Monday, March 30, 2009

Game nght at church

We had a game night at my church, and I'll post photos soon, but it was rather successful.

We had a number of old favorites and classics of course, such as Scrabble, Sorry, Yahtzee and cribbage. But I was also able to introduce some newer stuff to several comments like "I've never seen that before" such as Lost Cities, Hive and Heroscape.

We also had games of dominoes, Oh-Wah-Ree and Abalone hit the table.

Fluxx was also a big hit, I think it's a perfect game for an outing like this, being fun, easy to learna nd very quick to play.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Game company assholery

Most game companies seem to understand the hobby's environment and strike a reasonable balance between protecting their intellectual property and presenting a friendly visage to fans and consumers. When they don't, they can acquire a reputation, in the pejorative sense that your parents use when warming against bad behavior.

The old TSR, for example, was widely resented and mocked for it excessive zeal in that regard. Every term was so loaded down with TMs and (c) that it became a hobby joke. And few have mourned its passing. Indeed, of the various hobby brands that Hasbro acquired over the years it seems to have found a lot more value in Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill than TSR.

So I have to admit I was puzzled when i came across a major Internet resellers website and saw all the images involving Games Workshop products replaced this:

So I contacted the reseller and they said yes, Games Workshop insists they remove all images of Games Workshop products. They admitted it probably wasn't legal, but it wasn't worth the legal fight.

I have to admit I find the whole thing bizarre. It would be like Ford, GM or Toyota saying used car dealers can't use pictures of their cars in their ads.

Games Workshop has a reputation among brick retailers as well, and frankly I don't think the hobby needs this sort of attitude. They're games, not life-saving medicines. There's plenty of fish in this sea and there's no profit in being the stinky ones.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New geeklist posted

I posted a new Geeklist celebrating that I'm an old fart.

Well, not really. But it does celebrate one small perk of beinga round for a long time and that it the opportunity to build up some continuity with game systems. Over the years through a Darwinian ruthlessness I've pared down my collection a bit, but I did get to start on the ground floor with some games and game systems that I still enjoy a lot.

In some cases, such as the Tactical Combat Series originally from The Gamers and now published by MMP it would be impossible to have a complete set if starting now at any kind of price that I would be willing to pay. It's also been instructive to follow the evolution of the game system since Bloody 110 came out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nice little brush fire on BGG over sexed-up Amazons in the Small World game

Images like this one from the new Days of Wonder game Small World prompted some vigorous discussion on Boardgame Geek about how women warriors are depicted in fantasy wargames.
Of course, the men in fantasy games also tend to have, er, idealized bodies as well.

Of course real-life Amazons tended to show somewhat less skin, at least they did sometimes.

The Dahomey Amazons reportedly often went into battle dressed in similar fashion to this image, but by the time they fought the French they had proper uniforms.

Interestingly, there's an actual example of a Dahomey Amazon uniform on display at the Whitby Museum in England.

The Dahomey Amazons were defeated by the French in 1890 but were lauded by their opponents for their incredible courage. They were the elite of the Dahomey army, a king's bodyguard. Fighting a modern, well-equipped western army, they took very heavy losses and the unit, along with the rest of the army of Dahomey (which was mostly male) was basically destroyed, along with the kingdom.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Renault R-35

I'll be posting, on an occasional basis, musings about particular pieces in the Axis & Allies series of miniatures.

