To most people the mention of wargames would probably conjure pictures of adrenaline-fuelled paint-ballers taking part in an organised stag-do, or computer geeks dumbing down in a darkened room with a games console laden with images of muscle-bound men fighting through American inner cities with nothing more than an AK-47 and gritted teeth.
The truth, however, is somewhat different, as chairman of the Shetland Wargames Club Kevin Finlay is willing to testify. A long-term devotee of the game, the Sullom Voe worker from Brae has recently been selected to join a team of 12 players to represent Scotland in the European Warhammer Championships, due to take place at Münster in Germany next month.
Mr Finlay, who is part of club that meets in the Islesburgh Community Centre in Lerwick every Thursday night, was selected following promising results recorded in regional and national tournaments last year. But what exactly are wargames? Mr Finlay described the hobby as a number of tabletop games where two or more players compete against each other with “armies” of hand-painted miniatures.
Real battles that have taken place throughout history can be re-enacted, but some games allow the imagination to flow with battles based around the fantasy genre. So while some players may find themselves fighting through the Battle of Britain, others stretch their imaginations somewhat and base their characters on the Lord of the Rings. Many have created elves, dwarfs, zombies and vampires to fight their battles for them.
War Hammer is just one of many games set in a fictional universe, and it is this that Mr Finlay finds particularly endearing.
“It’s very much a tactical game – it’s like advanced chess. You need to have strategic thinking to get you through,” he said.
To the layman, War Hammer rules may appear a little bit daunting. Entire books have been published describing the rules of the game, commonly played on a 6ft by 4ft tabletop decorated with model scenery in scale with the miniatures.
The models are moved around the tabletop at the throw of a dice, which can lead to combat between rules that are specific to individual armies, and those listed in supplemental War Hammer texts which provide guidelines.
As much is made about the fictional world armies find themselves fighting in as the rules of the game itself. War Hammer is set in a dark and gritty background. The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia describes the culture similar in appearance to Renaissance Germany crossed with Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Mr Finlay said he was “shell-shocked” to have been selected for the European championships, although he said he got as much enjoyment from painting his characters as anything else.
“When I was younger it was the painting side of it that got me interested. I used to live outside Dundee and there was a games workshop in Commercial Street in Dundee that I used to go to. I got into it purely for the painting,” he said.
For next month’s event, he had been “buddied up” with a fellow enthusiast from Nottingham, who has contributed to books on the subject, to form what will hopefully be a formidable team.
Mr Finlay has dabbled with the armed forces in the past, but struggles to find an explanation for his interest in the game. He is not a member of the TA, and has no present military leanings in the real world.
“I was in the Royal Marines Reserves years ago, but I was just about to finish their passing out when I broke my leg, so that was the end of that,” he said.