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

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.



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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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”.

True Stories 7. More Childish Ways – – –

Star weekly

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 ---

True Stories 6: Those Darn Kids!

Children playing 4

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.

Children playing

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.”

Children playing. 3


True Stories 5

Last time we looked at the strange phenomenon of cheating in a game of toy soldiers. I am guilty of one major piece of cheating. I had found a pair of loaded dice at a magic shop. Cheap, unconvincing loaded dice. One rolled normally, but the other came up ‘6’ almost every time. It did this in the most ludicrously obvious way, wobbling like a drunk until it plopped over onto the ‘6’. Nobody would be fooled by this. Except John, I thought.

John was the socially inept, argumentative member of the group. He’d dispute over all those details of the rules that the rest of us had agreed on. He had the tactical finesse of a tractor. He might fall for the dice. We were playing some games of DBA, and he was late. I showed the dice to my friends, and told them of my cunning scheme. John arrived, and we set up the armies – Greek city states, lots of hoplites, who tend not to damage one another much. And that’s what we did, me rolling the regular die. But after a while it became clear that it was time for a result. I picked up the trick die, my friends giggling under their breath, and rolled six after six down a line of combats, hurling back one of John’s units and destroying the next, until he lost four elements and conceded the game. I showed him the die and admitted what I’d done. I hoped he’d laugh. I though he might be angry. What I didn’t expect was what happened. He simply didn’t believe me.

* * *

A friend of mine (who prefers to remain nameless) told me of an elaborate and long running Napoleonic campaign that took place in a permanent game room belonging to the club. The rule was that one side would gather around the table to discuss strategy while their opponents politely stayed away. The game room featured storage lockers for equipment. One planning session, my friend noticed a whirring sound. He checked the lockers, and found a tape recorder, placed there by the enemy general. There was some arguing about this – the opponent claiming it was simply legitimate spying – but it was decided that tape recorders were not properly Napoleonic.

At the next strategy session a different sound was heard from the equipment locker – a sneeze. Opening it, a small man with a notebook was discovered. The enemy had hired a midget to take notes.

My friend left the group soon afterwards, feeling this was all too intense and bizarre. Some months after, he met one of the other members, who was surprised to meet him in public. Apparently the club president – the man who had hired the midget – had informed everyone that my friend had been taken into a mental hospital on a long term basis, and would thus no longer be playing with the group.

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And now, ME, about to drive the damn krauts back to Krautland. I know you are all convinced by ths.


True Stories 4

You’d think that a hobby where we pretend to command pretend soldiers would be immune to the problem of cheating. After all, we aren’t gambling for money (apparently the lack of betting was the reason the Austro-Hungarian officer corps never took to using Kriegsspiel as a training tool) but it happens. Over the years I’ve met cheats of various sorts. One players glued his Napoleonic Russians down on huge movement trays in massive attack columns, and swore he’d remember casualties rather than remove the figures. Of course, he never did. One guy knew exactly how long his arm was, elbow to fingertips, and would ‘casually’ lean on the table when he needed to estimate a distance for shooting or movement. I can’t believe anyone fell for it.

Chuck Turnitsa has a story about cheating:

“A long time back we used to play Tractics at the local wargaming shop. Our group always played range estimation for artillery. One of the players came into the shop the night before the game and carefully measured out and place thumbtacks under the edge of the wargames table at 12 inch intervals. His artillery estimates were uncanny. During the game, we broke for lunch and decamped to the local sandwich shop. Some on our side remained behind, and uncovered the perfidy! Rather than call them on it, we just rearranged the tacks in a few inches in different directions, and even introduced an extra tack or two. Needless to say, the artillery was much less accurate in the second half of the game. We revealed our counter hijinks after the game, and lots of laughter was had by all.”

In contrast to these tales of sneakiness, David Preston has a story of victory through psychology:

In a Napoleonic game back in the late 70s, after the French launched their big attack on the British center, the British launched their reserve Highland Brigade while simultaneously turning on bagpipe music on a cassette player & opening up a bottle of brandy they shared. The French players morale plummeted. As the umpire, I was impressed.”