Monday, May 28, 2012

Those First Steps...

Miniatures enthusiasts all have them, those first steps down the hobby path of military miniatures.  For me it started in the late 1960s, but would be the late 1970s before I played a proper wargame or miniatures game. 

"The hobby" in its earliest form came to me during my fifth Christmas by way of Marx Toys' Fort Apache and Viking Castle.  The fort, a vinyl carrying case that folded out into an old west fort filled with cowboys and Indians, and a similar metal castle/carrying case filled with plastic knights and vikings.  There were no rules in those days, and the "good guys" always won.  Unfortunately, the popularity of these toys was short lived, as they had to share time with Toggle Blocks, Billy Blastoff, and Matchbox cars.  A handful of the Knights and Vikings currently reside in my attic, while their former companions were lost in a move in the 1970s.

The following summer, I was given some "old", lightly used, early 1960s G.I. Joes.  These 12 inch tall G.I. Joes were received with less excitement than the Cowboy and Viking sets, but managed to stay with me a lot longer, being one of four staple toys that would prepare me for the future.

While a couple of G.I. Joes and their M1 rifles grew into a squad with heavy weapons and a Jeep with a recoiless rifle, the interest in knights and vikings was rekindled by Marx toys.  Christmas 1971 featured the arrival of the Brave Knights, featuring Sir Stuart the Silver Knight doing battle with Eric the Viking.  A resurgence of interest of the earlier toys  resulted in the smaller plastic Knights and Vikings doing battle a few more times, while G.I. Joe dominated the time not taken up the the Brave Knights. 

Unfortunately, my G.I. Joes were sold off to support my sports card habit in the later 1970s, only a few weapons remain, sharing space with those few knights and vikings in the attic. Eric the Viking suffered a catastrophic structural failure after some years of battle with his arms and legs falling off, but Sir Stuart still protects the realm.

Christmas of '73 brought the last portion, and probably the most important,  to the pre-gaming training program.  A boxed Marx World War II set with Germans and Americans opened up a whole new battlefield.  A battlefield mightily encouraged by films such as Patton, and Battle of the Bulge. 

The Marx playset consisted of US and German troops, M26 tanks and M3 halftracks for the Americans, and Panthers and six-wheeled APCs that looked more like Soviet BTR-152s, than SdKfz 251s for the Germans.  The vehicles were in a smaller scale than the infantry, something close to 1/48th I would guess.  Of all of the military toys, these brought the most intense period of play, and would eventually inspire my first thoughts of rules for playing war.  The rules were incomplete and unrealistic, but were the first hint at a rich future.

My WWII Marx set would grow to over 500 troops, and eventually include die-cast P47s, a plastic Sea Stallion, Saladin armored cars, and an assortment of other similar toys over the next couple of years.  A significant number of Vietnam era infantry would reinforce their WWII counterparts in the war against the Germans.

In addition to these toys, the period spanning the early and mid 1970s would also feature "playing army" with toy guns.  My friends and I would run around the neighborhood shooting each other with various old west and, WWII, and modern era toy guns for hours on end.  Getting shot consisted of falling down in the most dramatic fashion, counting to ten as fast as you could, and rejoining the battle.

Christmas 1973 was also when I was introduced to the names Chamberlain and Ellis with the first of my "tank books".

These two titles would also be accompanied by Beekman's History of the World Wars series book Tanks and Weapons of WWII.  These three books would launch a reading frenzy from the public and school libraries of the books by C.B. Coby and Robert Leckie.  Along with the reading, movies ranging from Kelly's Heroes to Battleground would continue to cultivate my interest, until I would make the jump from children's toys to a proper wargame during the summer of 1976.

Like so many other gamers, Avalon Hill would introduce me to the  hobby of "Wargaming".  A $2.00 purchase at a garage sale would land me a copy of France 1940 and begin a love affair with French armor that has lasted to this day.  About three years later, my friend Mark would introduce me to Heritage's Panzer Troops.  It was designed for use with 15mm metal figs, but we used 1/72nd scale Airfix and other plastics. 

Though I would play other boardgamesfrom Avalon Hill, Yaquinto, and others, and explore role-playing via Dungeons and Dragons and Twilight 2000, before diving completely into miniatures, I knew from my first Panzer Troops game, that miniatures gaming was the path for me.  Or maybe, I just began to recognize that it was the path that I had always followed.