One Soldier’s Story…
I am a soldier. I am an airborne engineer, having served with the 20th Engineer Battalion during Operation Desert Storm. As an engineer, I was trained in constructing logistic and fire bases, building and destroying bridges, removal and disposal of enemy munitions and explosives, small unit tactics and maneuver, and carpentry and masonry. I gallantly served, putting all that hard earned knowledge to work, building literally dozens of holes for soldiers to poop in. Also, I spent a lot of time building wooden shacks to enclose those poop holes so that the soldiers could poop in fake privacy. And I had the skills to deploy via parachute or helicopter in order to dig poop holes as fast as the soldiers could fill them! Vital work!
Now, back in civilian life for these few (25) years, I find myself dreaming and playing the soldier’s life that I never experienced, but many others have. I have a feeling that those who do have that life don’t spend much time playing or dreaming about it, because the reality is that it sucks. Just the stuff I went through sucked and it wasn’t that bad. A little more poop than I would have liked, but otherwise I had it pretty good. I say a “little more poop” because generally you expect some poop in life, but I digress.
My main outlet for this expression has always been video games. Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, like many of you I played the hell out of these games. However, I always felt as if something was missing, something visceral, something that kept these experiences feeling like flickering pictures on a screen and just ‘not real.’
Then, I discovered miniature wargaming. See, what you do is you buy a box of plastic or metal soldiers, assemble and glue them together, paint them, then bring them over to your friend’s basement and play toy soldiers like when you were a kid. Twist! It’s a lot better than that! How, you say? Are you still even reading this? Good, then let’s get into the details of this hobby.
Choose your army!
First, the choosing and buying of units. Did you ever see a war movie you liked? I did. It’s called, “The Big Red One”, and they have a Reconstructed version that just came out a few years ago. Go watch it now and then come back and finish this article. Wasn’t that freakin’ awesome!? Yea! How about the part where that guy’s ball got blown off? Haha! Classic. Yea…anyway. I was deciding on making an American army for this game, and after watching that movie my inspiration hit: I’m making my army patterned after the 1st Infantry Division, The Big Red One. I bought the box set of US Infantry. It comes with generic soldiers, a plethora of figures to choose from, and weapons too. You get to pose the figures how you like, and get to decide how to arm them. It’s a big upgrade from buying a box of green guys who are already posed and have weapons already attached, like when you were a kid. But they ARE green. Well, grey. Not green, but grey doesn’t make my narrative flow. See, the idea is, after you are finished posing and arming them, gluing them into position and putting them on a base, you then get to paint them!
That sounds like work!?
Yea, it’s work. But it’s a labor of love. Much better than poop hole digging. You choose your army, thus you choose your colors. The 1st infantry division had light green or khaki tops, olive pants, brown boots, and that’s what I’m going with. You get to personalize your armies, is what this means. It’s fantastic, I tells ya! My German army is early war, they have grey pants, black boots, and green tops. My buddy has late war Germans, his have green tops and bottoms, brown boots. Another friend has late war SS, they have camouflage smocks. You get to choose the very unit from history you want and then make them come to life! For the historical fan, this is nirvana. For those who don’t get it, start thinking about what unit you would build, Google the uniform and badges, and realize that it has now hooked you.
The US infantry set even has a head with a stubbly face and a cigar, along with an arm carrying a knuckle-duster knife. Sound like Lee Marvin’s character from the movie? Because it is. And I made it. Now, I get to recreate battles from the very movie with Lee friggin’ Marvin on the table kicking ass and looking cool.
Show me the money!
Plus, once you get to buying, the collector gene in you activates. Next thing you know, you are making lists of units you need to buy, searching eBay for deals, making up a budget of how much you can spend before your wife leaves you, and hiding money like Bernie Madoff. Just kidding, Honey, it’s not really like that! Ha ha ha! Who am I kidding, she’ll never read this.
