Playing With Toy Soldiers

Gaming Means a Lot to Me, Part 1: My Time with Wargames.

I know, it seems like an obvious statement coming from someone who is typing an article for a gaming blog and also making videos about my miniature hobby efforts. This goes well beyond occupying my free time, and consuming as much of my disposable income as possible, like a good hobby is meant to. Through gaming, I found the opportunity to express myself, then I found out who I am once I opened up and along the process, I found some lasting friends. 

So let us begin this series with my long-running obsession with Wargames, as well as skirmish games, complicated board games and how they changed my life.

I look back and it hits me how long ago it was when I started down the wormhole that is wargaming. It was 1996; the movie Independence Day just hit theaters , Layne Stanley was still alive and making music but Cobain was not. I was already in several gaming groups with different collections of friends (more on that later) and I was in need of a job to keep supplying my music addiction and  also the numerous books that roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons require.

It’s unclear to me how I ended up with the very box that I was pawing through all those years back, but here it is, a lot of the miniatures are, well, let’s say elsewhere…

So, it all started with a terminator. Not the “I’ll be back” variety, but the grimdark type. One day at Nalbert’s house, while we were taking a break to burn off some pent up energy after hours of sitting at a table full of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books, pewter miniatures and polyhedral dice (more on that another time), I found myself pawing through a box of strange miniatures. Nal informed me that they belonged to 2nd edition space hulk. I was instantly in love with the bulky plastic forms of the terminators on the awkwardly small round bases. I was also intrigued to find that mixed in with the miniatures was the board, not as a folded piece of cardboard like other board games, but cut into small modular pieces.

Soon after my discovery of space hulk I got a chance to play. It was a great experience. I played with Josh, an acquaintance from the year ahead of me, and his older friend. However it was, that I got invited, it was a defining experience. It is likely that neither of them ever realized how much that night meant to me at that age, as awkward and unsure as I was then. Each of  them had a space hulk set and when combined it made for a hell of a night. I was hooked; it was not as complicated as an RPG, but it also wasn’t just a simple board game. It made for what I would call a complicated board game, and opened my mind to the science-fantasy setting of Warhammer 40k. From there, I discovered wargames: As I mentioned in my Dark Angel Army Showcase Video, Nal informed me that the Space Hulk models were also part of a bigger game so I went looking.

My box died in my last move. Copyright Games Workshop 1993

It wasn’t long until my teenage self was in possession of a 2nd edition starter set, which was Games Workshop’s first launch box for Warhammer 40k; it came with orks, space marines and a little bit of cardboard scenery to play a game. That set and most of my early models were purchased from a kiosk style store at the mall, with castle crenulation on top of the display cabinet on each corner. 

These 2nd edition pewter miniatures got a rebasing and a slight updating this past year.

After that high school was filled with table gaming and I look back fondly on those times. I made a Dark Angels army out of the space marine half of the box, having fallen in love with the bone white terminators I saw in the space hulk book. I gave Robert, a friend that was as close to a brother as possible while having a different mother, the ork half of the 2nd ed box, and we started playing. We played on my parents’ kitchen table with green fabric, books for hills and paint pots for trees. Music blasted forth from my fathers sound system but also had to keep an eye out for when he returned from work, neither of us wanted to know what would happen when he found the house shaking. When I got that job I needed to fuel my music and gaming needs I met Cliff. He turned out to live more or less across the street and I introduced him to 40k during 3rd ed. My life is better for knowing these two guys and I still play with them, albeit less frequently than I would like, more than 20 years later, and across several state lines., too

This box has seen better day, as have the cardboard scenery inside. Copyright Games Workshop 1994

I fell in love with 40k, but I played a few other games extensively in high school. Multi-player Necromunda games with long-running feuds between gangs across long campaigns were a blast. Isaac never had any luck with the Delaque gang he bought, so I bought it from him and never lost a one-on-one game with them. My boss had impressive scars, which inspired his lackeys, and also earned grotesque scars, which terrified my opponents’ models. He also bought a vortex grenade, a literal black hole weapon, that I never used for fear of sucking my own model into it, but he always had it as a threat. Good times.

As if there were not enough models involved with warhammer 40k, I also got involved with Epic. A unit of guys fit on a little base, a tank was an inch or so long, and the game was about playing, well, epic scaled wars instead of small battles. I had several starter boxes at one point which I abandoned at Roberts apartment. I learned in the past year or so that he held onto those boxes all these years. Honesty, I forgot about them.

