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?
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.
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.