|Scene from a Johnny Reb game depicting Gettysburg with some photoshop smoke.|
I used to do a lot of war-gaming, both in miniature, and board games, and some computer games before taking up model railroading. Since I was primarily a Mac OS user, the selection of decent computer war-games was slim, so I didn't partake much. But I did a lot of miniature gaming, particularly with John Hill and his Johnny Reb system.
|John exhibits exceptional sportsmanship as he acknowledges an extremely lucky|
57mm anti-tank shot that destroyed the sole armor support he had in the scenario.
First, model railroading is a great, multi-faceted hobby that can be very time consuming. If you want to get a layout done, you have to stay focused. That might sound odd from me, as I dabble in lots of things, but the Aquia Line has been a steady current though all the conflicting tides of disparate projects, museum models and other diversions.
The second reason is that wargaming can be competitive. Life is tough enough without more competition. On the other hand, model railroading is cooperative. I like that aspect of the hobby. It's one of the reasons I am not a fan of model railroad contests, though I do occasionally partake them. Afterwards, I usually ask myself, why did I do that? About a few years will transpire and I will go through the same cycle. Doh!
Model railroaders is also a very social hobby. Even though we spend lots of time alone in the basement, we can share the hobby with a world wide fraternity through writing, blogs, joint work sessions, open houses, RPM meets, and the NMRA. My wife is no longer amazed about how, regardless of where we travel, there is usually a fellow model railroader we can visit.
By modeling a Civil War railroad I was able to combine my interest in military history with model railroading. I feel my civil war era railroad allowed me to opportunity to learn a lot about American political, technology, military, and economic history. At the same time, I was able to develop a somewhat unique railroad that also allows for fun operations.
I also had a nagging feeling that some aspects of war-gaming trivialize combat, especially WWII. Many war-gamers are infatuated with German WWII weaponry, while ignoring the attendant horror. I studied WWII quite a bit in my high school and college days, but I didn't have much urge to wargame it. I used to say to folks, I lose interest in war-gaming with the advent of the machine gun and its wholesale slaughter.
However, JD and Mark spoke highly of the WWII game system they were starting to play. It's called Bolt Action. It's a skirmish level game meaning that battles that are platoon to company size with individual soldiers and vehicles. I picked up the copy of the rules and it did appear that the game system captured the fire and movement of WWII tactics without too much complexity. Being a former Army officer, a realistic simulation of tactics is important if I am to appreciate a game or simulation.
The Bolt Action system is oriented to using 28mm figures, which scale out to about 1:56. Somewhere between S and O scale. I should note that I have hundreds of 28mm civil war figures on my layout as forced perspective objects. But I was dubious that such large scale figures could work in a game, after all weapon could fire across the room if done to scale.
|Armored vehicles are primary targets in a situation like this. |
JD did his utmost to neutralize this Sherman, even
after it was immobilized by an anti-tank round from his
Part of the enjoyment of the miniature war-gaming hobby is making an interesting, but functional terrain board. Some people care less about this and are happy to play over a plain table, but most others prefer a nicely detailed scene. I learned many of the scenery techniques I use today in model railroading from building war-gaming terrain.
War-gaming terrain has to be tough as it gets handled a lot in the games. It should be reconfigurable as to allow use in multiple scenarios. However, I specialized in making detailed pieces for each battle. For example, I once made a detailed model of the Marshall House that was about 2 by 2 feet for use in a large wargame depicting the battle of Cedar Creek. Unfortunately, I never got any good photos of those terrain pieces. I do have some scenes from a Gettysburg game, see above.
The Bolt Action game was a fun diversion. JD and Mark are good friends and any excuse to hang out with them is welcome. Mark commented to me, that he is glad he is getting into WWII gaming as it is causing him to go back and research things that he had forgotten or never knew. All of our parents participated in the war in some manner, so it is a way for us to think about their sacrifices in a pleasant setting. As JD says, "our soldiers don't bleed."