Monday, January 30, 2012

Introduction

or, "what's all this about then?"

Years ago, while a student at the University of California at San Diego, I discovered that the campus library had a small number of books on something called "wargaming." These books, which I recall to be Donald Featherstone's "War Games Through the Ages" and "Advanced Wargames," Charles Grant's "The War Game," and H. G. Wells "Little Wars," introduced me to a delightful hobby that has kept me entertained and out of trouble (more or less) for well over two decades now.

My first foray into war gaming featured double handfuls of unpainted 1/72 soft plastic figures, hastily called into service and using simple rules cobbled together from a mix of ideas from those august tomes as well as a few of my own ideas. I dearly wish I still had the hand-written notes that made up that set of rules.

Between then and now I've collected miniatures and played games in just about every period and every scale, using many, many sets of rules. 10mm American Civil War through 54mm Three Musketeers skirmish. Ancient Persians through Vietnam. Fantasy and Science Fiction, too. And most points in between, beyond and in the creases. Any readers of my other blog will be well familiar with those travels of mine.

But there has always been something very magical about those first books and the world they introduced me too. Simple rules, without pretense, designed to give a reasonable blend of historicity and fun. Simply, brightly painted soldiers from kingdoms both real and imagined, wheeling and firing across a clear, bright green sward. Toy soldiers. Played for fun. Magic.

Recently, I've been examining my hobbies, in the context of the life I lead these days. A father of three who does his best to put family first. And a job I love, but which demands my full attention when I'm there and sometimes when I'm not. These things are important to me, but leave little time for my various hobbies. And, with three children, I'm quite pressed for space in which to store my toy soldiers.

So, I've been taking a critical look at the massive mountains of unpainted lead, pewter and plastic in my garage. And thinking hard about how much time I really have to paint and play games. And how much space all those armies, and all the terrain they imply (I would say require, but most of these armies are, as I said, unpainted and unplayed with as of yet). And I've made some decisions.

First of all, as to figure scale. While I would very dearly love to play all of my games with 40mm or 54mm figures, ranked in their hundreds, on huge tables full of lovingly built terrain, I simple cannot. I must economize. In space, in time required, and monetarily. And so, I've settled on 15mm figures and terrain for all of my games, whether they be 1:1 skirmishes or the affairs of massive armies.

Second, as to the style of game I prefer. Much of my wargaming, for some years, has been conducted solo. There is a very active, very friendly club that meets less than three miles from my house weekly. And I would love to attend. But family commitments make that a rare treat rather than a regular event. So, I content myself with painting and modeling, and with playing the occasional solo game on the dining room table when time permits.

And this focus on solo games has taught me to love games that help me tell a story. Much more on that in a later post. On reaction-driven games that take much of the decision making out of my hands and lead to scenarios and actions I could never have dreamed up myself. But what I want to focus on here is the genres I choose to game in.

Any period could be rich fodder for these kinds of games. But I prefer game settings with large heapings of creativity and narrative potential. And games supported by vendors providing figures I enjoy painting. So, here is the short list. Hopefully you'll see the theme that I presume is present, even if I can't easily describe it.

  • Science Fiction skirmish and small armed force battles. These are, lately, the subject of my blog "Ramblings of a Distracted Wargamer." The 15mm science fiction miniature market is positively thriving right now. It's never been this healthy. I'm spoiled for choices when it comes to characterful miniatures suitable for 1:1 skirmish games and platoon-level games featuring the odd mech or hover tank.
  • Old West skirmish games, fed and inspired by the terrific 18mm range from Blue Moon, and the excellent gunfight and character-based campaign rules "Six Gun Sound" from Two Hour Wargames.
  • Superhero skirmish games, inspired by my love of comic books when I was young, endless entertaining games of Champions in high school, and the terrific fun I derive from scouring 15mm figure lines for miniatures to use and convert. The fact that there are so very few dedicated 15mm superhero figures available is actually an attraction all its own to me, in this case. I do enjoy the hunt, and the challenge of converting and adapting existing figures for use as heroes, villains, henchmen and world-threatening giant robots. I haven't settled on rules for these yet, but I am a big fan of Scott Pyle's GoalSystem rules. SuperSystem looks to be a strong contender.
  • World War II company-level games, using a set of rules called "Sturm!" from Don Bailey. I don't know whether Don has ever made these rules available publicly. I learned about them from an excellent article in Historical Miniature Gamer #1, in which he laid out the reaction-based system behind the rules through a long and story-filled battle report.
  • Colonial wargames, particularly on the Northwest Frontier, using another of Don's rule sets, Pith Helmet 2. This one is, fortunately, available easily on the web. Don wrote an article called "Skirmish at Utla" for Historical Miniature Gamer #5, in which he describes the use of these rules very nicely.
  • And finally, the subject of this blog.
That is, 18th Century battles, large and small, set in a fictional imagi-nation of my own devising, following in the illustrious and pathfinding footsteps of Charles Grant, Peter Young, and their contemporaries.

This post has gone on very much long enough, however. So, until next time, when I will begin to describe this project in more detail.


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