Gaming history: Mention of the Little Tin Soldier in a newspaper article, 1984

With a recent comment on my post about the Little Tin Soldier, I was curious what else I could find about Don Valentine on the net. With the exact search terms “Don Valentine” and “Little Tin Soldier”, Google returns just one hit: a scanned newspaper article from 1984. It’s from the Charleston, SC News and Courier — an odd place for an article mentioning a Minneapolis FLGS. But I note that the article was syndicated by Knight News Service, which apparently at one time owned the St. Paul Pioneer Press. So I’d guess the article was originally published in that local paper, then syndicated on from there.

Here is the main part of the article, with the relevant paragraphs highlighted:

Google scan of article mentioning the Little Tin Soldier

And here’s the relevant text in a more readable form:

The idea of game-playing takes on a slightly different meaning at the Little Tin Soldier, which specializes in war games and fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. The fantasy games generally appeal to a young audience and involve taking an imaginary character through a series of adventures.

Don Valentine of Little Tin Soldier in Minneapolis says there are two major types of war games: the board games, in which players re-fight a historical campaign with all the advantages and weaknesses of the original generals; and “figure gaming”, in which players set up a battlefield on a table-top and use scale-model figures and special rules to fight one another.

Chris Rudolph of Little Tin Soldier’s St. Paul store says it is now possible to re-fight most of the major campaigns of World War II in board games. A Vietnam War game is a big seller these days.

Those paragraphs are interesting for several reasons. First, it mentions the St. Paul branch of the store. I had almost entirely forgotten that the Tin had a St. Paul location until that recent comment. Also, that confirms to me that the story derived from the St. Paul newspaper, as a Minneapolis paper probably wouldn’t bother interviewing someone from the St. Paul branch. And last, it seems to deemphasize RPGs at the expense of board games. Was the RPG boom already over by 1984? Or had it never gotten that big in South Carolina? Or something else?


Gaming history: Mention of the Little Tin Soldier in a newspaper article, 1984 — 5 Comments

  1. The article was indeed originally originated locally, and was part of Don’s effort to promote the St. Paul shop. The shop was not a success, and was closed fairly rapidly.

    One thing to keep in mind when reading this is that Don was not a gamer, and was not particularly interested in anything that didn’t sell product. From the beginning, as “La Belle Alliance”, the shop had focused on miniatures as the primary product, with board games a secondary line. RPGs simply didn’t sell at the shop – the customers didn’t buy them there, but usually would buy at Gen Con in Milwaukee, or from me at my convention, the Minnesota Campaign, when I was running that; a much better selection, and with no real hostility to RPGs like the shop’s denizens usually displayed to RPG players and GMs.

    Don, like any retailer, went with the flow and stocked what the customers actually bought. I should also say that by the date of the article, miniatures and board gaming was becoming ‘lost’ in all of the hype over RPGs and incidents like Mr. Egbert; an article about these two subjects was actually a rarity in the news, by that point.

    yours, chirine

  2. Thanks for this post. The Little Tin Soldier was the store that I cut my wargamer teeth on. I have some great memories of both stores. I didn’t realize that the St. Paul store was so short lived.

  3. I worked for the Little Tin for about 18 months during 2004 and 2005. The poster is right — Don wasn’t much for actual gaming, although he did play Acquire on occasion. We had some great Empires in Arms games at the Little Tin.

    Towards the end of my time at the shop, a relative (Nephew?) of Don came in and convinced him to become a game distributor in addition to being a retailer. This seemed a mistake as the store ended up with a huge inventory of games from Avalon Hill that sold VERY slowly. I think this was one factor in the store’s downfall.

    In addition to the MPLS store, I would often open the St. Paul store on Saturday mornings and Don would call every morning to make sure I was there on time, even though there were few customers.

    I also rented a room in Don’s house, until one day he learned his niece was visiting and gave me one day’s notice to vacate the room. I ended up spending a night in a homeless shelter which was a valuable experience.

    I additionally roomed with Neil Cauley, who founded Phoenix Games. So I guess I was a fixture of the Mpls gaming community during the mid-to-late ’80s.

  4. Late to the table again, but here is my two cents. Just did a La Belle alliance/Little Tin Soldier, Phoenix Games out of the blue and ended up here. I am glad that they are not a figment of my imagination. I had just got started in wargames by subscribing to S&T magazine and had found a
    Gaming store in Wayzata. I made my pilgrimage to La Belle Alliance and purchased Verdun by Connflict Games. Somewhere between my trips there and to Uncle Hugo’s Sci-fi bookstore on Franklin Ave at that time, they relocated to Lake Street with the Little Tin Soldier. If anyone can fill in the timeline for me please do.

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