Hollis gamers fight historic battles in scale model

For Hollis resident Gordon Pittsley, the joy of playing with toy soldiers has become a full-blown hobby. His store, Adler Hobby, is really just a way for him to indulge in his favorite pursuit of war gaming, through his group, Flames of War.

For the uninitiated, this endeavor involves recreating famous battles throughout history. Painstaking efforts are made to invoke the original setting, involving blasted farmhouses and bridges, to the actual painting of the soldiers themselves, in their troop colors. Then, it’s a bit like a bowling league, as groups compete against each other for recognition and prizes.

“I got into Flames of War about eight or nine years ago,” Pittsley said. “That opened up a lot of opportunities for me, as I worked in both 28- and 15-millimeter scale figurines, which translates into O and HO scale, in terms of model trains.”

Pittsley meets about three or four times a month with other members of Flames of War, when they recreate battles on a 4-foot by 6-foot table, covered with historically accurate scenery.

“We do a lot of battles from the Napoleonic wars,” he said. “We recently staged the Battle of Leipzig, which was a really big conflict. We also portrayed the Battle of Haiti in 28 millimeter – that was a slave uprising, backed by the French. That was a very interesting game, with a lot of different weapons involved. For instance, we had everything from sticks to flintlock rifles.”

Pittsley said the group-participation aspect of the sport is a large part of its attraction.

“A lot of these games are based around the whole group experience,” he said. “It’s not just one guy versus another guy – some of these Napoleonic battles are rank and file recreations, so you need more than just one guy on each side of the table to wield these forces around.”

“Then, there’s the whole random aspect of throwing the dice. All of these games are based on the principles of move, shoot and assault. Each of those options is dictated by a roll of the dice, which can represent everything from a gun misfiring to a perfect shot across the field.”

As much fun as these weekly get-togethers are, they’re really just a warm-up to the main event – a regional competition, involving gaming groups from across the nation.

“There are a few conventions we attend during the year,” Pittsley said. “One of the big ones is up in Maine, called ‘Huzzah.’ They’re doing a lot of different recreations up there. This year, I’ll be hosting a Flames of War event, where I’ll probably set up 10 or 12 tables, which will accommodate eight to 16 players apiece.”

Pittsley feels these conventions perform a valuable service to the players, as they get together, compare notes, and see how other enthusiasts have been doing over the past year.

“I think some of the appeal of historical war gaming is the organized play aspect of the sport,” he said. “These games are sponsored by manufacturers, just like bowling leagues. There are three sets of prizes, one each for Best Sportsman, Best General and Random Draw – so, even if you lose, there’s still a good chance you could take home a trophy.”

In addition to the fun aspect of the sport, there’s also the opportunity to bone up on history, according to Pittsley.

“There’s a combination of research and finding a rule set that you like,” he said. “There are a lot of ways to roll a dice and come to conclusions, so many of these historical gamers have more than one rule book available to them. These books cover just enough history to make you want to go out and buy something else to further your knowledge of whatever specific army or period you want to portray.”

Of course, many players choose to celebrate their own background in the context of war gaming.

“It’s very common for folks with a certain ethnic background to want to field something of their heritage,” said Pittsley. “If you’re Italian, you might want to portray an Italian legion, fighting for the Napoleonic army. If you’re German, you might want to fight with the Austrians. Conversely, if you’re from New York, you might want to play some New York regiment out of the Civil War. It’s a lot of fun to tie your personal traits into the armies that you build. That also leads to the addiction of wanting to paint more pieces. In my own case, when I sat down to paint, it wasn’t the first thing I wanted to do. As a result of that, I was a little reluctant to get stuff done. Once things started rolling, however, I just couldn’t stop.”