I wanted to reach out to my brother James, who is a secondary school teacher (ages 11-16) back home in the UK. He recently organized some exciting table top wargaming activities at his school, and whilst that’s not something you regularly see from us at The Players’ Aid, I wanted to shed some light here because that’s how I got into wargaming, and it was fascinating to see young kids, future hobbyists start learning the ropes. So here’s James’ thoughts:
Who am I?
Brother of Alexander, we grew up in a home with a dad who had been into military miniature painting and wargaming, but had since moved on to model railways. We would often raid his collection of old Airfix Shermans, and tubs of old unpainted infantry to play around with them in a very “bang, bang, dagga dagga dagga, your guy is dead” sense of playing.
I remember setting up four bases in our older brother’s room. The desk was always an airfield, as was the windowsill. On top of the drawers was a stack of Mecano boxes and large books, which made a mountain fortress. One of the bookcase shelves also made for a nice two level base. I recall sprue used as barbed wire, trying to balance unbased figures who had been clumsily cut from the sprues, flying our planes around in unrealistic turns.
At some point we discovered the Airfix Magazine Guide #15. It was a set of WW2 wargaming rules, and it was the best thing we had seen. It looked like we could have fights without arguing. So what did we do? The only thing that made sense: set up our model railway and put literally every single infantry figure we had on it (in the hundreds) and battled it out for a couple of days until we were so bored we just gave up. Then we did it again. Then a few more times. It was quite literally the worst thing.
On my 14th birthday I received a package from F&S Scale Models with an order we had made through the post, because the internet wasn’t really too big of a thing then. That was my last real memory of miniature building and wargaming. I know I at least continued a little bit because the Valentine tank is in my box of finished models, but I also know that I did not exactly touch my modelling gear for about 12 years from that point. I pretty much accepted that I would maybe start again one day, and I did do one thing: I looked online for free wargaming rules that were easier/better than what we had previously been using. I found three promising leads, none of which resulted in anything. A game called something like “Sam’s WW2 Wargame Rules” that I found on this person Sam’s website. It was a three or four page Word document and was nicely simple. It also made it clear that you would want to play with perhaps 30 infantry per side, which blew my mind. How can you have a game so small?? Another set was called “Hit the Dirt”, which was a 30 page PDF file. It has never been used by myself, but seems promising. I might actually give it a go one day. The other set was called “Point Blank”, and was in the playtesting phase. I followed the author’s webpage, read his AARs, and was amazed at his painted infantry, based on counters. Who had ever thought about gluing your figures to round bases to help them stand up?! It was a revelation.
However, the rules and miniatures lay dormant in my wardrobe. My brothers got married and left. I lived abroad for a bit a couple of times, got really into Starcraft 2, and graduated uni. Upon graduating uni, I had failed in my attempt to train as a teacher so was looking at career options. I couldn’t justify playing Starcraft 2 or Skyrim instead of applying for jobs, so I started applying more and on a whim bought a new Airfix Sherman to build in the evenings. Dusted off my knives, glue, paints and got to work. That was in November 2012. I started a blog. Suddenly my passion awoke again and before I knew it I had attended various conventions, bought the Bolt Action rules and improved my infantry painting skills no end.
I then got married, started training as a teacher and my hobby time dwindled. I had no space for a large 20mm WW2 collection. Enthusiasm waned. Projects stood unfinished. Then in October 2015, almost as an answer from the universe, I read a series of AARs for 6mm Sci Fi skirmish games. I was hooked, and have not looked back since.
My biggest issue is now to find people to play with, and at this point a crafty scheme began to form in my head. Could I create people to play with? Not clones: the technology simply isn’t there, but convert people in my area, or at school. Scheming became planning, and I began to think, this might just work.
Will you be starting a club. Sir?
Yes. Yes I will be.
My crafty scheme to create local wargamers consisted of beginning some kind of after school club in which I can share my passion for wargaming, boardgaming, or miniature painting. These were mentioned in the interview for my current position, when asked if there was anything else I could bring to the school (though they were clear I was not committing myself there and then to start a club). Spending the first year getting a feel for the school and how things were, what the students were like, what my work load would feel like, it came to January 2018 and I decided the time had come to begin the planning phase. I put wargaming forward as an activity that I would run during our annual Activities Week during the end of the summer term. I was offering it on three days and had in my head to host either a tournament of some kind, an introduction to gaming, maybe some terrain building, maybe multiple game systems. However, over the next six months it became clear to me that the best course of action would be to have a few tables going of the same rule system, and allow students to play three games over the course of their chosen day.
