He who dies with most toys wins! Stockport war gamer leads 30,000-strong army towards global domination

Commanding a vast army and leading them to victory while obliterating all your foes might sound like some kind of medieval fantasy.

But Mancunians and others from across the globe have been doing just that as they draw swords and don their armour at one of the biggest wargaming events of the year.

Britcon 2014 saw hundreds of wargame collectors and competitors converge on Manchester University to take part in the annual battle royale last weekend.

And one of the world’s best sat down with MM to talk about his passion and why he feels the need to constantly add to, arguably, a collection unrivalled by anyone in the world.

“I have a large collection for a purpose,” said Stockport-based James Hamilton, who boasts an impressive, and ever expanding, 30,000 figures.

TOYBOX TO BATTLEFIELD: James shows off a portion of his collection

“It’s a means to an end in a way, I enjoy wargaming and competing so for me that is why I have such a large collection.

“One of my friends has the email signature which reads ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’, which I think sums up the collection-competition quite well. I may not get the most but I will certainly have a lot.”

James is a former world champion of the game, racking up a host of major titles and honours since he started playing 20 years ago.

And the 51-year-old, who modestly describes himself as ‘pretty good’, lived up to his reputation by claiming two second places and a third across the weekend’s action, giving him the combined prize honour.

ON THE FRONTLINE: Soldiers from all eras are represented in model form

“In a lot of ways it was perfect because I actually organise the specific tournament I was playing in so winning an event would be rude, second is polite,” he said with a smile.

Such is his determination to win, like a true general his favourite models are not those that hold any sentimental value – but are those which are most useful in battles.

“That’s particularly hard, at the moment,” said James, when asked what his best figures were.

“Just taking one part of the collection – I would have to say that my Germany World War Two infantry are my most prized because I can use them across nearly all games that we play.”

Wargaming has been around for decades and from rookie privates to veteran majors, it is enjoyed by millions around the globe.

And like many, James first got the wargaming bug as a child and has been collecting for more than 40 years.

“I bought my first figures, or was more likely bought them, when I was about nine or ten and they would have been Airfix plastic figures when the ‘no war toys’ rule my parents had was relaxed,” he said.

“The first metal figures I bought were some Roman legionaries from a company called Hinchcliffe which I bought when I was 11 with carefully-saved pocket money.

“I bought them because metal figures were the way to get all sorts of different figures and were widely used in the wargames club I joined at that age.”

FORWARD MARCH! Armies from the past are recreated in painstaking detail

And over time his collection has grown immensely to such an extent that he has no exact number on how many figures he owns or how much he has spent amassing the ranks.

“I really don’t know how much I have spent and I probably should not even think about it for my own sanity,” he admitted.

“Individually, the models are actually quite cheap, at least in their unpainted form but 30,000 – and that is an estimate – of anything works out as a lot of money.”

The concept of wargaming first came about as far back as 1780 and was loosely based on chess before being developed and refined over the decades into what it is today.

BLITZ KIDS: Even houses get the wargaming treatment in James’ extensive collection

A turn-based strategy game where players move their troops at various speeds, depending on what sort of infantry they are, they then engage in combat using the roll of a die against their opponent.

But it’s not as simple as that as James said: “Wargames are played according to rules, most people would consider a 10-page set of rules to be a lot but the games I play have rules that run to over 100 pages.

“All in all there is a lot of dice rolling but the good players know how to make the odds work for them – much like good poker players seem to win more often than you would expect.”

And James, who is a committee member of the British Historical Gaming Society and former president of the International Wargames Federation, has had plenty of experience with different ‘troops’ over the years.

“My collection is mainly in one scale – a man on foot is 15mm tall – and for two periods which are Ancients pre 1500AD and World War II,” he told MM.

“Even just looking at those two periods and sticking with 15mm scale you could, I suspect, find as many unique models as I have figures in my collection if you tried hard.

“The selection is not infinite but it is very, very large.

“If something actually existed you can almost certainly get a model, if you can imagine it then there is a reasonable chance that someone has made it.”

Storing his vast collection in file boxes lining the walls of his games room, the company director’s collection includes classes such as Akkadians, Early Libyans, Hittites and Babylonians in his ancient division.

While his WWII ranges from Polish infantry, Romanian, German, Soviets and the US.

And despite owning one of the largest collections, James has no plans to stop any time soon as he seeks to fight until the very end.

“I will be adding to the ranks for as long as I live and I really can’t see that changing, I have been at it for 40 years after all,” he said.

“I have spent a huge amount of time playing games with people all over the world and I would not trade that for anything.”

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