Is there a "Mainstream" anymore?Once in a while I ponder upon the hobby we are involved in. It is not enough - for me- to simply sit back and as one chap once put it on TMP "Don't think about it just do it"- surely as asinine a line as you will see anywhere. However having said that- don't make the mistake of thinking-
A/. That it matters in the real world
B/. That I really care other than from the perspective of an interested observer of the Human species- or even Wargamers- not always the same thing in my experience.
C/.I expect anyone to change the way he or she indulges merely because I'm not a fan of Dwarf- fiddling or Badger mumbling or Interstellar Steptoe and son or whatever other off the peg brain free "game" you decide upon. In that respect my opinion is not to the point... after all if you choose to be a consistently lightweight mere consumer that is up to you.
D/.. That I won't take the mickey out of everything I see. Let's be honest I find an awful lot of the current crop of stuff very very gamesy and quite risible, designed by and for people whose first and sometimes only interest is the actual game to the exclusion of all else. Nothing wrong with that as it stands but far too narrow for my taste. Not for me. Now to explain why- take Pikemans Lament and Lion Rampant. I choose these because I own copies and both purport to be periods that interest me and that I know something about.. The following remarks do for both sets as they have very common roots. As simple games they may be OK assuming you know nothing nor want to know anything about the periods in question. As introductions to gaming they are not bad. As introductions to gaming their supposed periods they are at best mildly misleading- that would be Lion Rampant at worst actually running very much counter to the type of warfare they purport to depict. Basically Pikemans lament is a fantasy game in 17th century clothing . I have seen it argued that they "got me into the period" - this may be true but if you did not explore the period further than that they failed to get you into it Three dozen soldiers fictitiously organised does not a period army make. But as "toe dippers" simple fare they are doubtless successful
So what I see these days are various chaps trying to shoe- horn everything they see into one so called broad church - cos its all gamin' innit. The reasons for this are often- though not always- commercial and out of this commercialism has arisen the idea that if it is popular it must somehow automatically be good . Hence the drivel that is Cold War Commander or the Twaddle that is Pikemans Lament both of which may or may not be good "games" but neither of which bear much historical examination but I'm supposed to like this dross because others deem it popular and it's all gaming .
. I beg to differ. I don't do "gaming" . I'm not interested in "gaming" for its own rather nebulous sake. I do not have a "gaming" licence !!! Nor do I want one.. I'm not even sure I actually LIKE "gaming" as currently so often portrayed in the pages of the magazines. I find quite a lot of it completely vacuous and with roughly the same intellectual level as a backward haddock. Apparently these days I'm supposed to like it because it is "fun"and because the mysterious fun police tell me to.. Well lots of it isn't, it is often simplistic and risible so I prefer my own kind of fun thanks.
So what is my kind of fun then I hear you ask- aside from taking the piss you mean?. Well at least some or perhaps most of the time I prefer something with at least some intellectual meat upon the funny bones. This does not always mean complicated rules or 6 inch thick rule books with an additional 10 volumes of supplements and army lists - often quite the opposite. It does mean rules that either have a good grounding in the chosen period or can be made to be so after a few local amendments to suit our view of what went on then and there. . It does mean an Umpire who knows his stuff. It often means that the all elusive but vital "period feel" is far more important than mere dice rolling. That the look of the thing is more important than somebody else's army lists. It also often means a decided choice not to baa like the other sheep. To paraphrase Orwell "Gamin' good thinkin bad" seems to be today's fashionable mantra. I choose not to comply so it must be room 101 for me then where I would be , devil a doubt, forced to play Lamentable Rampant or Horror of horrors warhammer 40k with some overweight but underwashed drooling GW fortysomething fanboy until my brain turned to porridge (assuming it has not already.).
Another thing that seems to have disappeared in our "adventure gaming niche leisure market" (thanks for that nifty Mr Preece) is reasonable debate and discussion. A recent example which I found quite eye-opening in a depressing sort of way was a spat on FB- apparently you are not allowed to criticize GW in any shape or form. Now my poor opinion of 40k especially is well known but these fellows are so thin skinned it was astonishing, merely stating this opinion resulted in bad language and accusation and the stricture that if I don't like something I should ignore it . I find the 40k "universe" dark, nasty and cruel, full of pseudo religious twaddle and desperately short of jokes. The actual game system is slow and clunky in my very limited experience. Quite why I should not be allowed to share this is beyond me and equally why the fanboys are so small minded that they choose to take it personally is also baffling.
