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Monday 27 June 2011

The search for Reality- part 1

Descending to the Trivial

Now here we go again - while at War Torn last weekend I was given a copy of the latest Wargames Illustrated. I hadn't seen a copy for around a year for which I'm truly grateful. The magazine is bright, colourful and has plenty of very pretty- and some far from pretty pictures in it so style 7/10 - losing a few points for being a bit on the chavtastic side- I kept expecting page borders to be fake Burberry pattern- will succeeding issues arrive in a dayglo Vauxhall Corsa 2.4 with extra chrome?? .
Levity aside however upon perusal the magazine once again appeared to be written by and for the "yoof" market. "Its da gamin' innit" .. This size - in terms of page numbers is impressive but the content other than the pictures is almost nil. The depth of its triviality is spectacular. The distance between advert and articles is to all intents and purposes nil. Its a far far smaller magazine than it was in the Duncan Macfarlane era.
This got me thinking again - dangerous that ! Has our hobby become irredeemably trivial in its own eyes

Think about it most hobbyist in other fields don't view their hobby as trivial insofar as they practice it. It's something they enjoy at whatever level only we- as far as I know have a section of our practitioners who feel so insecure about what they do that they trivialise it perhaps as a defence mechanism. It has to be "easy" or "quick" or "simple" or some other weasel word that makes us less than we should be.
Now don't get me wrong I'm not in favour of permanently sweaty browed calculator wielding accountant-a -likes but neither does it have to bethe "bang you're dead" (with pretty pictures) that seems to be the norm in some quarters.
This - at least for me- ties in with a wider debate about "realism" in our games. Now the current discussion on the OSW group regarding the "Black Powder" rules has highlighted a few points upon what constitues "realism" for most of the debaters it seems to centre around how this games mechanism works or does not, but, in my view there are many layers of "realism" that we can put into the game before we get to mere rules.
Leaving aside the obvious one of model realism- are the toys painted and made up as their historical protoypes would have looked like - or if Fantasy does it have an internal logic of its own ? .
What you might term"organisational reality" - Could the units in your model army (or toy soldier collection) have fought in that time at that place in that manner(in those trousers!)?- This is more of a "does it feel right" question
At its simplist level that for me is "No macedonians fighting bloody Aztecs " but equally it could be no cavalry and infantry in the same brigade at that time in this place. Or perhaps - as it says in Black powder " Baker Rifles in the case of Britsh Napoleonic light infantry" (page 176)- this is twaddle they didn't . Light infantry regiemnts carried muskets Rifle battalions carried Rifles and is a small example of the simplfying to the trivial that seems to be current.
My point here is that - although many do know such statements to be twaddle other either don't or will seek to use it to ganin some trivial little advantge which simply would not occour had they been historically accurate. Another case- a custome recently bought a bundle of BMW motorbike combos for WW2 simply becase a loophole in his chosen rule- which may or may not have been FOW made these supertroops. "It gives me an advantage" he repeated ad nauseam. Being the chaps I am - an not really caring much I took his money and kept my gob shut but I did find it a bit sad nonetheless. However to be fair this chap wasn't claiming any kind of historical justification but simply wanted to score points off his mates - nothing actually wrong there then .
No I suppose my prime objection is that the simplistic lobby have the flooras its diffcult to argue with the "my brain 'urts when I fink" brigade because they trot out the "its only a game " liturgy over and over again like the responses at Mass.
And Finally- for the moment. Visual realism- a couple of pics of my collection King David has his correct Heraldry as does John Scymengour his standard bearer. The pikemen are from Denzil Holles Regiment of Foot in August 1642.A couple of months later and they would be a lot scruffier.


  1. "No Macedonians fighting bloody Aztecs"
    For me -and most people of my generation, who started wargaming during the "70- a special attraction of Ancient / Medieval wargaming was *precisely* that Macedonians could fight bloody Aztecs (or even Victorian Zulus).
    While we understood 'Napoleonics' who would refuse to field 'Spain' British infantry in a battle set during the 100 Days (not the right shako): information is so detailed that a difference of few years is noticeable. But during Antiquity armies from different *civilizations* clashed, and the same Roman legionary transferred from the North to the Middle-East could meet early iron age 'Barbarians' and cataphracts functionally close to the knights of Agincourt. While trying to impose 'our' calendar to other civilizations in the name of 'historical accuracy' leads to gaming difficulties: e.g. for 'Conquistadors vs Amerindians' the rules / representational scales need to be distorted to have a balanced game. While Aztecs or Incas -technically of the level of Ancient Kingdom Egypt- pose no difficulties with 'Ancient rules when challenging an army historically 2000 years and a continent apart!
    Such encounters were the norm in the merry early days of the SOA and 'Slingshot'n during the Tony Bath / Charles Grant tenures...

  2. Yes I remember but I chose those particular two simply because I could not have happened even by the weirdest twist of history in the way some other encounters could(Say Romans vs Han Chinese . Also it has to be said I simply don't think like a "games player" Games for and of themselves bore me witless- Chess being the epitome of tedium and Risk , Diplomacy etc being not far behind. Context is all important.

  3. I do agree about the gaming aspect, Andy. If I had allowed myself to be wound up by the 'use anything in the rules to win' mob I would have given up a long time ago but luckily there have been enough sensible people around in the clubs I've belonged to to have a 'realistic' game, i.e., where there was some attempt to fight as battles were actually fought in the period.

  4. John Fortunately there are plenty of sensible chaps about at grass roots level, this despite the efforts of some magazine publishers to continue the dumbing down. Mind you there is at least 1 mag that doesn't follow THAT trend.

  5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...
    For some it's not a matter of 'gaming' (read: 'winning at all costs) but *playing*. Of course no one wants his Roman legionaries to fight as Balearic slingers; but any army is taylored to its tactics (and reciprocally) -though some innovative generals occasionally departed from the routine, e.g. Narses dismounting his extra-heavy cavalry to form a phalanx of armored spearmen), so fights 'historically'.
    Visual appeal is -for some of us- an important element of the pleasure. I'd not wish to see Napoleonics in shakos (or frypans, or stovepipes) vs Gardes Francaises in tricornes -the discrepancy is too obvious and spoils any 'eye-candy'- but somehow I simply enjoy the pageantry of 'Aztecs vs Sassanids". My two favorite periods are at the extremes, wargaming wise: 'Lace Wars' with armies so simple that C. Grant could refight mahor battles(Mollwitz, Fontenoy, Lowositz...) using only 3 basic troop types (infantry, cavalry, artillery: battalion guns were 'implied' in the infantry fire) and the same minis painted differently for both sides; and on the other hand the quasi-infinite diversity of armors, weapons, troop types... of 'pre-'all gunpowder' eras. And I wish to make the most from the characteristic of the two periods: very simple rules for the Lace Wars, maximum freedom of diversity foe Ancients-Medievals.

  6. Have to agree with that Visual appeal is a major part of why I do this.
    Even with pre-gunpowder though I stick "within period" So for instance my Normans can only fight armies that they historically did fight(and of course those I happen to own). I don't do fictional countries in my 18th century armiesand as far as I can all my units are models of those that actually existed.