Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Dean West, RIP

Dean West explains the rules at Nashcon
(photo courtesy of Cory Ring)

I heard the very sad news yesterday that Dean West had passed away. Dean was one of the nicest person that I ever met and ranks in my top ten list of students of history. I would always learn something new about history every time I talked to him. 

Seven Years War Association Conventions
Dean was devoted to the Seven Years War Association and for quite awhile he organized the annual convention in South Bend and sought out game judges to run convention games. Dean was a master of herding cats as nearly every dealer and game judge had his own particular needs at the convention and somehow Dean came up trumps in attending to everyone's needs.

A Master of Terrain
Dean always had some the most beautiful looking terrain at the convention and he did it all without the fancy terrain boards, which seem to be the rage in this day and age. He did extensive research on the battle that he was going to host, right down to terrain elevations, etc. Dean used a simple outdoor carpet for each unique battle (i.e each battle had its own bespoke terrain mat) and permanently marked the streams and roads on the map. However, it was the terrascaping that really brought his game table to light. Dean downsized the building by one size, so if he was using 15mm figures, the buildings would be those made for 10mm figure. 

His forests were probably the best that I've ever seen. Dean told me that the key to a realistic forested area was to use different sizes and brands of trees with a few non-green colors added in here and there. This created a realistic diversity of trees that really made the scene POP.

It sounds obvious, but too many of us go another way with our terrain. Below is a picture of Dean West's game at the 2009 SYWA convention.

Dean West (center, with beard) at the 2009 Seven Years War Association convention.

American Civil War
Dean was well versed in the American Civil War, in addition to his knowledge of 18th Century warfare. In recent years Dean was a member of an ACW cavalry reenactment group that portrayed both Union and Confederate regiments at events. Dean introduced the concept of actually using cavalry tactics in the reenactment events. You would think that the reenactors would already know cavalry tactics, but they didn't so Dean taught them and made them better performers. 

Dean also developed the Johnny Reb set of wargame rules along with John Hill. The rules were very popular with the gaming public. He also created a set of SYW rules called "the Final Argument of Kings" and he would stage historical battles every year at the SYWA  convention.

Dean West (left) at the 2010 SYWA convention.

My Favorite Dean West Story
I can't recall the exact year, but it was the first year that Dr. Christopher Duffy visited the United States to attend a wargame show, this one being at GenCon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Naturally we were all thrilled at the prospect of meeting Duffy and asking him questions about 18th Century military history. We had arranged for a banquet dinner in Duffy's honor at a nearby restaurant and he gave a speech after dinner.

During the speech there was a fellow at the back of the room heckling Dr. Duffy. He was obviously in his cups and he was ruining the evening for everyone at the banquet. At one point, the heckler shouted, "what about Bosnia?" 

That was enough for Dean. He walked up to the heckler, really got into his face, and said something along the lines of:

"If you don't shut the f*** up I'm going to grab you by the nostrils and drag you out into the street."

Dean might have been short in stature, but he was clearly someone that you wouldn't want to mess with regardless of your own size. When he was really mad (and that didn't happen very often), you could almost see the hair on the back of his neck stand up and his face would get really red. You would know that you were in for some "hurtin' " if Dean ever got to Defcon 4.

The heckler left immediately and vanished into the night.

The audience gave Dean a standing ovation.

I'm sure that Dean probably felt a little embarrased by all the attention; he was that kind of guy.

It goes without saying that we will all miss Dean very much. I think about the vast storehouse of knowledge in Dean that has gone away forever. He could spin a story about some of the most obscure people in history. Above all though, Dean was a leader and a true gentleman and he will be sorely missed by all of us.

Strike the tent, Dean.


  1. Even all the way over here in Western Australia I had heard stories about Dean and the regard in which he was held. So sorry for his families and friends loss.

  2. This is the second wargaming obituary I've seen today. Very sad, and sorry to hear of Dean's passing.

  3. Oh gosh; a tremendous loss!
    Thank you for the news and recollections, Jim.
    Bill P.

  4. Jim, my condolences on the loss of your friend, and to the wargaming fraternity. Your testimonial reveals a great contributor to our hobby. As always, I feel for his family too...we all know the sacrifices our loved ones make for our hobby. Best wishes, Rohan.