Forms went out, names came back, and eventually it became clear that the novelty of my activity had piqued the interest of 52 boys. It dawned on me that I would have 20 boys on one day, so would need to have five tables at once with teams of two playing against each other. I was excited yet also nervous, but thankfully the list of names seemed to be mostly nice boys, so I hadn’t become a dumping ground for the kids who couldn’t be bothered to hand their forms in. I also realised I had not nearly enough terrain or miniatures for five simultaneous games. The model making frenzy of May and June 2018 has been an absolute pleasure, where I was forced to experiment and quicken my painting technique. By June 22nd all was ready. I had brought all of my miniatures and terrain to school and began setting up after the kids had left. This was really happening.
Horizon Wars – Science Fiction Combined Arms Warfare
The mechanics of this game are fairly simple, which is part of what attracted me to them, and in the end convinced me to use them for this event as well as my personal use.
Each element/unit/stand/base can activate once per round. It is IGOUGO, but elements who have not been activated can react if they have LOS. A reaction does not have to be a shooting action.
Each activation consists of two actions. Your standard move and shoot, stand and shoot, dig in, rapid move, CHARGE!!, etc.
Each element has 5 stats: Presence/point cost, Movement (inches), Firepower (number of dice I can roll on attacking), Armour/Agility (hit points), Defence (number of dice I can roll to try and negate an incoming attack).
Shooting consists of the following: Measure distance between two elements. Add to that distance the Armour value of the
Day 1: 17 Boys
My rules explanations were not the clearest, I ended up almost losing my voice through constant repetition during the first game. It was tough going. This is when I wrote all of the options for different actions up on the board for students to refer to. Eventually they started getting it and midway through game number two I found that my input was far less. It was glorious seeing boys work together to crush their opponents. It brought back memories. The tortured faces while their opponent rolled 5 D12s needing to pool together as many dice to add up to 8 as many times as possible. The relief when said opponent rolled mostly 1s and 2s.
This day saw a little disinterest as a few boys got bored by the third game. I was not surprised based on who they were, having taught them before. I was glad they lasted so long, and did my best to encourage them. Some of them will still be interested in coming along for a quick game after school though.
Day 2: 15 boys
By far the best day. Quieter, more mature boys, who understood the game faster. My explanations and rules demonstration were albeit better, but still, the boys were also better. Thanks to these two factors, the second game of the day got underway with much less hassle. It was fantastic seeing young lads taking ownership of their armies and strategizing on how to out flank their opponents, or how many units to use to hold the objective.
The best part of this day? One of the guys explaining to me that wargaming had been his third choice, buy by the end of the day he was taking down websites in order to purchase his own armies. I am excited about what the future will bring with him moving into this hobby.
I awarded one certificate for bravery to a student who lost each game, but fought bitterly to the end in order to defend his objectives and drive out the hostile forces. This contrasted nicely with a boy who gave up after losing his command mech, and again after losing a couple of tanks. He ended up getting onto a winning team though, and hopefully learned a little resilience.
I also had a boy who kept fudging his dice throws, and quickly picking them back up, which no-one likes. That was quickly dealt with and fun resumed. He may be bringing his own miniatures from September onwards.
I had 23 boys this day: more than I should have. This meant I had two teams of three, until one boy decided it wasn’t for him, went off to the toilet and never came back (I did make the school aware and he was tracked down in another activity). The main downside to the third day, was that this was the third time I had had to explain the rules, deal with arguments, and deal with a room full of lads. Couple that with the insane, by UK standards, heatwave we were going through and I was finished. I did not enjoy the third day at all.
Despite my feelings, four of the boys who were playing on this day were returnees, who enjoyed it so much they wanted another shot. One of these boys also noted down a number of websites so he could order his own miniatures.
After this day finished, I was glad to be done. I learned there is such a thing as too much gaming.
On the whole feedback has been positive. There were two weeks after this where I was able to offer wargaming after school before the summer break. On both occasions I had a handful of boys show up to play. I introduced them to Star Wars Pocketmodels CCG and Star Wars Miniatures the out of production game from Wizards of the Coast. These boys like Star Wars, so that was a bonus. I may need to rethink my Horizon Wars universe to be more Star Warsy.
Other students are rumoured to be digging out their Warhammer collections, and while my personal feelings about this brand are very strong, I may be able to swallow my pride for the good of the hobby and allow games to be hosted in my club.
The end game? To have an almost self running group of young people who can sort out their own wargaming club. It may take a few years, but I think it will happen. The most important thing: there are now a bunch of kids at my school who have a place to safely experiment with this hobby, try out their own games, share their passions without risk of being made fun of, and keep wargaming alive…and I have people to battle against.