Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Remembering the Bronze Age of wargaming

In one of the blog threads that I follow over on Consimworld, we were having a little discussion about personal gaming history. The idea was to name the game that ‘got’ you back into gaming again – provided, of course, you had strayed from the True Path to begin with.

I noticed a number of the guys who responded fell out of wargaming either during or right after college. Many others put gaming on hold during that mid-20s-plus stretch when they were building careers and families. That got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing).

I never really stopped gaming at any point in my life, although I did go through a period of significant slow-down during the late 80s and early 90s. That corresponds roughly with what was for other folks their ‘family building’ phase. But not in my case. My main issues were career-building – and the general malaise in wargaming that struck after the fall of SPI.

As an official member of the Living Life Backwards Club (i.e. starting a family in my late 40s), the wife-and-kid issues weren’t in play. Rather, during the mid-80s (before the arrival of the Internet now, mind you) the place where I was living and working was a good 2-hour drive from ‘my’ FLGS and any kind of gaming scene.

And – adding to the problem – that distant FLGS was carrying an ever-shrinking line of what appeared at the time to be ever-growing games (like GDW’s Europa stuff) or TSR recycled flubs of classic SPI titles. I still had storage shelves stacked with old flatbox (and soapbox) titles from SPI – this was also before Ebay – but the new stuff just wasn’t very exciting for me. S&T Magazine was heading into its sub-par encounter with 3W ownership. It flat sucked being a wargamer holed-up in a backwater swamp who worked nights and weekends.

The industry itself caught some new energy in the early 90s, IMHO. I was very interested when Command Magazine started publishing in 1989. Ty Bomba’s mag produced a number of very interesting and playable games, and I think to an extent his XTR publishing venture played a role in reinvigorating the wargaming business.

The Internet, such as it was at the time, certainly helped re-engage some of us backwater gamers. Gaming bulletin boards and, shortly thereafter, Genie groups and the like started putting some of us grognards back into communications with our brethern. Jim Dunnigan served his short second tenure in charge of (then struggling) Strategy & Tactics, and those early incarnations of digital communications actually gave me an opportunity to do some editing work for him.

In 1992 I paid a visit to my buddy Keith up in Georgia. He showed me a game he’d recently purchased (while visiting the big city of Atlanta) called “Guderian’s Blitzkrieg”. It was the first game in what would become the Operational Combat Series from Dean Essig’s The Gamers. And it was sufficient to hook me back into gaming full-time.

Complete ‘re-engagement’ (and the shedding of much cash) I blame on the modern Internet. Without e-commerce, Yahoo Groups, Consimworld and company web sites, where would wargaming be? The same FLGS is still over two hours away. Most gamers I know are even more distant. Maybe with those Internet discounters hanging around a truly local FLGS might be feasible, but it’s hard to say. But it’s interesting how things work out, isn’t it?

20 years ago, who would’a thunk it?

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