Monday, August 8, 2011

Back story

I was raised in a military family so it’s little surprise that I’ve had an interest in all things military since I was a child. My parents lit the fuse to a lifelong passion for historical gaming when they gave me Avalon Hill's PanzerBlitz for my 14th birthday.  A year later, I walked into a gaming convention at the Univ. of Maine with PanzerBlitz under my arm.  There I met Ed, one of the great miniature gamers and people I’ve known in my life.  He was running Gettysburg Day 2 in 28mm and convinced me to put down my boardgame and give miniatures a try.  The fact that I'd never played miniatures before didn’t dissuade him.  On that afternoon, I successfully defended Little Round Top and from that moment on, I was hooked. Ed let me design the American Civil War battles we fought on the weekends at his club.  I spent many hours painting armies, researching battles and setting them up in miniature.

Post-college, my wife and I were busy raising a family and I switched to PC gaming since it allowed me to manage the few free moments of time I had to myself.  As my son grew up, we played lots of fantasy & historical games.  When he turned 12, I decided to do the father and son painting and gaming thing.  We pulled up war gaming websites to decide what armies to paint and play.  It was love at first click when he found Warhammer Fantasy and my son would spend hours paging through exquisitely painted fantasy armies.  Over time, we painted up Orks and Goblins, Dwarfs and Tomb Kings armies.  We were pretty decent when we got to the Dwarfs, thanks to the tutorials and painting advice on the web.  Painting and basing had advanced light years from when I left the hobby in the ‘80s!

My favorite unit.
If you squint, they almost look like Gaesati warriors.  Squint harder!
My son’s homework grew exponentially in Middle School and he developed a love for composing music and playing the oboe.  Over time, I lost my painting buddy and my interest in Warhammer.  90% of my casual reading is military history, so fantasy was never the best fit for me.  I decided to return to historical gaming.  I bought the Field of Glory rules and Old Glory starter armies for Rome and Carthage. Transitioning from painting 28mm to 15mm was a challenge for me.  My vision isn't that great any more and the techniques I used in 28mm failed me in 15mm.  I was so unhappy with my first unit that I nearly quit 15mm ancients in disgust.  Luckily, I turned to the web and discovered MacPhees Miniature Men blog.  His tutorials on painting and basing gave me the step by step instructions I needed.  Saved by the bell, er, blog! 

From that poor start, I've painted up Mid Republic Roman, Carthaginian, Gaul and Ottoman Turkish armies in the last year.  The downside to 4 armies is that I keep switching from army to army without mastering any of them.  In the months ahead, I'm going to struggle to avoid the siren song of "switch armies!" and try to master my Early Carthaginians.  On the other hand, I'm dying to see how my Seljuk Turks match up with Scott's Mongol horde.  So much gaming, so little time!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Most Important Thing

When my son was very young, he once asked me "What's the most important thing dad? Winning or having fun?"
"Having fun," I said, “definitely having fun.”
"Well,"  my son replied, "Austin says winning is the most important thing."

Austin was my son's best friend and our next door neighbor's boy.  Austin's mom was a gym teacher and the epitome of the saying "Just win, baby!" She never missed an opportunity to tell strangers that she'd been on the women's bobsled team and she even had an Olympic torch to prove it!  It came as no surprise that Austin had his mom’s attitude on winning.
Flash forward 10 years.  In my first Field of Glory tournament, I brought my Carthaginian army and lost all my matches. Amongst my mistakes, I didn't bring or buy anything to eat that day, thus learning that Mountain Dew is no substitute for food. If my last opponent had offered me a bag of fries, I'd have gladly thrown the match. As it turned out, there was no need to bribe me into losing since I was capable of doing it naturally.  I went into the match with a headache and I couldn't concentrate, much less remember whose turn it was.  Another "L" but at least I learned the importance of packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

I headed into my second tournament in the spring of 2011 with high hopes.  I was fielding my newly painted Gauls with 12 bases of cavalry and 12 bases of Light Chariot.  More importantly, I was also fielding 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I read the rulebook and I practiced pushing Gauls to get a feel for them.  I was ready for a breakout performance. My first game started well but ended with my opponent squeaking out a victory with his Mid Republic Romans. In the second game, time ran out just as I was about to deliver a chariot charge to the rear of a Dominate Roman battlegroup. If I had broken them, it would have put me on top.  My third game was against the top player in our club. He sacked my camp on turn 2 with a light horse flank march and my morale burned to the ground along with my camp. The highlight of the match was when my opponent exited to the bar and returned with 2 beers.  12 ounces of domestic tap briefly lifted my spirits but even alcohol couldn't obscure that I had no answer for his 8 bases of archer-armed heavy chariots.  6 tournament games, 6 losses. 

I was in a terrible funk.  What was the most important thing-winning or having fun? Is it possible to lose all the time and still have fun? I knew when I got home, my kids would ask "How’d you do dad? Did you win?"  On account of my upbringing, I wouldn’t be able to lie or even fudge the truth. I’d have to admit that I'd lost…again. When I told the story of how close I'd come to winning, that merely earned me an "oh, dad!" from my daughter.    

I sulked for a long while.  Short of actually winning, nothing soothes the burn of a tournament flame-out like painting a new army.  I shelved my Gauls and started work on a Later Ottoman Turkish army with Janissary, firearms, Serbian Knights, a sultan and lots of beautiful light horse.  Could THIS be the army I’d been looking for?  Hope was rekindled as I researched the Ottoman Empire.  Hours were spent painting and prepping a more beautiful, mobile, shooty, and terrible army. This could be the army I'd been looking for.  This could be a WINNER! 

And then I remembered, someone needs to sit down with my son and update our talk about the most important thing.  The only question is, would he be more receptive to hearing it from me or  his friend Austin?