How I Learnt To Play Wargames
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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The first time I ever came face to face with wargames was in Whitaker's Toy & Sporting Goods store, in Gosford, in 1980.

Gosford was a small town about an hour and half's drive from Sydney. I had lived there all my life and even lived in the same street as Mr & Mrs Whitaker who owned the store.

I was twenty two at the time I was looking at their game section and saw, hidden in a corner, a shelf with some dusty military games. I had never seen these before and felt an urge to touch them and have a closer look.

They looked unloved, they were covered with dust, they appeared out of place in the midst of games designed for children.

Games?

Adults don't play games.

I wanted to buy one even though I felt that I shouldn't.

What was I to do?

As Oscar Wilde would have said, "The only way to deal with temptation is to give in to it."

And boy, was I tempted.

I think that I was there for about 20 minutes before making a choice.


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1. Board Game: Alexander the Great [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:5072]
David G. Cox Esq.
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From memory Alex was the first game I purchased.

I took it home and was a little hasty as I broke the pieces out of their cardboard frames. The edges of the counters had jagged pieces of cardboard. At the time it didn't matter - I didn't realize the need for cutting pieces out carefully and perhaps even clipping the corners off the counters.

As it was, Alexander the Great was a fine choice as it was suitable for solitaire play. There were big hexes on the board and there was no stacking of units. There were only a small number of pieces on the board.

The game was not particularly difficult to play and finished in around 90 minutes.

It was a great way to push those pieces around and see how it all worked, even without opponents.

And I wanted more...
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2. Board Game: Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:1028]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
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NSW
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From memory the second game I purchased, two weeks after Alex, was Napoleon.

It was another excellent choice for a person interested in military history, just becoming involved in military simulation games and having no live opponents.

Napoleon has blocks. Cool! No cardboard pieces to punch out.

The number of units was even less than Alexander.

The fog-of-war element of the blocks allowed me to suprise myself as I launched attacks against randomly selected groups of enemy units.

The point-to-point movement system limited the number of choices available to me which meant I didn't become overwhelmed by too many choices.

The game has both strategic and tactical subsystems which added to the interest level.

the movement system allows the creation of optimal movement plans so I could spend a lot of time working out the best way to move troops around.

The score was two from two.

And I wanted more...

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3. Board Game: Panzergruppe Guderian [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:1769]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
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My third game was Jim Dunnigan's Panzergruppe Guderian.

Inexperienced as I was, I could see that there was a substantial difference between the games of Avalon Hill and the games of S.P.I.

The colours were more muted and the rules more complex.

Luckily, it was another good choice for a person in my situation.

The 'hidden strenght' aspect of Panzergrupe Guderian still meant that I could play the game solitaire and still supise myself while resolving combats.

It was certainly a step up from the two previous games due to the stacking of units and the massive number of choices available during movement - I could basically move all my units where ever I wanted to, within movement limits of course - and I couldn't save unused movement points from one turn and spend them in the next turn - DAMN!

The score is now three successes from three choices.

And I wanted more...

I guess you can understand the feeling.

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4. Board Game: War of the Ring [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:2387]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
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My fourth game was a fantasy game from S.P.I. I had read the books and enjoyed them - why not the game?

Why not indeed!

Bad choice!

Too many units - unmounted map - complicated rules - too many choices - in retrospect it was probably not a very good game anyway.

With my fingers burnt and my confidence weakened I returned quickly to Whitaker's to have another go.

I must be able to do better and I really would like another game.

I mean, there is nothing wrong with buying a new book to read each week - what is the difference between that and buying a new game every two weeks.

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5. Board Game: Air Assault On Crete/Invasion of Malta: 1942 [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:3853]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
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Air Assault on Crete was another bad choice and brought my success rate down to a mere 60%.

There were way too many counters and there were even substitute counters where I could get my companies together and replace them with a battalion counter.

There were set-up cards and it took ages to get the counters on the right spot. There were counters for each game and some counters were used in both game it felt hellishly complicated to set up.

The allied counters were supposed to be deployed on the board face-down.

The victory conditions were not intuitive.

Were my initial impressions about this type of game mistaken?

Perhaps I needed to do some research?

Where could I find live opponents?

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6. Board Game: The War At Sea (first edition) [Average Rating:6.53 Unranked]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
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Inside the games I had purchased were some catalogues from Military Simulations - the Australian importer of military simulation games.

