Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Of Dice and (Tin) Men; War College

    I started college as a Freshman at The University of Connecticut in 1973; I had written a short article for the original New England Wargamer's Association Courier earlier that year about a point system for the Frappe! rules (see previous posts), which lacked same, and in it mentioned that I would be starting at UConn in the Fall. A few weeks into my first semester, there was an unanticipated knock on the door of my dorm room. Upon answering it, I encountered a Senior who had come looking for me. It seems he had read the article, and went to the Bursar's office and looked up my campus address. Obviously, this was in the days before privacy was a big issue! Anyway, the guy in question was Joe Fish; we've now been friends and playing together off and on for 39 years!  Hard to believe!

    It turned out that there was an informal group of about a half dozen guys, unfortunately all Seniors, who played wargames a few times a month at UConn, usually in a corner of the cavernous ROTC Hangar (one of their number was the student Colonel of the ROTC organization). For Napoleonics, they used Fred Vietmeyer's "Column, Line, and Square", which were very popular back then; indeed, it was an unusual issue of The Courier that didn't have some kind of CLS related article. It was already out of print, but I had previously written directly to Fred and obtained a photocopy of the rules, that he made for me personally at his local library. I still have that copy in its plain black report style binder (hence no photo of this one), as well as a letter from Fred. I was already familiar with the rules as a result. [Although still long out of print, you can download a free copy here, if you like]. CLS uses a (nominal) 20:1 figure; men ratio. As my own troops were effectively 40:1, this meant that I could easily field two of my units as one CLS unit, so several hundred of my figures made the trip up to Storrs and fought in a number of games. At 36 infantry per battalion (and 6 -10 Cavalry per squadron), CLS units were BIG! This also started my shift into "Historical" organizations as opposed to standardized ones for all combatants (I later shifted back to standardized organizations after about 20 years!) CLS is a very bloody rules set; the castings are removed from the table rapidly once they engage in combat!

    Memorable among those games was the time that the newly painted, green coated Irish Legion in French service met an Irish regiment of the British army on the battlefield. Both marched straight for one another, and closed to musket range. Thereupon, their respective commanders declared that the men of both regiments had exited the table arm in arm, headed to the nearest pub for an epic drinking session.... but that the next time they met, it would be a fight to the death! Another time during a game, the British players pulled out Bicorne hats made from Newspapers, and  clapped them on their heads. Yep, it was a *very* stuffy group indeed!  :-)

    Then there was the time when we were rather quietly playing a nice little tabletop wargame in our little corner of the big, open space of the Hangar, whilst a martial arts class occupied much of the rest of the building; the majority of the participants in said class were of the female persuasion. Now recall, this was just after the deeply divisive Vietnam War had finally ended (my class in HS was the last to be given draft numbers in the lottery, but the first in many years where none of us were called up). Anyway, a group of these young ladies trooped on by our game after the class, looking rather disdainfully at our harmless endeavor, and proclaimed, with a decided sniff (no gamer funk, LOL - this was post hippie era, and we showered), "How Militaristric!" As opposed, of course, to completing an hour long class in combat designed to break bones, dislocate joints and the like. Talk about "too many boobies!" Or maybe just plain boobs.  :-)

    Also memorable from that year was the Medieval campaign for the French Throne, with each of us playing a Noble house/province and its pretender... except Joe, who played the evil Viking raiders. We had gold used to buy mercenaries to augment the limited numbers of very powerful armored knights raised by our feudal levies, the battles being fought with Chainmail.  IIRC, I had the Dauphine, which you might think would give me a leg up as pretender, but did not. Lots of diplomacy and skull-duggery involved!

Chainmail, first published in 1971, and authored by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. In addition to the Medieval battle rules, it had a Fantasy supplement, plus a jousting game, which we played several times in my home town wargames group. In searching through my old rules for this post, I discovered that I have no less than THREE copies of these rules!

    On another occasion,  a group of us made a "road trip"  from Storrs to Pine Plains, NY, for a tour of Minifigs USA, guided by Steve Carpenter and George. The new Minifigs were a huge step up from the Scruby figures I had been using up to that point, and thereafter most of my new figures were Minifigs for the next 10 years or more.  I also started my first new period shortly thereafter, the English Civil War, using their figures.

