A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Playing at War - Part 1 - The Brethren

I am certainly not going to claim that “Old Trousers” is an accurate simulation of Napoleonic warfare, since the game offers very little chance of players being ripped apart by canister fire or drowning in swollen torrents. Those games that do make this kind of claim don't seem to feature these opportunities either.

Howard Whitehouse

The sniper in the tower of the ruined church tried to ignore the discomfort from his cramped legs, as he took precise aim, watching for his moment. Two hundred yards away, a German officer walked into the village square, close to the fountain, a pistol in his gloved hand.

I was an eye-witness to this actual event.

As you will have guessed, it was a WW2 skirmish game. It was one of the featured demos at a pay-at-the-door public exhibition put on by my local wargames club, on a damp Saturday sometime in the early 1970s. I was a new and very enthusiastic wargamer, and this was the first skirmish I had seen. I was really quite excited. There were about 2 dozen guests in the hall, and the game looked spectacular – like a movie. 54mm figures, and a complete French village in perfect detail.

The four club members who were running the demonstration game now proceeded to measure things and leaf through a hefty, typed sheaf of rules, and to argue animatedly about which of the many possible adjustments to the dice throw were needed, to determine whether the sniper hit his man. This required a lot of sarcastic banter, a lot of rather nervous giggling, a lot of comments that started with “I think you’ll find that...” – the guys were having a whale of a time. Because I was intrigued, I kept a note of the elapsed time. After seven minutes of this they had finally agreed that the dice throw needed to be 5 or higher. It was a 2. There was a roar of contempt from the “German” player, and the surprising amount of echo drew my attention to the fact that by this time I was the only spectator left in the room. Everyone else had moved off to watch the medieval battle in the next hall, or possibly to try to arrange a quick dental appointment, or just anything, really, to get out of there.

Because I was the last to leave, I was spotted by the team.

“You got a problem?” I was asked by a stout fellow in a black tee-shirt, camo trousers and Doc Martens.

I mumbled something fairly lame about being surprised that something as commonplace as a single rifle shot required this amount of debate. The expert sneered.

“If you are going to do this, you have to do it right. I don’t imagine you know much about wargaming, then?”

And, of course, I didn’t. I saw this with absolute clarity. What’s more, I wasn’t sure that I ever wanted to.

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