Wednesday, April 30, 2014


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

Sample Map
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!
Soviet T-54s
(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.


  1. We spent many an hour on the Rock playing Panzer Blitz and Panzer Leader. We also spent a couple of weeks playing Terrible Swift Sword but I don't think we ever finished it. Seems like we also tried one called Wooden Ships & Iron Men, maybe?

    1. Oh yeah, Wooden Ships and Iron Men, we did that one too. (I remember it well, somebody kept giving their ships ridiculous names. Which were good for a laugh.)

      I'd forgotten that you had been involved in our nefarious war gaming activities. The one time we got through an entire game of TSS (the one I mention above) was after you had PCSed I think.

      Good times!

    2. Just curious, do you remember how long it took to get through TSS? If I remember right (which sometimes actually happens) in 2 weeks we hadn't made it that far.
      Maybe we had too many hard-heads playing and arguing. It was you, me, Andy Andrews, Mike ? (always called him Ramen head for the curly blond hair) and Zorba.

    3. Mike Maguire, aka Mike from Philly in the story above. (Ramen head, heh!) (Double heh, Mike and Andrews were roomies right? Over in Bldg 623 wasn't it? Andy was definitely a hard head, so was Mike for that matter. And I've been known to be difficult from time to time. Just sayin'...)

      I do remember that time, it's not like we played everyday for two weeks, but yeah it took a while. And no, we didn't finish. The time I remember we pretty much played non-stop over a three-day weekend, Mike and Zorba were there, myself and this guy from the Deep South (heavy accent) tall with dark hair (no it wasn't you, your accent was more Oklahoma than Deep South). I cannot remember his name to save my life (and that bugs me, one of my few skills is remembering people's faces AND names, I remember his face though, in the story above I randomly assigned him the name Other Mike from Alabama, though he might have been from Mississippi, or Texas. And the name "Zane" is somehow stuck in my head.)

      Now in the incident I relate here, I recall that the two Mikes and I wanted to quit but Zorba said something about "Nope, we're playing this out to the bitter end." No doubt remembering that 2 week marathon where we didn't finish.

      Poor Zorba, he still wound up on the losing side!

      Were you still on the Rock when Bumpus and Sager showed up? I think they had been at George before they came to us, I know they were stationed together before the Rock. They were involved in the Third Reich game. Yup, Bumpus had the Brits, Sager had the Italians.

      Damn. That was an awful long time ago!

    4. Yes, it was Mike Mcguire. Thank you, my dynamic memory is now refreshed!!

      Okay, I'm not 100% sure of his first name but your southerner was probably 'Larry' Zaner. He was from Alabama and was a hard core Crimson Tide fan. He was in the last class I taught at Lowry. He had orders for Kunsan when he graduated but had a last minute order change to Kadena. Originally worked in CIRF.

      Yeah, I was there when Sager and Bumpus (sounds like a musical duo) arrived. I ended up regretting it but I actually roomed (double rooms w/connecting door) with Bumpus when they moved us to the remodeled barracks that had HVAC. Bob was a nice guy but a bit on the strange side. Lived in his own little world.

      And yes, that WAS a long time ago.

    5. Damn! It was Zaner and I'm fairly certain his first name was Larry. Good recall, Russ!

      Yup, Bob was a nice guy but he did live in his own world. Perhaps even his own solar system!

    6. I drive an hour each way going back and forth to work and this gives me lots of time to cogitate the whichness of the why. Sometimes I get answers to problems I haven't figured out and I got one today one the way home. Zaner's first name was Terry so we were both close. Another of the worlds great problems figured out!!

    7. Heh. When I got home from work today, the name "Terry Zaner" popped into my head. Great minds and all that.

      I'll sleep better tonight now that that one is solved!

  2. I never got into those as a kid but read a lot of the same books, played the standard games, but we spent most of our time outside and in the woods... Later in life, played the real wargames, so I'm not really a 'fan' of WOW and the other RPG stuff...

    1. We did spend a lot of time outdoors too. Haven't done the online gaming thing, not sure why. I guess I like having my opponent sitting across the table from me.

  3. My brother and I played Afrika Korps and Stalingrad. I might have those in the attic, but I know I have Panzer Leader, which I played once to ill effect

    1. Stalingrad, another good one. I never won that game, ever. No matter which side I played.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.