Monday, August 25, 2008

War Games and the DIY Spirit

In his introduction to “War Games”, Don Featherstone makes reference to his age being one of “Do It Yourself”.

When you read this book, you really do have this point brought home to you again and again. One pictures the Author slaving away with plaster of Paris moulds, producing the odd few soldiers before the mould falls to pieces – perhaps the odd mould explodes because the plaster of Paris was imperfectly dried out. I was minded of the author grimly gripping his hard-won casting in a pair of pliers whilst doggedly grinding away at the abundant flash with a selection of rat-tail and jewellers files, probably before going on to modify some plastic Airfix ACW types into Sassanid Persians with only a razor blade and some Plastic Wood to get him through.

War gaming in this era was tough. Really tough, especially for people without a lot of money. Retired Brigadiers could afford the best of everything, but someone with a day job and access only to the local public library laboured under special handicaps. Materials were rudimentary, unsuited or roughly adapted from many other theatres of life, it would seem to me. Every man (and I do mean every man) was an island, vainly reaching out to his few others of like mind, making contact through Model Soldier and Model Railway societies. Writing on the topic were in Mecanno Magazine (or whatever), Home Florist or some other ill-adapted, non-speciality publication, but somehow the War Gamers persevered with their damp, sand covered tables and plaster of Paris scenery.

I should note here that the three main rule-sets offered, Ancient, Horse and Musket and Modern (ie, WW2) are by Tony Bath, Don Featherstone and Lionel Tarr respectively. Interestingly, Featherstone also provides a brief set of rules for what he calls “close wars”, or what you or I would today call skirmish gaming.

What I thought most interesting about the book though was how it was seen by the author in his introductory remarks. The edition that I read was that of 1970. The book had been in publication since 1962 and gone through seven editions, for every war gamer melting type-setters lead in his kitchen there were now one hundred war gamers now using professionally made product. In 1970, war gaming was a hobby that was clearly on the move, and really one can only look back now, some thirty-eight years further on with some amazement at the changes that have been wrought on the hobby since.

What really strikes you when you read this book is the handicaps that the war gamers of this period laboured under. They really did do it themselves. And that dedication to and perseverance with the hobby is what shines through this excellent little book. The rules are simple – some would say rudimentary – but are obviously products of a time when research materials were thin on the ground and not easily accessed. Again, one imagines the difficulties that these authors laboured under.

The internet has been the salvation of the hobby, with vast amounts of product of any kind available to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card.

The DIY spirit though, is well and truly moribund.


Fitz-Badger said...

You're right about the internet. It does give us ready access to all sorts of resources, products, and most impportantly, like-minded gamers for inspiration and information as well as camaraderie.
I'm not so sure about the diy spirit though. I see many examples all the time on various blogs of people converting, sculpting and casting their own minis, making terrain, writing rules, and on and on.

Bloggerator said...

Yeah, look, I'm probably overstating my case there.


Bloggerator said...

To clarify: I suppose that I was trying to make the point that we are very well serverd by our producers these days and that we do not have to be DIY people unless we *choose* to be. I was thinking (non-perjoratively!) about GW as an example of what is available out there for the "average gamer". Folks like "the Don" had to be DIYers, like it or no, for most of the basics of the game in a way that you or I do not have to be.

Steve-the-Wargamer said... excellent and well written review - it sums up my wargaming experience at the time almost perfectly; but my, wasn't it FUN!!

I made my own terrain, rules, and sometimes soldiers (in the way you describe - and yes they were as bad as you describe if not worse!!) - fought battles with wildly differing sides (Panthers versus Grants in the desert!??) but we had such good fun...

I'd say the catalyst for the growth of the hobby was "Wargamers Newsletter" though - it came as a great shock to find there were hundreds and thousands of other gamers out there! Pre Interweb, the letters page was essential reading!

Bloggerator said...

Its funny, as I read the book it wasn't really the rules that interested me, but the improvisational spirit that seemed to move him and others like him. That's what really summed the book up for me - and really, that is half the fun of wargaming; rolling up your sleeves, taking a trip to the hardware shop and getting on with it!



Anonymous said...

Excellent piece Greg.
Recently I was privileged to read the first issues of Wargames Digest (1957 onwards) produced/edited by Don F and Jack Scruby. There were 28 subscribers world-wide, and each issue was individually produced, with original photos glued into each copy (so 28 prints of each picture were required!), and battle maps were lovingly coloured in by Jack Scruby's kids I believe.
These pioneers kept the hobby alive, when their was so much adversity. Thank goodness they had the pioneering spirit.
Best regards
Phil Olley

Fitz-Badger said...

Yes, you're absolutely right about the necessity of diy back in the day (as the kids say - lol). Those guys were very creative and resourceful with a dedication born of necessity. My hat's off to them! :-)