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How I Got Started. . .

Stirring scenes like this one, courtesy of the late Peter Gilder, are largely responsible for the way I go about the wargaming hobby now.  Coincidentally, this is one of three early issues of Miniature Wargames that somehow turned up on the shelves of a hobby shop I frequented as a callow youth during the early 1980s.  I still have the original copies, #6, #7, and #12, although I have since replaced them with 'newer' less well-thumbed copies as I have filled in holes in the collection of hobby print matter.  Finally, I'll go out on a limb here and state that the covers of 'modern' wargaming magazines in current publication are rarely as charming or inspiring.

At its heart, my wargaming hobby stems from and grew out of playing with green, gray, and blue plastic toy soldiers, tanks, etc. as a child during the 1970s.  Probably like many of you  GD of S visitors.  I also have very vague recollections of paging through a Phillip O. Stearns (?) book on model soldiers at about four or five years of age one Saturday afternoon with my father in an independent bookstore (Remember those?) called 'The Book Nook' that we used to frequent quite a bit in the city where we lived at the time.   It was run by an older lady named Mrs. Graves, who was assisted by a bunch of university students with long hair and bell-bottom/flared jeans.  This would have been about 1970-71.  

In any case, it was that particular book, whoever the author was, which really sowed the seeds of my interest in painting and collecting model soldiers.  One detail of the book in questions has always remained with me.  There was a two-page spread in it, a large centerfold (!!??) photograph in black and white of some Waterloo diorama somewhere in a museum, or someone's country home.  My father, who had an interest in military history himself, read the caption to me and answered my, no doubt, many questions that followed.

After a pause at the end of the 1970s (Gosh, does that make me sound old, but popular music was starting to get interesting as we moved out of the disco phase and approached the new decade.), it became Dungeons and Dragons for a few years in the very early 80s as a young teenager.  That obsession gradually turned into a consuming interest in all things Napoleonic, chiefly The 100 Days Campaign, thanks to stumbling across a few issues of Military Modelling and Miniature Wargames that somehow made it to this side of The Atlantic.  Truth being stranger (and much more interesting) than fiction, it was not long before D&D receded into the past pretty quickly, and since about 1984, it has been historical miniatures ever since.  Although I never managed to complete the 15mm Corps-level Waterloo project I set out to collect and play all of those years ago. 

That particular boulevard of broken dreams resulted from the usual biting off more than I could chew, young eyes being larger than my stomach, a lack of funds, and then lack of time as I moved into adult life with first work followed eventually with a return to school, buckling down, graduate school, moving around, time abroad, various early teaching jobs, meeting the Grand Duchess, dating and eventually marrying, etc., etc.   Indeed, there was about a 12-year period there when there was no time at all spent on the hobby beyond continuing to acquire and read military history books -- on The 100 Days of course -- as and when time permitted.

Finally, in the late fall of 2005, wondering what was going on with the hobby at large, I stumbled onto an earlier incarnation of Phil Olley's War Cabinet, Greg Horne's Duchy of Alzheim blog, Henry Hyde's Battlegames website (just before the magazine appeared), AND the Yahoo Old School Wargaming forum, which was abuzz at the time with all sorts of discussions that resonated on some level with me, and what I sought from the hobby.  All of this happened in November and December of that year, and it really rekindled my hobby fire, but with an important difference.  This time, I intended to keep my focus strictly on one era rather than dabbling here and there, which is really what led to very little ever being finished the first time around.  Hey, ol' Mom always said I was easily entertained.

The Grand Duchy of Stollen project, which has been underway since late Summer 2006, is really the convergence and culmination of a few different threads.  An interest in the mid-18th century coupled with wanting to do something similar to what was described in the Pages of Young and Lawford's Charge! Or How to Play War Games (1967), which is where the whole fictitious angle came from. The idea for doing this with relatively large units of figures comes also from Peter Gilder's Napoleonic set-up that featured so prominently in early issues of Miniature Wargames and Wargames Illustrated. Sometime about 2006-2007, and related to the wonderful and much missed physical magazine Battlegames, I became aware of Messrs. Protz and Purky.  More recently, the large scale games and hobby approach of U.K. wargamers like Robbie Rodiss, Colin Ashton, as well as Chris Gregg just feature that certain something that speaks to my inner painter, collector, and (very occasional) gamer.

To my eyes, the tables full of skillfully painted large units, attractive scenery, plenty of vignettes, and, occasionally, support troops really made, and continue to make, a lasting an impression on me.  It's not the ONLY way to approach and go about the hobby of course, but for me this is IT.  'Biggism' -- to borrow Phil Olley's term -- at its very best!

Two additional points that have influenced my thinking in moving into and remaining firmly rooted within the mid-18th century, the purview of The Grand Duchy.  First, the armies of the period, by and large, looked very similar, differences in uniform colors notwithstanding.  Troops were not attired in the maddening myriad of headgear and uniform items that makes the later Napoleonic era simultaneously so attractive and yet a figurative black hole.  A siren's song really considering the range of bonnets, shakos, bearskins, regulation, and campaign dress at the very least.  Second, the armies of conflicts like The War of Austrian Succession and  the slightly later Seven Years War were relatively small compared to the huge, multi-corps formations that marched across Europe during the Napoleonic era, making all of this somewhat easier to aspire to on the tabletop albeit in a scaled down, "bathtub" sense. 

