Little war gamers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2007, 12:00am

Wars - from medieval battles to futuristic ambushes and fantasy actions - are breaking out in Hong Kong as a growing band of young war gamers pit their armies of miniature figurines against one another.

'More young people are now drawn to the hobby, although the growth in numbers is not phenomenal,' says Geoffrey Au, 26, operation manager of Fun Atelier, a desktop war-gaming company in Wan Chai that also serves as a hangout for enthusiastic players and collectors whose ages range from nine to 40.

'More parents are encouraging their children to play desktop war games so that they won't spend all their time alone in front of the computer,' says Au, who has been playing for more than 12 years.

'When you play a desktop war game, you are facing a real person as an opponent, not a preset computer program. You have to predict the next move of your opponent, and it is more demanding tactically.'

The games also require artistic and creative effort. The figurines range from a few millimetres to more than 5cm in height, and the gamer must paint them before sending them into battle.

Evan Chan Sung-hei, 18, has gathered 300 to 400 soldiers. A fervent player who pays close attention to detail, he can spend a whole day painting a single figurine in scrupulous detail.

'Compared with playing computer games, I have more creative input when playing desktop war games. After all, I make my own soldiers, and when I paint science-fiction figurines, I can design the colours for their outfit,' Evan says.

His friend Ben Wan Ming-ho, 18, says the process of preparing the army is a pastime in itself. He has a battalion of about 200 miniature soldiers. 'I'm emotionally attached to the soldiers because I paint and assemble them myself,' he says.

Some fans are attracted to the game by the fantasy aspect of the hobby. Bianco Lo Sze-chun, 15, started playing desktop war games about six years ago. 'When the Lord of the Rings movies were released, and I was keen to gather my own band of soldiers from the movie,' he says. Bianco now has about 40 Rohan cavalry and infantry soldiers from the fictional kingdom in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world, Middle-Earth. He plans to add an army of elves to his arsenal.

Every weekend Bianco leads his miniature fantasy charges into battle at Fun Atelier . 'My family is supportive because there are some westerners playing here and I can practise English when communicating with them,' he explains.

The hobby may appear to be costly as players can spend thousand of dollars amassing their troops. But in the end, it is no more expensive than buying a PlayStation 3.

Desktop miniature war games are proving to be as addictive as video games.

Ricky Au Wai-ki, 15, and his brother Tom Au Wing-ki, 16, have been playing desktop war games since they started collecting their first army five years ago.

Ricky has spent about HK$4,000 over the years. 'The more time you spend on these games, the more you want to improve yourself in terms of tactics and painting [the figurines].'

Most players see science fiction author H.G. Wells as the father of their hobby. In 1913, Wells wrote a book titled Little Wars in which he laid down the rules of movement, firing and close combat of a military game involving miniature metal soldiers of infantry, cavalry and artillery.