Friday, 1 October 2004

Phil's History

It's always fun to think back about "the good old days" when wargamers carved their own miniatures out of ivory tusks, from a freshly slain woollen mammoth, in the snow, and had to rely on the Gods to throw the dice. Nevertheless, some personal history and anecdotes are, in my humble opinion, always fun to read. So, I'll take a shot at it, and hope that others will follow.

I first saw a proper miniature wargame in action when I was 11 or 12. This was somewhere in the late seventies, when a local club had some demonstration tables set up in the walkways of a shopping mall (Some years ago ago, I learned that this was the club run by Rudi Geudens in Sint-Niklaas, renowned veteran Belgian wargamer). When I came back home, I wanted to do the same.I do remember trying to recreate some of the look-and-feel of what I had seen by using plastic toy soldiers and plastic vehicles from the game Embuscades that I owned, and had played so many times.

Embuscades provided me with plastic vehicles to try out my first wargaming experiments.
Help came when one of my friends did get a board wargame for Christmas.The game was called Tank Commander. It had little plastic tanks, trucks, bridges, and a big square-gridded board. You could only move 2 tanks a turn, and a tank was destroyed when you had an enemy tank in the direct line of fire of two friendly tanks. Very simple, but fun.

The game Tank Commander. Simple, but fun.
This game inspired us to make our own variants (Embuscades on sea, using wooden ships we glued together), culminating in the grandiose "Who Conquers Europe?". We produced a hand-drawn map of Europe, gridded with squares, and measuring something like 120x150cm. I drew this map on blank computer print paper (when these were still chained together), conveniently borrowed from my dad's computer facilities at the university. The game used plastic soldiers, plastic tanks (from Tank Commander), plastic ships (from Sub Search, an MB game), and later we even added things such as oil pipelines, oil ships, mountain troops, etc. The first player to conquer 5 countries had won.

The plastic ships from Sub Search provided excellent ships for "Who Conquers Europe?"
The game was an amalgam of all kind of different mechanics, borrowed from games we knew. Tank combat was as in Tank Commander, but infantry soldiers eliminated each other by overrunning each other's squares. Submarines would shoot using the spinner from Sub Search, and so on.

This phase of designing our own games continued for a little while, always using the same 'engine'. I remember a D-Day game (using LEGO bricks for buildings), a Battlestar Galactica game, a game that involved trading routes across the oceans, ... . Sadly, I don't have anything left from this period (Update: see this blogpost for an early variant of Embuscades). A pity, since we actually produced real rulebooks to go with our self-designed games, typed on a classic typewriter.

Now that I think of it, I always "designed" new games, ever since I was a kid. I remember making an extended version of Monopoly; we also ran games using toy cyclists for running our own Tour de France; we had car racing games using matchbox cars - simple variants of rolling the dice and moving so many squares. I also often made existing games "better". E.g. I had a map for playing RISK, much bigger than the one in the original box, with many more territories.

This whole phase sort of ended when we discovered our first Avalon Hill game, Afrika Korps when we were 14. This must have been in 1980 or 1981.

To be continued ...


  1. Bart, a question:
    Are we allowing replies to post such as this one?
    (This is actually just to test it out).
    Are these things deletable? Can outsiders post then as well?

  2. I'm honoured...
    Rudi Geudens
    BTW, I've converted the battlecry system to 15mm ACW (but 25's could also be used) and we have been playing this at TSA over the last couple of weeks:
    The second game saw 21 infantry, 3 cavalry & 3 artillery "regiments" in action on each side of the field. After only 2 sessions, the players are already very familiar with the system (including the possibility to create "brigades" for movement). The latest game was concluded in 2.5 hours (6 victory points being the objective).