A portrait of the cartophiliac as a young dog

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I’ve been gradually sorting though boxes and folders of old gaming stuff, and in the process I’ve turned up a few personal treasures that I had almost, if not quite, forgotten about.  Here’s one of them, the map for the Styrenian War, which dates from 1977.

styrenia map full

The original is hand-drawn on four sheets of A4 paper which were rather roughly taped together.  And when I write hand-drawn, I mean that; even the hexagons were laboriously marked out by hand to overlay the terrain.  No such thing as a ready-printed hex sheet, at that time (Why didn’t I just use squares?  I have no idea!).  It looks pretty crude now, and very obviously based on a vague idea about the geography of Mesopotamia, but at the time I recall being quite proud of it.

Styrenia map top L001
North-west Styrenia

The Styrenian War was a big undertaking for myself and my school friends at the time, not least because we could (and probably should) have been spending the time involved to study for our A Levels.  It started simply as a way to employ the two reasonably sized 25mm Ancient armies I’d built up, in something more complex than endless, straightforward head-to-head confrontations.  But then we decided it would be more fun to try and include, somehow, the smaller forces that had gathered in my collection, and in those of my friends.  Thus our first imagi-nations campaign was born.

Styrenia map top R002
North-east Styrenia

My Early Achaemenid Persians, along with a smattering of Parthians, Palmyrans and others (including a camel-mounted unit that we never could really identify) became the Pramandans, a mighty empire to the north of Styrenia, with ambitions to expand southwards.  My Macedonians, joined by a motley assortment of Greek hoplites, Carthaginians, Numidian light cavalry and Early Imperial Romans, became the army of Kavalla, an empire that we conceived as a kind of cross-breeding between historical Macedon and Rome, and set some distance to the west of our campaign map.  And why Styrenia?  Because we then tossed in a local population made up of 20mm Airfix plastic Ancient Britons, for good measure.

Styrenia map bottom L003
South-west Styrenia

The whole thing started predictably enough with the Pramandans invading from the north, and the heavily outnumbered Styrenians calling on Kavalla for help in their hour of need.  Which, of course, the Kavallans answered with their own army, boarded onto galleys and sent sailing round the coast in order to avoid the desert.  Meanwhile, there was time for the Pramandans to take all of northern Styrenia, so that the first stage of the campaign was mostly taken up with one siege after another, as the Styrenian forces had all hunkered down behind various city walls.  The exception to this, in the map’s northern half, was the mountain fortress of Dumeir; for no discernible strategic reason that I could figure out (I was, by the way, commanding the Kavallans), the Pramandans had detached a fair-sized force to wrest control of it from its small garrison, but that garrison gallantly held out for many weeks.  Long enough, as it turned out, so that the detached Pramandan force was unable to march back to their main army in time to take any further part in events.

Styrenia map bottom R004
South-east Styrenia

Several battles followed in the south, once the Kavallans had landed and the Pramandans tried to drive them back into the sea.  But the Kavallan army was able to advance and, along with their Styrenian allies, decisively defeated the invaders in a great battle beneath the walls of Habordah.  The Pramandan commander himself was taken captive, when the “Numidians” made a wild dash through a gap in the Pramandan lines and caught him by surprise.  Thus ended the Styrenian War, with Styrenia becoming a new protectorate of the Kavallan Empire.

All of which was a great deal of fun at the time, as it was the first campaign we’d fought as a group.  A substantial part of the enjoyment, thinking back to it, was in the setting up and not just in the actual events.  We took quite a lot of time over that.  For instance, all the significant characters – generals and other officers, local nobility, city governors, and the like – were given personality traits that might influence their behaviour and their decisions.  There was a system to account for supplies.  Then, of course, there was the need to draw the map, by hand.

For some time I’ve been using the Campaign Cartographer software to design and draw out maps for my wargaming projects.  Now, I will say straight away that Campaign Cartographer is great and I have no regrets about investing in it, and undoubtedly I will continue to make use of it.  But rediscovering the old Styrenia map has served to remind me of how much I actually enjoy drawing maps by hand.

From a very young age, I’ve loved maps.  My parents subscribed to a couple of weekly magazines for me that I think they considered (quite rightly) to be educational as well as entertaining – Look and Learn and then, from 1970, World of Wonder.  Those magazines were packed with fascinating articles, with diagrams of great battles and of mediaeval towns and castles, and with maps.  Always the maps.  I could spend hours poring over those, leafing slowly through an atlas, turning the globe by my bed, or gazing at the yellowed map on my bedroom wall that was illustrated with pictures of historical pirates.  And one way I found to while away those boring passages that seemed to be intrinsic to a 1960s and ’70s childhood was to draw my own maps of imagined landscapes, countries, and worlds.

I realise, looking back at that time, how much the process of actually drawing out the maps is, for me, one of the ancillary pleasures of being a wargamer and roleplayer.  I even wonder, glancing at the completed and part-completed paintings and collages scattered around my study, if that interest was one of the key ingredients that led me to working with abstraction; there are some works that I think could, arguably, be interpreted as a kind of cartography.

Anyway, without going further down that digressing path, I’ll just say that I’ve decided to go back to drawing and colouring by hand the maps that I use in my gaming.  One thing I won’t be doing, though, is hand drawing those bloody hexagons.  Something else I located in storage is a very useful pad of A4 hex sheets (published by Games Workshop – in 1978!).  Finding that has been a bigger relief than Mafeking.

Oh, and I have an inkling that a second Styrenian War might be in the offing…

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One thought on “A portrait of the cartophiliac as a young dog

  1. I designed my first wargame in 1981, on the Pusan Perimeter battles (inspired by a situation map in my Dad’s copy of This Kind of War by Fehrenbach). It had hand-drawn hexes, and necessarily quite simple terrain. Hand-drawn counters too, I did have a typewriter to type in the combat and movement factors… after I had finished typing out the rules!

    After getting a computer later in life (mostly Macintoshes) I would use whatever simple drawing program came with the computer, or what I could get freeware. Right now I use the drawing program aspect of LibreOffice (variant/descendant of OpenOffice, a very powerful but now discontinued office suite) to make my maps and counters: templates for hex sheets of different sizes and grains, square and staggered-square grids and such were easy to make.

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