True Stories 10: Bad Luck and Trouble

Bad Luck

Wargamers are prone to excessive pessimism or the exact opposite. I used to play with a man who had an unnatural fear of bridges, because once he’d been caught in march column crossing one, and been charged with disastrous results. After that, any bridge threatened catastrophe for him.

Howard Fielding has a tale of pessimism.

I played in a game of Pony Wars one time. Never played it since so I don’t know if we used house rules or “straight up”.

Anyway, at one point I was playing some settlers in a wagon train. The referee said 1) you always had to reserve ammo for the “last bullet” to save yourself and the women and children from a “Fate Worst than Death” and 2) you had to roll to see how bad your ammo supply was. (And it always seemed to be bad for the settlers.)


So I am running this wagon train in, trying to get to the fort and encounter a large band of Indians. I roll for ammo and it’s pretty bad. So I say: “I shoot the women and children and fire the rest off at the Injuns” (Preparing to go down fighting…)


The referee says make a percentile roll and I roll really really extreme – 01 or 99 or 00 (I can’t remember which). He looks it up and says you killed some, including the chief. Then he has me roll again for the Indians morale (or response?) and again I roll an extreme number.


And they ran away…”

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Jay Arnold, however, has a story of wargamer optimism in the face of sensible judgement:

Playing 2nd edition Warhammer 40,000 with my Tyranids (aliens like in the movie “Aliens”) vs. an Eldar (think Space Elves) force. The Eldar player had a brand new Warp Spider unit he was awfully proud of. At the time, Warp Spiders could warp into an area, shoot with a vicious, but short-ranged attack, and then warp out after shooting.

Well, he warped in front of my prime hand-to-to hand combat unit, the Genestealers, shot, didn’t hit any of my guys and then stayed. Well within charge range of my Genestealers.
He finished his shooting, did his psychic phase and declared he was done with his turn.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

He replied in the affirmative.

My turn. I declared charges. “The Genestealers charge into the Warp Spiders.”

His jaw dropped.

The Genestealers, being basically Cuisinarts on legs, did what they do best. After the slaughter was complete, he lost interest in the game and sulked for the rest of the evening. “


Bad luck dice


A Step into the Past.

Children playing. 3

I bought a copy of Joseph Morschauser’s “Wargames” in Miniature “ from 1962 – the original rather than John Curry’s recent reprint. $8 at the Historicon flea market. Aside from noticing that the author lived – he died in 1993 – within easy driving distance of me, I was fascinated by the resource materials in the last few pages.

In 1962 the list of toy soldiers, and where to get them, was very short. Traditional 54mms, now increasingly in plastic. Flats from Germany. 30mms from Scruby and SAE. 20mms, which he refers to as ‘tiny’, including those brand new Airfix figures. And we have a list of mostly toy shops, where you could get them. Most are in New York, because that’s where the author lived.

Do you remember when we thought it was absolutely normal to write to people – private individuals – for lists of figures, or places you could buy figures?


Star weekly

Musketeers Do What You’d Expect …

I’ve always enjoyed a bit of swashbuckling, although everyone who knows me says I ought to leave it well alone. Since I am forbidden to leave the house with a pair of pistols and a rapier, I restrict this to toy soldiering.

The scenario involved our heroes drinking in a tavern when the sound of Trouble erupted at the other end of town, in the form of More Gunshots than Normal. It’s the C17th, and casual shooting around town is rare. What’s happening is that a group of hired villains is trying to kidnap a traveling duchess, as they do.  A masked nobleman was behind the plot, as they are.

Of course, she needed help.

The town itself was protected, sort-of, by several watchmen. Two of these were dwarfs, brothers. One made every effort to foil the plot, although short legs and unimpressive combat skills hampered his efforts. His brother raced, slowly to his aid. The other watchmen went back to their own tavern. Huh.

The raid failed, between the duchess’ Retainers, the musketeers and the heroic dwarf. Cursing his bad luck and low-rent minions, the kidnapper rode away.

Kim and Khloe: Best Vacation Ever!!!

Sorry I’ve failed to update recently. I tried to provide a detailed and VERY EXCITING account of Kim and Khloe, but it somehow failed to load. Damn.