Painting isn’t the end either, now you have to finish the base. Many people just paint it green, or add some glue and fake grass and be done. Those people are wrong. A good base can define a model in a way a paint job does not. My bases for my German and Soviet armies are made to simulate urban terrain. I add rubble, I-beams, bricks, half-destroyed walls, blast marks, mud, pieces of timber, pipes, and whatever debris I can think of. Looking at my bases you find a whole diorama, a story in miniature. It draws you in and makes the little toy soldier almost come to life. Disclaimer: These should not be coming to life! If this does occur, only fire will save you!
Choose your battlefield!
Now that you have a personalized army unit, painted in the correct colors, based for the appropriate terrain, and added the correct unit decals (read the hidden paragraph above for details on this), now you need a place to play. Thus we segue into another fun and time-consuming aspect to this hobby, terrain building!
Lordy, this is cool as shit. Basically, choose a theater of war, look up olde-tyme pictures from some battle you wish to recreate, do some planning, then go out and buy your crafting supplies. Now, get to building! There are hundreds of websites devoted to terrain building, many of them for model train fans, but it’s the same stuff so just learn what they have to offer because it’s what you need to do. You take cardboard, styrofoam, X-acto knives, glue, flock (fake grass), plastic, and some elbow grease, and next thing you know, BLAMMO! Stalingrad! I’m totally serious, dude, the boards people make to play on are sometimes as detailed and as awesome as the dioramas you see in museums. Even the basic and crappy job you’ll do in your basement will look fantastic once you get your minis down and start pushing them around. It’s another part of the hobby that can get obsessive. You’ll start with, like, a city board, then you’ll want a jungle, then woodland, then a village, then a beach, then your basement is full to the rim and you’ll move your family to the garage so you can set up your house to be a scale model of Europe and your family will leave you. Please don’t take it this far. But if you do, call me because I AM COMING OVER!!
Rules of the Game
All of these games have rules, and they are all a bit different but have some similarities. They can range from rules for squad level games, to company level, up to whole armies. If there is any interest in this article, from either Chuck or you guys, or if even two people read this, which would break my record of less than two, I will write an article about some of them. Otherwise, Google will lead you down the right path. Look for Bolt Action (WW2), or Warhammer40k (scifi), or Dead Man’s Hand (western). Hell, there are cyberpunk games, naval battles, WW1 biplane games, Romans, ancient Israelites, American Civil War, and of course Napoleonics. There are wargame rules for pulp, horror, space battles, fantasy, cops, post-apocalyptic, zombies, the Terminator and I’m gonna stop here because the list is almost endless and you get the idea. Everything!
Most of these games use rulers and dice, but not all. You first look for the genre you want to play in, then research the rules sets available. All the genres have multiple iterations, so find one that matches what you want to do. Then you can look online for play groups in your area. In NYC we have a dozen places to play, and literally dozens of groups out there playing various games. If you are in the NYC area come on down to Nu Brand Gaming in Brooklyn! We have the largest wargaming club in the US! (Also, check out our Facebook page!)
You will always find people playing in a large metropolitan area. If you live in a smaller town, you may have to drive. However, many a player has recruited a friend to play at their house and had fun for a lifetime. Also, solo rules exist for many of these games, and some people prefer to play this way because they hate people. I mean, other people, am-I-right? A-holes. I mean, obviously not YOU.
So if any of this sounds good to you, get your hands to typing and start looking this stuff up. This is a great hobby that flexes your tactical thinking, creativity, allows you to do artwork and crafts, to personalize your game tools, and, most fun of all, TO CRUSH YOUR FRIENDS INTO DUST! EAT IT, SUCKERS!!
Finally, one of the best things about this hobby is that, when you are busy painting or researching or building terrain, you enter into that zen state that you get when you concentrate. Unlike video games, that get you all riled up, this kind of hobby relaxes you. You can put the brush or the knife down and go to sleep. There’s a distinct lack of cursing at the Xbox or into your headset. Your pains and troubles sort of melt away, and the biggest problem on your mind is whether or not this “field grey” color is green enough or if you should just switch uniforms to blue. And that little piece that gets glued on the end there and – dammit! Where did it go! I JUST had it! Jesus, it’s gotta be on this floor here somewhere! Honey! Get me the flashlight! I gotta get under the desk! Damn little rifle piece! Ow!