On a recent Tuesday morning, Terry Griner and John Meyer took turns advancing tiny soldiers in measured increments. The light glinted off the soldiers’ intricately painted uniforms as Griner tossed the dice and consulted his rulebook to see the outcome. The first clash between their armies ended in a standoff. A few hours and many moves later, Meyer’s Grecian army claimed victory.
“I had the up dice on my side this time,” said Meyer.
Using 15, 20 or 25 millimeter figures that are individually painted, miniature gaming is a hands-on hobby that mixes strategy and luck with artistry and history in a face-to-face contest that naturally includes a lot of camaraderie.
This weekend, area miniature gaming enthusiasts will convene to play everything from ancient battles based on history to futuristic fights of fantasy using these tiny, artistic armies at the fifth annual Tactical Gaming Solutions convention held at CenterPlace in Spokane Valley.
The convention is designed for new and experienced gamers to try out new games and meet other enthusiasts. But it began as a group of friends getting together.
“We wanted to do something bigger and it snowballed,” said Mark Rounds, one of the event organizers. They had about 30 attend the first year. This year they’re prepared for more than 100.
“In the Inland Empire this is the one gaming event,” said Rounds, adding that they are encouraging younger gamers to come by offering free admission for children ages 12 through 16 if they’re accompanied by a registered adult. They also offer $10 admissions for the first 10 students or military gamers who register.
A retired Air Force officer who now teaches at the University of Idaho, Rounds said miniature gaming is a way to connect with others and be creative. “This is my tactical and creative outlet. I like to paint the miniatures,” he said, explaining that it’s a nice diversion to his cerebral profession. “It’s also allowed me to build a better connection with my son, who is 20. It’s something we’ve been able to do together.”
While the games themselves are diverse and complex, with orders of battle and rules about what dice rolls mean for different types of troops and terrain, convention organizers said the best way to learn is to come to the convention and join a game.
With five or more games running concurrently, convention attendees can play games that range from ancient historical battles to games set during the Renaissance, Civil War and both world wars as well as futuristic games set in space. “We’ll have something there for everybody,” said Rounds, adding that the games include air, water and land battles.
“You can read a rule book but it’s easier to have someone show you,” said Griner. “We encourage beginners. The people putting on a battle expect to be a tutor. … People go to conventions to learn new games and try new games.”
Throughout the year, Griner hosts games at his home most weeks, like his ancient battle with Meyer. After more than 40 years of gaming, he’s amassed thousands of miniature soldiers that stand at the ready on shelves that flank the large table in his game room.
He will host several games at this weekend’s event, including the Battle of Saguntum, a historical conflict that happened 200 years ago between Spanish and Napoleonic French troops in Spain. For that battle he’s using loaned miniatures that are 40 years old and haven’t left their box in more than a decade.
“We get together to play these battles because we enjoy the research and looking at the troops and playing the game,” said Griner. “Looking up and reading about battles is interesting. The battlefield is also very visually appealing. We get together and have a lot of fun.”
Like Griner, many miniature gamers are history buffs. Others are artistically inclined, enjoying the craftsmanship of painting soldiers and creating terrain. But convention organizers said the skills and knowledge aren’t needed to start gaming.
“At the convention we’ll have a variety of games. They don’t need to bring anything except the fee,” said Rounds. “You’ll find people who have a deep and abiding interest in different parts of history, who’ve spent time researching a battle and the things that led up to it. You’re feeling it, seeing it, having a conversation – so it sets it better in your mind. We’ll have all the figures, terrain, and a snack bar. You can come and game to your heart’s content.”