The title of this post refers to the pre-digital, pre-internet, pre-computer days. Pre-history as in the days of film and camera, when we could not easily record, and less easily share, wargaming experiences. Wargaming pre-history, in other words, when the day to day activities of average gamers went unrecorded, outside of what made it to the few magazines and newsletters. Personal pre-history, in the sense of being a long time ago, when I experienced my first wargame magazine:In an earlier post, I shared a bit on my foundational experiences in the hobby. In this post, dear reader, I shall inflict upon you the experience I had upon encountering my first wargame magazine, Wargamer's Digest, Vol 3, No 1, November 1975 (pictured above). I picked this up at THE hobby shop for me then, Hobby Horse, a small local chain in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, where I grew up.
Unlike many other gamers of my era, I did not come to the hobby through Featherstone, Wells, or Grant. At that time, I was not even aware of the scene across the pond. I would come to these sources later. I came into the hobby via the local scene, which I thought was typical of the scene everywhere. Picking up this magazine turned out to be a turning point: it was my portal into the wider hobby. The impressions from this magazine remain with me still, and I find myself thumbing through it every now and then and reliving them (and so will you if you don't stop reading now!)...
On the inside cover was a full page ad for Empire of the Petal Throne. This was quite arresting, not only for the art and description, but because it had hex maps. I eventually would get a copy, only to find out that it wasn't an actual "wargame." I can still recall the smell of the rubberized maps (and their vivid colors). Nevertheless, opening this magazine and seeing this advert was like seeing another world at the time.
(By the way, you can clix pix for BIG PIX, as usual, in this post)
Then came the cover blurb, explaining the fascinating picture on the cover, along with table of contents and what would later become the familiar face of Gene McCoy, editor and owner of the magazine. I came later to understand that he had been a tanker in the US Army, which explained much about how he approached material (as well as some of the line drawings that would appear in the magazine, that were lifted from US Army field manuals). Nevertheless, he was a major figure in the hobby then, and he was certainly an authority figure to me given that I was reading a specialist magazine of which he was the editor and owner (simpler days).
The first feature was a collection of pieces about re-enactors. Although I trusted that they were in the magazine for a reason, I couldn't quite find a way to relate to them. Nevertheless, I was fascinated to see that one of these had happened near where I lived. Looking at them now, it is interesting to read that the Knoxville, IL event, with 500 US Civil War re-enactors, was listed as the "largest in the country"--if so, things have come a long way since! The Wacht Am Rhein piece introduced me to that German term, and I was also deeply impressed that there were people who had the means to collect and "'play" with actual World War II vehicles. At the time, I was also unfazed by the fact that one of the masterminds behind the event was fitted out in SS gear (like I said, times have changed).
The next piece was a potted history on the Battle of Poitiers. This went on for several pages (which I won't reproduce here). It was well done, and wonderfully informative for me, and the accompanying images of miniatures I found inspiring (did I mention simpler days?), but the piece had nothing to do with wargaming (typical of many pieces that would appear in WD over the years. The name of the magazine would eventually be changed to Military Digest)..until you came to the "Wargamer's Digest Staff Analysis," which was where Mr. McCoy (I assume) added his insights on tactics, et al (still not really "wargaming"). At the time, I thought that there really was a "staff" at work on this analysis. However interesting this was, turning the page brought me to the REAL REVELATION...
...it was here that I discovered the advert for LOU ZOCCHI! Just reading the extensive list in the ad made my head spin. In a few weeks, I would have a Lou Zocchi catalog of my own, which made the advert look skimpy. The range of options was dizzying. In those days, science fiction gaming, fantasy gaming, and historical gaming were all in the mix for me, as were board and miniatures games. Lou Zocchi provided not only a merchandise catalog, but a literal catalog of what was out there, especially among the "third world" (as we came to call them) game designers and producers. I had no idea! To this day, I still find Star Raider intriguing based on the art in this ad (probably best that I never actually owned the game to dispel the romance).
Continuing, I then made another major discovery in the "Basic Training" piece. This was a good introduction to Micro Armor, which I would later take up. Looking over the list of rules, I saw that there was a place called Walthers in my hometown that carried one of them (Angriff!). This would later become the first set of rules I would own. However, this told me that there was a place other than Hobby Horse where I might find things: Oh, Brave New World! Unfortunately, there wasn't a street address, but my radar had been activated.
