes back to 1978, though I do have 3 editions from the previous year.
I think I'll re-read them all again, just for fun. Ah, those were the days.

Steve.

guy said...

I am also a magazine hoarder and I have that MilMod issue in my pile. I started with MilMod in the 1970's and my early magazines were read and reread until they almost fell apart. I was then making Tamiya models (but playing large scale battles in the garden with them with grass clippings hills and trench systems dug in the flower beds etc) and only after Battle became part of the magazine did I concentrate on 25mm wargaming. I was always interested in the Table Top teasers and tried to recreate them. I also really enjoyed the Hyborian campaign run by Tony Bath. I pored over the adverts making lists. When Miniature wargames came out I can remember the impact of issue no 1 and the fantastic photos of Peter Gilders collection. A couple of other events also had a major inpact. I bought 'Napoleons campaigns in miniature' by Bruce Quarrie and after seeing an article on Peter Gilders holiday centre in MilMod I went there for a week. MilMod therefore has a lot to answer for!

Regards,
Guy

A J said...

That was an inspiring magazine. I think I had that very copy until recently, too. Ian Weekley lived in the village of Buxton in my home county of Norfolk, England. He was honorary vice-president of the old Coltishall wargames club and donated a few buildings to us. One was a model of the inn Napoleon used as his HQ at Waterloo. I never had the honor to meet him but he certainly inspired my efforts at making buildings.

Captain Brummel said...

Now you've done it...
you've got us all reading our old mags again and rediscovering why we all started wargaming. this will probably lead to new inspiration and spending more money.
Seriously, a good idea to write about this on your blog Stokes, a nice trip down memory lane. I remember some of those articles, I hoarded them like gold dust in those pre internet days.
Cheers
Adrian

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