The Renault R-35 has been a rather popular piece, showing up no fewer than three times so far.
It was collector No. 2/48 from the Base Set, No. 14/60 of the 1939-45 set and 57/60 of the Eastern Front set.
The Base Set version
Rarity: Rare in the base set, uncommon otherwise
Speed: 2
Defense: 4/4
Cost: 9
Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges: 6 - 6 - 4
Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges: 8 - 7 - 5
Special abilities: Trench Crossing
Revision: The French version is a "1940" card in base set and 1939-45 sets instead of a"1939" card
Historical text: French versions - The R-35's extension rails helped it cross trenches and other obstacles at the expense of speed and firepower
Romanian version - Romania bought 41 R-35s from France and acquired 34 Polish R-35s from units that retreated into Romania.
The 1939-45 set
The unit in history: The R-35 was meant to be the standard light tank supporting French infantry divisions, replacing the World War I veteran FT-17. It was the most common French tank in 1940, with more than 1,600 built. A few ended up in service in other armies, including Poland and Romania as noted on the Romanian card. After the 1940 campaign a few French R-35s saw combat in North Africa and Syria against the Allies. Other notable actions involving R-35s were by the German 100th Panzer Battalion in Normandy against American paratroopers and Arab fighters against Israelis at Degania in 1948. Contrary to the flavor text, the lack of firepower and speed were not a trade-off for havingt he extension rails but were a combination of doctrinal beliefs, design compromises for weight and availability of weapons. The tank was envisioned as an inexpensive infantry support vehicle so it didn't need a lot of speed and anti-infantry capability was more important than antitank power.
The Romanian version from the Eastern Front set
The unit in the game: The R-35 's forte is its high defense value for its cost, which makes it pretty tough by 1940 tank standards. It's foibles are minimal speed and low antitank values. The piece is always available to French armies under standard construction rules , with a 1940 date (originally 1939, but changed to 1940 in the revised cards), but realistically it should have an end date of 1940 as well . It could also represent Vichy French troops on the Axis side in campaigns in Syria and Africa until such time as a specific Vichy French figure shows up in the Axis OB. The In Romanian service it's well past its prime, but they don't have a lot to choose from so it may be of some use as an infantry support vehicle.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Curt Schilling retires

Well, now that he is retired from baseball I wonder if that will have any implications for MMP? Perhaps he will take a more active role in the company's management.

I seem to recall that he said once that he promised his wife that MMP would be a self-sustaining business, in other words his baseball earnings were not going to subsidize his hobby. So I wouldn't expect his retirement to mean more funds for the business.

On the other hand, he may have more time available, even if he spends a lot of it on other business opportunities. That time may very well have a lot of value in itself, but it also could mean a better focus. Given that Schilling is obviously a highly competitive person, directing some of his competitive energy into making MMP a bigger company wouldn't be surprising.

Does the Kindle have any implications on gaming?

I got mine this weekend and I'm still learning the ins and outs of the thing, but my first impression is highly favorable. It really does make reading pretty easy. For one thing, it's actually easier to handle than a book. You can easily read it one-handed, which makes someone like me who likes to read while eating (a habit that annoyed my father when I was a kid) very pleased indeed.

It's not a good game-playing platform, of course, although it appears some folks are trying. I see some things that look like they might be games on Amazon.

But it could be a useful supplement to boardgames. Rules, for example, are often posted on the Web now. The Kindle can read Web pages, but perhaps a specific Kindle application of the rules would be useful. One of the selling points of the Kindle editions of books is their ability to be updated, which would be very helpful indeed for wargame rules.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Memoir '44 and Tide of Iron scenario books, a comparative component review

