Tag Archives: Real Life

So, yeah, that camp thing..


As I have posted about on here about once a year for more than a decade, I run a gaming camp for kids through the good graces of Saint Stephens and Saint Agnes school, Alexandria, VA, in the first week of August, every year.   I don’t pretend I invented the concept– in fact, I can look back at my own childhood and remember a guy who did something similar with Airfix plastic soldiers and Testor Paints back in the 1970s, and I feel like I am merely emulating his example many years later.  It turns out this is a growing movement, and other people are jumping in to run camps as well.

Here’s another camp I found out about up in Cambridge.  This looks dope!

I was approached by Kevin Kelly (from HMGS) who is putting together an article for an as-yet-unmentioned wargaming publication describing the growing number of gaming camps in the US (East Coast, anyway), many of whom are being sponsored and supported in some fashion by HMGS.  Kevin asked me for a contribution.  Given that editors can be fickle, this article might not have the same priorities as others, so in case it gets trimmed or omitted, here’s my contri:


I run a miniatures wargaming camp through the kind patronage of St. Stephens and St. Agnes schools, Alexandria, Virginia.  The school has an extremely unique Summer Camp program—it’s quite extensive, with several “specialty camps” on an assortment of subjects (magic, chemistry, nature, theatrics, etc).  My camp is a specialty camp called (currently) “Science Fiction and Fantasy Tabletop Gaming”.  I chose the non historical format on purpose.  My mission is to get children exposed to a non-plugged in, creative form of gaming.  I don’t think I’m going to manage that feat by jumping into the historical deep end with both feet, so I get them hooked on miniatures with subjects that are already familiar to them, namely SF and Fantasy.

Learning about the virtues of a tight linear formation using Warhammer Fantasy

The format of my camp is pretty simple– one week long, coed, 12-16 years old, although I allow older kids with permission.  Many of the gamers in my camp have been coming for several years and are starting to “age out” as their little brothers and sisters are coming in.  We run one game open for everyone per day during the week, usually a mix of commercial and home-brew designs.   I try to make at least one new game for every camp I put on– or introduce a new commercial game.  In 2016 I managed a record of sorts– I introduced Frostgrave (the kids loved it), Armada (they liked it, but it might have had too many special rules), Battletech (they didn’t like it– too charty) and brought back a favorite game, Big Danged Boats, my own 15mm fantasy naval game set in a fictional “Middle Sea”.  I actually wanted to run something else but I had a lot of repeats from last year and that’s what they emailed me to put on.

Nobody is perfect; this is why I use acrylics.

While I am setting up the big game event of the day, my son usually gets everyone to either paint miniatures (I usually have a bundle of good plastic figures from Perry, Warhammer, etc., whatever can be donated) or play board games most kids have never heard of.  Recent camp favorites have been Cosmic Encounters, Get Bit, Room 25, Munchkin (various kinds), Werewolf and other simple, easy to teach games.  I try to teach a little painting as part of the camp, but I find they usually don’t have the patience to  paint figures for more than an hour, so I don’t push it. In the past we have had a design day, where I’ll bring in some common items.. like markers, cards, sticks and cheap figures, and bring a few people who are interested into a huddle while they design their own game using the implements I provided.  One of the more popular games ever played at camp, Zombietown USA, started life as a game camp kid-only design about running from a zombie horde and catching a rescue copter.
I love working on this camp and for me it’s a kind of creative vacation.  Throwing a week full of games is a very creative spur for me to get everything together in time.  I’ve completed more longstanding game design ideas in the last ten years because I HAD to, to fill in a gap in the schedule.  The response has been enthusiastic– not overwhelming but in compensation I tend to get some very creative, fun kids who are looking for something new and so many of them didn’t know this hobby existed, or perhaps had heard a rumor of Warhammer or something like that.  I’ve been very fortunate that the Historical Miniatures Gamine Society has been supporting me in recent years by allowing my campers to attend HISTORICON free of charge!  I think it’s a mistake not to pursue introducing this hobby to a younger set in an organized manner– the hobby is a fantastic outlet for creativity and imagination, and it doesn’t plug into a wall or go online even once!

I’ll take enthusiastic application over precision when it comes to painting, sure, why not?

I’ve been a slacker


Okay, I’ll be straight up about it.  I’ve not posted anything in a long, long while.  There’s a reason for it, no matter how lame it may sound.  In late October of 16, I was in the garage cleaning stuff up, and Garrett was in the family room.  The day was sunny and cool, but the wind was rather strong.  We have many old growth oaks in the back yard of our property, sloping down to a creek.  I heard a very different sound– like a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.. CRACKKKK, WHAM! … and then I heard yelling from Garrett, and ten tons of tree dropped on our house!

A particularly heavy old oak, one that went up and branched out into four trunks, had snapped at the trunk, a victim of gusting, twisty winds, and then it plunged into our yard, demolishing the fence, destroying our dagwood tree and flattening the back deck.  It also pierced the side and roof of the house, smashed windows and broke siding.

So, yeah. That happened. The house has been damaged. The grey water pipe flooded the basement, mold set in. A clean up crew had to basically knock out all the walls, box up everything.. and I mean everything that was in the bottom 3 feet of the bottom floor.. was boxed up and taken out to a rollup and discarded. A lot of game stuff, a lot of books. We’ve had to empty the house, which is being renovated and the roof fixed, finally, after months of wrangling with a contractor who didn’t give us a straight deal. There are now men, swinging hammers, in my house, and I’m very happy.

