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The Difference Between Men and Boys is the Price of their Toys!

December 17, 2020

Our group began almost 40 years ago in an attic on West Street. A local insurance agent, the late Winston Hamilton, who was also a war game designer, invited some friends to play-test a new game. That game was called "Command Decision" which allows players to recreate battles that took place in WWII. Over the decades, we helped play-test several revisions to the game. The current version is called "Command Decision, Test of Battle" and is quite different from the first three versions. Our gathering place has changed a number of times. When we outgrew the attic, we moved to an empty store on 4th Avenue.

This location is one that long-time Grinnellians may remember as Arnolds Shoe Store.  We were set up there for a few years. When that property was no longer available, we then moved across the street to an empty upstairs apartment. After some years, we moved again to a street-level empty store still in the same block as the other locations. This stay was relatively short as it was prime business space and the owner was eager to rent it out as soon as possible. Our next location was the basement of the Back Alley Deli where we stayed until early 2008. When that business changed hands, one of our members fortunately had a room in his basement where we could set up. That is our present location.

We have had a wide variety of players over the years. We've had town merchants, a lawyer, a banker, a hospital executive, a college employee, and a couple of Iowa State Patrol officers. We’ve also had young high school men drifting in and out who contributed to the overall experience. Our numbers have ranged between 6 and 9 players. Currently, we have a group of 7. Of course, we have suspended play until our nation can get over the Covid crisis. Even though we ostensibly play WWII battles, most of us just enjoy the camaraderie the game gives to us. We may argue a bit here and there, but all have remained friends.

Now for a brief description of the game itself: Command Decision is actually just a set of rules, charts, and some suggested scenarios. These form the backbone of the game, as these rules and charts determine the characteristics of the various units, called "stands." With these, we learn how far a particular stand may move, what kind of weapons they possess, how to conduct and resolve combat and many other parameters. Like many other games, results of combat depend to some extent on die rolls.

Good strategy, combined with favorable die rolls, leads to success. Since "Command Decision" is just the paperwork, to play the game a club has to purchase the stands separately. Vehicles of many sizes, types and nationalities are available in many hobby stores and online. One decision a club has to make at the start is what scale would be most appropriate for the group's size and space. Our club plays on a table that is 6ft wide by 12 ft long. The club’s founder, Winston Hamilton, decided at the outset that we would use primarily 1/72nd scale models.  What that means is 72 inches in a real vehicle translates to 1 inch in our models. For example, a typical WWII Sherman tank was about 20ft long by 9ft wide. Our models of Sherman tanks than are about 3in long by 1.5in wide. There are many scale sizes available for clubs to use, but we like the 1/72nd. Assembling the models was a huge undertaking.

Even the simplest of vehicles can come in kits of a dozen or more pieces. These must be glued together then painted like the model cars and aeroplanes many of us assembled as kids. Winston personally purchased most of the models in the early years. He also did most of the assembly and painting.  As time went on, others pitched in and contributed to the buying, building and painting chores. This has allowed us to significantly add to our collection. Currently, we have stands representing American, German, British, Russian and Italian forces. In more recent years, new technologies such as die-casting and 3D printing have made it possible to purchase models that are ready to paint. 

It must be pointed out that Command Decision is not something one picks up quickly.  The rules can be complicated in some areas such as how spotting the enemy is handled.  Even after all these years,  we frequently still have to consult the rule book as we play the game. Nevertheless, we can't wait to get back at it!  We've included some photos below from one of our games. 

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