As an appropriate foreword, here is a clip from a thread on boardgamegeek.com (of which I am a fairly regular reader) which I offer as an example of something I have struggled with for a long time – including a few heart-searchings on this very blog, I believe.
The author of the clip has published this on the Internet, where everyone can see it, and appears even to be quite pleased with his idea, so I see no reason to change any details of it or protect his ID. Everyone is perfectly entitled to express their views (subject to moderation, of course), and it is only reasonable that everyone else is entitled to a free opinion of those views (without moderation), and of the sort of people who express them, and why they feel moved to do so.
Respect all round; fair is fair.
I don’t have a problem with this view – it seems a tad bitchy, maybe, but it’s quite amusing. Equally, I don’t have a problem with Martin’s most recent instalment of his serial emails to me on the subject of the evil that is Commands & Colors, and how it will never replace proper Old School wargaming. Martin has probably never thought of himself as a Toygamer, but he appears to be just that, and will probably be proud of the fact now that he knows.
So what is all this about? What is it that makes us (all of us, including me) pay lip-service to the enrichment which diversity brings to our hobby, while still taking every chance to stick pins in some “other lot”, because they offend some fundamental ideal which we’ve held so long we can’t remember where we learned it?
I don’t feel I ever got close enough to the human race to have a valid view on human nature – whatever that is – so I’ll spare you some embarrassment by grasping the opportunity to keep quiet on that one, but I had a couple of thoughts while shaving.
(1) Is it, in fact, a single hobby? Is a single hobby too straightforward? Do we all need some imagined opposing faction within it, to which we can feel superior?
(2) Are we all a bit defensive anyway, because of the traditional (imagined?) contempt felt for wargamers by the rest of the world? Is it easier to take out one’s touchiness on near relatives?
(3) I’m on shaky ground trying to produce unqualified generalisations about the hobby and its disciples – my own preferences and areas of interest are much too limited for that, and I do not have as wide a general understanding as I sometimes like to think. I can only have a go at analyzing where I am myself, and how I came to think the way I do.
(4) …and, because he deserves it, I’ll have a go at Martin.
As briefly as possible (not least because I have written all this numerous times before):
* I was originally excited by the same books as most wargamers of my age
* I’ve spent a great many years since then trying to make the games as enjoyable as I expected them to be when I started
* I’m still trying, but I’m more pragmatic about it now
* I love little painted soldiers in neat rows – the more colourful the period the better; this love is out of all proportion to any sensible reason for it, but it is a major influence on the types of games I like to play
* I was deeply shocked by board wargames; it took a long time before I would try one, but I was amazed at the clarity and completeness of the rules, the speed and logic of the play, and by the almost total lack of arguments
* However, I found the visual spectacle less satisfactory, and I missed the little men, so I spent the next 30 years looking for some satisfactory middle ground that combined the best of both worlds
* Commands & Colors (played with miniatures, in my case) has gone a long way to filling that hole for me; it doesn’t suit everyone, and it doesn’t provide absolutely everything I need either, but I wish the game had been around many years ago
At which point Martin appears and tells me I’m mistaken and that I have sold out to the enemy. He does it pleasantly and amusingly, of course, and his reasoning has an orthodoxy that I have come to recognise.
You see, my friends (whisper it) – Martin has also struggled with the disappointment which much of his wargaming has generated, but he has dealt with this by going back to the original books and starting again – back to the time when he was still excited. I can see a flaw here – it is something to do with failing to learn from history. If I were to go back 30-odd years – good heavens, it’s 40 years now! – I would recognise all the holes and shortcomings in the game which led to all the blind-alley tweaks and improvements and the eventual realization that boardgames had something which was useful and (more whispering) sometimes better.
I’ve got them all here – Featherstone, Wesencraft, Young, Morschauser, Grant. I really enjoy them – so much that I have actually replaced a couple of them that I had sold on eBay in a rash moment. But this is nostalgia, for the most part. Particularly Wesencraft’s Practical Wargames, which was the biggest influence on my developmental years – I sometimes have a mad urge to play a game using Wesencraft’s rules, but when I stop and consider how it will be – all the morale testing especially – I usually go off the idea.
So do I play a lot of board wargames, then? No – I own a good few, but seldom, if ever, do I play them. I recently bought a decent old copy of Ariel’s The English Civil War on eBay, entirely because it is considered an excellent instrument for conducting solo compaigns as a framework for miniatures battles. I haven’t used it yet. By the time I had checked that all the (rather dull) cardboard counters were present and correct I couldn’t face it. All those counters – all that effort to sort them out, change a 20-point cavalry counter for a 10 and a five and 3 ones after each action – as a solo experience I find this, I regret to say, dismal. I live in hope that I shall shake off this lack of fortitude and get on with it, but I find that handling large numbers of cardboard counters is a great chore, while – strangely – I will happily arrange cupboards and boxes and tables full of painted toys all day long.
Discuss. I also have to point out that the attraction of the cardboard squares is not helped by my dwindling eyesight, nor the fact that my fingertips appear to be changing into elephants’ feet.
Martin, meanwhile, is feverishly setting up games which look exactly like the photos in the original Charles Grant (Sr) books, and even fighting those same battles, in his rush to recapture the thrill. Good for him. He knows he is right, too.
As ever, I haven’t really got anywhere here, other than confirming that there are a lot more questions than answers, but often the consideration of the questions is useful. Or at least it passes the time until I can’t remember why I was doing it in the first place.
Which reminds me that my original intention was to say a few words about a book I am reading on my Kindle. It is Simulating War, by Philip Sabin, and I believe I was prompted to purchase it by a comment on one of the blogs I read – I can’t remember exactly where I heard of it, but if it was your comment then thank you.
I’ve not really got very far through it yet, but have found it fascinating. Sabin discusses many aspects of the theoretical modelling of warfare, and compares the approaches and relative success of professional strategists, educators and hobbyists, and the various strengths and weaknesses of paper layouts (which we might describe as boardgames) and computer games, which, briefly, he considers to have been less successful than expected, since they are market and technology led, and tend to be designed bottom-up. The criterion for success here is not commercial profitability, but Sabin’s central theme of the optimal balance between realism and playability – a subject which we could all bore the legs off donkeys with for many years.
I offer no kind of review here, other than to recommend the book if this is the sort of thing you find interesting. I did notice, however, that occasionally I found myself pleased because he had expressed something which I feel myself, but rather more skillfully and convincingly than I could have managed. If I am honest, I was especially pleased at the occasions where he was criticising some “other lot”. At other times I found he was sticking pins in my lot, at which point I would say to myself, “ah, he doesn’t really understand that”, or “that’s true, but it doesn’t really apply to me…”
That other lot have much to answer for.