Not a post on indie-publishing or faith in fiction or any such. This time, it’s personal.
An odd, analog hobby for a digital age. Forget WoW – gimme 28mm lead tin alloy.
H.G. Wells was the one to popularize and codify it for us English types way back in 1913. Wiki up here You can insist it’s ‘table top military re-enactments’ or ‘miniature tactical simulation’ all you want, but you’re really playing with toy soldiers. After all these years, I still have to resist making “pew, pew, pew! ratatatatatat! aaargh…” sound effects as the game unfolds.
Some background: A car accident at the age of 7 left me less than athletic, and much of my childhood was spent trying to but never quite fitting in to normal kid-activities. I was self-conscious, an outsider, pretty confused and unhappy, actually. Spent a lot of time in my mind. And reading. I owe a debt of gratitude to Lloyd Alexander for his Chronicles of Prydain series.
IIRC, I was 13 when my stepfather, trying to find something that interested me, give me some hobby to focus on, took me to a toy soldier factory in White Plains, New York. We got the tour: melting pots for lead/tin, round rubber molds, big spin-casting machines, rows and rows of numbered boxes filled with English Civil War Roundhead pikemen, Pirates, French Hussars, Prussian mercenaries, Green Mountain Boys, Napoleonic 9-pounder horse artillery… They were all there, thousand of them, shiny, tiny and new.
The thing I remember most was how happy the owner/guide was. I recall having the distinct impression when I was younger that I didn’t know a single adult who seemed truly happy. But this guy was. His face lit up as he recounted how he and his friends rented out a local high-school gymnasium for a week during the summer and re-enacted the battle of Waterloo in miniature. The whole thing to scale. He was genuine. He really enjoyed what he did for work. He seemed content. I remember him slipping in a couple extra figs with our purchase that day, saying I was welcome to come back any time. Sit in on a game, even.
American War of Independence. Those were my first figs. Blame ‘Johnny Tremaine’, ‘My brother Sam is Dead’, and ‘Drums along the Mohawk’. No Lobsterback or Hessian mercenary was going to run off my patriotic militia and Continental army regulars. Don’t tread on me, dude.
I had a game room in the basement, a hobby desk and a table made from an old door on cinderblocks. I spent hours painting the uniforms, facings, and muskets, flocking model railroad trees, building fences out of matchsticks, and making barns and farm houses out of cereal boxes and construction paper. One evening, I re-created a British raid on an innocent American town; I shut the door, set up my Redcoats and minutemen, turned out the light, then used stolen matches to set fire to all the little houses. I got down eye level and watched the story unfold as it all burned up. (Yes, I got in a lot of trouble. But it was worth it.)
Flash forward a couple decades, past detours into girls, drugs, friends doing B & Es on liquor stores, college, conversion, ministry, foreign field missionary work … to my eldest son coming home one day with a plea from his Middle School for After-School Enrichment Program teachers. “Anything… Hobby, craft, sport – anything at all.” it said. “Please. We’ll pay you.”
Filled out the paper confident of a ‘thanks but no thanks’ response, (esoteric, masculine, war toys, *gasp* …) and ended up with a “Military Miniatures and Table Top Gaming” program in two local middle schools for the next four years. (Getting paid to play with kids and toy soldiers. I love this country.) Response was so overwhelming, I rented out the empty shop next to my glass studio and ran a game room on the weekend.
Thirty-six years later, I’m mostly into Sci Fi, near-future stuff now, with a smattering of Western Europe – Saving Private Ryan – WW II, and some 6mm Modern Micro-armor.
Yes, I’m a collector. I really do find painting with those tiny brushes relaxing. I get a kick out of scratch-building an abandoned warehouse or some Post-apoc industrial center. I like strategy, tactics, the coolness-quotient of new figs, the interactive, moving diorama as the mission unfolds.
But what I thrive on is the friendship, the human interaction over the gaming table. It’s a brief intermission when the only conflict in your world is in miniature on a table top and the only threats are 28mm scale. It’s the banter, laughing at the fleeing hero, mocking the point-blank miss, incredulous at the impossible hit, cackling over the lucky save… It’s the look on someone’s face when they win. Or even lose a hard-fought battle.
I like that look because it’s the same one that guy had all those years ago in White Plains.
Hobby Blog: STALKER7