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”.

More Whimsy from Bill Slavin

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Canadian illustrator and wargamer Bill Slavin and I have been friends and colleagues for years, and collaborated on four books for what the publishers term ‘middle grade’ novels – aged 9-13 or thereabouts (ask me if you are interested). So I asked Bill if he’d do a few little cartoons for the AGW project, particularly the ‘What Luck Chaps!’ cards. And he did.

I showed a few a week or so ago. here are some more:

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Yes, they do remind you of actual early wargame illustrations. H.G. Wells had them in Little Wars (1913). Bill’s are funnier, though —

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True Stories 7. More Childish Ways – – –

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Kids don’t know things that we ancient warriors have carried around in our minds for decades (although we don’t recall where our car keys are). Ross Maker recalls an incident from the days of yore:

Very long ago (almost 50 years, in fact), our group was playing Napoleonics. A young gamer (Dave Arneson, later to be the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons a decade after this scene) decided he would paint Russians. Somewhere, in whatever scanty source was available then, he discovered that Russian artillery pieces were painted apple green. Armed with this knowledge, he went off to the local hobby store and, to his delight, found that Testors had apple green paint. The next Saturday, he proudly placed his newly painted guns on the table. The older members of the group laughed loudly and said that they might give him a movement bonus, if he would paint flames on the trails. It seems he hadn’t noticed that the actual title on the paint jar was Candy Apple Green.”




Ed Watts found out how even the pop culture of the 1960s is alien to modern youth:

“The U.S. Marines arrived just afterward played by a pair of young brothers who did not know who the Thunderbirds were and promptly mowed down all the International Rescue Thunderbird pilots when they emerged from their flying craft to rescue the kidnapped heiress.”

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And now we can move on to those occasions when kids are, perhaps, less adorable. The teenage son of a convention organiser apparently thought that he had a special status, and behaved very badly. During a naval game I heard him shout, “You suck!” at his opponent, who was not a fellow teenager but the mother of another player, in her first wargame. The gamemaster warned him, loudly and publicly, never to say anything like this (and then all the players combined to sink him, including those on his own side).

The following year he signed up for two of my games. I couldn’t simply reject him prior to the game, and I hoped he’d grown up a bit. He hadn’t. In the first game, a free-form affair set in Morocco in 1904, he was a regional noble. His supposed allies got sick of his boasting and petty deceits, and announced they were putting him in the cells of his own former palace in Marrakesh. So he asked the GM (me), quite loudly, if he could bribe the guards to free him. One of the other players stepped in and declared that the guards were immediately being paid to strangle him.

He didn’t learn. In the second game, a Darkest Africa adventure, he antagonised the players on his own side to the extent that, when he came to cross a rope bridge over a gorge, the player behind him announced, “As he gets halfway acros, I will cut the ropes with my machete.” By doing that, they failed in their objectives, but I think they were happy enough with the result.

And then ---

A Moment for Whimsy!

Bill Slavin is an award-winning Canadian author and illustrator. He’s also a wargamer and roleplayer. We’ve known each other for about fifteen years, when a mutual friend suggested I talk to him about a Victorian fantasy novel I’d written. Bill liked it, and put me in touch with an editor who liked that sort of nonsense, and we’ve done four books together. Recently I asked Bill if he’d be interested in doing some small illustrations for the ‘What Luck Chaps!’ random event cards for ‘A Gentleman’s War’. I offered him the ‘Hardly any money, and not for ages yet’ deal that we entrepreneurs in the wargames industry work on, and he jumped at the chance.

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‘A Gentleman’s War’ is whimsical and toy-soldiery, flying in the face of any accusations of ‘realism’ and ‘historical accuracy’. Bill understood that immediately, as befits the man who illustrated ‘Bogbrus the Barbarian’ and the ‘Mad Misadventures’ series.

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All these images will accompany of deck of cards, ranging from such mundane things as ‘Torrential rain’ to sudden moments of rashness inflicted on a chosen enemy unit, or the terrifying flatulence of the colonel’s horse. Did I say it’s not to be taken too seriously?

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True Stories 6: Those Darn Kids!

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I’ve always tried to get kids involved in wargaming. After all, there’s that horrible song from the ’70s in which we are told, “I believe children are our future,” and I work on the assumption that if I encourage youngsters, maybe one of them will at least open the door for me when I’m carrying a big box of lead figures when I’m eighty-seven. In some cases they are actually quite sweet. Let’s hold on to that thought as Gabriel Landowski recalls this story:

“I had an experience playing WWI Dogfight at Historicon and one of my numerous “opponents” was a very young boy, I’d be surprised if he was more than 7 years, who was brought to the table by his father. Although the dad seemed nice enough it was clear he was micro managing his son’s game play while covering his own plane at the same time. I managed to encourage the boy to make rolls and decisions while his dad was busy elsewhere, and by the end of our block of time, and much to his dad’s surprise, the lad had shot me down no less than 4 times without a single loss. Never seen a boy smile so large when he was awarded his “kill” pins and never been more happy to go down in flames with his dad as a witness…”

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Kids are lucky! Ontario wargamer Bruce Pettipas introduced youngsters to Proper Historical Wargaming (he says with a grin): “Gaming with children can lead to interesting experiences. Once, I was playing a WWII paratrooper scenario with 2 young lads. They were playing the Canadian paratroopers, while I was the dastar‎dly Germans. The scenario was based on real events on D-Day.

The paratroopers had come upon a German HQ, and, as luck would have it, they discovered that all the German troops in the guardhouse were asleep. I asked one of the lads what he was going to do next. He replied “I take a grenade in each hand, pull the pins with my teeth, wish my mother goodbye, and charge in through the door”. I told him, thinking on my feet, “Er, umm, the rules don’t allow for that. Why don’t you just try throwing the grenades in through the window‎?”. It took some doing before I convinced him that this was, perhaps, the better course of action.

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As part of the same scenario, the Germans had to escape with certain important papers. My fellow German player was attempting to load these documents in a truck parked at the back of the house, when his son, who was one of the Canadian players, said he was going to drop a mortar round into the truck. As he couldn’t see the truck, and only even knew it was there because I assumed he could hear the engine, I allowed him to get a mortar round into the back of the truck if he rolled three 1’s in a row. So, of course he rolled the dice – 1, 1, 1!!! He then needed to roll a 6 to do enough damage to destroy the truck, so he rolled the dice – a 6!!! The Canadians won, and I don’t think his dad has wargamed since.”

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