Wednesday 4 September 2013

Old Wargamers Never Die....

I heard the news first thing this morning and it has stayed with me for the day.

I never met him but I did buy a copy of his WW2 rules (inscribed by the author - as they all were during the Wargamers's Newsletter days) during my formative years but never really used them. I owned a copy of Battles with Model Soldiers which I really enjoyed but my favourite chapter of his was his description of how he home cast a 19th century Austrian army and painted the same whilst watching the Olympics (1968 I think) - and I cannot remember which of his books it was in (I think it was Advanced Wargames).

During the period of my robust, pugnacious and arrogant youth I never gave his books more than a passing glance as I felt that I moved in far more sophisticated circles and so the rules I used reflected this. His output seemed to be the product of a bygone age and was not really what I wanted. I spent some 20 years playing around with rules that I am quite sure he would never have bothered with due to their complexity and seriousness. I missed out on the recreational aspect of our hobby by assuming that complexity would provide a better challenge and more appropriate way to spend my time.

Playing battles with model soldiers was just so passée....

I was wrong, hugely so, but it has taken me a long time to realise that chaps involved in all those grainy , black and white pictures that look so quaint had the right answers about our hobby all along.

Our hobby is fun, and should be treated as such because at the end of one of our 'battles' nobody has died.

I have a a couple of his books in my collection and fully intend getting some more in due course. The games he fought seem simple by today's standards but behind the basic d6 driven ideas and using paper squares for parachute drops lies an understanding of what the all important 'feel' of a wargame should be.

If you like - Art, to be appreciated for what it appears to be rather than science making it a cold and sterile experience; cold and unfeeling and reduced to mere numbers.

In closing I will say only this - the influence that he has had on my gaming has not been obvious in the short term but only now do I realise the impact of what he has achieved and how much I now realise that I owe him because of it.

As, I suspect, do many others reading this blog and others like it.

My thoughts are with his family at this time and just in a moment of whimsy, imagine what the wargames table in the sky must be looking like now - Featherstone, Grant, Bath, Young, Lawford, Wise, Wells and many others - that would be a game and half to be sure and I bet the rules would cover a side of A4 with only a D6 in sight....

R.I.P. and thanks for the memories.


Anonymous said...

I always liked that story about the Austrian army as well. I think it was in Wargame Campaigns though. The thing that always blows my mind was that his four biggest books (I believe) Wargames, Advanced Wargames, Wargame Campaigns & Naval Wargames were in my library, in Minnesota in the 1970s (along with Little Wars, Charge!, Grant's The War Game and Gush's book). Considering what a niche hobby wargaming is still, imagine if he hadn't been able to parlay his Physiotherapy books into a deal to publish Wargames and get the word out.

One can only hope the kids who play 40K, Hordes, Flames of War and whatnot someday figure out how much they owe him.

I have only have a few of his books, one of them is a copy of Naval Wargames inscribed to Dave Arneson (of D&D fame).

Jim Duncan Wargamer said...

I have it on good authority that there were 20 wargamers at the first British wargames convention in 1961. Donald Featherstone was the last of those.


Ray Rousell said...

Very nicely put Dave.

Millsy said...

Well said mate. I've just finished my own post on Don and (unsurprisingly) the sentiments are remarkably similar.

Michael said...

A legend passes, his style of writing as well as his rules made wargaming approachable. I still use his rules in my School Club because they are fun to use. Many of his other books, not on wargaming, but military history are riveting reads. "At Them with the Bayonet" and "All for a Shilling a Day" are well worth hunting down (and guarding with your life).

David Crook said...

Hi Chaps,

I think that most gamers will have a Donald Featherstone memory or example of something he had written that struck a chord. His output was prodigious and touched upon every facet of our hobby - from rules to modelling, to scenarios and armies and absolutely everything in between.

We will not see his like again.

All the best,