Having read Robbie Roddis most recent post on his Independant Wargames group blog and - needless to say - stuck my oar in I recalled that late last year I had started writing an article for hopeful publication in Miniature Wargames but was ovetaken by other events and left it unfinished.
However it is germain to the current discussion on History in Wargames so I publish it here as far as I got at the time- rough hewn as it is ....
on a Butcher’s Apron ...
What is Wargaming
without the History?
Currently as I write this our hobby-
which for the sake of simplicity we will call Wargaming supports 3 glossy
magazines and quite a few small
business- mine included and – if we include the so called “Games Workshop
Hobby” - one large business which dwarfs
the rest of us put together rather more
As a recreational
hobby (as distinct from its use in the Military) Wargaming is around 150 or so
years old perhaps a little less. The Manchester Tactical Society for example,
were playing Von Ressiwitz’s Kriegspiel
in the latter half of the 19th century – well before Mr Wells
published “Little Wars” in 1913 There
were other early Wargamers such as
Robert Louis Stevenson and, however different each individual game, all were
largely military in conception – and- mostly if not entirely contemporary to the times in which they were
played. In all of these I have not – so far -found a single Elf!
For clarity Gentle Readers I should make it
clear that I’m only really considering Wargames using model- or toy soldiers or
miniatures if you prefer. This is because I like the pretty toys – it gives you
something to look at during the endless dice rolling.
The more modern recreational Wargame as we
would recognise it dates from the mid 20th century and is largely,
though not solely, a post WW2 phenomenon. Elves and the like don’t make their
appearance until the 1970s and the Wargaming that takes place is still mostly
military and frequently historical- in that the players are gaming some aspect
of the military past- is in Ancient Rome or WW2- or indeed anything in between.
Fantasy and Sci – Fi games are children of the 1970s and it is in this decade that
GW begins it rise.
as it happens I’ve never considered myself to be in the same hobby as GW- even
if I use a few of their modelling products the “hobby” they have created with
its games of teenage angst and dystopian nastiness is simply not for me so for
the sake of this discussion let’s dismiss it from our minds forthwith.
what is my hobby and indeed the hobby of many (perhaps most) of the readers of
this journal – it’s possibly easier to say what it isn’t. It isn’t GW, isn’t Fantasy
Gaming isn’t “Table top gaming” (apparently one of the more modern euphemisms)
in theory isn’t always any of those- but may be all of those and more SOME of
the time.. That some of us “cross- dress” as it were and paddle our feet in
other ponds is incontrovertible and nothing wrong with that . – I’ve been known
to play the odd Sci-fi game and still have a small Sci-fi collection, but it’s not the main part of my hobby as
frankly I find it just too lightweight for anything other than a bit of a laugh
once in a while. So for many of us our Wargames have at least something of a
let us be clear here Wargaming is NOT history.
For many Wargamers , no matter
how interesting they find history in itself, it is merely a tool, a resource,
something to be accessed when needed and discarded when not. This of course
goes for much of the assorted Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres as well.
Think about it. Tolkien, Howard, Gemmel, Martin et al
all lean heavily upon History to
produce their work- some more than others- Martin ‘s “Game of Thrones” in all its endless turgidity is merely a Wars of the Roses with funny names and a few
So for the majority of the readership a fair chunk of their hobby time
is taken up with “Historical Wargaming” in one of its many and varied forms . So a
question or two, to start the ball rolling .
Why , if the foregoing has any truth,
does there appear to be a considerable “down “ on history appearing within the
pages of our magazines and in at least
some of the current ”Games” and why do a
number of our brethren seem to have an aversion to any kind of historical
knowledge?” –. Now I can think of several somewhat sulphurous answers but,
however expressive, they don’t really advance the discussion. And yes, this is
a discussion – I want to look at all sides of the case- even- or perhaps
especially -those with which I disagree.
History gets in the way of the game.
Games- whichever way you put it are
ultimately about winning. There is no real getting away from that. All the
strategies and game play – even rolling the dice is for one ultimate goal- to
win. Therefore any knowledge that doesn’t help you to achieve that is not to
the point. The pretty toys are merely counter decoration, just window
dressing as is the history.
“I can get all the knowledge I need from the
rules and Army lists for the game I wish to play.”
Or, as a customer once put it to me,
with some heat.