A comparative review of the new scenario books for Memoir '44 and Tide of Iron.
Back in the good old days of wargaming companies such as Avalon Hill and SPI directly competed for the money of wargamers with similar offerings, much to the benefit of gamers.
So it's nice to see a similar dynamic taking shape now as wargame companies go head-to-head with each other in manly competition. Memoir '44 from Days of Wonder and Tide of Iron from Fantasy Flight Games have considerable overlap in their appeal, both being depictions of tactical World War II combat using neat plastic pieces, stunning euro-style graphics and approachable game mechanics. They are wargame-enough to capture a significant number of grognards while gamey-enough to appeal to a wider gaming market as well. Tide of Iron is the more complex of the two, but not by a lot.
Within the past few months both companies have published remarkably similar products as expansions to their respective game systems, lavishly-illustrated hardcover scenario books, styled as "Volume 1" of what is evidently hoped to be a continuing series of such offerings.
First out of the gate was FFG with it's "Designer Edition" for Tide of Iron. This handsome 96-page full-color book is basically a collection of standalone scenarios for the tactical game system, which has included relatively few scenarios for that sort of game so far. In an interesting twist the scenarios have mostly been designed by famous wargame designers such as Richard Berg, Frank Chadwick, Don Greenwood, John Hill, Dana Lombardy, John Prados, Ted Raicer and Vance Van Borries, as well as a dozen others.
The scenarios follow the same format as all previously published scenarios, with two pages of designer's notes, a background brief, objectives and player hints each, a page with the scenario order of battle and a page with the map and scenario details. They have a good mix, running from a couple of short, 4-map mini-scenarios to one massive 24-map, 20-round epic that will take two copies of TOI to play. Most of the scenarios just use the base game and all can be played if you have a base game and the Days of the Fox expansion, except for the aforementioned giant battle. One pair of scenarios can be played as a mini-campaign.
One complaint about the base game was scenario balance and we've been assured that these scenarios were all extensively playtested for competitiveness.
Time will tell about that, but many of them do provide some interesting tactical situations such as night fighting, rescuing beleagured troops, all-vehicle and no-vehicle fights and more.
A handful of the scenarios do have some vital errata and can't be played without visiting FFG's Web site for the information.
The book also includes thumbnail bios of all the designers.
Days of Wonder's Memoir '44 game already has an extensive line of expansions so a lack of scenarios isn't a problem for them. Instead the 112-page full-color Campaign Book offers a new kind of game experience for jaded Memoir '44 players with a dozen sets of campaigns, each of which will require 3-5 games to resolve. The campaigns, in turn, can be played in a linked series as part of a Grand Campaign. The Normandy Campaign group only requires the basic game, while the Blitzkrieg in the West and Operation Barbarossa campaigns will require some components from the Terrain Pack and Eastern Front expansions. One campaign requires the Air Pack and it's recommended for use in all of them. It's nice that the book doesn't require any more than the basic game to start, but I doubt too many players who will buy this product haven't already got most of the other stuff already.
While it's possible to play the scenarios as just some more stand-alones, the book is best used with a regular partner for campaign play.
Besides pages of scenarios in standard Memoir '44 format, a number of the pages outline the campaign flow with places to record the scores ad well as Grand Campaign score pages, but there's no need to actually write in the book because all the score sheets are available as downloads from the Days of Wonder Web site.
I haven't had a chance to try the campaigns yet, but they look very interesting.
Both books look like great additions to their respective game systems and are definitely worthwhile for anyone who has already bought most of the expansions.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Too cool

Small World looks intriguing

The latest pseudo-wargame from Days of Wonder looks rather interesting.

Small World is apparently an updated version of Vinci, which I've never played, but is in turn described as being similar to History of the World, which I have played.

I like these sort of games, they are especially good if you can get a group going. Small World has a fantasy setting, compared to the historical setting of Vinci, which opens up the possibilities. This sort of thing isn't a simulation in any sense of the word, so I don't think much is lost by moving it to a fantasy world and there's a lot of potential gain.

I'm looking forward to this coming out and trying it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

501st Post on Pawnderings

Half a thousand posts have appeared on this blog so far. I've tried to post something every day, but life and other responsibilities have occasionally gotten in the way.

This started off as a catch-all general Seth blog, but I found the diversity of my interests made for a rather schizo blog -- posting one moment about some fun game and the next about some human rights abuse made for a rather jarring read.

Hence I split off the political commentary into its own blog at where it seems to exist quite happily. That blog is mostly a place for me to vent, but feel free to check it out.

Recently I also started yet another blog to discuss in more detail the distressing state of the newspaper industry. It's called Death Notices and can be found here:

My primary blog remains this one, however, because games are certainly a lot more fun to write about than politics and the press, even if less consequential.

Here's to the next 500 posts.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

That explains a lot, old age begins at 27!

Or at least some research suggests that:

To summarize, researchers suggest that mental ability peaks at 22 and starts to decline at 27. Presumably experience counts for a lot, and allows for improved performance for many decades afterwards, but the actual peak of our cognitive abilities comes much earlier.

I don't find this surprising, actually. Einstein made his biggest breakthroughs while still in his 20s and chess masters arrive at their exalted status as teens or young adults, not as people nearing retirement.

I've noticed that the intricate, detailed wargames that fascinated me as a young man no longer hold as much attraction now that I'm much older. I thought that I'd simply lost patience with them, or "matured" in my tastes or something like that. But it may be something as simple as the fact that I'm not quite as sharp as I was back then for that sort of thing. It's too much work now. Back then it didn't seem like work.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Reviewing collectible games from a wargamer's perspective: Axis & Allies miniatures

I've already reviewed Axis & Allies Miniatures in a general sense, but this time I'm going to look at it from the perspective of a wargamer who might be tempted to take the plunge into collectible games by this line's World War II theme.

