Barely six years old I remember I cried when all the shiny tanks I got to play with were mercilessly destroyed by Dad’s Axis forces.
I remember my Dad patiently explaining to me that winning wasn’t everything with this kind of game, poor consolation for a kid who didn’t yet understand the satisfaction of having worked towards something. I remember watching Dad line up his victorious Panzer IVs in a phalanx formation and then line up my Shermans in a similar line on the Panzer’s flanks, just behind a wooded area. He then said to me “So if I have better guns on my tanks and better armour on the front and you know that my only weak point is on the side of rear, what would you do differently?”
I struggled with this for a while, trying to understand that Dad was teaching me something. At first I said that I’d hide in the woods so his tanks couldn’t get me. That wasn’t going to do it though, Dad explained, his tanks would eventually get to me and I’d lose the Shermans again.
“Well I’d just run away from you then, far enough so you couldn’t shoot me.”
Dad considered this, nodding his head. “Yup,” he said “that’s definitely something you could do to make sure that you lived but what if my tanks shot farther than you and I could move faster than you?”
I was frustrated. Why the hell would Dad make this game so unfair? Didn’t he know there were rules to this sort of thing?
I struggled again. If I couldn’t hide and I couldn’t run away then I’d have to fight. Looking to my Dad for advice he just looked at my tanks and then looked at the flank of his tanks around the corner of the forest.
I suddenly got it.
Dad laughed, nodded his head and then said “Well try it then!” Sure enough the tactic worked, I managed to weaken his tank platoon enough that they drove off, leaving the Allies victorious.
I was pretty much hooked after that. As the years progressed I refined the tactics of feinting and maneuvering, thrusting and parrying. I didn’t win my first game against Dad until I was 12, this time I was playing the Axis and I remember I managed to use a King Tiger as bait while I had a bunch of Panzers flank my Dad’s allies obliterating them. When the game was won Dad shook my hand (he always said it was important to shake hands) and had said to me that winning was a great feeling but what was even better was winning with grace.
That idea stuck with me through all of these years. Winning with grace.
I didn’t realize it then, but by playing with me my Dad was connecting with his late father, a tank driver who fought for the British forces against Rommel in the African campaigns of the second world war. And I guess knowing that I started to think about that first battle I had against Dad’s Germans: Outgunned and under threat of invasion the Allies must have felt like they were in a fight that was hopelessly unfair. It really sunk into me, the commitment and dedication that those men had at that time, fighting like they did for their homes.
So I guess I play because it is a way that I get to connect with the men in my family that have gone before me. Plus, I also really enjoy a good, solid game against a sportsmanlike opponent.
I think that we’ve got a lot of that going on here in our group with The Calgary R.E.G.I.M.E.N.T. We just really enjoy playing games, connecting with history and working towards a goal we’ve set out for ourselves, like painting that next army for a tournament, or planning a big battle to demonstrate at the next wargames convention. We’ve each got our reason for playing and I’m sure the others will speak up as time goes on.
I hope that you enjoy our postings.