Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Comrades in Arms

I ordered some figures Friday morning. It was kind of impulsive and it was an impulse driven by an impulse. I contacted Alan Rudd of Timeline Miniatures (formerly Hoka Hey Wargaming) about the 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids I love because he's picked up some parts of the old Monolith Designs/Graven Images ranges and I had an impulse to get more (which is difficult to do right now). I asked whether he would be carrying the Prehistoric Europe range and he sent an encouraging reply (fingers crossed). But that got me thinking about the excellent Border Reivers range they carry, which were also Jim Bowen sculpts. I'd been eyeing this range for some time. With the imminent release of The Pikeman's Lament from Dan Mersey/Osprey, I thought now might be the time to bite and get some of the 16th c. Irish from that range. So I did.

But then I felt a gnawing emptiness (not just in my wallet) because this was the point in my purchase that I would email Phil Bardsley, confess what I'd done, and receive absolution. Since the dawn of the Internet Age and email, Phil, Bill Stewart, Kevin Smyth, Dave Schueler, and I (and various others) have exchanged emails about our projects and enthusiasms. At some point in the mid-90s, every Sunday morning became a virtual chat session as we sat at our computers drinking coffee and firing digital bon mots at each other, discussing figure ranges, and planning games. They were fun times, and we who were in the vanguard of graying the hobby were tickled that we could still learn these new-fangled interwebs tricks that set the distance between us at nought.

This underscores one of the feelings that I've always had about this hobby: It's not so much the figures, the rules, the painting, the games—it's the people that make the hobby worth pursuing. As the people start to go, something of the hobby goes with them. I find myself reevaluating the projects that Phil was part of because they seem to have lost their charm with his death. Much of our Bolt Action activity in the last years was driven by Phil's desire to paint and play 28mm WW2. Our games will be different without him and I'm not sure if I'd rather sell off my Bolt Action figures/models and use the money to fund other projects. Dick Larsen has also been a huge part of those games. Dick suffered a minor stroke the same day Phil died and is recovering in hospital and, later, rehab. It will be a while before Dick is back in action.

Phil and I planned many projects together, mostly abortive. I still have some of the Langton 1/600th scale Napoleonic warships he and I bought 15+ years ago. That went nowhere quickly, but it was fun to plan, buy, discuss possible rules. It wasn't so much the project as the pleasure of planning it with a friend. In the last year, we'd been talking about expanding Bolt Action to do the Syria-Lebanon Campaign of 1941. Phil bought some of the Perry 28mm Free French and he was talking me into buying the Vichy that Perry makes. It would have been glorious.

Kevin Smyth and I have 25 years of schemings and collusions. We'll have widely roaming phone conversations that come to some incoherent plan of action that may or may not be disastrous—but always fun.

And we've had a lot of collusions over the years. We've played and hosted many an ACW naval game together in two different scales and using a number of different rules (though like a dog to its vomit we always return to our adaptation of Yaquinto's Ironclads board game). Several times we put on our 15mm Tarawa game using Arty Conliffe's Crossfire rules. One year at our Enfilade! convention we joined forces with Dave Schueler and converted the Advanced Tobruk board game rules to 15mm miniatures and hosted a game of the battle of Mechili (1940). We've run many Silent Death games, played various rules adaptations for the Hundred Years War, and even gave WRG 6th edition Ancients a last hurrah together. Our latest collaboration is our Aztecs and Conquistadors project using our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant of the Lion Rampant skirmish rules. Kevin and I also coauthored our (I think now defunct?) newsletter, The Citadel, while Bill did production and licked the stamps to mail them out. New collaborations await—even though Kevin has too much integrity to get cajoled into anything that has to do with pikes.

Being pulled into another's mischief is a central delight of having friends in the hobby. Left to my own devices, I have no idea what I'd get up to, but the most enjoyable projects I've done have been the result of discovering a synchronicity of thought with co-conspirators that blossoms into some action, possibly painted figures/models, and—miraculously—an actual game or two.

I met most of the guys I regularly game with when I first came to Seattle in 1991. I showed up at a quarterly meeting in August at the US Coast Guard Bear Room on the Seattle pier. I immediately got into an ACW game run by Kevin and later found myself collaborating on a group project with Kevin, Phil, Bill, Dick Larsen, and others that would be a refight of the 1781 Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Phil was a descendant of Nathaniel Greene, so he was a big factor in picking that battle to game). I had already been painting 28mm AWI back in Chicago. As luck would have it they were doing the same out here. It was serendipity (or kismet).

That group has remained my core group ever since, though I've branched out into other games that pull in other players like John Kennedy, Steve "Puff" Puffenberg, Ken Kissling, Chris Craft, Mark Serafin, etc. With that lot, I've done 15mm WW2 (the Kampfgruppe Comander days), 1/300th modern, 1/2400th WW2 naval, among other things.

With Phil gone, some projects may fade away, but many others will never be born. It seems a long, long time since we worked on our first project together, but also as if it were yesterday. It's these somewhat maudlin (for which I apologize) reminiscences that make me appreciate anew the friends I've made in our strange little hobby.

Thank you, Phil, for all the years of friendship and fun. Thank you, my comrades in (wee) arms for the same and for all the times to come.


  1. What a touching tribute to your friend.

    You have a lovely blog which I enjoy reading.

    I am not a war gamer but am considering it as a hobby / interest now I am retired,

    John Rowe (London UK)

    Ps I am also a bipedal feline feeding / care unit.

  2. Thanks, John.

    Wargaming is a strange little hobby, but I've found it a rewarding pastime for 40+ years and made many an invaluable friendship.

  3. The joy of shared interests with friends clearly shows in your blog.

    I have attended a few war games events and found the people their very friendly and encouraging.

    I am particularly interested in the British early medieval period which would be my focus if I take the plunge.

    But being a bit obsessive (mainly with getting hold of books on the period) can imagine our house overrun with tiny Picts, Britons, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons. I'm also a bit poor on fine motor control and the level of painting I've seen looks a bit intimidating.

  4. I've never let my lack of fine motor skills get in the way of my painting. For we the maladroit there are a lot of techniques that compensate. My latest technique is using the Miracle Dip (so called, even though I brush it on). It let's me block paint solid colors without shading or highlighting. I blogged about it here: http://ilivewithcats.blogspot.com/2015/12/dip-it-dip-it-good.html.

    I rode the Saxons and Britons and Picts wave for a while. I still have the figures and am probably going to revive it once my short attention span runs out on my current enthusiasms. Put a project on hold long enough and it becomes new all over again.