“I don’t need to read anything about WW2 I
play Flames of War .”
goodly proportion of players are only interested in the actual PLAY is once
again unarguable and I’ve known chaps who collect Wargames rules the way I
collect Military Memoirs and view the painting as a serious chore that gets in
the way of the dice rolling. For these guys the GAME is everything (or why else
use DBA?). Many play in regular competitions
but I also mean the competitive minded since not all of that ilk
play in actual tournaments. Some of these motivations I do understand and have
been involved with in the past- Old Glory sponsored Derby World Wargames for
about 12 years-and I played a lot of competitive games in the 70s and early 80s
so I understand the desire to measure oneself against others of similar mien. I
know of chaps who got into Wargaming through knowledge of statistics and
systems analysis so a love of History is by no means a prerequisite.
I have to say I find this argument really quite narrow
but if that’s what blows your skirt up fine, I never thought that wargaming was
the same sort of hobby as Monopoly or Scrabble but to some it obviously is ....
History stifles the imagination.
I’ve had this put to me a few times
over the years by 2 distinct sets of people. Fantasy/ Sci- Fi gamers and the
fictional countries aficionados which
last are fantasy gamers with an historical sheen ( or perhaps historical gamers
with fantasy sheen!). The urge to produce, map, populate, and create imaginary
lands is an old one. Thomas More did it. Jonathan Swift did it. Numerous other
writers have done so. The Fictional Country as a plot device is very common. So
why not wargame with fictional countries?. Why not indeed. I’ve done it myself
numerous times. However almost without exception these various fictional lands
lean heavily upon actual history. Robert
Howards Hyboria. George Martin’s Westeros
and even Tolkien’s Middle Earth all “borrow” heavily from known history , so
it should come as no surprise that the Wargames world abounds with more or less
fictional countries all leaning heavily
upon history . Those 2 classics of Wargames literature- Brigadier Peter Young’s “Charge! “ and Charles Grants
“The War Game” both have fictitious armies of the 18th
century at their core. This idea has been so frequently copied that it has
almost acquired a life of its own . There are now probably more fictitious
pseudo- Germanic nations in the Wargaming world than there were in the much
fragmented Holy Roman Empire of the actual 18th century! All of
these are derivative of an actual history but in wargaming terms often arise
from a desire to copy the perceived
“greats” of the hobby – who of course knew their history- Grant and especially Young publishing notable history books in their own right. So
here I’d argue that History fires the imagination rather than limiting it. The more you know the wider the possibilities.
I want everything all in one package -open the box and play .
Now this is a relatively new argument
I’ve only heard in recent years and seems to stem largely from the more
commercial minded of the Games Design lobby.
Get all you need from us Figures
,Rules, , (Braincells !! ) limiting access to the background and therefore by
implication to history the “Games Designer Dudes” have perhaps acquired an importance which the
quality of their game does not always deserve simply by claiming to make you
wargaming more instant and “user friendly” . There are a good selection of quick games
available Two Hour Wargames One Hour Wargames often with limited numbers of units and
limited troop types. Add to that the increasing numbers of boxed games using overpriced
miniatures of the “official” variety and
you are getting even more limited(but relatively easy) access . Surely you
wouldn’t want to be in the position where such games were your only choice. Like having only pizza or burgers available
and calling such low rent eateries
“Restaurants” it is a travesty on the actuality and once again a massive
limitation on the possibilities.
One of the major things that differentiates
“Miniatures Wargaming” from almost any other type of gaming hobby is its open
ended nature. There are as many different styles and types of gaming experience
within this single hobby as there are all the other types of games put
together.How many different types of WW2 rules are there? Ancients? Napoleonic?. By comparison there is
only 1 set of accepted rules for Monopoly or Srabble or- perhaps closer to home
Risk or Diplomacy.
History and Knowledge is Elitist
Now this one was put to me, most
recently, but not for the first time ,on TMP as a result of one of my earlier articles in this magazine. According
to the anonymous correspondent an ability to read “dusty old Books” is elitist,
having a library likewise. Apparently – according to this fellow - the young
don’t want to read or study or indeed know anything. They want to begin playing
immediately. What an arrogant and patronising –“all kids are thick” type of
statement. Now frankly this is just the most complete twaddle, yet behind its
blusters and nonsense, there is perhaps a point which feeds into the current
agonising over “The Future of the Hobby” . There seems to be a body of opinion
that says that because there is a shortage of children in the hobby then we are
doomed. . Therefore the only way to
avoid being doomed is to dumb down so all games are “child friendly” and so, therefore again , nothing that smacks of
knowledge or indeed anything that this
currently PC argument perceives as
“boring” has any place within our
ranks. So by irresistible logic eventually all wargaming will become games
that are essentially for children – despite the fact that there are few
children in the hobby. One wonders if
this has been thought through!
However to be a tad serious for a
moment , there is no doubt that these days there is an entry level problem in this hobby, but it depends what you consider entry level.
