Oh, I remember the day well. It was back in 1966 on a warm July day. I was hanging out with my friends and we heard that the Renfrew Boys Club (yup, no girls allowed in our club, oh the times have changed – HA!) opened their doors to kids in the neighborhood. It was a cool place with a gym, craft area, tennis courts and a GAMES ROOM. I could see through the glass door. It was nirvana; it seemed like hundreds of games , heck the whole Sears Christmas Catalog was there. All lined up on shelves ready to play. Life, Monopoly, Careers, Pit, Mouse trap, Parchessi, Easy Money.
I opened the door and stood there for what seems like forever and then it caught my eye. A game I have never seen before, so different from the rest, even in its somewhat dingy grey. The word STRATEGO in alternating red and blue castle lettering written on the spine. What a cool and exotic name and certainly quite a mouthful for an eight year old. I immediately yanked it out from under the tattered remains of Easy Money. I was not duly impressed by the cover picture of a mom and daughter playing while Dad and son were watching – damn it had so much promise and then; AND THEN I opened the lid and was blown away.
Rows of plastic soldiers in bright red and blue, Generals and Scouts; Lieutenants and Colonels, bombs, flags and a nefarious looking character called a Spy. My heart was pounding, I could hear the distant thunder of cannons, the yelling of orders over the din of bullets and explosions, horses galloping full tilt as the enemy was vanquished from the field. Even the game board was different with terrain and beautiful blue lakes marked off in one inch sections. Heck it even folded so the field of combat was always seen (versus the way the Monoploy board held its secrets; all black with a little Monopoly label teasing until it was opened for play).
This was MY FIRST WARGAME: my first taste of planning strategies, looking for optimum positioning, understanding the capacity of each unit as it moved across the forest floor. I was hooked and I played it over and over again. My brother, my cousins, people at the club, I even played against myself. It had captured my imagination and I was possessed all summer. And then summer, like all good things came to an end.
I was so distraught because you had to be a member of the Boys Club during the school year and I was not. STRATEGO! I had to have it! I remember taking it home to be mine forever. It would have been, had my brother not squealed on me (stupid brother). It was returned and I was bummed thinking I would never see it again, UNTIL, that Christmas when my ogre parents wrapped one up under the tree for me. No longer ogres, I gave my folks the biggest of hugs. I relished opening my own copy, the plastic shrinkwrap, the pristine soldiers waiting for their first command order, the cracking of the spine on the game board, the smell of “newness”; everything that I still enjoy today, 46 years later. Yes, I still have my copy of STRATEGO and it continues to put a smile on my face each time a see a copy being played.
They say you never forget your first and I certainly have not. What’s yours?