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Starting Out with Military Board Games and Historical Military Miniatures in 20mm

Ages ago, I was introduced to tabletop wargames by a sixth grade classmate, Steve Winship (1963 or so). We played some of the early Avalon Hill (AH) games like Afrika Korps, Waterloo, and Gettyburg His family moved at the end of sixth grade but I bought Gettyburg from him and I was hooked. I got a few other games from a local toy shop that had a small selection of those games. I believe that the games were $5.95 back then and that was a lot of money.

I didn't find anyone else to play with, so I played by myself, adding extra units to the existing games. I had a few games going using "Play By Mail" (PBM). You guessed it - the games were played in turns and meticulously recorded and mailed to the other player. It did take a while, plus you usually kept the game board setup in a safe place for the duration. I remember playing a guy from Belgium. That was interesting and he was very fluent in English.

I believe that I found these players after subscribing to Avalon Hill's magazine, The General. They had a section for folks to "advertise" for PBM opponents. I also found a couple of local players, including a guy in Garland. That must have been in High School or, more likely, college since I remember driving to his home and playing on a Friday night.

I even attended an IFW convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, during the summer of 1970. That is where I bought that infamous card game, Nuclear War.

During my college years (1969-1974), I got involved with a group of guys that played various types of games. These included tabletop AH wargames plus sports card games from APBA for football and baseball. Before fantasy football, we used to have drafts prior to APBA's release of the previous year's player cards, and have tournaments with the teams we assembled.

Eventually, we found out about lead soldiers and games with Napoleonic miniatures. At that time, there was a shop in the Dallas Quadrangle called Militaria. They carried all kinds of memorabilia and also some painted and unpainted 54mm figures. They also started carrying a line of 25mm Napoleonic wargame figures by Der Kriegspielers (DK). We visited Jim Oden a lot, and bought many bags of figures. It was about 1971-72 or so and the first units available were all infantry.

DK Logo

The Napoleonics interested just about everybody in our little group. Each person selected a country and began accumulating figures for our armies. My engineering buddy, Ken Ray, chose Russia. A local Arlington HS senior, Greg Pitts and his friend, Scotty Bowden at Texas A & M, both chose France. A transplanted Oklahoman, Jeff Key chose Austria. Another Dallas local, Charles Christy, couldn't make up his mind and collected several nationalities. I started out with Prussia but the early offerings were limited, so I also collected Great Britain.

Of course, all these figures were bare metal and required painting. Militaria sold a line of oil-based paints by Imrie/Risley (IR) that we used. I thought that half (or more) of the fun was researching, organizing, and painting the various units. They don't make those paints anymore and all of mine have long since dried up. We used to store the bottles upside down so the paint would seal any air from entering and drying it out. We also used to put 4 or 5 BBs in the bottle to help mix the pigment with the solvent since it settled over time. The BBs helped agitate the mixture when you shook the bottle.

We also linked up with a similar group in Oklahoma City. They held mini-conventions and painted figure competitions. That is where we initially met Jeff Key and I was introduced to Whataburger. Another regular was Eric Just who taught at Paoli High School in Paoli, OK (he was the science department).

OKC ConventionOKC Convention tabletop game (and a very young Ken Ray on the left)

There were some others from both groups that I just can't remember.

DK also had a game, Frappe, that used the figures on a 1:10 scale (one figure equals 10 soldiers). So our original armies were huge - a French battalion of 720 men (6 companies) took 72 figures on 4-man stands. A British battalion of 600 men (10 companies) required 60 figures on 3-man stands. I forgot exactly how many figures an Austrian BattalionMasse took!

I believe it was Jim Odom of Militaria that arranged for Ray Johnson, author of Frappe, to visit Dallas and actually referee a game. It was fun to see what his ideas about game rule design were about.

Later, we switched to the Napoleonique rule set that used a scale of 1:30. That allowed for larger scale games. French battalions were now 24 figures instead of 72. The Frappe French battalion now became a French regiment.

At one point I got an efficiency apartment at Snooty Fox West in Arlington. The "living room" section housed a 7x10 foot gaming table painted with the recommended "olive bronze" paint and covered with the DK 3 inch hex pattern sheets (about 2x2.5 feet each).

We played almost every Friday night. Scotty would almost always get take-out from the nearby Pulidos Tex-Mex restaurant. Charles Christy would sometimes pick up my kid brother in north Dallas on his way over. Other folks would drop in, with or without figures, and join the game. We usually played to well past midnight but we usually gave up about 2:00 AM or so. Many games were not finished but amply discussed as to who won.

I got married and graduated from UTA in 1974 and my time and interest in all this slowly waned. I still kept all by figures and still collected any DK 25mm bags that I found at shops on vacation. Ken Ray became the manager of The Royal Guardsman in Dallas at the European Crossroads shopping center. The wife and I would go visit the shop and look at what was new. DK started a line of 15mm figures that were interesting.

DK/Heritage Logo

Susan and I met a young couple at Irving Bible Church while he was going to Dallas Seminary, Erik and Geneva Krag. Erik was an old Dungeons and Dragons player and was therefore familiar with miniatures. He got very interested in the 15mm figures and started painting them. He ALMOST got me back into the hobby again. I still have a 15mm British line infantry battalion that he painted for me.

So, here I am in mid-2014 and I think I am interested in this again. My younger son, James, is interested in futuristic games like WarMachine and has started assembling and painting figures. I have picked up some new painting supplies at a local shop, Reaper Miniatures.

I had an OCD attack and registered a new domain dedicated to vintage 20mm and 25mm wargaming miniatures. Check out Vintage Wargamining Figures.

Play on!

last modified on 26 January 2018