Any way, here are some pics of that event. It was a fourteen player game, which is potentially unmanageable. But I’ve done this before, so I know that as long as I keep things move and give players a chance to jump in even if they have already had their turn, it will work. Also, rather than have players doing the usual wargame thing where they quietly move a few inches and check some charts, I have them announce what they are doing, and allow them to move long distances where applicable – after all, a  sports car on an open road with nothing to stop it probably can move the length of the table in one action.

I won’t go through all the details. Revolutionary groups tried to bring down the government,  drug lords shot at soldiers, mad scientists let their experiments run loose in the street. There was a lot of irresponsibility around nuclear waste. Rap mogul K-Kenneth mistook a mutant for ‘a Make a Wish kid’, and the photos went viral. Kim and Khloe avoided their bodyguards and husbands in order to ride around and look for cocktails. A flying saucy arrived. The president stole it. What else do do need to know?

True Stories 9: A Bad Night Out

You’d think we all play for fun, right? And different people have different ideas of fun. Let’s agree on that. And yet, some people are clearly not enjoying themselves:

Jay Stribling remembers a player who lost it completely:

We were playing WWII, a 28mm game, with rules derived from Larry Brom’s “The Sword and the Flame.”

S… was having a bad game. His hit dice missed, his saving throws did not save, and everyone seemed to be shooting at him. Turning upon mostly innocent me, the author of the rules variant, and the confabulator of the scenario, he poured out his frustration:

Jay, these rules Suck! This game Sucks!” Briefly he paused and then delivered…”And YOU Suck!”

We all roared with laughter, which made him even more upset…”


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If shouting isn’t enough, Dave Mesquita saw something worse:

We were playing a WW2 game on club night, the German player ran his halftrack, a beautifully detailed model, out into the open when it was immediately hit by fire from a AT gun. The American player said “Got it”, reached across the table, picked up the halftrack, ripped off the wheels and treads, put back down and said “There!”.
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Belgian wargamer Luc Burlage remembers a very frustrating game for one player:
“The Napoleonic rules of the Wargames Research Group demanded an artillery hit only on 6. Years ago one of the players fought a battle but to his utter frustration did not throw one 6 all day long! At the end of the day however a fellow player looked more closely at his dice: he had unwittingly played with average dice ! (For those who do not know average dice: they show 2,3,3,4,4,5).”

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Even the most even tempered of us can have issues with games which move at glacial speed, or run too long, or simply are too late in the evening. Bernie Chambers, a great raconteur, once claimed that, during a game of the notably detailed Empire III, he took his move, then drove to his girlfriend’s house, took her out to dinner, brought her home gain, and returned to the game, where it was not yet his next turn. I do not vouch for the absolute truth of this.

I once found myself in a western gunfight game at the end of a long day – a four hour drive and two previous games, followed by dinner. It was all very agreeable, but I’d had a busy week at work, and I was tired. I shouldn’t have agreed to play, but I had, and there I was with a single gunfighter stepping out onto Main Street along with a number of similar desperadoes. So I decided to get killed early, and go to bed. In this I failed miserably. Someone shot me in the leg, making me fall down and putting me out of action for a couple of turns. By the time I was able to act again, all the action had moved two blocks away, and I was only allowed to crawl at something like an inch a turn. So, unable to get within range of anyone else on the board, I had a quiet word with the GM, who allowed me to slip away to my room.



Sleep well, Mr. Bond?

This week we decided, at essentially no notice, to play with a set of Sixties spy figures Matt had recently acquired. Matt already had a bucolic French landscape laid  out from a previous WWII game, so changing out some burned out buildings for a very nice rustic chateau. Just the kind of place where 007 might come for a long weekend with his current companion, Prunella. Nice, right?

Of course, things weren’t like that at all. The hotel staff consisted of the patron and his wife, Cherie the cook and her brother Gaston the waiter, Simone the overdeveloped secretary and Horst, the large, uncommunicative gardener. There were no other guests, as Simone informed Bond.

At dawn the agent awoke to hear the noise of a truck. Instantly he recounted the specifications for the kind of US vehicle of wartime vintage easily available for sale in France in 1969 (this being ‘now’ as you’ll understand.) Prunella told him it was probably delivering vegetables. Bond knew otherwise. Instantly he improvised a Molotov Cocktail from the brandy decanter and a silk scarf, hurled it from the window, and set the truck alight. Three men in yellow jumpsuits leapt out, machine pistols in hand.

