Playing Army the Old Fashioned Way

Nov 12, 2018, 6:56 AM

SANDY, Utah — When you hear the word “gaming,” you probably think of people sitting in front of a computer screen using hand controllers with joysticks and headphones, playing popular games such as “Call of Duty.” “Battlefield” and “Fortnite.” These video war games are hugely popular.

Recently, we watched another type of war game being played that’s also very popular. And no one was using a Play Station or Xbox staring at a computer screen.

At Gajo Games in Sandy, it’s all about the roll of the dice. History buffs and war enthusiasts get together regularly here to do battle on a big table.

One recent war game recreated the Battle of Stalingrad. It was one of the largest battles of World War II. Nearly 2 million Russian and German troops clashed in the 6-month squirmish in 1942. Thousands died.

Instead of video programs, this type of war gaming involves the use of small-scale plastic models: soldiers, weapons, buildings—all painted with authentic markings from the actual war. Many of the players do the painting and construction themselves. The battlefield landscape, in this case 6 feet wide and 30 feet long, is also representative of where the fighting took place. Even the rubble from bombed out buildings looks real.

“This hobby tends to appeal to people who are interested in military history, who want to learn more about it,” says Gajo Games owner Craig Tyrrell. “A lot of times when you read history books, you wish you could learn a little bit more about what happened. This is a way to take just reading about it to the next level.”

There are quite a few rules in this type of gaming, but it’s basically a roll of the dice that determines the how far your troops can move on the board or the distance your mortar rounds can go. Player use tape measures to determine where the various pieces can go.

As for the players, some have been doing this for a long time.

Lynn Ostler, who’s playing on the Russian side for this game says, “I’ll bet you close to 35 years.”

Ken Wright is with the German army. He too, has been playing for years. “Since the late ‘80s, playing war games, yeah.”

This type of war gaming is a popular hobby worldwide. Gajo Games holds gaming contests regularly. And no matter what war era you’re into, the store carries miniature figures of just about all of them.

“Ancient Hittites, we’ve got those. American Civil War, French and Indian War, Napoleonics in Europe, World War I, World War II, the whole gamut,” Tyrrell says.

Back to the Battle of Stalingrad, during the actual fighting in 1942, the Germans lost badly and were forced to surrender.

At the Sandy battle, the Russians defeated the Germans again. But had the dice fallen differently, the Germans could have won. That’s how these games go sometimes.

For the players, though, it’s not a matter of winning or losing.

“I like associating with my friends and painting miniatures is a lot of fun, “Ostler said. “And I enjoy studying history.”

“I like all of it,” Wight adds. “I like the modelling, I like the collecting and the painting, but I really like the social aspect.”

And like any hobby, you can spend quite a bit of money. Some of the players shell out a couple hundred dollars a month for new soldiers, planes and paint.

Gajo Games has tables for the public to come and play. The next big battle like this one takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That battle is called: “TANKSgiving”…yep, it’ll be a huge tank battle!

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