Ever wondered how Battlefield Hobbies co-founder James ‘Hammy’ Hamilton became the grand master kingpin of games that he is today?
Well wonder no more! Here is everything you ever needed to know about Hammy’s life-long love affair with gaming in his own delectable words. You might want to get comfortable for this one – we suggest a big mug of tea and a family-size pack of Hobnobs!
I am now 55 years young and have been a gamer for as long as I can remember. Back in my childhood I played the likes of Monopoly and Chess, as well as Game of Life and 4000 AD. My real passion though was military history and eventually, at the age of nine, my parents relented and bought me Battle for Wargamers by Charles Grant. I had already read every book in the library on wargaming and most of the ones on military history too.
At the age of 10 I first went to the local wargames club and by the age of 12 I had founded a club at my school and was a fully-fledged wargamer. My early teens saw me discover Avalon Hill and SPI board games – possibly earlier to be honest. I know that I bought Third Reich when I was perhaps just 13 and by 15 I had loads of SPI games. I also came across a game called D&D and it rapidly became something that took up a lot of my time.
D&D gave way to Traveller and then I was introduced to a strange game called Runequest by some people I met at a con called Stabcon (in 1979!!). My first year at university saw lots of Runequest and some ancients wargaming, as well as a few other RPGs and the odd board game. During that year I heard about something called Treasure Trap (TT), the first live action roleplaying (LARP) site in the world.
During the summer between my first and second year I was asked if I wanted to go to Games Day by a rather attractive young lady, who was taking a load of people from TT down to the show for the weekend. The combination of me having been smitten from the first time I met her and the prospect of seeing what TT was all about meant that I thought about the offer for all of half a second. TT became a massive part of my life for the next three years until it closed. Michele is still part of my life now (36 years later).
For the time I was a TT regular I didn’t do a lot of other gaming but loved every moment I was at the castle.
When TT closed I was rather at a loss as to what to do with all the new spare time! In the end Michele and I wrote a new set of LARP rules and then with a couple of good friends started our own LARP venture, Realm, in a mill in Acrington. That lasted for just over a year until we had issues with the local council and the place sadly shut down. The Realm rules kept being played at various outdoor groups for a fair few years though. Eventually several of the regulars and one of the people we had run the site with set up Curious Pastimes and are now one of the three big LARP systems in the UK.
While I was running Realm I managed to get a ‘real’ job in computers. Personal computers were just starting to be a thing so I got in at the right point and my career went from strength to strength with the growth in use of PCs and networks. I also discovered a game called World in Flames (WiF) and for most of the next eight or so years my life was largely devoted to work and overtime to pay the mortgage and then playing WiF over and over again. I had a good bunch of gamer friends who also liked WiF and were also not the most well off in terms of cash but had jobs with a decent amount of holiday. We invented the concept of a WiF Week, or rather picked someone’s house, set up the game and then spent a full week playing it non-stop and perhaps drinking the odd tinny or three. I was very involved in the online discussion groups for WiF and as a result of that ended up running a playtest group for the Final Edition. We did a full week-long playtest with daily reports going back to Australia and rules tweaks coming back in time for the next day’s play.
One of the highlights of most years in the 80s was Stabcon, a weekend gaming con created by Dave Waring and run at a hall of residence in Manchester. Both Michele and I became regulars. I went to every one that Dave ran and we had lots of fun but in the mid 80s Dave had less time to organise things and the con gradually died out; by 1990 it was sadly no more. Michele and I instead went to some sci-fi cons and then an event in Cambridge called Conjunction, which was the national roleplaying con. We had a great time there and decided we should try and do something similar ourselves. As a result we contacted Dave and resurrected Stabcon with his blessing, running the first of our Stabcons in January 1991. Everyone who came had a great time and didn’t want to wait a year for the next one so that July we ran Summer Stabcon. We have continued to run it twice a year ever since. The first event had 70-80 delegates; now we work to keep the numbers down to fewer than 300 simply because our current venue is full with that number of people.