The biggest caveat is, of course, the collectible format.

The drawbacks are well-known. It can be expensive to acquire a reasonably sized set for playing purposes, let alone for collecting. It tends to favor those with deep pockets who can afford to build up large collections. The blind purchase format can be aggravating, especially when you end up with larger numbers of common pieces than you can ever expect to use.

These drawbacks are mitigated somewhat in A&A Minis, however. One can easily skip the whole blind purchase thing with purchases off of eBay and quite possibly save some money and certainly save a lot of aggravation. The pace of releases and the modest size of those releases means that, unlike most collectible games, it really is possible to collect the entire set. There are no ultra-rare, chase or promo figures. All the promos given away so far have been the same common figures that came out in the main releases, with no repaints, special stats or other hard-to-get characteristics. Deep pockets are much less of a factor because there aren't overpowered units that unbalance the game. Armies are chosen on a point basis that has worked reasonably well, although some pieces have had to be re-costed. The laws of real-world physics and the dynamic interaction of real-world tactics means that even inherently powerful units such as the King Tiger tank have effective countermeasures available, Finally, there are, with a few exceptions, no really useless pieces in A&A miniatures because the figures can easily be used for other purposes.

Indeed, quite a few people don't use the figures to play the provided A&A minis rules at all, but use the figures to play real miniatures games such as Flames of War or Battlefront.

I say "real" miniatures because, in reality, A&A miniatures is not really a miniatures game at all, but a hex-based tactical board wargame that happens to use miniature figures. It's really much more similar to something like Tide of Iron or Memoir '44 than like Flames of War.

That tactical game isn't bad. It's a very basic, simple tactical wargame with some interesting aspects and reasonable fidelity to history. It's primary purpose, however, is to give you some rules to use to play with your toys. Nothing wrong with that, but it's hard to imagine that someone who calls himself a wargamer won't already have some favorite tactical level World War II wargame. A&A minis won't supplant that game, although it may supplement it.

No, the primary reason for buying A&A miniatures are the figures, themselves. They are generally pretty well done and provide an interesting selection of forces, troop types and nations.

The first five sets (Base Set, Set II, D-Day, Contested Skies and Reserves) added up to 228 different units, although there were some duplicate sculptures, so the actual number of models is somewhat less than that. In each set it seemed like there was at least one disastrously bad model or error. For example, in Set II the US 3-inch M5 antitank gun ( No. 19 of 45) is a sorry little misshapen lump that barely resembles any kind of gun and is so out of scale it might be mistaken for a machine gun. Its completely unusable for any purpose. In the D-Day set there was the infamous "MesserSpit" model, where an error at the Chinese factory resulted in the Spitfire being represented by a German Me-109 fighter painted in British colors.

And all the first five sets suffered from inconsistency in scale between models. The first five sets, although marketed as "15mm" were not really 15mm in scale as far as the vehicle models. There were closer to a 12mm scale, which meant they were incompatible with standard 15mm models from other manufacturers, much to the disappointment of many gamers. The 228 different units, however, gave the game a big enough set of alternatives to choose from that the game itself still worked and the problem figures were few enough that they didn't ruin the game.

Still, Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast took a big gamble when they issued the next sets because they changed the vehicle scale to a truer 15mm! This meant that all the earlier models were noticeably smaller than the new tanks. While having absolutely no game effect, it did have mess up the aesthetics of the game a bit. Still, they pressed ahead and the next three sets (1939-45, North Africa and Eastern Front) now add up to 180 different units (with some duplicates) including reissues of most of the important fighting vehicles from the first sets in the new, larger size. Players seem to have accepted this change and with the next set the newer,larger size will constitute a majority of the line. (The newer sets are also larger, with 60 different units, compared to the 45-48 of the first sets).

Quality control seems improved, with no absolutely horrid mistakes like the M3 or MesserSpit showing up, although a few of the models have come in for some criticism from purists.

The new, larger size for the tanks also resulted in a change in the maps being used, going to 3-inch hexes instead of the 2-inch hexes used before. Many of the late war heavy tanks and assault guns were simply way too big for a 2-inch hex.

