A long, long time ago I became the proud owner of that item depicted above. It was my very first Avalon Hill war game (Kriegsspiele in German).
My best friend back in those days was a chap who I'll call Freiheit, for that is how we referred to him back then. He introduced me to this hobby and the two of us spent many an hour (and many a dollar) re-fighting World War II. (And the Civil War, and World War I and...)
There was even a "new game smell", I can't really describe it. It had something to do with the heavy cardboard the unit counters and map were made from and the ink used to print them.
|Sample Unit Counter Sheet|
Ah, hexagons, we love them!
Learning a new game could take quite a while. Freiheit and I spent many a day studying the rule books for these games like a lawyer studying for the bar. Woe betide the player who did not realize that, "Yes. You can drag your artillery into those woods on that hilltop. But Rule 25a states that they can only fire at units immediately adjacent!"
Rules lawyers. We didn't hate them, we were just annoyed that all of our brilliant plans were drowned in a sea of rules. But once you learned those rules, most games were very similar as to the mechanics of movement and combat. They became almost second nature.
Eventually we discovered that there was another war game company "out there". An outfit called "Simulations Publications Inc" or simply "SPI".
Both companies had their own in house magazines, The General for Avalon Hill and Strategy & Tactics for SPI. Yup, had subscriptions to both. Couldn't live without them. (Which may explain why I didn't date much in high school!)
The greatest thing about Strategy & Tactics is that every issue came with a game! (Be still my beating heart!) The games in the magazine were usually pretty good. Strategy & Tactics also made a point of covering current military affairs. (I was one of the few kids my age who knew that the "Kama River Truck Plant" in the Soviet Union was a major (if not the major) producer of tanks for the Red Army. (The company I worked for before joining the Air Force sold a bunch of machines to the Russians. They all went to, you guessed it, the Kama River Truck Plant. "For agricultural stuff," the management said. "Bullsh!t," the workers said. Hhmm, perhaps I should not have mentioned "But they make tanks there." Meh.)
|Made in the US... made in the US... made in the USSR!|
(With apologies to The Beatles)
The General specialized in articles about Avalon Hill's games. Tactical and strategic tips, replays of games between really good players and articles about upcoming "soon to be released" games. (Which I also, simply had to have!)
Now my enjoyment of war games stemmed from my love of military history (which I devoured from the time I learned to read) and enhanced my enjoyment of that subject. I cannot get enough military history. Clausewitz. Jomini. Sun Tzu. Frederick the Great. I've read all those.
David Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon I have probably read 20 times. Each time I learn something new (well it is a pretty thick book!)
My enjoyment of war games continued throughout my service in the Air Force. Five of us on Okinawa got together to play The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
Each of us controlled a country: Britain, the Soviet Union, Italy, Germany, France and the United States. Now if you count those up, that's six countries, and you said five players?
Well, one guy controlled France and then later the United States. It was rare, very rare for France to last beyond 1940. One of my best buds and I controlled the Axis Powers, he was Italy, I was Germany. We decided to not go by the standard rules but let the players indulge themselves diplomatically.
It was odd seeing Britain and Italy allied early in the war. It was odder still when the Italian Army stabbed the British in the back in North Africa. Along the lines of "Go ahead and go into Greece, we'll keep an eye on Egypt for you."
The guy controlling Britain and the guy controlling Italy had been best friends for a long time. They'd been stationed together at their last assignment. It was a couple of months before they started speaking again. (Poor Bob, he never did live down the fact that he lost Egypt to the Italian Army. Wasn't a German within miles of the place either!)
Another game we played on Okinawa was even more intense. Though no friendships were damaged and no fisticuffs were engaged in.
Terrible Swift Sword was the name of the game. Produced by SPI it was a massive game of the Battle of Gettysburg, three separate maps and each unit on the map represented a single regiment or artillery battery. Think from 200 to a 1000 men in a Civil War regiment and 4 to 6 cannon in a battery.
Our dormitory rooms being not so big, we couldn't play the entire game. However, the struggle for Little Round Top could be played on one map. So four of us got together and played the game. Fighting for the North would be Yours Truly and my buddy Mike, from Philly. Apropos we thought. Controlling the Johnny Rebs would be Other Mike, from Alabama, and Zorba from New York.
Uh, Zorba? From New York?
Yeah. His real name was Pappas, a Greek kid from upstate New York. So of course we called him Zorba. Said he didn't mind fighting for the South as he thought taxes in New York State were far too high. (Okay, he had a point there.)
|Terrible Swift Sword map covering the Round Tops|
Unlike real life, the 20th Maine didn't save the day. They were pretty much destroyed on the forward slopes of Little Round Top by a couple of Texas regiments from Hood's division. On the last turn, with our last two regiments, Mike and I drove Other Mike's and Zorba's vastly depleted 15th Alabama off of the key "victory hex" and just survived the Southern onslaught.
Other Mike could not believe that "his boys" had been blown off the hill and forced to retreat by "a buncha blue bellies from Pennsylvania." Mike from Philly said that "his boys" had been fortified with an emergency shipment of Philly Cheese Steaks that very morning and were ready and raring to go!
Okay, so we didn't behave correctly in an historical sense. Though General Meade (who commanded the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg) was from Philadelphia, in my readings about the battle, nowhere are Philly Cheese Steaks mentioned. Just hard tack. And tepid water. Yummy.
So that was one of my very first hobbies. I shall write about this topic again. I still enjoy a good (simulated) battle.
I've even commanded a carrier task force back in the day. Seemed simpler than in real life! On the living room floor. On paper.