However, this has also meant moving to a rental house (tiny) where the only room for hobby stuff is a small slab table in the utility room. I’ve had to work late hours at the house, after a regular job, and it has taken its toll on my creative urge. I like to think I’m snapping back, though. I’m painting constantly, way more than normal. I went through a 1:2400 pre-dreadnought phase, and have painted up fleets for Yalu (1894) and Santiago de Cuba (1898) in late Feb and most of March. In April I started painting 28mm Science fiction guys to support a little game camp game. This has been a fun evolution and I’m really enjoying it, even if I’m not much of a painter. I’m also going to punch out some rules and rewrites I’ve had on the burner for a while. So I’m getting my groove back, and have a backlog of stuff to write about, so stay tuned.

Right about now, 75 years ago…


(This was written when it was still dark out, around 6 AM EST, hence “right about now”)

The West Virginia and Tennessee battleships are ablaze after the Pearl Harbor attack Dec. 7, 1941The USS West Virginia and USS Tennessee ablaze in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 DEC 41

Right about now, 75 years ago, the first flights of “Operation Z” were cresting the hills over the North edge of the harbor at Pearl Harbor and lining up for their assigned targets on Battleship Row.*  In a bid to remove the strategic threat of any Allied response to seizing natural resources in the Southwest Pacific, the Imperial Fleet of the Empire of Japan was now launching a devastating near-simultaneous attack on the overseas territories of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In hindsight, this seems like an insanely foolhardy strategic objective, but in 1941, almost every mind in the Imperial War Cabinet was supremely confident of Japanese success.  Why not?  They had marched boldly into China, set up a puppet government, and had been busy looting for several years.  This operation could hardly be that much trouble.

The strike aircraft from the Japanese force came from 6 carriers, and numbered somewhere between 375 to 414 aircraft, mostly the Aichi 3A2 “Val” bomber, Nakajima “Kate” Type 97, and Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, which would soon become infamous.  The pilots had been practicing this attack for months; each sub-component of the massive attack wave had their own targets they were assigned to. The attack generally went in two waves; a massive first assault on the ships in harbor and a follow up wave that pounded airfields, shore facilities, oil storage and repair facilities. The attack, in the eyes of the Japanese, was an astounding success– 4 battleships sunk, 4 damaged, multiple smaller ships either sunk or damaged. The big exception was discovering the primary targets of the raid– the three operational carriers in the Pacific Fleet, weren’t present. Still, after the 2nd wave returned, the Japanese Fleet sailed back West again, confident that the hammer blow would keep the American forces crippled for a long, long time. Perhaps, if it had been 30 years earlier, they might have been right.

The Americans were in shock after the attack, to be sure, but they were also enraged. Decades later I was a little snot nosed college kid waiting tables in Rossyln, VA at the Key Bridge Marriott. A group of Pearl Harbor survivors were in DC for some ceremony commemorating the attack. Being nosy and just as big of a history buff then as I am now, I plastered them with questions. “What was it like?” Years later, I could still see it in their eyes- the rage and futility, the sense of helplessness, as these men remembered. “I remember seeing a sailor in a small utility boat in the harbor, screaming incoherently in rage, firing a pistol at the aircraft, like he was daring them to attack him personally. That was what it felt like, kid“. I’ve never forgotten that visual.

Ironically, the Japanese unwittingly performed a great strategic service for America, though nobody saw it at the time. By sinking aged, but still formidable surface battleships, Japan was propelling American naval planning into the modern age. In the short space of something like 119 minutes, the Japanese fleet conclusively proved the future did not rely on the status symbols of the battleship era. The Great Pacific War that had long been predicted was now on– and it would not be won by fleets of surface dreadnoughts from the World War One era. The future belonged to those carriers that had not been present that day– and the many other carriers that would join them as the United States switched to full wartime production operations.

For now, though.. 75 years ago, the infamy was very real. In a lot shorter time than it has taken to type this, America was experiencing real casualties on American soil, and as the fleet blinked its eyes, reddened by smoke and carnage and helpless rage, they were being transformed. It would be a very different America from this day forward, striding forth onto the world stage to fight (soon enough) three Axis powers. It all started today, right about now.. 75 years ago.

 

* Technically speaking, it would be about 4 hours in the future, not “right about now” due to time zones, but who’s counting?

Video

Veteran’s Day, 2013.


On Monday, the United States celebrates Veteran’s Day, and it is right and fitting that we should thank the military veterans in our lives for sacrificing so much in their nation’s service. I encourage you to do so.  Especially those that have been scarred by their experiences. Some veterans have wounds that aren’t so visible, yet their impact lasts a lifetime. Like Jim Wolf, pictured above, a homeless veteran who has struggled with alcoholism and depression for years. Thanks to the incredible people at Dégagé Ministries, Jim recently had a chance to undergo a makeover courtesy of Design 1 Salon & Spa, which he graciously allowed the people at Rob Bliss Creative to film in time lapse. I love this little video, it’s worth a watch.  Two lovely spa ladies flutter around the veteran in the center trimming, cutting, dabbing, highlighting… as he stoically gazes at the camera with his hard jaw set in world weary indifference.  That is, until he sees what a transformation they have wrought.  This is a hard movie to watch without tearing up a little.  You have been warned.  At the end, I couldn’t help thinking.. “well, hello! You were in there all along!  Who knew?

Yes, I know, it’s on the surface. Alcoholism is a serpent whose coils are strong and resisting of release. There’s more to changing your life around then a haircut. Yet, I find myself hopeful. Maybe, an ounce of pride is everything to a man like Mr. Wolf. He has a long, lonely road to walk, and I wish him well, realizing there’s no guarantees in life.

Thanks for your service, Jim.

Happy Veteran’s Day.