When I first heard about Axis & Allies Miniatures I was excited, hoping that it might bring more interest to historical topics and history-based wargaming. The fact that it's gone through eight sets and spun off two naval sets with at least two more sets in the wings would have been too much to hope for, especially in the hyper-competitive niche market of collectible games. What helps A&A minis in that market is that I think there is relatively little overlap between A&A players and the players of other competitive collectibles. I also think Hasbro/WOTC seems to have had realistic expectations for the game and it has met their marketing goals (something that Dreamblade did not do, which resulted in its demise, even though I suspect its sales figures were similar).

I think the game is worth a look for the wargamer who might be tempted to trya collectible game. I've generally bought the boosters in small batches with an occasional purchase of a case. When I'm down to needing my last four or five rares I'll go ahead and buy them on eBay to fill out the collection. Following this strategy I've been able to complete the first six sets without breaking the bank and having useful numbers of the uncommons and commons for gaming. Having a little imbalance among my rares doesn't bother me, I consider it to just add a little personality to my choices. But one can also buy whole sets off eBay easily enough.

If just starting out, however, I wouldn't recommend going back and buying from the first five sets unless your a completist collector. Nearly all of the models from the first set will be reissued at some point, if they haven't already. If you're just getting into the game, it's safe to start with the current 1939-45 starter. The most interesting figures that haven't been re-issued as of yet are the amphibious craft from D-Day, the logistic and fortification units from the last two sets and the heroes from those sets. It may be a while before the amphibs show up again, because at the new scale they may be too big, but the other figures are cheap enough on eBay.

Overall, I would recommend the game, despite the collectible aspect.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Axis and Allies Miniatures: MAS 7.5mm Rifle

I'll be posting, on an occasional basis, musings about particular pieces in the Axis & Allies series of miniatures.
First off is the lead-off miniature in the entire line, the MAS 7.5 mm Rifle.
Collector No. 1/48 from the Base Set and No. 12/60 from the 1939-45 set.


Rarity: Common
Speed: 1
Defense: 4
Cost: 3
Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges: 8 - 6 - none
Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges: 2 - none - none
Special abilities: Close Assault 6; Urban Combat
Revision: Now a "1940" card in base set and 1939-45 sets instead of a"1939" card
Historical text: The MAS-36, a rugged 7.5mm bolt-action rifle, was the standard weapon of the French infantry

1939-45 set figure

The unit in history: The game piece is named after the rifle used by many French infantrymen.

The French Army in 1940 was expected to be the mainstay of resistance to the German war machine. It was large and well-equipped and a large part of the front it would have to cover was protected by formidable border forts. As with any army, its core rested with the common infantryman. First-line troops were armed with the MAS 7.5 mm Rifle, a modern, bolt-action design that started coming into service in 1936.

French soldiers were mostly conscripts, but led by experienced officers and NCOs, and trained by a large and effective system that had been honed through many years of experience.

While somewhat hobbled by misguided tactical doctrines at higher levels, French squad level tactics and training were appropriate and effective and French soldiers fought well.

After the armistice most of the French army was disbanded and sent home, but significant forces remained on duty, particularly in the various French colonies. These troops, in West and North Africa, the Middle East and Indochina saw fighting later in the war during sharp, but brief campaigns against the United States, Commonwealth and Japanese forces.

The unit in the game: The MAS 7.5mm is the epitome of the ordinary infantry in the Axis & Allies miniatures game system, with an adequate attack and defense against similar troops, a useful anti-tank ability against lighter vehicles and a low enough cost to make it expendable. It's a little better than the average such unit because it has the Urban Combat ability while not paying extra for it. That extra +1 on cover rolls in town hexes is useful enough, but it probably won't have a big impact.

Base set figure

The piece is always available to French armies under standard construction rules , with a 1940 date (originally 1939, but changed to 1940 in the revised cards), but realistically it should have an end date of 1940 as well except for scenarios set in Indochina against the Japanese. It could also represent Vichy French troops on the Axis side in campaigns in Syria and Africa until such time as a specific Vichy French figure shows up in the Axis OB.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I grew up on ZOCs.

No, it wasn't a breakfast cereal. It was the infamous "Zone of Control." All the earliest Avalon Hill classics had them, as did most of the old SPI quads and their kin. I learned about them so early in my wargame career that for a long time I gave them little thought, despite some articles in MOVES magazine about them. It was easy to forget what an artificial thing they were, and how they could distort game tactics.