I decided that perhaps the range of games at Whitaker's was too limited.

Perhaps I needed to look elsewhere?

I decided to place a mail order with MilSims. I ordered a copy of War At Sea (being produced in Australia it was cheaper than the imported games) and a copy of The General magazine.

My success rate jumped six percentage points from 60% to 66%. War at Sea was a winner and perfectly suited to a person in my situation.

The General hit the spot in two ways - it was possible to read about games and know what I was getting before I parted from my hard-earned dollars.

On top of that, imagine my glee when, after leaving The General sitting on my desk at work, another teacher approached me with the words, "So, you play wargames too."

My previously private world of wargames was changing - I was out of the closet!!!



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7. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Handy Rotary Series [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:1518]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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Darryl Davis, a guy who had moved from the U.S. of A. to Australia, was my first live opponent. As well as playing War at Sea at work during lunchtime, we would frequently play Ace of Aces.

When I wasn't playing games I was spending time reading and re-reading articles in The General.

My gosh these games sounded cool. I ordered Afrika Korps and Third Reich based on the articles I read in The General. I also ordered some non-AH games such as A House Divided.

It was a very exciting time in a young man's life.


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8. Board Game: Gladiator [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:3551]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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From time to time we would also play Gladiator.

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9. Board Game: The Battle of the Bulge [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:5329] [Average Rating:6.09 Unranked]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
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Then came our first big game that was too large to play at school.

As it turned out, Darryl only live one suburb away from me.

With less than a 5 minute drive I was at his place and we played the old Battle of the Bulge game.

It was at this point that he explained to me that he was really an S.P.I. wargamer. Until then I was unaware that S.P.I. gamers play real wargames and look down on Avalon Hill wargamers whose simulations are neither as detailed nor as realistic as those coming from New York.

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10. Board Game: Blitzkrieg [Average Rating:5.87 Overall Rank:6192]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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Despite this, Darryl was kind enough to continue to play Avalon Hill games with me and even, on ocassion, said that some of them were okay, "as games."

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11. Board Game: Wooden Ships & Iron Men [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:1058]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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Ausralia had its own wargame magazine at this time, and from memory the name of the magazine was Breakout.

I had placed an advertisement in the magazine seeking likeminded adults who were willing to do things in the privacy of my house that most people wouldn't.

I received a phone call from a young Stephen Clarkin, one of the best and most courageous players I have met, asking if he could come over and play Wooden Ships & Iron Men. I spent a second or two considering this before replying in the affirmative.

Stephen and I have played many games over a long period of time - he is a courageous and honest gamer and I wish I saw more of him but he lives a long way away.

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12. Board Game: Midway [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:2615]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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As more and more of my friends and acquaintances became aware of my peculiar interest they would mention if they knew others who shared my peculiarity.

I won't mention the name of my next live opponent.

He cheats and I stopped playing against him in 1983.

Our first encounter was Midway.

Our last encounter was The Russian Campaign. I was the Germans - it had been a long day - he took a long time to execute his moves - I was going to be late home.

My Germans had taken Moscow and were advancing upon Archangel to capture Stalin. He asked why I was sending so much force north. I said, "To get Stalin. With the sudden death victory conditions if I capture and hold both Moscow and Stalin I win the game.'

For some reason I don't understand most of his troops stayed in the south defending Stalingrad. I captured Stalin fairly easily.

And then he wants to argue that the victory conditions are silly and so the win doesn't really count.

Come on - he cheats, he takes for ages to make a move and then he wants to argue that the victory conditions are invalid after I have told him what my plan is and successfully execute it.

Get Real!


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13. Board Game: Diplomacy [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:503]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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Through this guy, whose name I still refuse to mention, I discovered several wargamers.

We got together for a game of Diplomacy.

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14. Board Game: Squad Leader [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:477]
David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Lighthouse Beach
NSW
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One of the guys I met at Diplomacy was John Kemety. John had a passion for games and a magnificent collection of games.

He loved Squad Leader - he enjoyed the variety it contained and the fact that you could play scenarios in an evening.

He was a good friend and gave me many more contacts.

And so ends the saga of how I learnt to play wargames.

My parents and brother still can't believe that I spend so much time playing games. Afterall, games are for children and not for adults.

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