Paul Dean’s recent recounting of a childhood spent playing Advanced Heroquest over on SU&SD got me thinking and reminiscing about the tabletop games I played growing up. Part of me thought that my recent obsession with board games and RPGs stemmed from them currently being in a golden age of sorts. But my trip down memory lane prompted by Paul’s article made me realise that my childhood is steeped in tabletop, more so than I originally remember…
Being the child of a Middle Class family in the UK and attending a Public School meant that I was exposed to the increasingly pricey selection of Games Workshop games and miniatures from a very young age. It is a very odd and very British thing, everyone reaches the age of ten or so then suddenly, BAM! Some sort of variant of Warhammer is in their lives. For my School and age group it was Warhammer 40,000.
Most of my peers got the prerequisite starter painting kit and a few miniatures (usually some sort of Space Marines) then promptly forgot about them a few weeks later, moving onto things like rugby and football. However me and my close group of friends got stuck into Warhammer 40k hard. We decided what was the point of learning the rules of 40k if you didn’t have a proper army to play it with. So we slowly amassed forces made up of a fair few Space Marines, Chaos, Orks (my favourite!) and more along with their respective Codexes. After many months of work we got them all assembled, painted and ready to go. Then someone produced the Core Rule Book out of their bag….
The sheer size and weight of the tome was daunting, the language used within was dense and a bit too hard for our young minds to grasp without adult supervision and multiple teaching sessions in store at Games Workshop. So we promptly ditched the Core Rules of Warhammer 40k and made up our own tabletop warfare game on the fly just using the stat tables present in the various easy to digest army Codexes. It was mad, it was crazy, it was completely unbalanced but it was awesome! Our School’s art teacher seeing that we were painting, playing with miniatures and having the time of our young lives let us have a space dedicated to it in the corner of the art room. We had a pale green metal cupboard tucked away in the corner to store our armies in. Times were great, we spent weeks playing with our custom rules and adding things to them on a whim. Then school being school and kids being the evil pricks that they are, it all came crashing down around us one fateful afternoon…
I remember it clearly. It was towards the end of the afternoon break and I was outside running about with some other kids. P (yes that is what we called him and still call him to this day!) suddenly appeared out of nowhere looking dishevelled and out of breath,
“They’re gone Callum! They’re all gone!”
He told me that he had been to the art room and all our figures were gone. I ran up to the art department which was in the attic of the school building. Imagine a tiny eleven/twelve year old me running through the whole length and height of my school in slow motion with some sort of emotional song playing over the top of it all. Brief flashbacks of rolling dice, carefully painting miniatures, accidentally super glueing my hand to the table that one time, having mock sword fights with those thin plastic rulers that come in Warhammer starter sets. The music swells as I burst through the door to the art room and run up the stars into the little corner we were given. Imagine the horrified look on my face as I was greeted with the sight of the pale green cupboard that housed all of our carefully crafted armies sat there wide open. Most of the boxes either gone or strewn about on the floor.
It had been ransacked, all the good figures were gone. All that was left were the cannon fodder troops. All that time, effort and love. Gone in an instant and it broke my little heart! The incident went up the School’s chain of command and then in typical Public School fashion, nothing happened. There was no investigation, no Police tape, no interrogations demanding to know where Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, the self-proclaimed Prophet of the Waaagh!, known to the Imperium as The Beast of Armageddon was being held captive.
Nothing, they were just gone. All we got was an assurance that it would not happen again. A new School Rule was put into affect that if you were bringing such things into school you could not leave them on School property at the end of the day. And that was that. It is possibly one of the worst moments in my life. My innocence died that day and I realised that other people in the world can be complete and utter selfish twats with no regard for their fellow humans. I realised then that humanity had an inherent evil to it and that people ar…
I may still be a bit bitter about the whole thing…
Still one thing that was not stolen that day was my copy of Blood Bowl and my various teams. We had those stored somewhere else! HURRAY!
Oh man Blood Bowl! What a game! The perfect example of easy to learn, difficult to master. For me it is the perfect One Vs One game with that Games Workshop twist. I loved Blood Bowl. Being in a rugby playing school meant that the weird mix of American Football, Rugby and Warhammer was easy to grasp. I loved everything about it. The look of the teams, the bright colours, the madcap-ness to it. It was a lighthearted and bright game compared to the grim darkness of 40K. It took hold of me and did not let go for the better part of three years of my life.
I played it all the time with friends at school, then at home with my brother when we had the chance. Due to Games Workshop dropping the game shortly after I got the base set, between me and my brother we managed to pick up the majority of the teams and some of the special character figures. Then we got the Death Zone expansion that added a whole new level of awesome to things and leagues! LEAGUES! I remember making team sheets and watching them grow and change the more we played. It was perfect. It was a living thing to me. Certain players took on a life of their own and I got excited to bring them onto the pitch. It is a game of texture to me. That Blood Bowl pitch was my domain and I ruled over it with skill and luck.
