Sunday, May 12, 2013

Of Dice and (Tin) Men: Europe Way back When

   I wound up being accepted into the Family Medicine Residency at Somerset Medical Center, in Sommerville, NJ, and started there in July, 1981. I was happy to be in this program, in a medium sized hospital affiliated with Rutgers, where the Family Medicine residents were the only house staff. Having seen the way things worked in a University hospital setting, I was convinced that a program where the Family Medicine residents do *everything*, all the time was a much better experience than one with excellent teaching but a lot more watching than doing; nothing subsequent has made me change my opinion in that regard. In any event, as a first year resident, on call in the hospital (and up most of the night) at least twice a week overnight, there really wasn't much time to do much except work, eat, and sleep. By now I was dating my future wife, to whom I proposed during a trip we took together to the Shenandoah valley. Of course, stops along the way included Gettysburg, Harper's Ferry, and New Market, along with the spectacular caverns in Lurray, and of course the Blue Ridge Mountains national park for some hiking. She accepted, perhaps unwisely, LOL, and we got married in August of my 2nd year of Residency. We're still happily together after 30 years, so she has learned to put up with me... and my "Marching Men", as she calls them. Long live the Empress!

   My first year in training, I don't think I painted anything... I was just too tired!  I did get together with my original CT group about once every 3 months for a game, but even there I had to be careful - I nearly fell asleep driving to game on Saturday once, having been up all night on call the Friday before; when you're on call every 3rd night, you pretty much are either on call Friday night, or are on call and work all day on Saturday or Sunday, so there's really no good time to travel! Anyway, the only other gaming I did that first year was a play by mail game of trade, exploration and conquest based in Europe and the New World during the age of exploration, set circa 1500, "Europe Way Back When". This was at a time when personal computers were rare, and very few people indeed had email, so it was all postal. Joe Angiolillo (see the previous post in this series) had nominated me to fill a vacancy in the game, so I commenced with playing the Golden Horde (Mongols). I reorganized and revitalized the Horde, and after a few turns was nominated and promoted to assume the control of the Hapsburgs. I think that by electing an inexperienced player to fill the vacancy of a powerful state, the other players thought that I would pursue a relatively passive approach. Hah!

    Now, if you know anything of this era, the Hapsburgs were probably at about the height of their power then. In addition to their holdings in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Hungary and Italy, the Low Countries were also part of their empire. Thus, along with Vienna, Prague, Budapest, etc, my territory also included the great cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brughes, and Brussels, among others. The design of the game was such that in the early years, the focus was on European resources and conflict, but seafaring nations could also launch exploratory expeditions to progressively further areas, as nearer once became "known". These expeditions were fairly expensive to undertake, requiring several ships, troops and cash, but had a good chance of finding new colonies, which could be founded (requiring additional transport, time and expenditures of course). There were a number of different kinds of colonies that it was possible to find, the types of course depending upon the region. Each type had their own characteristics and products, ranging from timber, to furs, to tobacco, sugar, spices, silk, etc. The success of these expeditions was determined by the stock market - one selected one of a dozen or so stocks for each expedition, and looking up the numbers for that stock on the day that the expedition was slated to return determined what if anything was found, and any losses suffered by the expedition; it was always exciting waiting to see what your intrepid explorers would discover.... and of course some expeditions vanished without a trace!

    My predecessor as Holy Roman Emperor had pursued a European Military strategy, and largely neglected exploration. This had been successful in the short term, but the design of the game was such that it was clear that failure to find, establish, develop, and exploit colonies would lead to major decline in the long haul. Thus, the Low Countries became the scene of intense exploratory activity. I had to do some horse trading with other sovereigns to kick start my New World territories, but before long I was an active competitor in North America. My explorations turned up a number of colonies in the South (Richmond, Roanoke  Charleston, etc) which produced Tobacco. This particular commodity was handled in a unique way when consumed back in Europe (which is when revenue was generated from the production of luxuries). The first resource of its kind consumed in a given city was only worth 500 gold pieces (very low - the highest fixed value assets were spices, aromatics and silks from the far East., at 5,000 GP per), but each additional resource of its kind consumed in the same city was worth 500 GP more, so the second was worth 100, the third was worth 1500, and so forth. All told, the maximum possible tobacco production from all colonies was 36/ year (turn). A given city could only consume two resources per unit population (? about 50,00 citizens?) per year. At the time of my ascending the throne as Kaiser, my largest city was Brughes, with a population of "5" (250,000 souls), and that was among the largest in Europe. The population of your cities could be increased by (of course) expenditures of money and resources, especially food. Larger cities generated more income, resources (for example, the Low Countries tended to produce Alum, needed, along with wool, to make the luxury Cloth) and troops, although having more, smaller cities was easier and cheaper to do.

