Friday 24 December 2010

The Mystery of the Fourth Wargamer: or The Devil Throws the Dice


let me invite you to close the curtains on the snow swirling outside. Draw closer to the fire and settle back with a glass of something to fortify the nerves.

I was chatting the other day to my old chum Harry Pearson, you remember he did a lot of research on the origins of Wargaming when he was writing up his Magnum Opus 'Achtung Schweinhund'. One of the fascinating aspects was the close association that developed back between the wars between wargaming and the study of the occult. Harry records how the great beast master Alistair Crowley and Dennis Wheatley, author of the Devil Rides Out were both keen wargamers.

However Harry is a little vague on what role, if any, the wargame played in Black Magic Rituals. Was a unit's reaction, for example, decided by counting factors or reading the entrails of a Black Cock . I decided an outright question was the best approach but all Harry did was turn pale and mutter something about not meddling in affairs best left alone before hastily leaving.

However I could not just leave it and I believe I have discovered evidence that the wargame may have had a more central and sinister place in the occult practices.
Look at the picture above. Published in John Garratts Model Soldiers 1959 it purports to show a wargame in progress. But does it ? Look at the central figure chanting from a book, the two identically posed acolytes surely those grins denote a state of drugged frenzy. And what do you make of the background? Why are they playing in front of a giant and rather ragged paper screen? What horrors do they wish to conceal.

"Oh enough," you scoff, "This is merely fanciful stuff".

So be it, but, look again gentle reader and tell me who is casting the fourth shadow?

Consider, the light is falling from the left and casting a shadow to the right of the figures. Three shadows are clear but who does the central one belong to? He cannot be out of picture since the shadow of the left hand gamer (or should I say worshipper) falls OVER his shadow. He could be behind the paper but look at the top of the wall no gap is apparent and if a door was behind we would see the outline of that as well.

No only one answer fits the facts a fourth gamer is about to materialise in the middle of the group. I would go as far as to be certain that the Prince of Darkness is about to appear to his followers.

In fact,.. Just a moment I can hear a scratching at the window, I must go and make it secure, I will be right back...................

Wednesday 22 December 2010

In Wedge we Serve

Regular readers will be aware that at this contemplative time of year it is my wont to reflect back to an earlier and possibly more agreeable age. Above we see the typical wargamer of the post war years relaxing at his painting table. The gentleman in question is an American and seems to have stepped straight from the pages of a Nero Wolfe mystery. You will no doubt notice the rather natty summer weight double breasted suit, such informal attire for gaming became acceptable much earlier in the States than in stuffy England. I believe his 'fraternity ring' marks him as a Harvard or Yale man as indeed most model soldier collectors were back then. Yet there is a danger in deducing too much from these faded photographs. Wargaming is dreadfully lacking in written evidence for these early years and much like the Archaeologist we find ourselves forming complete systems of gaming from a tiny shard of dice or a crumpled piece of cardboard building. This is at best problematic so often the safest answer is simply to admit that we know very little of how these early gamers actually carried out their wargames.

Take the example above. One of the best known of early images of gaming taken from the great work Charge.
And detailing the battle of Sittangbad, yet look closer. What is that item in the top left corner? Yes the one running alongside the river with a Light Infantryman standing on it. I have tried telling myself variously that it is an improvised breastwork or a wharf of some kind.
But Please lets be honest, it is a Wedge. Pure and simple a Wedge in the middle of the battlefield. Why? I have no idea. Oh well just an isolated anomaly you say, but wait look at this picture of a group of US gamers taken some time in the fifties. Quite a lot to comment on in this picture I think you will agree and will return to it * but just for now concentrate on the far right of the table.
Yes that's right the gamer laying out his figures is clearly using a wedge to assist him. What did it do? and why did such a common and essential piece of equipment simply disappear from the history of the hobby. Perhaps one day we will now but for now we can only speculate.

* shall discuss some of the disturbing aspects of this image on Christmas eve as being a time more suited for the unusual and supernatural but in the meantime may I invite you to study it and decide whether you can discern anything strange.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Good Enough? What does that mean to you?

For me last years high points, were the works of Messrs Grant and Olley, and the finest of their books has to be Wargaming in History. In my opinion right up there with Charge and The Wargame.

No shortage of inspirational and thought provoking material, but the last week I have been mainly pondering on:

"It will be most unusual for wargamers to collect and paint armies of a particular period without an interest in the history and an understanding of the tactics of the troops and their uniforms."

For myself that is something of an understatement, all too often raising a new wargames army had been akin to taking a tiger by the tail - impossible to let go. Casually picking up a few 20mm figures for the Spanish Civil War because the Civil Guard hats were funny, resulted in a fifteen year study of the war (so far) and a couple of thousand painted figures, vehicles and buildings.

Perhaps that is the reason why I could never really come to grips with the 18C imaginations. I liked the idea well enough but frankly so much of it seemed to lack any substance or, to be honest, relevance to anyone apart from the author. I found myself very much more attracted by Peter Young's distinction between Imaginary armies and Fictional ones. Fictional characters and armies operate within the framework of a real world but one that is slightly skewed. Of course to do this it is necessary to actually know something of the world in which they are set, and I know absolutely nothing about the functioning of the Reichskrieg.

As a result I have spent much of the last month trying to come to terms with the Holy Roman Empire in general and the 18C Reichsarmee in particular. I now know how many Electoral Circles there were and which were ecclesiastic or secular. I can tell you the difference between a Landgraf and a Margraf though my spelling of either is pretty dodgy. I can list the rivals to Prussia as dominant states in the Empire at the end of the 17C. (Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover and Munster, since you ask. ... Munster????).

And how exactly does all of that enhance my wargaming? I don't know to be honest but the truth is that it does. I am looking forward to finally getting to terms with the period as next years big project. I have sorted out the figures that I wish to use and planned a painting style that will be quick and simple. I shall try to raise four small armies for the States of Hanover, Bavaria, The Ecclesiastical Circle of Munster, and Bohemia.

Above can be seen the first rough drafts for Bavaria, Hanover and Bohemia. (spot the fictional one) And below the first finished recruits for the Bohemian Wenceslas Regt of foot. You may notice that one figure is black lined and one is not. I think that I shall not bother black lining this army, to my mind the difference is not worth the time required and when the figures are glossed to a degree that a Guards RSM could see his face in them then it will not be that visible.

In conclusion we are looking at a project which is set up to be rather heavy on research but light on painting. Good enough? Well only time will tell on that but I am interested in how other people arrive at these decision's.
Hopefully more on these armys in the New Year, but next I shall return to my traditonal Christmas posts on Wargaming BF (Before Featherstone)