Mastering the effects of ZOCs was required for good play in those old classics, but I don't think they really added much in the way of realism. One of the refreshing things about XTR's games was that almost all of them dispensed with ZOCs.

When you really think about it, a ZOC probably means that the there's a mismatch between the size of a unit and the size of the hexes. If a division can cover a 12-mile front then perhaps the hexes ought to be 12-miles across and not 4 miles across with ZOCs accounting for the other 8 miles.

ZOC rules lead to oddities such as occupying every other hex along a hex grain, whereas in actual operations you would generally occupy a more-or-less continuous line.

Overall, I think ZOCs are best dispensed with.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More Lore, please

The latest episodes in the continuing series of matches between the Young General and the Old Warhorse as they march through the scenarios of BattleLore ended up with a split decision.

First up was the Crisis In Avignon scenario, which is meant to introduce the other loremasters (Rogue, Cleric and Warrior) with everyone at level 1 and two identical armies facing off.

Because it was another face-off between identical armies we decided there was no need to switch sides.

There's a slight difference in the two sides' deployments, though, as the standards army has an unfordable river behind its left flank and an objective marker for the banner army on the bridge. As the standards commander I started off by moving that flank forward a bit to get some retreating room.

As so often happens with duels between evenly matched forces it proved hard for either side to gain a decisive edge and the game ended up being another example of the two armies poking at each other looking for tactical advantages. This was exacerbated by Young General's propensity to send his troops on unsupported forays, although in truth this didn't work to his disadvantage as much as I expected. I think that's because there's not as much scope for battling back in BattleLore as there is in the similar Commands & Colors: Ancients. In C&C A battling back is available to all units, whereas in BattleLore it's only available to Bold units. Aside from when attacking the dwarves, who are therefore always formidiable, it's not that difficult to avoid battlebacks. Unless the enemy is formed in what I like to call a "tercio" of three units all adjacent to each other, there's always somebody out on a limb who is unsupported. (In the initial set up above there's a "tercio" on the right flank of each army. A "tercio" was a Renaissance-era Spanish Army formation, so it's anachronistic to use it in BattleLore, but I think I can get away with it seeing as there also were not dwarves, goblins or giant spiders in fourteenth century Avignon, either.

Adding to the disjointed nature of the fighting was the Lore situation. Both sides had all the Loremasters so nearly all the cards were in play but nobody had a loremaster higher than level 1 so it was hard to acquire a coherent set of capabilities.

Both players were getting more comfortable with using Lore, though and the cards started to have more impact on play, and the Old Warhorse was able to crown his victory with a Fireball spell that wiped out the fifth and last Banner unit to get a 5-3 win.

Young General, undaunted by defeat, demanded an immediate rematch, so we moved on to the next fight, a Burgundian Chevauchee. This was a 6-flag battle, and involved dissimilar war councils. Young General's Banner army was somewhat handicapped by having just a Level 1 commander but otherwise a well-balanced of loremasters that included all but the Rogue. The Standard army was very heavily clerical, with a Level 3 Cleric, a Level 2 Commander and a Level 1 Rogue.

This battle ended up developing quite unexpectedly as Young General, aided by fortunate card draws was able to relentlessly attack the Standard Right flank and completely destroy it, building up a 5-1 lead in flags!
Old Warhorse gamely tried to rally and closed the gap to a 5-4 score but with several units down to a single figure it was just a matter of time before Young General got his sixth flag and the win.
Having Level 2 and 3 Loremasters definitely changed the tenor of the game. Not so much because the spells were better, although some were, but mostly due to the larger hand sizes which allowed players to start to make plans.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Monopoly and Ouija movies, too!

More here:

Candy Land movie?!

Well, there's one on the way:

My wars

One of the driving forces behind my interest in wargames was World War II. As a kid growing up in the 1960s that war was ever-present in the media. Veterans of the war were men in the prime of their lives.

Quite a few Twilight Zone episodes were set in World War II, which is no surprise considering that Rod Serling was a combat vet himself. The war was also a popular theme for other TV shows. Some were action-oriented like Combat, Rat Patrol and 12-O'Clock High. Others were even comedies like McHale's Navy and, amazingly, Hogan's Heroes set in a prison camp.

