A little stuck in time

OK, how weird is this? With all of the new – and sometimes not-so-new – wargames sitting unplayed in the game closet, all of the sudden I’m having flashbacks from the Wayback Machine. It’s one of those middle-age things, isn’t it? I’m fiddling around with something on the Big Table, or maybe just starting to read the rules to a new game, when I am irresistibly seized with the urge to pull down and paw through one of my golden oldies.

Mind you, I am NOT a hoarder. I’m not even much of a ‘collector’. My game closet may still have space for the first two wargames I ever owned, but many of my other early game acquisitions moved out long ago.

Some months back I blogged a little about the second wargame I purchased, the SPI flat-pack “Barbarossa”. Today I’d like to wax all poetical about my first wargame, “Tank!”, which is an SPI flatpack from back in the mid-70s.

“Tank!”, designed by Jim Dunnigan, was originally published as a magazine game in issue 44 of Strategy & Tactics. The flat-pack version I purchased was published a bit later and included expanded rules and additional counters.

It’s funny how some things stick in your memory. I was barely aware of the existence of things called “wargames” when I spotted the Tank! flat-pack sitting on a bottom shelf with the history titles at a Waldenbooks store in the Altamonte Mall. I was instantly smitten. I couldn’t fork over my $7 fast enough and get the heck out of there. Whatever book I had been hunting was immediately forgotten. In the space of just a few minutes I became a life-long wargaming addict.

I’m surprised mall security didn’t lock me up for vagrancy. I sat in my trusty Volkswagen Squareback out in the mall parking lot and read every last scrap of the rules – the ‘basic’ rules folder and the ‘advanced’ booklet. When did they invent cool games like this? What had I been missing? How many more were there?

The generic map for Tank

The generic map for Tank

Subscriptions to magazines like S&T and Moves were still in the future and $7 spare cash was tricky to come by in those days, so every game I bought got an extensive workout. I conned like-minded buddies into playing. I scribbled pages of notes and home-brew variants. The whole wargame concept was truly mind-blowing. I considered it one of the greatest creative achievements to ever roll off of a printing press, only one small step below the full-color Playboy centerfold in the hierarchy of print media wonders.

The main countersheet for Tank. The expansion added another small sheet.

The main countersheet for Tank. The expansion added another small sheet.

With the advantage of 35 years of hindsight (and a few advances in the art of game design), sure, some of the game’s mechanisms seem a bit wonky. The old ‘Panic’ rules were an early attempt to introduce some chaos into game-play. ‘Panic’ was fumbly and gamey, but at least somebody was trying. And, as game designers have subsequently learned, no matter how you try to bring a sense of the chaotic battlefield into a game, many gamers are NEVER going to like any game that takes even one, single, well-planned movement point out of their absolute control.

Simultaneous movement was featured in a number of 70s-era SPI games, including Tank!. That could have worked out better, too. Looking at my old notes, I guess we home-brewed something akin to alternating activations pretty quickly. I also still have a couple of the old SPI ‘Si-Move’ pads up in the closet somewhere.

Tank! was a pretty ambitious design, all things considered. It tried to span the breadth of armored warfare systems across a 40-year period of intense technological change. It didn’t quite get everything right, but back in the day I thought it was definitely ‘in the neighborhood’ of what it set out to accomplish. It was also a great platform for home-brew tweaks. A few hundred hours of entertainment later, that $7 investment sure seems like a good deal.

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