Tuesday, 19 February 2013

History and Wargaming.

The recent mini furore ove the magazine merge has caused me seriously - not to say furiously to think . Are our wargames always merely amusing passtime games or can they sometime rise to be something else. In the past I would have answered an unequivical "yes they can - if you put enough effort in " and personally I feel that is still the case. However it appears that this is no longer the case in the mainstream- if it ever was. In the Golden age - days of yore when soldiers were two bob a gross(thats never chaps) there were lots of home grown rules based on reading the smallish number of available books Rules were simplish to fiendishly complex depending upon the writers but most if not all purported to be "historical" more or less. In the Earliest days of the recreational wargame (rather than Kriegspiel) there was no thought of history- Wells game and indeed Captain Sachs were both more or less contemporary to them Of the "Grandees" - Grant Featherstone Young and a little later Wise and Wesencraft (I omit the Americans simply because I have none of them barring a couple of copies of Table Top Talk from the 60s and apoogise for that omission) All used historical prototypes to a greater or lesser extent to illustrate their points. Grant even appended a 30 plus book bibliography to "The War Game" of which a bare 3 could be called "wargaming titles" the rest being historical titles of one sort or another. Further in the preface to Napoleonic Wargaming Grant says the following
In doing so he can claim - being properly portentous, that his leasure is filled with strong element of the historical the aesthetic and the competitive. All 3 are implicit in the wargame, and a player, if he is worthy of his salt must be sufficiently enthusiastic to study the historical background of his period.....
Now this seems to me to be a no brainer - but needed stating in 1974 when the book was published and now it seems is worth re-stating in an age where actually knowing stuff is seen as "anorak" or"nerd" - bollocks- since when was thick seen as cool except by thick gits. It seem that now there is a considerable body of poorly informed- or perhaps wrongly informed- opinion which states that - depending upon who is speaking - that Wargaming is a stand alone subject which need no mere history. Once again Bollocks Even the fansty genre has its sources- Tolkien , Howard and Dunsany and Morris Prat, Sprague de Camp etc etc etc all leant upon history for their ideas and inspiration. Pratt of course even wargamed. In more modern times- GW leans upon history- Warhammer has a bucketful of history in it- mixed and matched , mashed and pulped to be sure but still there mnalformed as it is. Its the same with the fictional nation dudes- they need a history to steal their ideas from. In the "survey results" in Miniature Wargame no 359 78% of the respondent opined that they were "very interested" in "Historicsal descriptions of battles/Campaigns - a mere 8% responded as 2Not at all interested". This 78% represented the highest single result in the survey by around 20 points over the other questions. Now gentle reader where is all this leading- to be honest AI'm not sure - except to try to redress the balance a little in favour of the history and perhaps to illustrate in some small way that wargaming without the history would appear to be a pretty thin subject- after all you can only write so much on how to roll a dice .


  1. Likewise, what is the point of history without the Wargame aspect when one is submitting an article to a Wargame magazine ?

    It goes without saying that a base of history is a core part of the Wargaming experience as Grant Pere pointed out in 1974. I get tired of the potted history article with one paragraph tacked onto the end that is an "oh, by the way, here is how you Wargame the Normandy invasion. If I want just a history article, then I will consult a book. I have lots of those. It requires a balance of the two. A little bit of eye candy thrown in for good measure helps too.

    1. Very true but not everyone has the luxury of a respectable library. or let it be said the time to delve.
      Surely its a bit elitist to assume that everyone has the same access to info that we do.
      I spend more on books than I do on soldiers- far more- but I'm fortunate that I can.. I have no pressures of "Wife and Brats" and the Library is a "research tool" for the business as often as not. Its hardly fair of me to assume that other chaps have the same fortunate position. Some of those books have been bought on the strength of articles in Wargames magazines which gave me a "taster" of a campaign or War I hadn't previously considered. It also comes down to the quality of the article. I do get fed up with the "2 books and Wikipedia" type of "research" that you sometime get but its erroneous to assume that all have the same level of knowledge that we do - or indeed want it- but I don't want elitism either.
      Frankly I was surprised by the finding in the MW survey- I'd expected no such obvious lead for the "History" based article. Equally I wouldn't expect a magazine to be filled with only such articles as you say it requires a balance. Eye candy also helps-The BGs I have were not too good at that- and in the past niether was MW- but it was getting better- mind you I have to be careful there as I did at least some of the photos so 'nuff said....

  2. I've always been interested in history and military aspects of it such as battles - this led in my youth to Napoleonic and ECW wargaming while I was at school (in the 1970's). I came back to hobby after a long break and decided I didn't want to be too constrained and for some of my gaming periods I adopted an 'imagi-nations' approach to it (as per Kingdom of Wittenberg).

    A wargame should have the right historical feel to it, use the right tactics etc. I like to enjoy my gaming and have FUN too ! (I like use a ruleset that is simple as possible to use and gives a result in a couple of hours gaming).

    I try to use historically correct uniforms and equipment and obtain the necessary reference material where cost permits (sometimes I invent uniforms for a unit as it is purely imaginary - but the uniform is based on a variant of a historical one).

    I enjoy the painting an modelling aspects of the hobby as well and find these a nice way to relax after a day at the office.

    -- Allan (BOF, Old Fogey and Nutter)

  3. Evening Andy,
    God I take myself off to London for a few days, and you stir up a load of s*** while I'm down there.
    Going back to your original post regarding MW. I think its a real shame that Andrew Hubbick has gone, I really thought he was getting somewhere with the magazine. He certainly turned it around for me. So what if the photographs weren't up to Illustrated standard, sometimes you get a bit sick of professional terrain and figure painters
    [ Dave Jarvis excepted]
    As for the merging of BG and MW [Sorry Andy I'm in a hurry] I think we all know that will end with only one title over a period of time, witness the old Battle mag.
    Battlegames was certainly going down the pan in the later issues, and I think the editor had maybe lost interest in the concept of old school wargaming.
    I touched on this in a post I did on my blog a while ago.
    My worry was that, is like a lot of wargamers, many move on to the next new thing,whatever that might be, leaving the last 'new thing' as a minority interest.
    Me, Ive invested too much in the idea of OSW to give up on it . Anyway I like collecting the older figures.
    Me and you tend to differ on the nostalgia idea, but it would be a bloody boring world if we all agreed on everything, and anyway I like to get a good debate going with you, its funny.
    As regards history and wargaming. I dont think you can have one without the other, what would be the point.
    If we didnt have history as the starting point, we might as well paint our figures bright pink and burn all our reference books, God forbid.
    I think for some wargamers, the history aspect allowed them to justify their hobby, '' look its not playing with toys, its recreating history'' which we all know is guff.
    All we can try to do is stage a wargame, and try as accurately as possible to make it feel right. The problem is hindsight and the lack of 'friction' but at least its a decent attempt to replay history.
    Anyway, three good posts.... Next time wait till I return to God's country before kicking off.
    Thanks Robbie.

    1. Robbie- mostly we only disagree on details - nostalgia of course ain't what it used to be... I've a respectable collection of older figures myself- Higgins Stadden some Minot .
      Your worry is of course well founded.
      The point re photographs perhaps- when is a good photgraph "good"- I've seen some technically excellent pictures where the subject matter had been painted with a yard brush !
      But and its a bigish but the eye candy does get tedious- all those overpainted extra knucles for a start!! . Frankly a lot of that kind of stuff is just so samey and flat. Surely you want to see different stuff by different chaps in different styles- we need to illustrate the variety of our hobby not merely its smmoth tedium.
      As for lack of friction in a game- thats what an umpire is for - at least it is when I'm umpiring...