My Life in the Hobby Then, Now, and Future

So first two caveats - despite the title this is NOT (strictly) a COVID-19 related post! There will also be like, a lot of feelings in this rather long post. With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s begin!

I’ve been fascinated by toy soldiers and the games we play with them since my cousin showed me his burgeoning 40K Eldar (Ulthwe if I remember correctly) collection when I was just an awkward sixth grader.

I dove into the hobby with the kind of reckless abandon only nerdy awkward kids posses and soon had a very badly painted Blood Angels army (I still remember my first “real” game with my cousin on the floor of his unfinished attic with books and red solo cups for terrain, my Kid Luck (TM) kicked in and my Astartes rolled nothing less than a 5, much to my cousin’s frustration).

Of course a rather limited budget and a small group of like-minded friends precluded any great strides in the hobby but I still fondly remember “floorhammer” games of this era of my life.

Like most it seems, I fell out of the hobby a bit in high school. These beguiling creatures called “girls” and finally finding a sport I enjoyed in fencing comboed to put my desire to paint and play with toy soldiers into hibernation - the former were much more impressed by the latter insert wildly inappropriate sword as phallic symbol joke here than plastic Space Marines.

Things got rather dark for me during my first year of undergrad. A combination of losing close family members, failed relationships, and long-suppressed mental health issues combined to send me into (what I recognize now) was a major depressive episode. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, frequently missed work, and skipped classes because I just couldnt function. Because I wasn’t equipped with the vocabulary to describe what I was going through (and a deep seeded fear of failure paired with an incredibly profound sense of shame) I went through great lengths to hide that I was struggling from everyone which only made things worse (seriously folks do not do this, if you are struggling tell SOMEONE, ANYONE).

I honestly can’t remember what exactly woke the wargaming monster during that dark phase of my life. I want to say it was learning about the Prussian General Staff and the wargaming that Count Schlieffen performed while crafting his ill-fated plan in one of my military history classes. Somehow I stumbled onto the Flames of War website (during the bright eyed days of early second edition) and BANG I was back to being that kid seeing toy soldiers for the first time.

A few google searches later and I stumbled on the local FLGS, Game Vault (press F to pay respects, I’m lucky enough to have a great FLGS in Your Hobby Place now but Game Vault was magical). A trip up the road while I was probably supposed to be attending a lecture (oops) to that magical place seriously is the moment I saw the shadow that had fallen over my life start to lift.

I found out that a group met every Friday to play Flames of War, so I dropped by later that week and got a demo game (Jagdpanthers VS IS-2s, a rather unfortunate matchup for the Soviets but a great shooting gallery for the newbie driving the German tanks).

I was hooked. The models were immaculately painted, the terrain was gorgeous, 15mm scale at 1:1 blew my mind, and most importantly the guys were incredibly friendly and cool.

This began the Golden Age of my wargaming journey, every single Friday night for years was spend rolling dice and playing Flames of War at Game Vault.

To the guys from that Friday Night Game Vault crew - I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say ya’ll may have saved my life. Having something to look forward to every week was a big bright beam of light in the mire of depression and helped me find my way back to a place where I could function again and be successful at life. I’m not going to call anybody out by name in the interest of respecting privacy but seriously if you are reading this - thank you.

I also got back into my first wargaming adventure (40K) during this time, discovered Black Library, and got to go to multiple conventions (HMGS shows are an experience like no other especially with friends).

“So what happened” is the obvious next question because this post doesn’t end there and frankly I’m struggling to really articulate it.

Life events definitely contributed to a distancing from the hobby and my beloved group of friends (met my soulmate, got married, bought our first house somewhat far away from Game Vault’s gilded halls). It became harder and harder to “get away” one night a week.

This isn’t a story of “wife wouldn’t let me have fun” - it’s much more complex than that. When your spouse struggles with anxiety issues and comes from an extremely messed up background - what are you supposed to do? Prioritize playing with toy soldiers over their well being? How do you weigh that against your own “needs”? I get immersed in the hobby and tend to ignore my phone while playing which definitely doesn’t help.

We tried and failed various compromises and effectively I fell off attending my Friday night gaming group weekly - slipping to every other week, to monthly, to “rarely”, to not at all. It became a point of contention in the relationship and I (right, wrong, or indifferent) just gave up. This definitely had a negative impact on my mental health and well being but I thought I was doing the right thing.

Then Game Vault closed (for totally understandable reasons). The Friday night group re-coalesced around someone’s personal office space (ironically in the same shopping center as GVs old location). I was able to make it out sporadically to the group but not as much as I would have liked to.

Then came the 2016 election and I don’t want to dwell too much on it here but a lot of folks in that group have very different political leanings, things got heated, people acted like fools (myself included) and things felt weird.

I did get a friend into 40K which revitalized my Warhammer hobby - that friendship ended poorly (it’s still a bit too painful to talk about so I’ll leave it at that) which halted another “vector” for regular forays to the table.

Through all this occasionally managing to get out and game well, life happened. I moved into a management job and my wife found out she was pregnant shortly after. Free time became harder and harder to come by.

Being a dad is the best thing ever. My kid is two now (where the hell did the time go) and is my favorite person.

Free time as a toddler parent is scavenged between naps and in the quiet aftermath of bedtime (which isn’t until incredibly late at night because my kid is an energizer bunny and laughs in the face of the “recommended” 1930 bedtime).

The gaming urge has not gone away - through every “epoch” of my gaming life I’ve kept painting. A regular “club night” (or even semi- regular gaming outings) is not a part of my life at the moment and though I yearn for it - it’s just not possible while also being an S-tier parent and husband right now. It’s something I’ve “mostly” come to terms with.

I have hope that things will get easier. My kid loves going in my “craft room”, loves rolling dice, and plays with old 3rd edition space marines (it’s adorable) . I got my wife interested in Age of Sigmar and am slowly printing her some figures. I recently left my management job to go back to a non-management role with a better work-life balance and more predictable working hours.

So how do I love the hobby from a distance? I paint like crazy (the pandemic definitely motivated some of that, I’ve filled multiple shelves with “pandemic painting projects”). These are usually bits and bobs that could be a playable army in case I do manage to get out.

I stay up on the news (looking forward to seeing Simon Hall’s Divisions of Steel as WW2 is what got me into historical stuff and I’ve been itching for a good game in that period at that “battalion-ish” scale) and listen to podcasts. I read White Dwarf and WSS religiously. I 3D print stuff - a whole sub-hobby in and of itself.

If you made it this far into this rambling self reflection, thanks and congratulations! I hope this blog will become another way for me to stay attached and engaged with the hobby.