    My ECW armies I did with LARGE units, based upon the organizations in "Cavaliers and Roundheads" (by Jeff Perren and Gary Gygax again, published in 1973) and "A Wargamer's Guide to the English Civil War" by Bill Protz; 40 infantry or 18-20 Cavalry per Regiment. My ECW troops resided on the top of my Bureau at school, growing as I painted new regiments. After all, it pays to "advertise" for new opponents! I've been posting pictures of my ECW troops recently, with more to come. My Royalist ECW army was the only army I've ever entered into (and won) a painting competition, back around 1977.That mostly just proves how much everyone's painting has improved since those days!

    Another result of meeting Joe and the wargames group at UConn was meeting Dave Sweet. It turned out that both Dave and Joe attended High School in Bristol, CT. Dave was then a senior at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He and his Dad Charlie Sweet had also featured prominently in the pages of The Courier over the years. Dave stropped of at UConn for a CLS game in the venerable ROTC Hangar one evening, and that lead to invitation too the group to attend a game at the Sweet family household, over Christmas (or maybe it was Spring?) break. But that is a story for another post all by itself, which will be forthcoming!

   Now, lest you think that I was busy wargaming myself into flunking out, nothing could be further from the truth. I was admitted as part of the excellent Honors program at UConn, and  taking a slew of Honors courses (including Honors Organic Chemistry as a Freshman).A few of the guys in the Honors program liked board games - I played a couple of games of Risk, Diplomacy, etc., with them, but none of them seemed interested in miniatures.  I had an Appendectomy in November of my first semester, which kept me out of classes for 2 weeks. At the time, my Dad told the surgeon to be careful, as he would be operating on a future physician. What the heck was that about? I wasn't going to be a doctor; I was going to be a Chemist, Physicist, Historian, Marine Biologist,Writer - or whatever... not a Doctor! 

   Aside from meeting new gaming friends, the best thing about college was the four years I spent in the UConn Marching Band (and the pep band for basketball games my senior year 1976-77, this being long before UConn became a national basketball power). Playing in the band (Baritone Horn) was work, with practices 5-6 days a week for 90 minutes or more, but it was a blast. I even got to tour Europe for three weeks with the Band in May 1974, a bit of which is related in my post on Bavarian Infantry earlier this year. We also did a record album every year. I have to say that, for a Napoleonic enthusiast, our uniforms were pretty cool, too! We had royal blue heavy cloth jackets with white lapels, white cuffs, and white collars (piped royal blue), and large silver buttons on the lapels and cuffs. The pants were black, with a wide royal blue stripe down the outside seams, piped white. The best part of the uniform, though, were the short bearskins we wore, with dark blue "fur", ornamented with short red stand up plumes at the left side. One of the other guys on the same floor of the dorm where I lived the last three years played the Trombone in the band, and we became very good friends, even though he wasn't a gamer. Near the end of our senior year  I made Tom a 54 mm model of himself wearing the Band's uniform, and holding his trombone, with a mug of beer along side (I used a plastic Old Guard Bandsmen figure as a start for the conversion). Speaking of Napoleonic, the drum major wore a suitably flashy uniform in "reversed colors", i.e., white jacket with blue facings, complemented by a tall white bearskin with blue colds and plume. I think the Band's present uniforms are pretty ugly by comparison! Although I wasn't a big drinker, I can attest that a pint of brandy fit very comfortably inside the bearskin for safe keeping while performing, marching or otherwise! I will also observe that, even with modern dyes, the red color of the plumes would run horribly if the feathers got wet, and we played in the driving rain  more than once. Oilskin covers aside, I can only imagine what happened to the colors of the plumes actually used in the Napoleonic wars when it rained!  That aside, I still prefer my Napoleonic troops in parade ground perfect uniforms, as unrealistic as that might be.

    In any event, my first year of college passed, and the rest of the UCOonn wargames group (all seniors) graduated and moved on, Joe ultimately to a tour of duty in Germany as a Lieutenant in the US Army. Thereafter, I did almost no wargaming at college for the next 2 years, aside from painting more troops in my spare time. I played Napoleonic games, D&D, and board games (Cosmic Encounter!) back home on the weekends at times, but mostly during school breaks, as Paul and Chuck had now moved on to college themselves, Paul at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and Chuck at the Stamford Branch of UConn (thus he was living at home for the first two years).

