Sunday, February 17, 2013

Of Dice and (Tin) Men: The Thursday Night Group

    The second year of Medical School was a little easier, as the subject matter became more clearly relevant. Also, one of my classmates and I rented out a nice four bedroom condo right across form the Medical School (in suburban Farmington)... well actually, it had three bedrooms, plus a somewhat odd open space upstairs, evidently meant to be a family room or study. Mike and I erected wall sections between the pillars and installed a door, converting it to a 4th bedroom. We sublet the other two bedrooms to two incoming first year students, one of whom turned out to be from my home town. All three of them were good guys, and we got along very well, sharing cooking and shopping duties, and living in a very nice place for much less than it would have cost us for a dive somewhere else!. By this time, my friend from back home, Paul, had graduated from Lafayette college with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, gotten married, and was living in nearby East Hartford after taking a job with aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney.

   I did manage to get over to visit Paul and his wife about once a month. My Napoleonic figures were all back home, but I had my English Civil war Armies with me, plus my burgeoning number of small Ancient armies (see "Legio Quaternarius", the prior post in this series). We play tested a few sets of Pike and Shot rules over at his place - using Gush's WRG rules, Cavaliers and Roundheads, and Bill Protz's rules for the ECW. All of these were OK, but none of them really quite "did" it for us. Indeed, I would ultimately have to write my own Pike and Shot rules decades later (Band of Brothers, 2nd edition, with Ken Baggaley and much hesitance from my good friends, Jope Fish and Gavin Shanks) before finding what I really wanted in a set of rules for this period.

Some pics of my Mimifigs ECW  troops from the 1970's in action.

The Royalist army deployed.

With the forces of Parliament opposite.

The armies close!  IIRC, these pictures are actually from a game Joe and I played about 10 years ago, using "Anchor of Faith" by Piquet. 

Paul and I played our games first with the WRG Renaissance Gush rules.

View from behind the Royalist lines.

And from the Parliamentary side; gotta have hedgerows for an ECW battle!

Next we tried Cavaliers and Roundheads - a lot more bloody and decisive, but still not really what we were looking for.

The Cavalier cavalry attempt to drive off some Roundhead Dragoons. 

Closing to Musket range...

Bill Protz's rules came the closest (I have the blue covered 1st edition) to what we were looking for. 

The King's lifeguard about to charge with a swamp to its flank.

    At the end of the second year of Medical School, they again gave us 4 weeks to study for Part 2 of the National Board exams. Having learned from the previous year, this time I painted for three weeks and studied for 1 week (and did even better). That completed my core Ancient Armies for our gridded Ancients rules (Assyrian, Carthagenian, Republican Roman, Macedonian, Indian, Palmyran, Sassanid Persian). These armies saw a lot of play over the next 20 years. I even had Dave Sweet himself over to play a few times and he enjoyed the games and their tribute to the rules he and his dad had devised.

    The third year of Medical School was a huge improvement; a bit of an intimidating shift from the classroom to the bedside at first, but it rapidly became clear that I absolutely had made the right choice. Indeed, I was a bit surprised to find that I really enjoyed interacting with people, and quickly discarded any plans for a career focused on Research. I also became quite impressed with the ability we physicians had to harm people, not necessarily through errors or outright malpractice, but just in the everyday performance of our job; not even the most beneficial interventions are without some risk (well, except perhaps for eating better and keeping your weight down!). Although some rotations were certainly stressful and time consuming (making rounds at 6:30 AM with the surgeons on patients who were half asleep was interesting - I think they kind of preferred it that way sometimes, as they were too groggy to ask many questions, LOL!), overall it was vast improvement from the first two years.

    Around this time (start of my 3rd year of Medical School, 19880), Dave Sweet finished Law School and moved to the Hartford area to start his Law practice, and Joe Fish finished his tour of duty with the Army. My good friend, fellow wargamer, and former college roommate, Chuck, also wound up transferring to the University of Hartford from UConn, and took one of the rooms in our condo when one of the other medical students married and moved out.  I ensured that he actually graduated this time! As a result, Chuck sent me Mother's Day cards for about a decade there after as a funny way of thanking me for getting him through college. It certainly confused my future wife the first time she saw one come in the mail, LOL! Thus I was fortunate that  just as I stated to have some free time again, many old gaming friends were now available as well.  We played some Ancients games and some Starfleet Wars games in the unused Living Room of my condo over that time. I also enjoyed the classic FLGS, "War and Pieces" in West Hartford. Even back in the pre-internet era of the late 1970's, I tried to support the store by doing my large figure orders through them, but gave up as it seemed like they felt it was more of a chore than it was worth to them (which may have been true, I suppose). In any event, it was a fixture of the Connecticut gaming scene for more than 25 years. I was sorry to see it close in 2007.