”Baron LeGros!”muttered Bond. “Penelope, do look and see if we can get to the Aston Martin.”



As the jumpsuit men burst in, attempting with comic incompetence to lock the kitchen staff in the freezer, a sinister Korean man entered, angry with the inept minions. “Where is Bond?”  Of course, nobody knew.

He and Prunella had leapt from an upstairs window, while the jumpsuits vainly stood in the hallway and stitched automatic fire into the ceiling for no useful reason.

Bond started the Aston, deploying the bartering ram and knocking down the courtyard gates. As one does.


The Baron was waiting in his classic Bugatti  for such a move. He raced in pursuit, leaving his hapless minions on foot.FC15F3A2-965F-4877-8B4C-0197786C803E

The baron avoided Bond’s cunningly sprayed oil slick, and  hit the accelerator.  He would smash his heavy classic car into the back of the Aston. Bond rolled a 17 with seven dice to reach top speed. The Baron, just inches behind, rolled four sixes and change. He hit the Aston from behind as Bond wrenched the wheel aside.


Being a movie, both cars exploded. Dice were rolled. The Baron took a wound, and bailed out. Bond, unharmed, hit the ejector seat buttons, taking the artistically grazed Prunella with him. They ran for a hedge and ducked low, watching the flames. “You do know how to show a girl a good time,” purred Prunella.


See ejector seat mechanism, above.

Rules-wise, this was a mix of Mad Dogs with Guns, bits of  Astounding Tales! And things we made up on the spot. 75 mins start to finish.




True Stories 8: Sooooo Frustrating!

Wargaming can be frustrating. There are good losers and bad ones. There are good winners and bad ones. And there are those who can’t take the pressure of, erm, playing toy soldiers. I try to keep my own temper in check when things go wrong: I remember Brent Oman (Piquet) telling me something to the effect of, “If I want to have an argument, I go to work, because they pay me there.”

I recall a game from many, many years ago, when ‘Chivalry and Sorcery’ was a thing. I had never played it. I visited a club meeting, and a young fellow – I was probably 22 myself – asked me to play. He gave me a generic medieval army with lots of peasant archers, and a hill to set up on. So I followed Wellington’s tactics from another era, and set up behind the ridge line, negating his own firepower. This confused him, so he sent forward an elite knight unit of about six figures. They were magical super-elite knights with four tons of armour. Each had a name and a personal history of Arthurian proportions. When they reached me, I would be dogmeat.

So, he moved up to the ridgeline. He wanted to charge from the far side, but I pointed out he couldn’t see where my foces were, and surely no rules allowed that. He wasn’t happy about that, but he’d get me next turn. Except that my shooting phase came first. Apparently a vast horde of low grade archers can, in fact, put enough arrows in the air to wipe out magical super elite armoured knights.

He did not take it well. I told him that he could just treat it as a one-off game, but, no, he had a running storyline, and forty eight peasants with home made bows had, erm, ruined everything.

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Bill McGinnis told me of a long-ago member of his Atlanta group who blamed his model armies when he lost, which was – apparently – almost every time he played. So he’d offer his army, often freshly painted, to the other players at a knock-down price. If nobody bought it, he’d simply dump it with the hamburger wrappers and old Coca Cola cans, and stalk out.

Bill’s a smart man. He quickly realised that, for minimal effort and a little cleaning up, he could take the discarded army out of the garbage at no cost. In fairness, so did everyone else, and a number of players got brand new armies, free, until the angry wargamer decided to give up the hobby in favour of something less competitive.

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Sometimes you think everything is going well, and then it’s not. When this is due to enemy action –- well, that’s why we call it a game. Sometimes it’s due to some other aspect of game preparation. Ed Bielcik has a story:

During a “pulp” game at Historicon, my team of gangsters was tasked with robbing the bank. It was going very well for me, but unfortunately, the buildings had no signs on them, so after battling the cops, my crew smashed into the building that I thought was the bank, only to discover that there were no minis and no furniture inside! I asked the GM where everyone was, and he replied; “you broke into the wrong building. The bank is across the street”.