|One of my earliest wargames played|
I always dread when a story or article starts with the phrase “in the beginning”, as it has something of a Biblical tone. As if the story being presented holds as much import as the book of Genesis or is somehow on the same level as an ancient saga from the Viking era. Thus I tend to be turned away by the phrase when used as an introduction, for it makes me feel that the author is something of a Douche, filled with delusions of granduer and self importance.
Hopefully this same feeling does not infect you, for this is MY beginning in the world of Hex and Counter war games, and though it may not be unique, it may just help you understand why I love this genre of table top gaming so much.
Ahem…. In the beginning, before ever I had heard of Avalon Hill or SPI there was a game company called Milton Bradley that produced the American Heritage series of board games for children. I would spend hours with my friends trying to master ship combat in Broadside, armored conflict in Tank Battle and even a bit of flying in a game called Dogfight which was about air warfare in WWI. All of these games had loads of plastic minis, and rule sets that could be pretty much printed on the underside of the box top. I didnt realize it at the time but these simple, fun, little games piqued my interest in various periods of history, and I found myself reading more about Ships, Aircraft and Armor.
However enjoyable those titles were, eventually I began to grow bored with them as they stopped being a challenge. So I simply gave up playing and to the back of a closet they went. Yet the seed was planted. Deep down I wanted more and more for a game that would not only bring history to life but that would also help me understand it better. A title that I could wow my friends with my superior tactical and strategic (I didn’t fully understand the words then) knowledge. I would have to wait a few years before that happened.
The week before Christmas 1977 was an awful one for me. I had been on a proverbial tear of bad behavior that would make today’s generation cringe in fear and run for a safe space. There were violent fist fights in school, a bit of vandalism here and there and of course, compulsory terrorism of the other neighborhood kids. I knew that if I didn’t stop, (or at the very least stop getting caught) that there would be no presents for me on December the 25th. In my family you had to behave to be rewarded, everybody didnt get a prize for simply being alive. Yet for some reason I just couldn’t help myself from constantly doing the wrong thing.
So it was I found myself looking for where my dear mother had hidden the Christmas gifts for our small family, and I did not have to search long. Our house being rather small, hiding spaces were at a minimum. There in the back of a small closet, shadowed by hanging clothes was a large brown paper bag that was so obviously out of place one could not but help know that what I was seeking had been found. And true to form, (at the time), I looked.
Within was what was obviously a game, but one I had never seen nor heard of before named Afrika Korps, and two white, men at arms, books about the British 8th Army and Rommel’s Desert Forces. My heart leapt with curiosity and the subdued desire for a game that brough History to the fore flared up. I almost tore the shrink wrap off the box right there and then, but thought better of it and put everything back as it had been found. (note I did feel some guilt in this act yet that was quickly dispelled as the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be left out at Christmas sank in.)
Unfortunately, that very night the school called the house and informed my mother that I had been in another fight. Some sort of corrective action needed to happen but they would deal with it after the Christmas break blah blah blah. Bastards ratted me out at the worst possible time, and for my mother this was the last straw. There was lots of yelling of which I remember only these words, “I’m taking all your gifts back to the store!”
Busted again, but deep down I knew no matter how much I wanted to have that new awesome looking game in the closet, I really didnt deserve it or, anything else for that matter.
By Christmas morning I had accepted the situation in full, and was actually in a good spirits, for even though I was out of luck, my brother and sister would be excited and happy, and I wouldn’t ruin that for them, not for all the games in the damned world. So I sat, drank hot chocolate, and smiled when they got a fun gift, and commiserated when they got the socks. We laughed and joked and then as we were clearing away the papers my mother called me into the kitchen.
Looking down at me she said in a very calm voice;
“You know why I had to return your presents don’t you?”
“Yeah Ma, I know, It’s all good. I’ll try harder to stay out of trouble I promise.“
“OK, well so long as you understand. And if you are willing to make an effort to be good in the future then I suppose you should go into the closet and get your gifts. I didnt have time to wrap them but I’m sure you won’t mind.”
My heart simply exploded.
And so at eleven years old I obtained my first ever hex and counter game, Afrika Korps by Avalon Hill, at the hands of my forgiving mother. Every time I look at the rather drab, tan box I always think back on that morning when my mother gave me two of the greatest gifts I have ever recieved, one of which was a game.