I played battletech with Isaac, sometimes across his entire sitting room in his parent’s house, also while listening to music. I listen to a lot of music. A bunch of us got together and passed midnight into the year 2000 as only we could, playing an enormous game of Battletech across a massive table all night stopping only briefly to watch the ball drop and verify the world didn’t end. I still have my battletech minis from the mid 90s. They’re still unpainted. 

There were so many more games played, but those were the most important ones from my high school years. Then I went to college. 

I went to, at the time, the number two tech school in America. As you can imagine, I found plenty of like minded geeks, nerds, and weirdos. It was amazing. I got into Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Warhammer 40k 4th edition came out, obviously I bought it. I played a bunch of other games at the gaming club on campus. It also didn’t do my checking account any good that the largest game store in the North East portion of the country was down the street from my college. I bought a lot of minis and that’s when my pile of shame started. 

I drove my roommate and a friend to that game store, and the Vampire counts army box caught my eye. A whole army in a box, back when Games Workshop was nice enough to box an army, not just part of it. I was planning on buying it, but while I continued looking my roommate bought it knowing full well that I wanted it. Bastard. He built a handful of guys and that’s it. I can still manage to be angry about that almost 20 years later, because I refused to buy them after, even though I really wanted them. Would have just been more WFB minis in my unpainted pile of shame most likely.

I never even managed to try this edition, but I got a chance to try the rules when I got involved with the Horus Heresy game. Copyright Games Workshop 2014.

Then came the dark ages of gaming for me. My then girlfriend, now wife Kera and I moved and I didn’t have anyone to game with nor the disposable income to do so. I spent that time working jobs that barely paid the bills when coupled with mounting medical bills. I turned to video games for a while as a cheaper alternative that didn’t require other people across the table from me with their own host of models. I did keep up with each new edition of Warhammer 40k, buying the rulebook and each new iteration of the Dark Angel codex. At one point, with more creativity than liquid funds, I even tried to make my own printable paper wargame. As a new hire that escalated all the way to the level of best man at my wedding, Anthony spent a lot of time at my apartment brainstorming and coming up with wonderful and outlandish ideas for things that would never come to be. All that mattered is that we had a great time doing it.

I will talk about video games and trying to make games at a later time.

After many years away from table gaming, my wife introduced me to someone she met at work after moving to a new state. Ryan and I hit it off pretty quickly and we started playing Warhammer fantasy. I was excited to push models around on a tabletop even if it were not my preferred game, that being 40k. The ramshackle armies I built in my college years were no match for his painted yet never played army, and I couldn’t use my unpainted dark elf army against his painted dark elf army, that’s just rude. I had half a high elf army when Games Workshop executed the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game, literally ending the world. Bastards. We were both infuriated. I never even got to finish purchasing my army, and the whole thing was unceremoniously dumped in a box and added to my pile of shame. I was so jaded I refused to try Age of Sigmar until they were releasing the 2nd edition of the game. As of publishing this article I still haven’t finished my first AoS army. Maybe one day…

I was contemplating a glorious return to wargaming when Games Workshop announced the impending release of 8th ed of Warhammer 40k; the space marines I painted as Dark Angels, just like in high school, and Kera took the Death Guard, she thinks they are cute. Life stress was building while financial difficulties were loosening a little, and I really needed something all-encompassing to focus on again. How fortuitous. I leapt back in with abandon. I got the launch box, built it and started playing again. There were some games with Cliff, cautiously traveling back to my hometown to get games in. Another employee of mine  was, well, he thinks he was tricked into playing, but really, I chose an army that I couldn’t win with when I finally got Nate to try a game. Next thing I know he has three armies. I gave Ryan the ork half of the Black Reach box set as an apology for not caring for the game we tried together after WFB was canceled (sorry Warmachine) and for a second time I conned a good friend into playing 40k with a gift of unwanted ork models. Suckers. What, I didn’t say anything. 

Speaking of orks, this is also when I reconnected with Robert over that glorious invention known as the world wide web. Contrary to popular belief, it’s more than just cat memes and porn. Linking back up with Robert has been indispensable in keeping safe what little sanity I have left and regularly acts as my conscience. He repeatedly tries to stop me from making the mistakes, usually about buying more models. Fairly regularly I then giggle and make the mistake, but I do so knowing full well what I do to myself. After we reforged our bond, he got back into the hobby and we even managed to get together after nearly 20 years and played games when we did so.

Kill Team with my Ultramarines

After this I got involved with Kill Team, which was easy since I had more than enough models. Eventually I got bullied into starting that Age of Sigmar army that I haven’t finished. I picked up the newer necromunda releases, which is what I campaigned for us to play, but lost to AoS. 

