The Last Word: Jon Sutherland

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07 February 2022
We hear from author and rules writer Jon Sutherland

This article originally appeared in issue 466 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

I can vividly remember hurling clods of earth across the garden at entrenched plastic soldiers, but my first real wargame experience was in the early seventies when, like most of us, I realised that the dice in the Monopoly set could be used for much more exciting things.

I discovered Wesencraft, Grant, Wise and Featherstone in the late seventies, but it was the launch of this very magazine in 1983 that drew me inexorably into the hobby and spawned friendships that have endured nearly five decades. Just before this, I met a kindred spirit in Joe Dever and together we launched and ran the basement wargames department at 22 Oxford Street before we both moved to Games Workshop working on White Dwarf and Warlock magazines. That experience led us both into writing, something I still earn a living doing today. I was also lucky enough to spend a week at the original Enchanted Cottage with Peter Gilder in the early ‘80s; a seed was planted and thirty years later my wife Diane and I launched Wargames Holidays over in Crete for six years before the Greek economic collapse.

My tastes over the years have waxed and waned, but I suppose the single thread is the latter half of the nineteenth century. I’m am eternally fascinated by colonial India and entranced by the American Civil War, I’ve been lucky enough to see dozens of the battlefields with Diane and American friends across the Eastern Seaboard.

Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like wargaming. Strange thing to say from a bloke that has thousands of figures, has painted many more thousands and has played wargames for fifty years. I suppose what I should say is that I love wargames, but my preference is to run games rather than command troops on the table. There’s nothing more satisfying than having spent months painting figures and building terrain and then to see the sheer joy on the players’ faces and that sense of anticipation as they scan the spectacle before them. I love creating immersive, challenging and above all entertaining and fun social events. I have been lucky enough to run games for players from the four corners of the world.

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I’ve always been keen to make my own terrain, buildings and to paint my own soldiers. I don’t think I am particularly gifted in any of these areas. As many of you know, Diane is a dab hand at terrain and has had dozens of articles published in this very magazine and no less than five volumes of her projects published too. I should say, Diane doesn’t wargame and I don’t ever recall asking her whether she would like to give it go. I’m just grateful that we began our partnership writing business studies books for colleges. Nearly three hundred books later I have dragged her into military history, true crime and children’s books and she has found another hidden talent in making terrain and buildings for me!

I like to think what I paint and make is attainable to most people: I don’t have a degree in fine art and I’m not a qualified designer. There are no secrets in getting figures and terrain table-ready to a standard you are proud to show off, it’s simply time, dedication and the ability to focus. I’m as bad at this as most of us, flitting from one project to the next, but latterly I’ve finally finished my ancient Greeks – all 2,500 of them: they only waited eight years to be completed. My record is twenty-five years with my 15mm Zulus, for me to put them on the table just ten or dozen times and then to sell them. They now live happily in Australia!

In an age where we all expect something for nothing, the Internet gives us that with a few clicks; I’m delighted that physical wargaming is thriving. It’s getting harder, but blogs, podcasts and the hopelessly frustrating Youtube end of the hobby is no substitute for a real magazine, a nice fresh set of wargame rules, a decent wargame show and the sheer joy of tearing open a box of soldiers you’ve treated yourself to because you just need those lancers don’t you? 

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