All of these influences are behind what became The Grand Duchy of Stollen project, which, like restoring an old house (maternal grandparents and parents who did just that, you see), is very much an ongoing work in progress for a number of years before you can call things done.  But the different facets of The Grand Duchy have managed to hold my interest without fail for quite some time now, and, at this point, I see no reason to seek hobby fulfillment elsewhere, or try wargaming in another way.  My particular approach continues to push all of the right buttons.  Although, were I ever to have unlimited time and money, the mid-19th century in Europe, say the 1840s-1860s in 30mm. . .

Strangely, we've come full circle back to the fantasy/imagination element of D&D since my campaign area, though fictional, is set within the real Europe of the immediate post-SYW era.  The Grand Duchy of Stollen and its immediate neighbors are sandwiched somewhere in between far Eastern Prussia and Courland, but my own entities are such inconsequential political backwaters on the European stage that Frederick II, Maria-Theresa, et al pay polite indifference at best to ol' Grand Duck Irwin-Amadeus of Stollen and his nemesis, the evil and conniving Princess Antonia III, the latter of whom is aided and abetted in her schemes by that most notorious mercenary-adventurer, cad, and bounder, General Phillipe de Latte.  

While time is still at a premium given current work and family commitments, I have managed to continue sometimes very S-L-O-W progress toward painting and collecting two semi-fictitious rival armies -- largely based on Reichsarmee units -- that, ultimately, should consist of about 7-10 line infantry units each, a few companies of jaegers/croats each, maybe 3-5 two-squadron regiments of cavalry each with some guns, crew, limbers, and horse teams.  Of course, I have allowed myself to be diverted for several years with numerous officer and civilian vignettes as well as some support elements and scratch-built buildings (a hobby in its own right) but I've enjoyed those digressions too, and that's really what the hobby is all about to me.  The admittedly circuitous journey rather than the destination.

-- Stokes

 As feared and predicted, painting on the composite unit of grenadiers has temporarily stalled due to a pile of student projects on my desk that need reading and grading plus a delay in receipt of some much needed acrylic hobby paints -- A bottle of Citadel white anyone? -- that have been held up somewhere.  Hence today's recycling of a post I added in reply to a question posed on the Minden Minitures forum that I haunt from time to time when I really ought to be doing other things.  Like reading and grading these blasted student papers.


Rob Young said…
The nice thing about becoming increasingly more semi-retired is that I have more time for figures and less time needed on the various aspects of educational administration - one of the things to look forward to in later years.
David Cooke said…
Very much enjoyed reading about your journey so far!
I am intrigued! (and I give you credit for your memory of detail)

Unfortunately I am nothing like an expert on the subject but I do have an interest in books on military modelling, wargaming and toy soldiers from the 50's, 60's and 70's. Several of the ones I have from the 70's have photos by Phillip Stearns (or Phillip O Stearns depending on the book) including the book Wargame edited by Peter Young which has colour photos of a Waterloo wargame and Henry Harris's older book, Model Soldiers has a B&W photo of Sibourne's Waterloo diorama, but Stearns is not credited in that book.

I suppose odds are we'll never know exactly which book it was? I wonder if you would recognize a picture?
warpaintjj said…
An excellent read Stokes.
It seems a few of us have written similar reflective pieces recently possibly our age?
That Gilder chap has a lot to answer for & to be very proud of.
I'll reread this post again tonight I think.
Best wishes,
The front covers of Miniature Wargames were both a blessing and a curse - something to aspire to and also impossible to achieve on a pocket money budget of Airfix figures. I was lucky that my late lovelyDad bought me Miniature Wargames from issue 1 and Military Modelling and handed them over each month after reading the history articles first, otherwise all my pocket money and more would be gone on magazines alone each month. I still have the first 20 odd MW magazines and still reread them.
Phil DutrĂ© said…
I love reading about how each wargamer has developed his own hobby ... after all, I see wargaming as a very personal hobby (one builds his own game and game setting, including the rules), instead of seeing it as an "off-the-shelf" hobby where you simply buy a box, open it, and start playing.

But no matter how fondly we remember our own hobby stories, we need to keep in mind that youngsters or teenagers follow their own path. The kid who's playing Infinity or some zombie game in the local shop will also think back nostalgically on his own starting days, 40 years from now, when he's pushing his 18th century soldiers around on his gaming table.
Chris Gregg said…
Sorry I've only just found this most interesting post, thanks for setting it all out. Though my journey started about 10 years before yours the influences sound very similar, but read "Wargamers Newsletter" for "Miniature Wargames". Very flattered that you give me credit as one of your influencers, (I love "biggism" too) but it's ironic that I count the GD of S blog as one of several around 2009-10 that just got me hooked. You managed to conjure up the 18th century Germanic atmosphere so well, I could almost smell the Stollen cooking as it wafted into the comfy wargames room and I thought "I'll have some of that please". Please keep on inspiring us.

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