Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Wargamers I Have Met

Over the years I have enjoyed the advantages of being able to travel extensively, and this has allowed me to meet a number of people who have provided the foundation for the hobby of wargaming. They have all been interesting and often entertaining company. In fact, their good humor and bonhomie seems to be a cornerstone of their personalities.

I first met Jack Scruby, as most of the old timers did, through the annals of Wargames Digest or Table Top Talk, which used to be the two main means of spreading news about the hobby, and the source of many a fine early article about history, uniforms, and wargame rule creation. He was always open to off-beat ideas and experimental games. He always had a new rule idea he wanted to try. Jack was also the primary source for figures using his printing business as a source for lead and a front for his wargaming! He brought many of the early wargamers together. If you ordered figures from jack, you were almost certain to get a call or letter from someone who lived within 50 miles of you who had done likewise and jack had passed on your contact information.

I drove with my wife to the West Coast in 1966 to see him at the old Visalia factory. He was a big man, a tad overweight, and a cigarette was always dangling from his lip, but his loud laugh and smile coupled with a boyish enthusiasm for anything new in the hobby was infectious and you soon forgot the smoke-thick air. At the time I met him he had a large garage-like store room with walls lined with casting molds (the OLD kind of plaster or vulcanized rubber-no spin cast!). Dave Rusk was his manager and the only person that seemed to know where everything was located. In the center of the room was his table, that many a game from Mafrica and other mythical places had been fought.

For quite a while, at least into the mid 70s, Jack was the primary supplier of figures, published rules, and the monthly newsletter, Originally Table Top Talk, and later W.argame Digest. It’s hard to believe in this age of the internet, but his publications were the only means, other than Featherstone’s Wargamer’s Newsletter, for gamers to share ideas and suggest new ideas for many years. Jack was the main supplier of not only figures but information and motivation to try new periods. Scruby’s came in 30mm, 25 mm, 1 inch, and “N” scale-he was open to any scale as long as it fit his latest inspiration. This openness to new ideas and new devices was his hallmark, and one that many present gamers could well adopt. The period that Jack was in business was the last period in which the main thrust of the hobby in the US was Western based. It was a very creative period for everyone involved as a lot of the core concepts of gaming that exist to this very day can be found in jack’s rules and magazines. I wrote several articles for him and never failed to receive a note and encouragement from the Father of US Wargaming! jack died in 1988 but is remembered by the Scruby Award given by the HMGS East chapter.

I met Don Featherstone in 1969 at his big home in Southampton, I was making my first trip to Europe immediately after leaving the Navy. My wife and I got a B&B near his home and I got to spend my first of many meetings with Don. His Wargamer’s Newsletter-published in mimeograph was always chatty, informative, always showed his good humor. In person, this humor showed all the more. He was a natural diplomat and could show the patience of Job with a mob of wargamers clamoring for his attention. When I first met him in 1969 until just a few years ago (we last had a long chat in 1999 or 2000 at Historicon during his last visit to the States) it was as if he possessed the keys to a time-machine-he never aged! He was amazingly fit throughout his life, and I can remember running with him in 1969 for a good half mile at a demanding pace to get to the local pub before it closed. I was a competitive runner my whole life and he had no problem pressing the pace with me!

Just as Jack Scruby was an important US source of information, so was Don’s Wargamer’s Newsletter the voice of UK gaming for many years, and let all of us in the states know about the latest figures and rules from across the pond. He, too, was open to ALL ideas and systems, and saw all approaches as not only valid, but necessary to a growing hobby. His one credo that was heartfelt was that the game should be a friendly one with good natured ribbing, and when it came down to it-“Just roll the dice.” At our last visit, he was having trouble hearing, and was feeling the limitations of his age more than he would like, but his energy and good humor shown through in his every word and that wicked twinkle in his eye was not diminished. Don is a treasure to this hobby and deserves every accolade that comes his way. His books remain a delight to read and I am thrilled that they are being republished by John Curry. Read them, and rediscover the core reasons that we enjoy this hobby! And if you ever meet Don ask him about his twin brother, Larry, who, unknown to most gamers, co-wrote most of Don’s works as a silent partner. If you get a chance to talk to Don, look at his left hand. If it has a rose colored birthmark-you’re actually talking to Larry! Don’t tell the Featherstone twins that I spilled the beans! They’ve been pulling this scam for 50 years!

(I’ll continue these little notes about the interesting people I have met in this hobby in future Blog postings.)