My own belief is that miniature wargamers are a product of nurture, not nature. We start out fresh and innocent youths, and are then exposed to a series of stimulae and experiences that result in our becoming rollers of die and collectors of miniature figurines.
In support of that hypothesis, I offer my own experience as example. As a child growing up in Georgia in the 60s, I played war with friends in the neighborhood using sticks as guns and pine cones as grenades. I had GI-Joes (no kung-fu grip though) and more plastic green and gray soldiers than you can shake a stick at. A good friend two doors down, Dennis Smith, had a playroom with his own collection of plastic soldiers, plus Lincoln Log sets that could be used to create fortifications and catapults, and we waged monstrous wars of attrition that could raise welts and go on for hours, until our attention turned to Strat-o-Matic baseball and shooting hoops.
On visits to my Aunt Sadie’s house near Waycross, Georgia, I used to sit in her library/parlor and spend hours with my nose in her American Heritage Civil War volume with its amazing battle maps drawn by David Greenspan, who populated his maps with small hand drawn soldiers that I used to try to emulate in paper and ink.
I should mention at this point that growing up in the South in that time period, you’re constantly immersed in the civil war, whether its monuments and cannon in the town square, roadside plaques, stories of ancestors two-three generations removed who fought in the war, and/or ready access to well-preserved battlefields. I absorbed it all, and built a large collection of my own Civil War literature.
At some point, my father shared with me his interest in a pen and paper space exploration game being conducted by professional acquaintances. I was fascinated even though I saw little of the actual gaming.
My father turned out to be a bit of a gamer himself…purchasing the Avalon Hill bookshelf game of Panzerblitz. He may have sensed my interest in gaming and viewed it as a father-son thing…but he definitely introduced me to the world of Avalon Hill board games, and I went on to collect several – including Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Gettysburg, Patton’s Best and more.
We moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and from time to time, my mother would take us into Decatur to visit the county library. Just across the street was the Decatur Speedway, a full service hobby shop that introduced me to Airfix figures, Rocco military vehicles and more. My Airfix collection grew to include Romans and Ancient Brits, French Foreign Legion and Arabs, Robin Hood’s Merry Men, and plenty of WWII Brits, Americans and Germans.
And then one day, while browsing the shelves in my high school library, I came across Charles Grant’s The War Game, which was a seminal influence in terms of nurturing my miniature wargaming interest.
Later, I found Grant’s The Ancient War Game in the county library. Reading these books was when I realized you could apply rules and die to game with miniatures in a systematic way. Probably the first real “miniature wargame” I attempted was a Robin Hood versus Sheriff of Nottingham solo battle with unpainted Airfix figures using the “Rules According to Ral.”
By now, in my late teens and with access to my dad’s Corolla, I was also regularly visiting hobby shops around Atlanta where I was exposed to hobby magazines like The Courier.
This was a period of peak popularity for miniature wargaming in the U.S., with actual wargaming/hobby stores appearing in major malls in Atlanta, like the Sword of the Phoenix.
About this time, I found my miniature gaming interest bisected by the emergence of Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying. D&D became an obsession for the next few years, but when not fully immersed in killing orcs or slinging pizza, I came across a flyer in a hobby shop for the Atlanta Miniature Wargaming Society and showed up one Saturday afternoon. I was immediately hooked.
So that I didn’t have to beg/borrow figures for our weekly games, I raised John Brown Gordon’s Georgia Brigade in HO-scale Airfix plastics to help refight Civil War battles with S. Craig Taylor’s Rally Round the Flag rules. I played in a great WWII paratrooper game where we simulated the drop by throwing our Airfix troopers over our shoulders onto the tabletop. I was Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar, only to experience a critical shot that took out all three masts of the lead ship HMS Victory, stopping our entire division dead in the water. I played some great hidden movement WWII skirmish games with umpires. And more.
With college coming to an end, my roleplaying friends scattered and entering the world of work, and my own plans to relocate for grad school in the works, I then disconnected from both roleplaying and miniature wargaming. The figures and rules went into boxes, which remained out of sight until I was married, working, and enjoying this new thing called the Internet. The first thing I did was reconnect with all my old D&D friends and tried to run a roleplaying campaign on-line. All my players were now high level characters, with their own kingdoms and henchman, and I needed a way to quickly and easily resolve mass combats.
That’s when I discovered De Bellis Antiquitatis. At first I was hesitant…the Barkerese scared me away despite all the positive reviews. I needed to see what a game looked like, which is what inspired me to attend my first Historicon, the largest U.S. historical miniatures convention. I bought the rules and my first DBA army – Pre-feudal Scots.
Later I contacted Doug Rockwell, who invited me up to Timonium, Maryland to play my first DBA game….his Sub-Roman Brit knights rode roughshod over my Scots. Still, something about the game clicked, and I started collecting figures and connecting with other DBA enthusiasts through Yahoo and other on-line forums. The end result was the launch of Fanaticus, and my involvement with WADBAG, which is a whole story unto itself.
Having reentered miniature gaming through the context of ancient and medieval gaming, I began attending HMGS-East conventions semi-regularly, which also rekindled my interest in other periods. With my retirement from Fanaticus…I now have time to indulge those interests, which brings me to the present moment and this blogsite.
Looking back, I can’t say any one of the experiences described above was determinative. But all were important inflection points that contributed to my fascination with military history and/or with little miniature soldiers, and miniature war gaming emerged as the logical point of overlap between the two.