One of the low points of being absent from any particular scene for a period of time is finding out all the significant things that you've missed.
I've just learned that wargaming pioneer and titan Donald Featherstone passed away last September. Arguably the primus inter pares of the UK wargaming boom of the 60s and 70s, Don was a prolific author, covering all aspects of the hobby, and in later years focussing more on general military history. In the days before the commercialisation of the hobby, his books were an absolute treasure trove of rules and ideas that wargamers could dive into and harvest for things to improve their own wargames.
I can't credit Don with introducing me to the hobby. That honour goes to Charles Grant with his book "Battle: Practical Wargaming" which I found in the local children's library when I was about ten. But the quest for more of this strange new hobby led me to the "grown ups" libray where a selection of Don's books lay waiting to be discovered. Over the following fifteen years many of those books spent more time on my bookshelf than the library's, and when the 21st century world of internet trading, coincided with me having a healthy disposable income, tracking down my own copy of Solo Wargaming became the first "money is no object" quest I'd ever undertaken.
(Ironically, after securing a copy for a sum that would make my frugal father weep, the book was republished in inexpensive paperback as part of John Curry's History of Wargaming project. I regret nothing however - the original hardback is a thing of beauty, and occasionally browsing it brings me great joy, whereas for day to day practical reading I can hammer the paperback guilt-free)
I think it was the fact that Don Featherstone and his contemporaries brought me into wargaming that has kept me from fully embracing the modern commercialised hobby. The idea of buying big glossy rules tied tightly to a particular range of figures, where everything is strictly regulated and spoon-fed to you by the creator, is entirely anathema to me. In the world of the wargame as commodity, who actually owns your game? When a new army codex or rules edition automatically triggers a buying spree so you can "stay current", who's playing who? How much real creativity are you able to bring to the wargaming table?
Featherstone's books come from an era before you could simply go out and buy a set of wargames rules, much less a matching range of figures. The reader was expected to take the frameworks the books offered and build on them finding their own inspirations. There are still a number of gamers keeping this spirit alive, such as the 18th century "imagi-Nations" crowd. In fact, I'd consider many of you who read and comment on this blog to be part of this independent-minded tradition.
So while belatedly saluting the passing of a wargaming great, let me also raise a glass to you, the inheritors of Don Featherstone and his ilk. Throw down the green cloth over some books on the dining table, grab a selection of figures. Remember infantry move 6", cavalry 12", muskets hit on a 5 or 6 at up to 6", or a 6 at up to 12". Fill in the rest of the rules as needed in the spirit of fair play and common sense. Then come back and tell me that somehow wasn't as much fun as playing from a big glossy £40 hardback rulebook with full colour pictures?