For myself Neil Thomas fine books – intended as entry level or not -go a good
way to actually being just that but are not in any way childish . They are the modern versions of the entry
level that Featherstone and Wise provided for me in 1970.The basic premise is
simple, games are limited in scope but there is space to progress further. Surely that is the point of entry level. It is
a place to begin, from there you progress as you discover more about the hobby
and the bits you want to indulge in, which periods or genres, scales or sizes. I’ve
learned and evolved as a Wargamer since 1970 which surely is part of the point in a hobby
as open ended and diverse as this. The
urge to limit and “simplify” what is “allowed” seems to be driven by 2 sets of
factors – the obvious one being the commercial- after all if you own the best
selling and most popular rules then you are on to a nice little earner
especially if they pander to today’s lust for instant answers with as little intellectual
effort as possible. Yet having said that
I wonder how true it is at grass roots level . Of the wargamers I know
personally NONE are devoid of interest in or knowledge of their chosen periods.
Some are of course more games orientated than others but it is perhaps pertinent that well over half of these gentlemen never
buy any of the glossies and have often over the years told me that there is
nothing in them to read – other than the adverts.
Arthur Harman’s piece “Staying Alive-
a reply” he opines that many of today’s young gamers simply wargame differently – with a
computer using for example – Call of Duty or similar AI driven games. If we
accept the premise of the “games are all that matters” and also of “out of the
box and play is the way” then this is hardly surprising. After all were I the games first type then it
is hardly likely that I’d spend significant amounts of time money and effort
amassing model armies and scenery and all the other paraphernalia that goes
with Historical Miniatures Wargaming .It
is because we do NOT accept these things and because we like the miniatures and
the History and the social side of the hobby that we do not lock ourselves in our
rooms to stare at a screen in lieu of
the wargaming we do like. There is – or
should be more to this wargaming lark than merely the game. It is because
Historical Miniatures Wargaming is so
multi-layered- if fully indulged in- that it should encompass several
disciplines historical research,
modelling , miniatures painting, collecting ,
discussion and debate and the actual games and that none are really
fully functional without the others. So one
might think that gaming alone is far too thin a subject to be the sole content of such a magazine as
Indeed I might go further than Mr Harman- not
that I disagree in any way- (except the bit about Cardigans- don’t own one,
don’t want one !!!) I’d also add that the social ineptness exhibited by a minority
of our brethren is exaggerated by the computer. I now eschew most of the
wargaming forums simply because the constant low level nastiness of some
posters became tedious. None of these pipsqueaks would dare say to your face
any of the things they say online – they lack the courage and the honesty yet
because they can hide behind some idiotic non-de-plume they think almost
anything goes. Almost anything except reasonable adult debate of course. For me
that has been the most costly casualty of the “Games only” revolution , reasonable
discussion often seems to have been replaced by “but it says on page 42 of
Wundarules vol 3...(£29.99)”. Now this kind of statement is completely
appropriate in the competition arena but for the rest of us ? The gap between our games and the historical
prototype is now in some areas so wide that each can no longer see the other.
I‘m actually coming around to the
view that our greatest problem within our hobby is the closed mind exhibited by
some of the loudest voices. Especially
of those who are single game orientated or perhaps that should be single method
orientated or perhaps even the “single axe to grind”. Look at the number of
wargaming publications out there
that cost a small fortune. A set of rules in a pretty book for £20-30.00
additional supplements for 10-20 quid each which of course you often “HAVE” to
purchase. It is now very easy to drop £50 or more on a set of rules and its
attendant supplements before you have bought a single soldier for the “game” . Conversely I can go to a decent book dealer at
a show and buy a bin load of books for my £50 - and some toys as well with the change if I’m lucky , not to mention what a few well
chosen web-searches will turn up but of
course this is not the currently
fashionable option the fear of learning stuff is too great for some !
In the past you’d scour the magazines for
relevant articles which would increase your period knowledge and quite possibly
save you a few quid . This is far less likely in the current climate as there
are far fewer “taster” articles than there used to be -or perhaps “entry level” is an equally valid
term for the sort of articles I mean .
Those that gave you an “in” to a new period or perhaps taught you something new about a period you thought you knew or
maybe gave you a different way to game one of your favourites. Such still occur
but now rarely. You are just as likely to find a game driven infomercial for
some set of rules you’ve never heard of.
Now I never did write the conclusion- assuming I had one but I di want to at least try and see the other side- even though I think it's twaddle.
The whole point ,as always, is to make chaps think about what they and we do so its it IS deliberately contentious..... that is the point !
I'd appreciate other opinions- from both side of the fence- but not too shrill!! please.