The View From the Bunker – It’s time to Wax Poetic about Wargamers!

By Jeff Ward 08 Apr 2015 0

As Spring seems finally to be arriving in the northern hemisphere, The View From the Bunker author, Jeff Ward, takes a moment to reflect and write in praise of wargamers through the years. We’d also like to take the opportunity to ask our readers to suggest ideas for future The View From the Bunker columns. What would you like to discuss with Jeff? 


As I write this sentence, its spring break here in the western suburban Chicago hinterlands and I can’t tell you how much I loved spring break! But not for the reasons you might think. 

There wasn’t any Fort Lauderdale, scantily clad coeds, or drunken Bacchanalias, no! Instead, Tony Quintanilla and I would race home from high school on that favored Friday, grab those shoe boxes full of not-so-carefully painted Airfix figures mounted on heavy cardboard “stands,” and stage various Napoleonic miniatures battles in his finished basement. 

From that Friday on, the only hitch in our nine day nirvana giddyup was the possibility of one of his cats, in an eminently Godzilla-like maneuver, sweeping the hapless plastic infantrymen from our linoleum battlefield overnight which would force us to start all over. 

Given how the generally specious early Chicago “spring” weather can put a damper on any outdoor hopes, we’d go till sundown on the Sunday that marked that inevitable return to the dismal world of academia. 

And those spring breaks would only get better! Towards the end of high school, with the Northwestern University campus a temporary ghost town, the North Shore General Staff, as we called ourselves, would invade Lunt Hall and stage enormous Fletcher-Pratt naval battles on the vast concrete floor of the old auditorium. 

It didn’t get much better than that! The morning sun would blaze through those large east windows right off Lake Michigan and we’d keep it going until the subtler sunset shades shone through their western counterparts. 

And it would continue through my early college years with massive Tractics tank battles taking place in one of the larger rooms at the Norris Center. 

It didn’t matter that the NSGS was a Northwestern based club. The membership consisted of high schoolers, undergrads, a slew of graduate students, and a variety folks from the surrounding communities. Everyone was welcome to join in the fun because all we really cared about was sharing our common interest and having a good time. 

It’s not that I’d dismissed or diminished those days, but given time’s insidiously corrosive nature, I had forgotten just how good those spring breaks were – until I started writing for the that is! 

And what brought back those memories, in all their youthful glory, was you, the reader! You see, the responses to my columns – both public and private – reminded me of just how great it is to hang out with wargamers – even if, in the end, it’s really nothing more than a virtual get together. 

Of course, there will always be exceptions, but the vast majority of you have welcomed me with interesting insights, fond remembrances of board and computer games past, and thoughts for future columns. 

One reader sent me a fascinating email responding to the wargaming complexity issue recounting the history behind how SPI’s Campaign for North Africa became as complicated as it eventually did. (Be careful what you wish for gamers!) 

And after I lamented the lack of a reasonable current Operation Barbarossa, PC offering, another reader sent me a link to a TOAW III scenario he’d designed covering that very subject. It appears to be exactly what I’m looking for and I can’t wait to give it a shot. 

That same gentlemen turned out to be a physicist so we also engaged in a fascinating dialog on String Theory, which most certainly reminded me of my former NU grad school friends. Wargamers do tend to be a smarter bunch! 

One emailer did – civilly – disagree with my theory on ISIS, but we agreed that we’d both made specific predictions and only time would tell which one would turn out to be more accurate. 

Then there’s Nik, my editor, who’s gone out of his way to mitigate those bleak memories of all the newspaper editors who’s only goal in life was to make everyone else as miserable as they were. I’m sure you can tell that I’m enjoying this gig! (check’s in the post – Ed) 

So as I embark upon these final fleeting days of spring break, in lieu of any local wargamers club, my fondest wish would be to find whatever PC game comes closest to those aforementioned spring break miniatures battles. Sadly, so far, I’m coming up empty. I’m still somewhat daunted by Mr. Tiller’s Waterloo offering and, upon firing up my old copy of Waterloo: Napoleon’s Last Battle, I couldn’t get past the dated graphics. 

Perhaps I’ll settle on playing HPS’s newest offering, Vengeance, and finally getting to the review I’ve promised Nik. 

So here’s to wargamers! It is only fitting that I hoist that figurate spring break flagon of ale to my battle hardened compatriots everywhere. Thank you for reminding me what it’s like to hang out with a group of people who don’t believe they necessarily have to make life more difficult. And the good news is, the battle is never over. Let’s continue this conversation and keep a great thing going! 


Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up a copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1972. You can reach Jeff at Please feel free to send him your View From the Bunker column ideas!



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