I have so many games that I haven’t even built them all, let alone played: Adeptus Titanicus and Aeronautica Imperialis, both epic scale games, are still in box, and I have two unopened Warhammer Quest games, along with the Dead Souls and Aliens board games, just to name a few. And don’t get me started on how fast I dove face first into Horus Heresy…

There were so many more games in-between, but warhammer 40k, necromunda, battletech, these were the games that stuck with me, leaving an impact, and sometimes part of a model glued to my fingers. 

When I was young, I had a lot of creativity bundled up inside, as well as too much energy from the medication that kept me breathing.Pencil was applied to paper all the time, to the point that I gave myself carpal tunnel as a kid (which has now recently reared its ugly mug again, how wonderful) But i also had a pension for building stuff, primarily with legos. I would dig through the pile to the displeasure of my father while looking for that piece I knew I had but couldn’t locate. Building tanks and monsters from movies like Aliens and Last Starfighter eventually  turned into disinterest as I tried model cars to legitimize my building skills. In the end it was scifi soldiers and space tanks that totally did it for me. Wargames require miniatures, which need to be cut out and assembled. I still haven’t found a more perfect outlet for my need to create something to this day, try as I might have. 

A classic match-up of my Dark Angels against Space Wolves.

I was an awkward kid. Socially stunted and emotionally damaged by the kids in my class. I am glad my parents sacrificed to send me to a private school. I got a good education, but I never had an opportunity to discover who I was. Repeated attempts to listen to the crappy music they liked, pretending to like sports and stupid bullshit the rich kids thought was important left me hollow and longing. Fell into problems a lot of spiritually malnourished teenagers do when they are destined to diverge from the crowd of normal around them, but can’t break free. I found my opportunity with a few new friends in the later half of junior high, and eventually through wargaming in high school with even more friends I found a safe way to be social, across a table from a person with similar interests. To this day I still prefer to hang out with a game between me and a buddy instead of just sitting and chatting. The ease at which I converse and connect with others really started with wargames.

One of the things that was probably always there, but that wargaming helped me develop, was the tactical mindset that I possess. Thought through, analyzed and acted on has always been the way my mind worked. If I caused trouble it was because I deduced that I (or the troublemakers I was with) were smart enough to get away with it. If I took on a project or procrastinated until the literal last moment, I did so because it had been worked out in painstaking detail in my head. In my personal life, work life, and especially in my hobby, everything gets planned. Well, wargames allow me to start by planning an army from my available painted models, looking for a fun list for a friendly game or a list with good synergies for a more competitive list is where they start, then you move onto playing the game. Where do I place my models, where do I move them to be most effective, which target is of highest priority and which is next? Neurons fire, chemicals squirt in my brain and I love it. I ended up with an entirely useless minor in philosophy because my critical thinking ability matched equally well with my abilities to argue and to bullshit my way through a number of classes without reading the material. Obviously, important life skills here. 

Yeah, that happened.

I have a bit of a problem, I need to obsess over something. It’s a truth that I have discovered, come to grips with and actively embraced, since discovering that fighting that urge ultimately makes me miserable. I like things that are greater than the sum of the parts. I have something like 70 novels and novellas from Michael Moorcock; I discovered that the character Elric, the tragic anti-hero I fell in love with, is represented by many if not all of his other characters. I started collecting books and reading to find how they connected. Turns out the raygun that Cornelius uses while flying around space in a pink cadillac is just another manifestation of the black sword Stormbringer. Wargames, specifically Warhammer 40k is perfect for this kind of obsession. With hundreds of novels, dozens of video games, thousands of models and an infinite number of connections across all the media and mediums, my brain gets the obsessive sustenance it needs to avoid consuming itself in doubt and worry. Not sure its cheaper then hardcore drugs but it is at least marginaly better for me. It’s definitely preferable to my brain turning inwards in some sort of viscous coup. It seems weird, but I think this has been the most important part of wargaming for me over the past few years. With something to obsess over, something that feels nearly infinite, I can get a little escapism going on while fueling that part of my brain that needs more. I went through all 54 books of the Horus Heresy from Black Library in almost exactly two years, while also finding time to read a few other related novels and all the rulebooks I needed knowledge of to play the game. Now that’s obsessive, and I loved it. 

All these games have enriched my life, but not nearly as much as the friends I made, both old and new, along my wargame journey. I would be less of a person without them.

In my next blog we will talk about my time with roleplaying games and how they helped me find myself, as well as some more long lasting friends.

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


Obsessive and neurotic collector of little plastic men, novels about the same little plastic men and paints to make the little plastic men pretty. Married to Kera, who puts up with him and pretends that she doesn’t hear him speaking to the little plastic men in between making pew pew noises in the hobby room. Requires adult supervision. A menace to himself but rarely to others. More beard than man

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