After spending quite some years dealing with fantasay roleplaying, fantasy miniature wargaming and card games, I think it was in the fall of 1996 that I was looking for something new. I had finished my Ph.D. earlier that september, and so I had again a lot of time on my hands (writing a Ph.D. is hard work!).
I had always been fascinated by toy soldiers and historical miniature wargaming, but it was rather difficult to get good material for it. Most of the hobby shops sold lots of fantasy-related gaming materials, but historicals were much more difficult to find. The mid-nineties changed that, of course, due to the availablity of the internet for everyone. Although I had been on the net since 1988 or so, it was only around 1996 that people not connected to universities gained mass access. Hence, a lot of sites were created on which historical miniature wargaming was featured.
One of the rules I had bought at that time a very simple Napoleonic ruleset by Barry Edwards. It focused mainly on the Peninsular War, but everything was good at this point. Dusting off some old Airfix figures, I fielded my very first historical miniature game (all I had done before that was fantasy and SF) in the gaming room of the Lonely Mountain shop in Leuven. This proved to be a complete new experience. We were playing with rules in which you only had 3 types of troops, as opposed to the zillions of different types in fantasy games, combat resolution didn’t involve buckets of dice, and we felt we actually were doing something historical ;-)
So, for the next 2 years we repeated the experience and experimented with many different rulesets: Shootist for Wild West skirmish games, Rapid Fire, Crossfire, Spearhead, Brother vs Brother, Paragon Aerial combats, Probsub (aka ‘They shot the whale’), Fire and Steel, Tactica, DBA, Principles of War a.o. We also still played many F/SF games, but the GW days were gone for good: Fantasy Rules, Dirtside, Full Thrust, Star Wars, etc. We even managed to invent games ourselves. The now legendary Aquazone is still fondly remembered! Games were played almost every Tuesday in the Lonely Mountain in Leuven, and ended well past 1am, after which the hard-core gang often went to the kebab-place a few houses down the street to hold a serious debriefing. Rarely did I show up in the lab before noon the following day :-)
For me, this period ended in the summer of 98, when I moved to the USA. These days, we call those crazy 2 years ‘The Golden age of Schild en Vriend’, because many of us had plenty of time on our hands (pursuing a Ph.D. allows you a lot of free time of you don’t have to write :-)), and most of us were still single. This ideal mix proved to be very fruitful, and many of our current game sessions and game ideas somehow can trace a lineage back to that period.