When I was in high school-ish, my first wargame experience was Panzer Blitz followed by Tactics II and Blitzkrieg. They were great games, especially Panzer Blitz. The geomorphic maps were a neat concept. All wargamers have fond memories of those early games they were exposed to. There was a simplicity that made them playable and fun. Nothing was as great as pulling off a victory condition in the last turn, let’s face it. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat was always a thrill and still is.
It was struggle to find gamers in an era before the internet. I found a note at our hobby store about a summer-long game of Terrible Swift Sword. I had a few issues of Strategy & Tactics, and loved reading their ads about their games – so I knew this one…Gettysburg. I called the guy running it, whose name I have long forgotten, and went.
A couple of guys set it up on a ping-pong table and we played every Saturday for two months – hours at a time. Everyone wanted to play the Confederates, so I got stuck playing the Union (Sickles Corps). As a side note – someone could earn a PhD studying why gamers pick Confederates and Germany so often in games. I guess it is that chance to reverse history and everyone loves an underdog. There were five or six of us playing. We did a thing where the guy playing Meade would hand-write out orders for us, just for a sense of realism. Of course, being gamers, and me playing Dan Sickles, I took a lot of leeway with those written orders. I think they stuck me with Sickles out of the thought that, being the youngest guy there, I couldn’t possibly be as stupid as he was in real life.
I remember that game well. It was intense and everyone was playing for keeps. Holding the Devil’s Den was not nearly as costly as trying to take it…I grew to understand how thin your lines can get and why that is bad. The Confederates pushed hard on Day Two and managed to get a foothold on the Union’s high ground, cutting us in two for an hour or two. It was costly for both sides.
Every move had risks associated with it. Every hex could be the one that spelled the difference between retreat and victory. Those were not cardboard counters taking losses, those were my men. When the artillery opened up, if the rolls were right, the ranks of infantry were mowed down. Even opting to do nothing came with consequences. Gaming is like that, a delightful cocktail of decisions, fate, and destiny. All throughout the week, between sessions, I contemplated my next moves – thought out the tactics I would employ.
We are building a house and my game collection is in storage until we move in. I have a flat box edition of the game but haven’t played it in years. I was thinking about it in the last few days, breaking it out and setting it up for another run. I find myself longing for those games of yesteryear and those moments of glory when you outdid the real men on the field of battle.
I’m sure all of us have similar memories from that period. I will never forget playing that game and how stressful and fun it was at the same time.