The Blog of Michael T. Murphy and his lifelong obsession with "little army men" and their imaginary glory, miniature wargaming, and other things...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A brief overview of my gaming history.... Part I

Part I: In which the author discovers that as a child he liked playing with toy soldiers and had a strange keen interest in history and all things militarily silly....

First off, I would like to thank Mark Kinsey, of the blog: "Daddys Little Men", for the inspiration behind this to finally get it up and on site. I had been thinking about this for a while now and like usual, put the idea on the backburner. It was Mark's post that made me say, "I need to do the same thing". You can find more about his gaming history here: http://daddyslittlemen.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-gaming-history.html

Since this is a pretty long post (with text AND pictures!), I think you might want to get a drink and get comfortable, let me know when you are ready to proceed...
Ready?, Right then. Off we go!

I've been a gamer in some ways, for longer than I can think of.
Well...I have to take that back. I've been a gamer for a long time.
To be honest, I've always been interested in "toy soldiers", "little army men", etc...and even to this day I have quite a collection of painted (and mostly unpainted), figures, and all the sheer magnitudes of accessories that goes with them: vehicles, aircraft, terrain, scenics, buildings, rules and charts, and more...always more.
From my very first days that I can remember, I've always had "toy soldiers". As a wee young boy, I can tell you that they were the generic "green army men", that we are pretty much familiar with. But boy did I have them. LOTS of them...At one point I had two brown paper grocery shopping bags full of just men, (not to mention tanks, helicopters, trucks, jeeps, guns, etc...). I think at one point I probably had a larger more powerful force than certain third world nations.

And they fought...

Lord how they fought...

Massive battles fought in the yard...Walls and fighting positions made out of freshly mown grass, and roads scraped into dirt. Rivers, and trees...rocks to fight behind...the ever present dog hearing the noise and curious as to what is going on, and blundering with his big paws into the middle of my battlefield, and destroys my destructive masterpiece.

Gods...when I think about how many green army men that I sent to their imaginary deaths in combat, I would've been charged by court martial as a butcher, and hanged. In fact, in todays "enlightened educational systems", some overconcerned school "child guidance expert" would've been horrified to see me throw masses of riflemen in futile charges against enemy machinegun nests, the little plastic bodies piling up...They would've said that I regarded life as "cheap", and that I was needing "special attention and medication". (They like to give kids pills these days to zombify them, instead of disciplining them...), and even though I would've protested that "Hey! It worked for Stalin!" That would've gone over their ivory towered heads...
But enough about child psychology...and back to toy soldiers and stuff...

When I was about nine, I went with my mother one day to the K-Mart off of Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond Virginia. It was an amazing place it was. A store that was well lit and friendly and you could see all the stuff and not get lost. (Richmond used to have two massive department stores called Kings and Carousel, and I got lost in Kings one time...it wasn't a pretty sight...) But it was that K-Mart that I got sight of them for the very first time...
And in the end I came home with two boxes of them...

A box of the Kaisers boys with their bolt action rifles and their uber cool spiky helmets, (which I always thought that they could use as a last chance weapon, sort of like a bayonet if needed be...) vs.....

The United States Marine Corps ready to storm ashore a Japanese held island somewhere in the South Pacific and lay awesome carnage onto the little yellow SOB's...Semper Fi Baby...

Now, you may be wondering "Why on earth would he have WWII US Marines FIGHTING WWI German Infantry (Circa 1914-1915) ???"

The answer? ....Don't worry about it. 
Really, don't. See as a small child (9 years old), some of my battles with these guys would make historical revisionists either green with envy or weep in shame....

No...truthfully, it was the fact that A: I was 9 years old, and they were soldiers....SOLDIERS by golly! Ready for combat and ready for action, and all they needed was a charismatic leader like me to lead them to victory and glory, (well the USMC at least...the Huns were there to make a show and to get brutally taken out courtesy of the M-1 Garand...)
Also, it should be said that while K-Mart had them, they didn't have a very big selection, at the time, so you got what you could get and you sucked it up and waited for more.

And more would come...over the years I would pick up WWII German Infantry, (they were slimmer and better armed than their WWI daddies), British Eighth Army, Russian Infantry (these were purple for some reason), WWII Japanese, (Finally! The guys to fight the Marines that were waiting to storm ashore on that island), along with Paratroopers, Commandos, and "Combat Infantry"...(which I could never really figure out WHICH side they belonged to, other than perhaps either US or Britain because they were green)...
And of course I would get tanks, and jeeps, and helicopters, etc from Toys R Us, or K-Mart, or whatever...It didn't matter if they were WWII Japanese with a King Tiger and two Leopard 1's in support vs WW1 British Infantry and WWII USMC backed up with Eighth Army support weapons, and fielded a US M60A1, M551 Sheridan, and a JS-II for support, (along with a UH-1 Huey and P-51 to make those wonderful strafing runs)...by golly, these were men of war! Ready for action! Ready to march forward and to conquer or die.
I've come to realize after all of these years that I think my cavalier attitude on sending troops into certain doom and destruction on the miniature battlefields that I play on today were developed on the "training grounds" with Airfix.
I am rarely reluctant to withhold men from the grinder. In my mind, it's "They know what they have to do, and they understand."
Then again, I think I would never have had any problems launching an ICBM at a country on orders of the president...I would've turned my switched, and pushed the button...WOO HOO!!!!

