Even as American troops were still fighting to maintain their foothold on the east bank of the Rhine at Remagen, several hundred miles to the east, Josef Goebbels was touring portions of the German front along the Oder/Neisse line. Newsreel cameras followed him, ready to capture moments of steely defiance and resolve for the benefit of those audiences watching Der Deutsche Wochenschau. Goebbels tarried in the town of Lauban, recently recaptured from the Soviets. In the square, he addressed soldiers from the Lauban battle, including a diminutive sixteen year-old Willi Hubner. Hubner would survive the war and find himself being interviewed for various documentaries decades later. As for Goebbels, after greeting the new martial favourite of the Reich, Ferdinand Schörner, he moved on to Gorlitz, where he rallied the faithful in the last sizeable Nazi rally of the war.
The voices from F.A.T. D.O.G. drift up from the basement as I sit in my room trying to drown them out with music from my IPod…
F.A.T. D.O.G., for those who are not war game savvy, is the Friday After Thanksgiving Day Of Gaming. It’s a war gaming convention held in our house annually on the day after Thanksgiving. Every year I hide out in my room trying to avoid contact with the motley group of men who descend to our basement to fight past battles with cardboard counters and plastic dice. That may sound mean but the gamers can get very intense when playing these games. This thought is accentuated by an angry scream from downstairs and the fighting over the rules begins. I picture one of them stabbing the rules, pointing out some trivial case and point why this military unit could not have possibly done what it did. This usually costs them an hour lost of precious playing time. I chuckle to myself that boys will be boys and grown men will be boys given the chance.
F.A.T. D.O.G. can go on till two or three in the morning and by eleven I’m ready for them to quiet down so I can sleep. It’s not easy being the daughter of a wargaming Dad!
I remember as a little kid having to explain to my friends my father’s upstairs “War Room”. It’s full of war games, historical gun replicas, books beyond counting, ancient helmets and military hats, paintings depicting scenes of battles from days long gone and a never ending display of G.I. Joes.
I remember being little and my dad cultivating in me a love of history so that one day I might warmly embrace the games he loved so much. As a young child the boards were intimidating and they made no sense to me, but as I grew older I started to understand the basics of the games. What the colorful counters were meant to be and why the giant map needed a plexiglass cover to protect it from spilled drinks and food crumbs. (An army marches on its stomach was the quote thrown at me). When we would go out to dinner, just my dad and I, he would tell me stories of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Patton and innumerable historic figures. I would love to hear the stories of Caesar’s wars, Hannibal, and even the myths of Roman society.
My dad’s bedtime stories were about historical people, their often chaotic, dramatic and frequently tragic lives. He made them come alive again and revealed how the extraordinary events of their day forever molded their characters and their greatness. I loved going to History class, knowing more about the subjects then anyone else. I loved knowing that if I needed help with History, I could go to my dad and he would paint me the picture of a past life in a way I could understand and relate to. He was the one who encouraged me to take the Holocaust class at my school which so affected me that it ignited my burning passion for history. I soon became as enamored with history as he.
Alas, much to my father’s chagrin, I had not yet found the war games as intriguing. I remember one night he asked me if I wanted to play a game with him. I was nervous at first but once he told me it was a game that involved Dracula, of course, I wanted to play. Fury of Dracula involved all the characters from the novel. There was Mina and Van Helsing. Dracula ran around different cities in Europe while the other characters tried to hunt him down. If you found him in a city you would have to fight through henchmen or minions that the evil Count had left behind. The game was interesting and fun; it also required strategy, trying to figure out what city he would go to next and how best to trap and kill him.
I loved playing it though it was hard with just two people. The next time my two older sisters were home from college, we tried getting the whole family to play and after a lot of begging and coaxing, they agreed. They didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as my Dad and I, nonetheless I was happy to play. After spending my early youth avoiding historical board games, I realized that maybe I should give them a try.
Although my father feels he has failed miserably in our upbringing, since none of his three daughters have become committed wargamers, he has taught us to appreciate history in a way no other father could. He always told me that History was not about dates or cold memorized facts. It was about people, their culture, their personal lives and their greatest strengths and failings. The games were just one lens through which the richness of our shared past could be viewed.
And so, each year, I tolerate the noise and shouting at FaT DoG because I know it makes my father happy. Perhaps…this year…I will bring the guys some snacks and drinks, sit down by my father’s side….and roll some dice with him.
Many thanks to Samantha for this wonderful peek into the world of those “other people” (non-gamers). Although I think we just might get her hooked on gaming at the next F.A.T.D.O.G.