Tabletop generals square off at Little Wars

Brows furrowed in concentration, the commanders faced each other across a landscape dotted with trees and riven by small streams. The opposing armies were drawn up in a battle line stretching to the horizon, resplendent in their polished armor, sitting astride warhorses clad in chainmail.

With muttered prayers of good fortune, the commanders turned and reached for their dice.

This situation was played out countless times last weekend at Little Wars, a miniature wargaming convention hosted each year by the Historical Miniature Gaming Society's Midwest chapter. The event took place April 23 through April 25 at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort and brought together gamers and history enthusiasts for three days of gaming, buying and selling. About 746 people attended, according to club officials.

Tables set up around the convention space invited attendeeswho ranged in age from children to adultsto take part in battles from a dozen or more historical eras using hand-painted miniatures and scenery. Some tables focused on Napoleon's campaigns across Europe; others were strewn with ruined buildings and bomb craters for a re-creation of the Battle of Stalingrad.

Still others were draped in blue fabric so the players could take to the high seas and play out various naval battles using tiny ship miniatures.

In each case, the tables represented hours of hard work on behalf of the gamers who had offered to run the games at Little Wars. Some were individual enthusiasts; others represented game clubs or hobby stores in the Midwest.

Steven Fratt, a professor of history at Trinity College in Deerfield, set up an epic tabletop scenario dedicated to the final battle in the film "Saving Private Ryan." Fratt invited players to take on the role of the Germans or the Americans to re-play the scenario with an easy-to-understand set of rules.

Fratt, who has taught history for more than 20 years, also uses wargames to help his students understand famous military conflicts through history.

"With my students, after the game, we debrief," Fratt said. "They start to realize that this isn't chess. They gain an appreciation for what these human beings went through."

For more information on the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society's Midwest chapter, go to

Story and photos by Patrick W. Rollens | reporter

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