I’ve still got it all in a box somewhere and someday I will fish it all out. Figure out what I am missing and pick up were I left off. That or if Games Workshop finally decide to come out with a full new edition of the game and miniatures I will pick them up in a heartbeat. I will literally go to my nearest Games Workshop and throw a small pile money at the first over eager staff member who asks if they can help me with anything. I know there are semi official living rules but man if Blood Bowl gets a revamp I would be all over it.
During this period of Games Workshop obsession we were of course all die hard readers of White Dwarf. The Games Workshop here is what you can buy from us this month magazine. Full of new figures, army previews, news and upcoming rules updates, painting guides, match reports and lots of other little bits and bobs. It was a monthly treasure trove. One that would occasionally feature rules for quick games. One of these that left an impression is Brewhouse Bash!
Brewhouse Bash rules for 2-10 players! (Blah, blah, all rights and credit to Games Workshop. If sharing this in an issue let me know and I’ll take it down.)
Brewhouse Bash! was the perfect game to play amongst friends during a break at school. It is simple, it is fun, it is just plain silly. A game can be a brief punch up lasting mere minutes or an epic sprawling brawl down to the last bloody and dazed Orc. It is all in the PDF, the only extras you need are some miniatures or tokens for the Orcs. It is actually something that I am hoping to bring to my main gaming group next time we are at the table as a filler game. I cannot wait to revisit it!
Thankfully for my sanity it was not just Games Workshop games that held my attention when I was younger. There was of course Magic the Gathering. In my case the Portal Second Age starter system,
My brother picked it up and after playing it a few times we became obsessed. We bought booster packs whenever we could and soon I was introducing it to people at school. What started as a game played amongst me and my friends drew the attention of other people and soon my Portal box filled to the brim with cards became a communal game that people kept asking to borrow and enjoy. Being kids and not ones to follow the rules instead of everyone making well thought out constructed decks we just split all the cards into two or more massive decks depending on who was playing and got stuck in. I remember that it became such a “thing” that I was asked to write a brief piece about it for a School Newsletter one of the teachers put together. I believe it was my first bit of waffle about something I love!
Eventually we moved onto the full version of Magic and I spent a good couple of years travelling down that rabbit hole. But whenever I think of Magic, I think of me and my brother’s Portal box filled with well worn cards and sitting round a table flinging spells and monsters at each other. Magic eventually gave way to the Pokémon Trading Card game when that finally hit our shores in the UK. Another great game were the tie in nature to it actually works. Making it a deeply tactical game if you know your Pokémon type match ups and combos of cards. It never got its hooks into me quite as much as Magic but I have spent many an afternoon having Pokémon battles with various people.
Also, like any self respecting nerd, I dabbled in a bit of Dungeons and Dragons growing up. I saw and fell in love with the 3.5 Edition Starter Box in the store one day (Ben’s Toy Shop in Burnley!) and my Dad decided to buy it for me. I poured over its contents and ran through a good chunk of the adventures in the box solo. Playing as both the DM and two characters to keep things balanced. I even remember trying and failing badly at one point to teach my mum how to play. I played it a few times with friends but it never really stuck with us as a group. We were stuck playing it at School due to being spread all over the place making playing at the weekends impossible. The time required to play D&D meant that it quickly became a no go for us. Still I was enthralled and the ruleset was deeply interesting to me.
Despite not really having anyone to play it with I saved up and got all three core rule books and read them back to back, several times over. I still have and use these books when I am planning my Pathfinder sessions. It is surprisingly easy to transplant things across seeing as Pathfinder is derived from 3.5. Now that I am playing RPGs semi-regularly with friends the weird years of sort of having it to myself have come in very useful. I have internalised a lot of key concepts and ways of approaching problems and adventures. So while I may forever long to play as just a Player Character I am most at home in a Game Master role. Planning, preparing, helping and creating. I have D&D 3.5 to thank for that. I was stuck on my tod with it so the only thing I could do was come up with adventures, maps and monsters. Not the best formative years of RPG playing but damn it they were good!
On the whole I realise now how lucky I was to have a group of friends who shared a similar mad cap taste in games. So many people I know played things like Warhammer for a bit then dropped it because their friends did not enjoy it or they collectively moved onto something else like kids do. Still I am sure if I really think about it there are several other games from my younger years that I could remember and write at length about. (Yu-Gi-Oh, the Star Wars RPG and Digimon TCG are a few more off the top of my head!) These five or so games however are the ones that seem to have stuck with me though. When I think of certain points of my life these games are there. The battles, the duels, the friendships, highs and lows. These games are part of my memories and it has been an oddly moving and comforting experience looking back at them again.
Except for that one time all my Warhammer 40K miniatures were stolen. It broke me. Fuck the kid who did that.