And World War II movies were omnipresent on afternoon TV movie shows.

While my dad was a Korean War vet (the forgotten war) my best friend's dad was a veteran of Guadalcanal and we were therefore really excited when we found out there was an Avalon Hill game on the topic.

My own kids seem far less interested in such things, I guess because my own wars lack the drama of World War II, but I did get to serve in at least two wars in my own military career.

The least dramatic, although perhaps more important,was the Cold War. I served, like so many others, in the struggle between the democratic West and the Reds. Although it was a shooting war in some places and times, notably Korea and Vietnam, most of it involved little shooting but a of of training, boredom and "being there." In addition to my stateside service, I also got to spend a little over three years on the "front" in Germany with this unit (as depicted in the game TAC AIR):

The 1st Battalion, 80th Field Artillery was equipped with the Lance, a tactical ballistic missile that could be armed with a conventional warhead, but was primarily meant as a nuclear delivery system.

The counter depicts the missile on its portable launcher as deployed for airmobile use, but that was a rarely used capability that, frankly, seemed untenable on a battlefield. While the launcher had wheels, you couldn't safely tow the missile that way.

Instead the missile was almost invariably deployed on its fully tracked carrier, as example of which is shown here on display at the Field Artillery Museum at Fort Sill, Okla.:

Ironically, by going to Germany I may have missed out on being deployed to the shooting war that DID occur during my active duty stint, the Invasion of Grenada. I was on active duty in the first place because I had done well at the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course at Fort Sill. At the time they offered the top-performing reserve component officer the chance to go on active duty and I had the choice of going to Germany or going to Fort Bragg to be in the 82nd Airborne.
I had long wanted to go to Germany (I even took German in high school) so it was an easy choice, but in retrospect it's easy to se how things could have been different. Whether or not I would have happened to be part of the 82d that deployed to Grenada is impossible to say, but it was a possibility.

I likewise missed the First Gulf War, being at the time in the 26th Yankee Infantry Division. At the time the National Guard insisted that only whole units should be deployed. This meant that, given that no infantry divisions were needed, that the only Mass. National Guard units that saw combat were some non-divisional MP and truck units. The Guard changed their mind about that rule.

As my military career seemed about to wind down without seeing any action whatsoever, I was quite surprised to get a summons to active duty in 2003! I was in the Individual Ready Reserve by then, the non-drilling reserve component. Apparently the Army was short on field grade officers to man all the headquarters units it was creating to manage the second war in the Gulf and I ended up serving in Iraq with the Joint Special Operations Task Force North. This was an unusual unit. Basically it created a Corps-level headquarters around the core of the regimental-sized 10th Special Forces Group headquarters. Naturally, as a special forces group headquarters there were vast areas of expertise required for conventional operations and corps-sized responsibilities that the unit didn't have. So it was beefed up with all sorts of folks, from Navy SEALS, to National Guardsman, Air Force personnel, Marines, OGA (other govt' agency -- i.e. CIA) and, yes, IRRs like me.

The counter above, from the game Operation Iraqi Freedom, depicts some of the Special Forces troops that were part of JSOTF-N.

As it turned out, the refusal of the Turkish government to allow the 4th Mech Division to invade Iraq from the north meant I didn't personally have a very active war, as I was assigned to the "ground fires" section that was responsible for coordinating artillery fire. In the actual event there was just one 6-gun battery of 105m howitzers in our area that the 173rd Airborne Brigade brought along and all the fire support that the special forces teams received was in the form of air strikes coordinated by the Air Force folks instead of us.

I did get to serve, and although it wasn't a time of high drama personally, I've been around long enough to recognize that every small bit part does play its role in the larger story. War and politics being unpredictable, it's hard to say that things might not have played out differently. Or even that the way events did unfold was not in part because of our presence. Certainly the JSOTF-N did occupy the attention of a dozen Iraqi divisions using little more than three battalions-worth of green berets, some Kurds and about four battalions worth of Marines, paratroopers and mountain light infantry. There's little glory in an Economy of Force mission, but it's a Principle of War for good reason.

Here's me in Iraq:

That's one of the special ops helicopters used to support the green berets and other special operators.