Then came the feature on the Graf Spee. One of the first military books I had read was on the pursuit of the Graf Spee, so this fascinated me. I found the pictures of 1:1200 ships with bow wave effects (cotton though they were) quite arresting. This was also my first exposure to a schematic of a naval engagement: interesting and informative...
...unfortunately, there was no mention of what rules were used. In retrospect, I would guess Fletcher Pratt. Given my unfamiliarity with all things hobby at the time, I found myself assuming that my ignorance was the issue and regular readers of the magazine would (somehow) know what rules had applied. Once again, the adverts were intriguing, the Fantasy Games Unlimited ad in particular.
In the "Pass in Review" section I had my first real glimpse of miniatures. One thing I noted was the mix of "wargame" figures and what I would have called "toys" (like the Bachman Mini Plane and the HO scale Cobra gunship). This was my first sighting of the major figure lines of the day: Heritage, Minifigs, Custom Cast, Scruby, etc. Pages such as this in the magazines of the day were important sources, and I remember spending lots of time looking this page over.
"The Reader's Service Department" provided a means through which you could order rules sets. Another window opened up for me when I first saw this page, showing the range of rules available with descriptions of each. In retrospect, it's interesting to see the original Dungeons and Dragons among them, which at that time was less than a year old.
This piece on a the Battle of Azanulbizar from Tolkien completely blew me away. It says it recounts the events of a game using Chainmail but it is highly embellished and fictionalized, so much so that it reads like a story. I was already primed for Tolkienesque gaming, and this article sealed the deal. One interesting side note: I noticed the advert for the Ringbearer game from The Little Soldier in Maryland at the end of this piece. I would pick up a copy of this rules set later on (I forget where). Twenty six years later, I would move to Silver Spring, Maryland, and while living there I found myself in a rather disheveled little store in Wheaton, MD that had a mixed bag of things piled on tables and shelves from previous owners. At the bottom, like an ancient layer of geologic sediment, I found old, dusty wargame stuff, with price tags from way back. This was the remnant, I realized, of the Little Soldier Shop, long since gone. At a Northern Virginia Gamers Game Day event, I would later make the acquaintance of Dennis Largesse, former proprietor of the Little Soldier Shop, and would game with him at my place periodically after that. I've since moved to New England, but we're still in touch.
Even more significant, though, was the advertisement at the end of this piece. There it was, an advertisement for Walthers, complete with the address! I would wind up going there to pick up a copy of Angriff! as found in the earlier advert. I had expected a hobby shop, with a focus on gaming. Instead, I entered into a warehouse with a service counter. Walthers was (and remains to this day) a major mail order model railroad business. In the small service area, I was surrounded by men the age of my father; these were model train "enthusiasts" (to put it nicely), and they didn't mask their sense of offense at the intrusion of this teen-aged outsider among them. Worse, the counter person made a big production out of not knowing what it was I was asking for ("An-what?"). Another guy came out, who was only slightly less insulting, and after rolling his eyes disappeared into the back, leaving me standing among the sniggering regulars. Eventually, he returned with the rules. I was glad to have them, but needless to say I never went back to Walthers.
I was already a hex and counter gamer, and this piece on military symbols really caught my eye. Once again, I thought it peculiar that the symbols were focused on contemporary military units (what game had these?). Nevertheless, I studied this article and got all this information down cold. In those days, we were much more competitive, and knowing these things would, I thought, be an edge. Two years later, this effort did provide an edge. When I was entering college and my first year of ROTC, other new cadets were struggling with theses symbols, but I already had them down.
Skipping to the end (to the relief of my readers, I'm sure), I come to the most important find: the "Intelligence Report" and associated pieces at the back of the magazine. It was in this section that I discovered the "Northwest Milwaukee High School Gaming Club"--which was literally about a half mile from where I lived. I called the contact, Dan Banda, who introduced me to Micro Armor as well as 15mm Napoleonics and ancients. I went on from there and the rest is history (well, pre-history). I never tired of looking over this part of the magazine, seeing what people were looking for, what they were selling, and where they were. Pre-internet, sections like this were the glue that held the hobby together. Looking at it now, it's interesting to peruse the adverts and see Gary Gygax and Ron Kunz as contact people for gaming in Lake Geneva,Wisconsin. These were the days when a trip to TSR hobbies meant visiting the front porch of the Gygax household, anecdotes of which, dear reader, I shall save for another interlude. At this point, I will close this rumination.
If you are still reading this, I salute your patience (or your absence of having better things to do--or both!).