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.