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Part 6: Wargames and the Giant Cat from the Arctic
The advent of the computer was a godsend for the Wargamer. In one stroke it solved the four biggest problems we had - the difficulty in finding an opponent, the interminable amount of time it took to set up the game and resolve combat, the inability to hide your moves from your opponent and the impracticality of saving your game for finishing later. And it also saved our marriages - all the pieces now resided on a disc and not spread all over the living room floor.
It also saved us from our selves. By having a program resolve combat we were saved from the temptation of refusing to accept the result and rolling the die again. Historical Note: This would have been particularly helpful to the Japanese fleet in WWII who honed their tactics against the US Pacific fleet using a simulator. The Japanese admiral, however, refused to accept the sinking of his aircraft carrier and designated it invulnerable and probably crewed by magical elves. The result: Japan won every simulation. The reality a week later: an ocean full of bobbing magical elves.
It also saved us from the Giant Cat from the Arctic.
Cue explanation and, sorry, no giant cat pictures. I was a teenage wargamer. I spread thousands of men across my floor (a quote not to be taken out of context) and used mod-roc (a woven plaster product) to construct battle terrains of such size and complexity that grown men wept. My mother wasn't too happy about it either.
And as I progressed from miniatures to hexagonal maps, I discovered the ultimate wargame. Drang Nach Osten (Drive to the East) A WWII Eastern Front simulator. It was huge. The boards - for one board alone could not encompass DNO - covered an area 7 feet by 4 - from the Black Sea to Finland. There were at least two thousand pieces - I once tried to count them all but several units escaped and have been living rough under my settee for the past thirty years.
This was a big game. It took over an hour to set up, an hour to find and move all your pieces. And another hour to resolve combat and bring in fresh dice to replace the ones that had rolled under the furniture and never made it back.
It was the kind of game that needed a long weekend or a Christmas holiday to play. And it didn't like cats.
Yes, here it comes, it was the winter of 1941, the Germans were pushing deep into Russia and it was midnight so I went to bed. The next morning I came down to find carnage all over the living room floor. I hadn't closed the door properly and our cat had got in. The Wehrmacht were in disarray. Operation Barbarossa was in tatters, Hitler was sobbing in his bunker and a giant cat had swept down from Finland and batted the panzers back to Poland.
Which, when I came to think about it, was uncannily close to the real events of 1941. And tells you just how good a simulator this one was. Naturally, the history books - being very traditional when it comes to truth - still prefer to blame the weather for the German reversal. I prefer the cat theory.