Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ruminations on "The Wargame Companion"

Over my coffee this morning I'm remembering the first wargame shop I ever entered. The place was called Doug's Hobby Shop (Colorado Springs, Colorado USA) and it was owned by a great guy named Doug Kelton. I was in high school (1972) and had a few Avalon Hill boardgames, and a copy of Featherstone's "Battles With Model Soldiers" and a few Airfix plastics crudely painted up but my life of wargaming didn't really take off until I drifted in to Doug's shop one day after school. The store was mainly a military plastic model shop but in a glass case he had exactly two(!) small boxes of metal tanks (1/285 GHQ) and a copy of the old WRG(1925-1950) WWII rules. Well I went nuts and immediately bought the rules and the two boxes of tanks and asked him if he could get more and of course he said he would.

I rushed home figured out how to play and set up the two boxes on a dresser top in my bedroom. The tanks were unpainted, and the boxes mis-labeled so my first battle with metal was 5 PzIIIs versus 5 SDKFZ 232 Armored cars (that were mis-labeled British 17lbrs!?)... In my youthful ignorance of things I kept thinking! these armored cars sure are powerful!

So I became a regular visitor of the shop and Doug saw the opportunity and began to really stock his store for historical gaming...(this was prior to "D&D", "Chainmail", RPGs, and no fantasy...though Sci Fi did make an show later that year.)...but lots of Minifig 15s (strip style) and Minifig 25s in those black and grey boxes. For my part I was something of a "recruiting and chief procurement officer" for the shop, getting the privilege of accompanying Doug on his buying trips to the wholesaler in Denver. I helped him decide what guys like me might buy and in return I got to pick stuff directly from the "supplier". Doug was also the first guy in the area to construct a dedicated gaming table in his shop for guys to use. I can remember "Kursk" size armor battles with unpainted (!?) 1/285 vehicles and having great fun with rules both published and homegrown....Doug even wrote a set of WWII of his own using as I recall a 3D6 resolution system (!?)...and he could explain it at length if you gave him the chance :)...His shop became a bit of a Mecca for anyone passing though the area and I remember one day when a guy named "Hal" came in to the store and I was introduced. I only later found out he was the designer of the Avalon Hill classic boardgame "Tobruk". I believe he passed away a few years ago...

We built a rather large group of high school and early college age guys playing regularly at the shop...add several older guys from the army base and we had a thriving informal gaming community that certainly changed my life (and kept me "off the streets" as a bonus). During that time (besides discovering girls...) I discovered the Charles Grant rules, bought "The Wargame" but never got into the 18th century since most of us were enamored with Micro Armour and Napoleonics.

I don't know if the shop survived but my thanks go out to Doug for getting me hooked and having the good business sense to build on it. These days you have to admire anyone who can keep a brick and mortar game shop open and I try to support my local shops (though amost all are given over to fantasy/Sci Fi ). So here's to all those great friends who I lost track of long ago but I hope are all doing well. Bob Wehr, "Mac" McNally and of course Doug Kelton.

Sorry for the nostalgic interlude but I just got my copy of "The Wargame Companion" and it just brings back so many of those great times... What a great hobby we share!


Martin said...

Hi Little John,

Yeah...your experience was much like my own. Good memories all around. Enjoy your copy of "Wargame Companion".

Bluebear Jeff said...

Ah, aren't the trips down memory lane nice?

I hope that the store continued to prosper for many years . . . hopefully even down to the present time.

-- Jeff

tradgardmastare said...

I really enjoyed your trip down memorary lane...

Der Alte Fritz said...

I would like to hear more about your early gaming days in Colorado. Please do more postings like this one.

What are your thoughts on the Wargame Companion so far?