Wargamers home and en route
Over the years I have gotten to meet many wargamers around the world. For example: Arturo in Rome; Niek, Erik and Henk in Belgium, I got exposed to Battlegroup by Henk and it is my current fascination for a Skirmish or Squads/Platoons sort of game.
After starting the ICD Wargame Club in Decatur with Mark, it grew to dozens in the 70’s partly from High School age networking and then D&D. Regulars included Bruce, another Mark, Murray, Craig, Ron, TJ, another Bill.
So for several years I thought that wargamers were just naturally plentiful. I later realized that there was more than my excellence as President-For-Life for the ICD, much of the club’s success came from how we had a public location that people could just drop in to during most hours—the basement of the Franklin Mall and the restaurant upstairs for convenient refueling. I later found that some gamers really appreciated the ICD as a haven from either local high school: Eisenfouler & Stephen Degrader.
Some gamers had come to me over the years Lewis (saw our Avalon Hill General classified ad), Doug, Jim (saw their AH General ad), Marc, David (both saw my flier posted at the library), Bob Bledsaw, and Jeff (a Millikin University posting). I should mention that I have used last names only when the people are public figures.
Then also I have gotten to meet wargamers on WargamerTour.com: James F Dunnigan and Al Nofi in 1991’s Millennium of Mayhem; Mitch, Mark & Nick Moran who drove his first tank on 1997’s Tanks For The Memories. And Rich on WYWAE, 2003’s Wargame Your Way Through Europe.
I was lucky enough to go with local friends on these tours as well: Bob Bledsaw Sr. on Mayhem. John Holtz and Ed from Springfield on WYWAE.
One may think of going to a place such as battlefields or museums for all its history, terrain and artifacts. Those have been great! But I mention the people first above because much of what was so memorable was the who I traveled with. These associations and friendships have exposed me to new perspectives and try new rulesets too!
Every morning during Mayhem Al and Jim would pore through the Herald Tribune for the latest on the Dissolution of the USSR and indeed during the tour, Dunnigan and Al led a brainstorming session on making a wargame by that name that I later assembled called Saving The Soviet Union. It was a solitaire game and the idea was could you shore up the crumbling empire enough to keep it from going “critical”. The assumption was that you probably couldn’t but that challenge was the point of the game. I ended researching this and when I couldn’t find some hard data, I wrote JFD and he answered “make it up”!
Long after I have forgotten most about the games, I remember these people. I think at times I thought I needed to make bigger or better games. But perhaps what I should have worked on more was being a better player or more precisely, friend.
That was a big picture bit of history that we got “close” to. But there are events that we got much closer to and their impact was brought home to me as in 1990 we strolled, jet-lagged through a museum. But even though we were tired, we couldn’t drag ourselves away from the exhibis: the Mauer Museum (German for Wall).
When I was a kid I always envisioned the Berlin Wall as a straight line between two halves of the city. Of course, that wouldn’t have worked! People would just go around the ends. Wasn’t it that they built a ‘zoo’ wall around West Berlin so the East could not escape into freedom? So the wall was shaped more like a “D”.
The Mauer Museum featured the history of the Berlin Wall. It was extremely fascinating to read dispassionate English translations of the German about the move & counter-move that the state and escapees engaged in which resulted in triumphs and tragedies. Really this was a deadly game they “played”.
The east put up Barbed wire overnight around the whole city. Some people awoke to their children being momentarily trapped on a sleepover a street away. Then concrete blocks built up the first wall. Halves of buildings were torn down on eastern side where they straddled the boundary (the gaping rooms blocked up). Then a second wall with a minefield between and sniper pits.
Then we went across to East Berlin at the adjacent Checkpoint Charlie having to exchange 50 Deutschmarks for worthless Ostmarks. The next day we went back through and they did not make us change money. The third day, there were no guards! I came back through to the west side, gave 5 Deutschmarks to a guy who was renting a chisel and a maul to start chipping away at the Berlin Wall. Made front page news in our small town paper, and I sold those bits and gave the money to Radio Free Europe.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down!” I could say “Elves” to him,”
— Robert Frost
How to be a better wargamer friend
The wargame scene has ebbed and flowed with the coming and collapsing of wargame companies and friends coming and going too. At points we may think that “they don’t make’em like they used to.” Back in the 60’s when Avalon Hill came out with just one wargame per year, we really wanted more. So it was natural that this pent-up demand should buy up games beyond the subscription’s provision of half dozen new games. Now we see a variety of companies using new production technology to release more-polished old favorites and new titles also.
With the hundreds (or is it thousands?!) of wargames and miniature rulesets, it may seem that we have found a new problem—the self-isolation of gamers into their few favorite games that they have no opponents for. This situation is unlikely to be fixed by a new Avalon Hill General Opponents Wanted page of tiny print. After all we have Facebook groups with thousands of members focused on a given game system or subset of wargaming. As I have played fewer games and spent much time on line, I feel like the Vicks ad from 1984:
“I am not a doctor but I play one on tv.”
-Chris Robinson, “Dr. Rick Webber” on General Hospital; ad recast after he was convicted of tax evasion in 1986
So to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, I have ideas that might help.
Training raw recruits
I found that one can expose non-gamer associates and friends to a game effectively. What helps is if you keep it manageable and have a very basic training session first. I made a PDF (though Powerpoint would work too) as a slideshow for General Quarters 3. I backed up to the basics making a point of clarifying the distinction of a game turn and a directional turn. Dice used for combat not movement etc.
I found that I was able to train about a dozen gamers this way and a portion of them were willing to try it again. I think it may have helped that it was ships, rather than tiny soldiers. And it certainly made set up of the terrain quick: just a blue sheet.
Clubbing them into submission
I think that short-sighted people like me got into our own ideas of what direction the game club should take. So often I was for two main goals, bigger and more realistic. Along the way some of the games were too big to be fun—leading to attrition of players. And the realism may have been too much some also. Then what about what some of them wanted to play? I know I disregarded some suggestions because I didn’t like the looks of the game. Some of this is “just life” and the natural attrition of players. But why increase the attrition? One risks waking up to either no players or others (besides yourself) having retreated into isolated silos of narrow interest.
I envision a different sort of club. Whether one must start over with raw recruits because you’ve already gotten the rest of the unit wiped out or you still have a cadre of players. Here are some guidelines:
- Regular place and time to meet.
- Key goals are to welcome new people, play a diversity of games and have a sustainably long life to the club.
- Regular attendees agree to how we will play every game/ruleset that each wants to play, eventually. Note the word “regular”, the goal is to give an incentive to good attendance—get to play your favorite. Those who pick and choose too much will not get a slot in the rotation of what’s played.
- Avoid not showing up just because the game subject doesn’t appeal. Besides you may find that your low expectations set you up for a better game than you thought. Instead missing only for good reasons.
There may be other guidelines to help support the club but these are my ideas for now.
Traveling then coming home
I have enjoyed my travels and they have also given me a perspective to both appreciate wargaming friends and recognize my own errors.
“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”