By the mid 90s I decided to get a new job, one with less overtime and more money – both of which were nice! It meant that I could actually look at getting back into miniatures wargaming. I played a game of De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) at a Stabcon and loved it. There was also a more complex version of DBA called De Bellis Multitudinous (DBM), which was the main tournament wargame of that time. I started playing in wargames tournaments and was quickly hooked. From the mid 90s through 2007 I played over 1,000 games of DBM in 10+ countries on four continents. I became president of the International Wargames Federation, won the World Individual Championship and had an altogether fabulous time. By 2007 I was burnt out from DBM as a game but I had become involved in developing and testing two sets of rules that were both competing to replace DBM as the main ancients game.
Stabcon meant that I got to play lots of board games and Michele got to play lots of roleplaying games and we both got to meet lots of our friends. Very much a win-win situation really. It had other benefits too. As part of running Stabcon I met various other Manchester-based gamers including one Martin Wallace. My first visit to Essen was with the Warfrog gang in 1999 and it was a total eye opener. One of the things that came from that first Essen was that we (the other Manchester gamers and I) decided that Martin was too good a designer to not have his games produced to a decent standard. We set our sights on getting a Warfrog game produced that was at least to the production quality of a Winsome game (if you have seen them you know this is not a high target).
Things moved on, I kept playing playtests with Martin and about six months before the next Essen he approached me and asked if I might be interested in doing something a bit more professional with Warfrog. At the time I had moved into a contract job, I had cash (Y2K and all that), and I decided to stump up the cash to print a full quality version of Empires of the Ancient World. Paying for a print run of 3,000 games upfront is something nobody does now because of Kickstarter. In 2000 though if you wanted to play with the big boys you needed cash. Fortunately I had cash and Martin had the design skills. For the first half of the 2000s I ran the business side of the company, Martin did the creative stuff and we produced some fantastic games – as well as having loads of fun at Essen. Eventually though in the mid 2000s I decided to let Martin take over the reins and stepped back from Warfrog.
My tabletop wargaming burn out with DBM did not stop me wanting to play in tournaments and I discovered another game I really liked in the form of Flames of War. I still play that and am part of the England team at next month’s European Team Championships, which means I get to add another country to the places I have not been on holiday (gaming trips don’t count as holidays). It also means that my huge collection of ancients figures has been joined by an equally huge collection of WWII miniatures. I honestly don’t know how many figures I have, but I know I sold 3,000 recently without denting my collection.
My contract work eventually dried up; I was relatively comfortable financially and had time on my hands. Martin Wallace had taken Warfrog and changed it into Treefrog but at the same time decided that rather than being a teacher and designing games as a paid hobby that he wanted to be a full time games designer. He approached me to see if I wanted to be involved in Treefrog from the start and I declined at that juncture, but a year later I decided that as I had time and Martin looked like he needed a bit of help that I would get back involved with Treefrog. After a couple of years Martin decided that he wanted to take things back, and he also wanted to emigrate. I was OK with that; I had enjoyed the time there and think I helped the company prosper, but I was ready for a change so I left Treefrog and handed it back to Martin.
I went back to contract work and then fulfilled a promise to Michele that when the World Wargaming Championships were in New Zealand that we would both go and make a holiday of it. I’m not sure that a 12-week round the world trip was quite what I thought we would do but in the end it made sense, so New Zealand was added to the countries I have not been on holiday to along with several other interesting places.
Once I got back from that trip it was back to IT work but then an opportunity arose to get involved in a business with another gaming friend of mine. I am still involved as a director of that business, which is primarily an exhibition and events company. Trying to explain exactly why that business now runs a FLGS is perhaps too much even for a post of this length, but I am among other things at the moment the co-owner of Battlefield Hobbies in Daventry.
Essentially my life is games. Games are my life; cut me and I bleed games.
*Hammy first posted his gaming autobiography on the Boardgame Trading and Chat UK Facebook page