    One game we did play some of at college  (on the floor of our dorm rooms) was Lou Zocchi's "Alien Space" Most of my friends were big Star Trek fans, as was, and am I.  From Board Game Geek "this 1973 classic uses (more or less) the same game system as his [later] Star Fleet Battle Manual. Including alien empires that sprang from his own creativity, these exotic starships carry such weapons as the Blazer, Nytron Lance, Tentical Beam, Magma Beam, Proton Torpedo, Javelin Torpedo, and the infamous Gapper Zapper! The game was intended for play with miniatures, and needed only eight pages of rules, eight ship damage charts, and a couple of pages of weapons templates. The game is played on a large surface with cardboard counters marked with a ship picture and a compass circle. A piece of string is passed through these tiles and knots are made at the 3, 5 and 6 feet marks. A record sheet inserted in a clear holder shows ship characteristics and a grease marker is used to mark damage. Players physically move their ships by measuring distance with a ruler. During combat, player must estimate their firing angle. The string is pulled along that angle and the enemy ship is hit if the string passes over it." Each of the eight ships had it's unique strengths and weaknesses, and often a unique weapon. Because all the players had to write their orders and the exact angle that they would fire from at the end of the (simultaneous) move, you had to be good at anticipating the moves of the other ships in order to hit them, making the game quite challenging!

    Speaking of Science Fiction Naval gaming, the year after I finished college (i.e. 1978), the Superior Starfleet Wars rules and miniatures were released. We started collecting and playing with those marvelous ships, each of us taking a different one of the five Starfleets (OK, well, I took TWO fleets, LOL). Charlie had the Aquarians, Chuck the Entomalians, Paul the Terrans, and I had the Avarians and Carnivorans. Now sold as the Galactic Knights range, I have many other posts about these ships on my blog already, with more to come, eventually.

The original boxed set, released in 1978, which came with one destroyer model from each of the Five fleets (photo from the Starfleet Wars blog).

Hope you didn't all find this too boring, as I have still more to inflict upon you!   :-)



  1. I want some more details on Starfleet Wars! :)

    Just kidding; and I'm enjoying your personal wargaming history.

    1. Glad of it. I'll try to add a bit more about SFW in the appropriate section. As you can see, I'm pretty long winded! :-)

  2. Column, Line, & Square... check.
    Chainmail... check.
    Baritone Horn... check (add trombone and tuba)
    Brandy in the busby... no
    (Geez, for a moment I thought you were me!)

    1. John,

      That's funny re: brass instruments. In all honesty I was anything but a heavy drinker; indeed, I probably drink far more now than I did in college. I managed to get drunk exactly once, and completely accidentally, as a Sophmore. Tom, his roommate, my roommate and I were watching the UConn-UMass game on TV (it was being played about 200 yards away, and the signal beamed from the top floor of our dorm, which was the tallest point between Hartford and Boston. we were playing penny ante poker, and drinking beer (which I don't even like). Over the course of thee hours and a few dollars changing hands, I think I got up to nine beers... far more than I had ever had before. I felt great until about the last 1/2 of #9 - whereupon vertigo ensued, followed by the inevitable worship of the porcelain throne for an hour or two, followed by a 2 day hangover! Why anyone would ever want to experience that more than once, I have no idea, but I've never come anywhere near that much alcohol again, nor do I ever intend to!

      As to the Brandy in the Busby, well, that was strictly for "Medicinal Purposes"; it gets darned cold in the second half of a football game in New England, especially those held in Maine! :-)

      Oh, and, among the many professions I considered, at least back in High School, was the Ministry, and I've been a Deacon of our church in the past.

  3. Nice trip down memory lane, Peter.

    Almost forgot that I was the 'evil' Viking. Some thing never change.

  4. Very enjoyable article - i too have some personal stuff from Baron Veitmeyer, one letter, but special is a postcard he sent me with a French Revolutionary Voltiguer with a pike for a weapon and a chicken stuck on it as a product of recent foraging! Reminds me I ought to scan it in and post it to the VFW blog. (interesting comments from the "militeristic" ladies leaving their martial arts practice.) Pass on the Sci fi though - never have had much interest in gaming it though loved the shows and the movies. Kind of sad their is nothing decent on or even on with s Star Trek theme these days.

    1. The postcard sounds like a classic; you definitely should post it!

      I enjoy occasional Sci-Fi naval games as a change of pace... and besides, the Starfleet Wars models are just too cool to resist!

    2. Yes I definitely need to post it (the postcard) on the blog!

      Have you seen the new Star Wars X-wing game I here its a lot of fun!

    3. No, I haven't seen it. At this point, with probably 100 of the Superior Starships total. I'll really only look at rules that I can use those ships for. Doesn't have to be specific for them, like Galactic Knights; there are Full Thrust adaptations for them as well.