    Dave Sweet also started up  a continuation of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign he had run in college, based on a sort of alternate late 1600's version of the islands off the coast of Maine (where Dave had worked as a camp counselor for several summers), centered on the island of Matinicus. Among others, this group included another of the former seniors from the original UConn wargames group, Rocco, now a newspaper reporter, the current State Insurance Commissioner (a pretty good contact for a future physician, LOL), and Joe Angiolillo, who has a number of boardgames designs to his credit. Eventually, it worked best for everyone's schedule that we customarily met on Thursday nights, thus becoming known as "The Thursday Night Group" (TNG), particularly in the annals of the broader events of the campaign World that Dave kept. The local ruler, the Archduke, the relic "The Iron Poker of Viazzo", and the calamity known as Taraka the Rakshasa stand out particularly from that time. One of the guys ran a "true" neutral (i.e., it's all about me, the rest be damned, LOL) character named Mark Rudd, after the activist of the same name. During the devastation accompanying his visit, Taraka gave Mark a powerful but dangerous magic item (a wand of Plague, I think), solely on the grounds that, as a true Neutral, he was bound to use it in a fashion that increased the misery in the world, thus serving the Rakshaka's ultimate purpose! He was not mistaken, as I recall. Joe Mike, who usually hosted the games at his home, had a Ranger as his main character, "Arrowsworn, son of Arrowroot", ior something like that, who was prone to lethal encounters. We used my collection of 25mm D&D figures for these games, and my Ranger figure was painted in a fashion that (inadvertently - I am NOT a baseball fan at all) bore a very striking resemblance to the Cincinnati Reds slugger, Pete Rose. As a result, the character was generally nicknamed "Pete Rose" during play!

    This was classic D&D, and thus most characters had a short lifespan; resurrection and reincarnation were often necessary to preserve characters of any reasonable level. My primary characters were Puremoon, a Lawful Good Cleric, who ultimately attained 9th level with the assistance of the local authorities. The area had become severely depopulated over the years by a series of disasters (the immense Tidal Wave created when the Iron Poker was used to create "Poker Bay" being only one of them), and the "magical" appearance of the Faithful Followers of newly raised Primates were one of the most efficient means of restoring the population! My other reasonably successful TNG character was a Fighter, who was reincarnated as a Griffon; this turned out to be very useful, and "Fleetwing" ultimately became a Baron, leading a large colony of Griffons established in the environs of Puremoon's castle! The only other memorable character of mine form that time was another fighter, Tisai the Dwarf; he was so named in response to the frequent request by creations of the DM to announce oneself. "Who goes there?" "Tisai, the Dwarf!".  Needless to say, this eventually annoyed the GM sufficiently that the character ultimately came to a Bad End.

    As I mentioned, Joe Angiolillo, one of the TNG, was a board game designer, who worked for SPI, Coleco, and was one of the four founding members of Nova Designs, which originated as Gameshop. Joe's contribution to the founding of the company was a fascinating game based upon Norse Mythology, "The Hammer of Thor", which members of the TNG helped playtest a few times. I thought it was a hugely creative game, and one that made use of a massive set of cards, many of which triggered events based upon Norse Mythology. However, it needed to be severely streamlined so as to play out is a reasonable period of time. I actually think this would be a great game to re-invent now as a PC game!

    The other game that Joe was assisting on a design for at that time was Axis and Allies, released by Nova games in 1981, and subsequently picked up by Milton Bradley. The only comment I made about this engaging game in development when we tried it at a session was to streamline it so that it would play to completion within 3-4 hrs, about the maximum for a game session, even for students!  They wound up decreasing the number of territories on the map by about 40%, IIRC, and that more or less did the trick. I must admit I like the game much better with the plastic miniatures provided in the MB Gamemasters series version.

Finally, another game produced by Gameshop/Nova was Al Leonardi's revolutionary design, "Ace of Aces". I must have been able to make it to the MFCA wargames convention in PA in 1980, probably the last convention I was able to attend for almost 20 years, because I remember seeing EVERYONE there playing this game. I bought a copy and Chuck and I played at least one flight (which only takes 15 minutes or so on average) daily over the next 6 months or so; I still have my 1st edition copies. Chuck had a better sense of spatial relationships, and would usually shoot my plane down three times out of four! It is hard to describe the game system if you have never seen it, but basically your planes start out facing one another at a distance. Each player then chooses a  maneuver, which gives them a page number to send their opponent to, whereupon both flip to the indicated pages, which shows a drawing of the enemy plane in relation to yours, and the process repeats. If your opponent maneuvers such that your plane is in his sights, you are shot down! It is an incredibly fun and fast paced game, which is being re- released.

    I also recall a game or two of Empire 2 at Joe's home during this time, and purchased both that and the 3rd edition when it came out in 1981. The third edition really seemed to go overboard with added layers of complexity. I have since had the pleasure of sitting with Jim Getz (co-author, with Scott Bowden) several times at dinners arranged by Bob Jones at various Historicon conventions. Suffice it top say that he has long since moved past Empire (Jim is a very creative individual when it comes to novel ideas for wargames, including the Horizon Movement concept of about 10 years ago). 

The box was really pretty, and the rules well produced, but for me they exceeded the complexity tipping point - and at this point, I was just beginning to exit my long phase of favoring complex rules. (Image, as well as others of rules in this post, is from Boardgame Geek) 

That is it for now... good gaming, all!



  1. Really have been enjoying your trips down memory lane. Would it be possible to provide rules' summaries for Wargamers' Guide to ECW and Cavaliers and Roundheads? I always regretted not purchasing these in the late '70s when they were regularly advertised in Wargamers' Digest but in high school, money was tight. Perhaps only for nostalgia purposes you could provide a sense for how these rules played?

    1. Jon,

      Glad you have been enjoying it. I can do a summary of those rules at some point; good idea!


  2. I remember Empire II and III. I played them but found the philosophy of the rules ("a simulation not a game") hard to swallow. I decided to stick with "Shako"... once it came out, that is.

    1. I would tend to agree with you, John. My usual rules at this point were still our own house rules, derived from Frappe! We'll get into some other influences later...

  3. Was the Thursday night group the one that later became the 'any night but Tuesday' group?

    1. Can't speak for what happened after I moved out of the area, but while I was there, the vast majority of the time it was indeed Thursday Nights, Joe!

  4. A most enjoyable post to read.I had Empire at one time but it was too much for me...