Charley Elsden of Brooklyn Heights has been gaming for over 50 years. In that time he has seen different ‘golden ages’ of plastic toy soldiers, watched the rise of Avalon Hill-style wargames, and witnessed the birth of Dungeons and Dragons, Euro games, and collectible card games. What anchor him in this changing world are his love of games, especially wargames, and his love of Brooklyn.
To walk into Charley’s apartment is to walk into a gamer’s paradise. He has countless board games, about twenty thousand 54mm miniatures, all sorts of assorted terrain and vehicles, and shelves upon shelves of books, DVD’s, and memorabilia. Charley owns such diverse titles as Heroscape, Battle Cry, Conquest of Nerath, Munchkin, and virtually every type of wargame known. To talk to Charley is to tap into a rich store of knowledge about the history of Brooklyn and about the vast world of gaming, particularly wargaming.
Charley’s Masters Degree in European History from Stony Brook University was the springboard for his interest in being an amateur military historian. He wrote a column called Those Fightin’ 54s in a popular hobby magazine called MWAN (Midwest Wargamers Association Newsletter). The magazine’s main run was during the 1980s and 1990s. Not one to be tied to a single hobby, Charley has written and produced radio shows on the Life of Theseus and on The Trojan War that were featured on COSMOS FM out of Queens in the 1980s. He wrote two of his own versions of Norse myths that were published in Idunna, a magazine of Scandinavian cultural affairs edited by science fiction writer Diana L Paxson. He has also visited about 20 foreign countries, including China, Israel, Egypt, parts of the Caribbean, and many European countries. He once took a wargaming tour of Europe, visiting historical battlefields of many periods. He has also seen most of the United States. However, his heart always returns to Brooklyn.
Speaking of his home city, Charley said, ‘When people ask me if I think New York City is the center of the world, I tell them, no, Brooklyn is the center of the world.’ He is cognizant that until 1898, Brooklyn was its own city, and that if Brooklyn was its own city today, it would be the fifth largest city in the country. While standing at the famous Promenade in his neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, overlooking what was once the Brooklyn Docks and commanding the best view of New York Harbor and Manhattan in the world, Charley pointed out the site of George Washington’s retreat from British General Howe at the Dawn of the American Revolution. In fact, Charley will gladly take anyone on a walking tour of his area of Brooklyn.
Back at home, he has many 54mm figures, ranging from the Medieval Ages to the Korean War, which he has painted and regularly uses in games that he runs on his tabletop. His terrain includes buildings, fortifications, trees, different types of river, bridges, natural landscape features, and just about everything on a wargamer’s wish list. He has acquired these items from conventions, craft and hobby stores, flea markets, garage sales, the Internet, and even the occasional friend who has crafted items for him. While Charley paints many of his figures himself, he has a fellow hobbyist in Manhattan whom he commissions to paint some of his figures.
Charley identified a ‘classic toy soldier period’ from the late 19th Century until World War I, during which none other than science fiction novelist H.G. Wells created a rules set for 54mm soldiers, which he called Little Wars. He also mentioned two golden ages of plastic 54mm soldiers; one that lasted from post-World War II until the early 1960s, and one that started in the mid 1980s and is still going strong. Charley has followed in the footsteps of the great H.G. Wells and created his own rules for many periods of 54mm wargaming. His rules for WWII have been published as Recon and Rushes by The Toy Soldier Company.
Charley runs a monthly Heroscape game at his apartment with the infamous ‘Gang of Four’ (all members of heroscapers.com), has people over for 54mm wargaming events and board games, and attends the City Island Board Game Group in the Bronx. He has been to many events of Metropolitan Wargamers in Park Slope, Brooklyn and the Long Island Heroscape League events at Ravenblood Games in Plainview, NY, and he has faithfully attended HMGS (Historical Miniature Gaming Society, East Chapter) Boardgaming conventions since 1998.