Sorry, went off on a little tangent there...

Deep down though, something was bugging me as a kid. And that was the fact that there had to be something more to do with these figures than send them once again into the slaughterhouse. In fact, somewhere in my mind, my brain was crying for "More!".
At the time I was a WWII nut, (well in my mind I was). Growing up, I had soaked my brain in every issue of "Our Army At War, featuring Sgt. Rock and Easy Company", comics, along with "The Losers", "The Unknown Soldier", and one of my favorites "The Haunted Tank"...
I had also read "Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos", but in reality, they didn't do anything for me, as Marvel Comics had a bad sense of making every character have some type of special superhero feat or individualism which set him off from the other one, (Kind of like the X-Men of today, the "Howlers", were the X-Men of WWII...) Strangely enough, also like in todays Marvel Comics, you never really saw anyone die in Sgt. Fury. His men would battle the Nazi goons through 10 pages and with bullets and explosions, but with the exception of some character baddie etc, the body count for "WWII according to Stan Lee", was pretty low...
DC on the other hand...there was lots of it...GI's and Krauts shook off their mortal coil at an alarming rate. It was pretty much guaranteed that just about any new character introduced into a storyline in Sgt Rock was going to buy the farm. Some did survive more than one issue, but most of them didn't...
I also watched every war movie that I could at the time. CBS used to do late night movies back in the days of local programming, and usually on Friday or Saturday nights at 10:30, I would sit up, and fight to stay awake to watch Kelly's Heroes, or Tora Tora Tora!, or something.

And school was no different. When my class would go to the library to get books, most of my classmates would get thin books on sports, cars, or if you were a girl, you would get a book on horses...Horses were popular with girls back then. I never figured out why, but then again I was too busy thumbing through the American Heritage Book "Air War; Against Hitlers Germany", and looking at the pictures of flak damaged B-17s that barely made it back from a run over the ball bearing plant at Schweinfurt, or the famous picture of the B-24s making their low run over the Ploesti Oil Fields to pay attention to "why girls liked books on horses."

As I grew older and moved to Texas, I discovered the temple to consumerism, also known as "The Shopping Mall". It was at "Toys By Roy", (Later known as Kaybee Toys), that I discovered these...


They were sitting on a shelf and back then they were known as "Bookcase games", due to the fact that they could be stored on a bookcase and actually in a sense sometimes looked like a nice set of 2 volume boxed hardbacks, (if you could get past the swastika, or some other symbol or name)...

Instead of soldiers, they had little cardboard counters....hundreds of them....

So I was hooked...

In those days it was hard to find anyone my age, (actually anyone), that would play these games with me. Living in a small town in Texas at the time, one had to understand that "If'n it weren't high school football, then it was something else below the line of social acceptance." So needless to say a lot of my games, (almost all of them) were solo...

I learned how to read rules, and move, and stack counters, and I played many a horrible solo game against myself....
But I had fun...

And sitting there next to Panzerblitz and Panzerleader was one that called out to me, like a siren does to a ship at sea....


"BUGS MR RICO! MILLIONS OF THEM!!!
I spent many an hour in solo games pitting the Mobile Infantry against the Bugs, (and sometimes The Skinnies), and enjoyed it...
Still...
And for Christmas, I got this....

 

Oh my Dear Lord...

Now I could spend hours and hours MORE playing a large wargame...
With nobody....
And I opened it up and looked at the board...

From the Atlantic to the Urals...Glory would be mine....
And so I spent many a long hour, afternoon, evening, weekend days, WEEKENDS...reading, re-reading, re-re-reading the rule book which explained everything (though sometimes not very well as in the Uboat attrition rules), and playing against myself and refighting WWII.'
Come to think of it, I don't think I ever really finished one of the Third Reich games that I started. Somewhere eventually, I think one side of me would throw my hands up in the air in quick surrender fashion (brought on and coming into vogue in Italy in 1943), and call it a day.
But it did "feed the strange need" I had for a while....
And even though there were "BIG" wargames out there....not all of them were A: Affordable to a young boy, B: Understandable and enjoyable...or C: Playable....
Ladies and gentleman to illustrate my previous point, allow me to introduce you to exhibit "A":
 



















NATO Division Commander by SPI (The Brainchild of self proclaimed military and international affairs expert James Dunnigan, (more on him later)).... So big...so unplayable....I still have a copy on my self somewhere that was given to me...


However Avalon Hill was not to be outdone no....

They came up with their own Colossus Frankenstein thing....




And by now I was thoroughly confused....but still trying....


To be continued in Part II......

2 comments:

Paul Scrivens-Smith said...

Bravo, the early bit reflects much of my own history although we went from plastics to discovering TTG in Daybrook.
looking forwards to part II

Marauder 6 said...

Sounds like me growing up. I remember a HUGE Squad Leader game that took up the entire floor of my apt bedroom in Germany. Those were the days.