    Anyway, to make a long story short(er), I managed to acquire ALL of the Tobacco producing colonies, and gradually increase the population of Brughes to 18 (900,00), easily becoming the First City of Europe, so that it could consume the entire 36 units of tobacco produced each year all by itself - the 36th unit consumed was thus worth 18,000 GP, and the average value of a unit of tobacco consumed at Brughes was 9,250 GP. Thus the entire crop consumed in that fashion yielded revenue of  333,000 GP per anum, a staggering amount. I had a lot of fun with this game over the course of about 5 years, before it finally died out due to declining player participation.

    The game required a lot of careful tracking of provinces, cities, towns, ships, colonies, resources and gold, as well as verifying the moves of two other players. Initially, I did this by means of a set of color coded index cards, one for each province or colony. Later, in 1984, I got my first computer, an Apple IIe. I had taken the first course for Computer Science Majors my last semester at UConn as an undergraduate; it was probably a good thing I didn't take it until then, as I really enjoyed it a lot, and might thus have gone into Computer Science as a career. As a result, I wrote a program in BASIC for the IIe to track all the above in the form of a linked list, which worked great. My next PC was a Windows machine about 10 years later, and it is perhaps not surprising that one of my two favorite computer games of all time is Sid Meir's COLONIZATION. (the other is the Heroes of Might and Magic series, especially HOMM 3).

Sid Meir's Colonization Screenshot from Wikipedia

        When I was in my 2nd year of Residency in Family Medicine, things were much better. Call dropped to  one night in seven, although it included primary responsibility for the ICU and CCU patients. By the third month in, I was also married, and that was going great, aside from the times when I wasn't home due to work. The enjoyable distractions of a new wife aside :-), I started painting again. Doubtless in part from my EWBW exposure, the next force up was a Renaissance Spanish one, using the oddly atmospheric 25mm figures by Hinchliffe (although their clothing style is really more appropriate to the period shortly before the Armada than the era of the Great Italian Wars). Of course, I still hadn't found a set of rules for the era that I liked yet... but when did that ever stop a wargamer from collecting a new Army?

A Spanish Tercio, with skirmishing Crossbowmen to the front, with Pikemen behind, Arquebusiers on the wings, and Sword and Bucklermen behind in support.. 

All of these are 25mm Hinchliffe figures.

That's 48 Heavy Pikemen, 48 Medium Pikemen, 48 Arquebusiers, 12 Crossbowmen, and 20 Swordsmen - 176 figures in all!

A rear view of the formation. 

...and a final side view.; King Carlos would be proud!


  1. Hincliffe like Minifigs did some great figures with lots of that unfathomable 'X' factor. Not nessecarily best poses etc but just felt right.

    176 figure Tercio is very impressive

    1. Agreed; for example the Spanish Arquebusiers have a certain arrogance/confidence of stance, for lack of a better word, that just seees suited to the Spaniards of the "Siglo de Oro" (Golden Age of Spain and Spanish Literature, roughly 1492-1660).

  2. Ahh, the play by mail games; it was indeed a different time. This was a fun post; especially since you mentioned tobacco! It's been 44 days since I put down my pipe; cravings are gone for the most part and all I have to do now is decide which figures to buy with all of that money that was going up in smoke.

    1. Excellent re: smoke free period, Mike.

      Yep it is ironic that as a newly minted physician, my "nation" made its fortune by getting everyone in the city of Brughes smoking those clay pipes! :-)

      I used to compose my moves at night when I was on call in the Hospital - you could rarely sleep anyway due to phone calls and or new admissions to the hospital, so it passed the time admirably.

  3. Hi Peter,
    A Great read, never new play by mail games but sounds great fun for the time.

    Nice figures to!

    1. Now days it would be done by email at least; I think my participation lasted about 5 years until the game broke up due to insufficient players remaining involved. IIRC, the moves were made monthly, and each represented ? 3 months (one season), so that would be about 20 years game time!

  4. Hi Peter,
    Civilization and colonization...wonderful souvenirs, how many hours spent? I prefer not to count! Very nice figures too, the colors are looking really great...

  5. Civilization is good, but for me "Colonization" really hit my sweet spot; I definitely don't care to think how many hours I have spent playing that! I will have to get the new version eventually... meanwhile, I just downloaded Medieval II (Which is closer to Renaissance, but that's fine with me!). Seems t work fine on my new Windows 8 machine, and at less than $10 with all the expansions, I couldn't pass it up now that I have a machine that can run it!