Not that this narrow attitude is confined to our hobby by any means- see a recent post from the Tantobie Internet Tattler for example outlining his similar experience in another area. One does wonder if some of the younger generations are actually equipped for the hurly-burly of the real world if they cannot handle such minor differences of opinion as this then what happens when something important arrives within their limited ken?. Further, the idea that you simply ignore something you don't like leads us to the possibility of going down a dark road indeed. Surely you discuss debate, take the piss , and hopefully something different and better may emerge both within the hobby and more importantly out there in the real world.
The Death of Debate?
I did think about calling this piece "The Problem with Fantasy and the Death of Debate" but the death of debate is not simply a sci-fant problem (after all look at the total mess our selfish and idiotic political classes have got us into) and the problem with much fantasy gaming these days is that - paradoxically- it is far far more restrictive than much Historical gaming. The reasons for this are actually pretty simple when you think about it. Much , but not all, sci-fant has ONLY the game to lean on . This is especially true of many of the one off skirmish a likes that we see today. So the game is all there is in terms of background and depth which is possibly why they all look so samey. Now this is less true of say LOTR or even the various GW games which have fairly consistent and deep backgrounds that the more open minded can explore but speaking personally I do find so much sci-fant very thin on content. Which is why on my very rare excursions there I prefer my own back stories cobbled together from various sci-fi novels and a set of generic rules rather than some other blokes view of how I should do it. Yet having said that there is no doubt that in terms of general miniatures gaming varios sci- fant is very much in the commercial driving seat. After all with history you have to "know stuff" and that is definitely out of fashion in the internet age. "Knowing stuff isn't cool innit"
In this I find I agree with Phil Dutre's point that many more "modern" wargamers are simply consumers of what is placed before them rather than what he calls "tinkerers" . This is a fair point . Speaking personally I'd much rather be a tinkerer , putting my own stamp on something rather than merely a consumer of someone else's often very shallow fare. Indeed I'd go further and say that without the tinkering and the modelling and the collecting and the research I simply would not bother with the hobby at all as there would be sod all in it to interest me. After all, rolled one dice rolled 'em all.
Some chaps seem obsessed with "mechanisms". I'm not, a mechanism is merely a tool and how is a hammer interesting of itself? Equally what- essentially is the difference between rolling a couple of D6 and as it oftens seems, standing on one leg and rolling 15D19 in succession to get the same result. This was highlighted to me in a set of ECW rules I recently purchased. "The Kingdom is Ours" is supposedly fast play. Now leaving aside the silly formations and the huge number of pages wasted on advertising the range owned by the rule writers, How in the hell is rolling 17 dice in 3 or 4 groups to resolve one single attack fast play?. Repetitive yes, tedious certainly - especially for those of us who do not regard dice rolling as an intellectual exercise. Since I am also informed that Cruel Seas also takes 17 dice to resolve a single torpedo attack I wonder if 17 is the new 42 (If you have never read Douglas Adams you may not get that one ) but more likely this is merely another facet of the current fad for replacing dice rolling for actual thinking or period knowledge. It may also mean that "fast-play" actually equates to "rolling dice instead of thinking" or indeed doing anything rather than thinking and further putting Joe Wargamer in the hands of game designers rather than in his own hands .
Once again I choose not to comply. At least not all of the time. I want more from my hobby than mere dice rolling.
These days you get an awful lot of "I don't have the time" based excuses used for not doing whatever the person in question does not like or want to do. Be it figure painting or reading or indeed anything but actually rolling dice, seemingly. Now sometimes you actually DO NOT have the time as work and life and other assorted bullshit(usually government crap in my case) intrudes so you do have to tailor your hobby to what is available to you. BUT does that HAVE to mean going intellectually down market? Playing ONLY another skirmish - a - like. But then perhaps you have a very high boredom threshold. Personally again I choose not to comply. I would far far rather play fewer "better" games- with of course my own definition of "better"- than the same skirmish a -like in a different box week in week out.
Now don't get me wrong here if you like playing same old same old week in week out go ahead but I was always under the impression that one of the big pluses of the broad church was its diversity but then again I may be wrong after all Lion Rampant ,Dragon Rampant and Pikemans Lament are supposedly different aren't they - other than the models in different hats I mean,
One of the things that attracted me to this hobby was its open endedness . The idea that in theory there are so many possible paths. Some would say that this is even more the case- more scales more toys more rules etc. They are not wrong BUT for some the rules, army lists and mechanisms straitjacket has become absolute. Again that is - mostly their choice. I choose not to comply. Like Fleetwood Mac I will go my own way- so of course will everyone else. Which is exactly as it should be.