Sunday, January 29, 2012

Old School Wargaming

I consider myself lucky.  I was a wargamer back in high school in the 1970’s and it was a great time to be a wargamer.  Avalon Hill cranked out about a game a year but they were awesome.  I still enjoy Panzer Blitz though it has become harder to finder opponents over the years.  When Squad Leader first came out I went to a game convention (about 70 guys) in Kalamazoo Michigan and I got to play with John Hill, the designer.  The game was Squad Leader in miniatures – using microarmor for the tanks and the counters from the game for infantry and gear.  That was the day I learned to respect the T-34 tank.  I had him autograph my rules – how geeky is that?  Back in those days game designers had followers and Squad Leader was a fantastic game to play back in the day – before the 20 supplements and the massive binders of advanced rules.    

SPI was an incredible company who turned wargaming into a production line (of sorts).  I will never forget playing Strategy I for the first time.  One of my first game purchases ever was Strategy and Tactics magazine (The Road to Richmond).  I had entered a model contest (at the age of 16 ) and had won second place (for the record it was a 15mm SdKfz 251/1/10 and it was incredible – thank you!) and had a gift certificate for the hobby store.  I got that game and magazine combo and spent hours trying to figure out how to beat Lee on the Peninsula.

At the time it was a rocking idea, to produce a game in each issue.  My copies got read from cover-to-cover because the articles were incredibly informative.  You didn’t just get the game in each issue, you got articles to give you the context of the game.  And some of those games were fantastic designs.  I remember playing Cobra and really struggling to meet the victory conditions as the Germans mounted stiff counterattacks.  I can remember breaking out the Siege of Constantinople an playing it for hours, just so I could wrap my hands around how siege warfare of the period operated.  SPI’s games were of moderate graphic quality in term of counters – but they were well researched and highly balanced (at least most of them). 

My gaming tastes changed of course.  I still have my white boxed edition of Dungeons and Dragons and really thrilled to what RPG’s brought into the mix of gaming.  I never got into the collectable card games.  Miniatures still thrill me.  I have a ton of Flames of War minis I paint but never seem to find the time to play.  I’ll address this in a future blog. 

But in the last few years my thoughts have been going back to Strategy and Tactics.  I really enjoyed that format – a game and supporting articles.  S&T is still around, but the format leaves me wanting the good old days of SPI.  I used to like the ratings of games by genre, and the projections of the games that were forthcoming.  The “feel” of the current S&T does not have me hearken back to the good old days for some reason. 

I have recently subscribed to Against the Odds.  ATO follows the same format as the old S&T – but focuses on battles where one side struggles against incredible odds.  I have been picking up issues over the last two years and am deeply impressed with the graphics quality of the games and the in-depth articles.  More importantly, the designers are sometimes the same guys that used to impress the hell out of me when I was much younger.  I’ve become so impressed with ATO, I’ve actually penned a couple of articles for them.  That says a lot – I don’t write a lot of articles, my focus is books.

I got my first subscription issue two weeks ago and I was like a kid all over again.  This issue was the Battle of Sluys in 1340.  One of the first battles of the 100 years war, I knew nothing about this battle.  Just like when I was younger, I found myself reading the issue from cover-to-cover.  Whoever said you can’t relive your youth is wrong – at least wrong if you are a wargamer. 

If you haven’t checked out Against the Odds – do so.  S&T is still out there and worthy of a look too…I’m just stating my personal preference is ATO.  For you old school gamers, it’s a real treat worth exploring.  How does that saying go, “there’s no school like the old school?” 


  1. Thanks for the info! I've been looking for a good wargaming magazine for a bit. "Armchair General" is too slick and modern and very shallow.

    Painting and not playing, I know about. I'm working on a whole reinforced cohort of a Marian Hegemony legion for Battletech (40 vehicle sand mechs). I also have my eye on either a Marian infantry legion, a crusader army, or a German Catholic army for Field of Glory; and I'm considering picking up Force on Force! I must be crazy.... ;)

  2. You can't keep an older gamer down. I like some articles in Armchair General - mostly the book and game reviews. Check out Against the Odds - it's worth a look.