Event's toy soldiers more than child's play

Whether guiding Napoleonic troops up a tough-to-defend hill or defending industrial sites against futuristic tank attacks, Norman Schwartz and Michael Baker always find fun in small skirmishes.


They are war gamers who started with miniature militias in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both are directors of the 18th Annual Siege of Augusta, a three-day celebration of tiny armies and their full-sized commanders that begins today at the Doubletree Hotel.

The event, founded with a focus on historical war games, has expanded to include fantasy, science fiction and board games. This year's event will feature games set in the Star Wars and Warhammer universes.

Meeting over an imagined landscape set for Ogre , a science fiction tank battle game cited as a war game classic, Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Baker explained the attraction of war games.

Mr. Schwartz said the games, which can involve complex rules designed to replicate the variables of combat and hand-painted miniatures, engage players.

"There's a historical component," he said. "There's an artistic component, in painting the miniatures. There's also a lot of personal interaction, the kind of interaction you are never going to find playing Halo with a guy in Australia that you are never going to see."

Mr. Baker said many of the popular games, such as Ogre and its sequel, G.E.V., can be learned in minutes and game play can last as little as an hour.

"There are entry-level games and an experienced gamer that wants to bring people in can use something like this," he said, gesturing toward the tiny tanks on a Styrofoam landscape. "There is something about a great game that, no matter how simple or how many times you play, you can come back to it time and time again. The mainstream example of this is Risk, which has never gone out of print, and chess, of course, is the classic example."

Mr. Schwartz's father taught him to play chess when he was 5. Over the years he has tried countless games, but limits the number he plays and collects, joking that it's a matter of marital self-preservation.

"There is a certain amount of expense and time involved," he said. "I mean, if I order a new box of miniatures, that's five days of painting for me. I'll try any game and if I like, I'll play it again and again. If I really like, then I'll buy it, but I haven't bought a new game in more than a year."

Mr. Baker said the most important way war games differ from traditional games is the relative lack of emphasis on winning and losing.

"When you are playing the game, it isn't just the game that's going on," he said. "Win, lose or draw, what you are doing is helping to tell a story. That, for me, is what a good game does."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


WHAT: Siege of Augusta XVIII

WHEN: 2 p.m. to midnight today; 8:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: The Doubletree Hotel, 2651 Perimeter Parkway

COST: Free to watch; for players, $20 general, $15 Historical Miniature Gaming Society members, $10 students, free ages 12 and younger; go to www.siegeofaugusta.com