Expanding The Borders of Wargaming

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As we begin 2019, I am challenging the wargaming community to take up arms to fight for the expansion of our hobby. It takes very little effort, hardly any at all, to make this happen. The first inroads have been made into this virgin territory. Yet, there are some who still stand in the way in the shadows of anonymity. There remain those who don’t understand that expansion and equity are not a zero sum game. Everyone benefits from the expansion of our borders.

Frankly, everyone benefits from the demolishing of any borders to wargaming. These are games after all and everyone should be welcome! 

What borders do I mean?

I am talking about rolling out the red hex overlay carpet of wargaming goodness to anyone who has a passing interest.

This call is not new. It’s not original. It’s not even a big ask beyond what’s already underway. It is, however, an overt recognition of the importance of ensuring that people don’t face a brick wall of case-based rule books and retreat or rout away from a fulfilling hobby. It is extending a friendly hand, an offer of assistance, or generating how-to content that demystifies and extends a helping hand rather than chasing away potential gaming partner.

There are many ways in which this is already happening

  • There are more vocal and visible under-represented minorities within the online community.
  • The topics of wargaming have broadened and shifted, which is something I’ve previously covered on this blog.
  • Many new games are shorter in length, or balance longer scenarios with shorter ones, and aren’t so rules intensive.
  • The graphic design and component selection are already more attractive and accessible.

What can be done?

Yet, much remains undone. So, with what minor influence I have, I would ask that we look at the following ways of supporting our hobby. You might not need to take up more than one, but please do consider…

  1. Share your story of how YOU got into wargaming.
  2. Play a game that might be a “gateway” game to wargaming with someone.
  3. Play at a game store and talk to folks who spectate.
  4. Don’t circle the wagons and fire inward.
  5. Give people the benefit of the doubt about their experiences.

Sharing is Caring

I have never heard a story about how someone found their way to wargaming that wasn’t interesting. Not only that, but the stories often reveal a lot about the types of games and topics people enjoy. Share your story. Getting just one person who can identify with your story will make it easier for them to come to the hobby.  As a result, the hobby grows. Another great result is that everyone benefits from your story and experiences.

Play “Gateway Games”

I’m not as big a fan as I used to be of Commands and Colors, Memoir ’44, or Risk. Yet, I will happily play these games with people who want to try out wargaming. The rules overhead is low and that means people have an easier time accessing the strategy. Another great tactic is playing games with topic that resonates with someone else primarily. YOU might not be into the American Civil War, but if your friend is into it, why not try out Battle Cry? Overall, these simple games create positive interactions with our hobby. As a result, people seek out more opportunities to game.

These Are Just Games!

Sometimes I am guilty of bad public behavior. Period. Also, sometimes I can get so wrapped up in a game at my FLGS that I fail to adequately recognize onlookers. Many gamers just aren’t that aware of wargames, or haven’t seen them being played. As a result, when they show curiosity it should be more common to take a quick break and say hello. This is the kind of thing I suspect happens more frequently at conventions (still hoping to get to one!). In our FLGS’ though, WE are the wargamers people encounter. As a result, it’s more than just a little important to be a positive face. Answer questions, take a break, and above all remember that these are still just games!

Circling the Wagons

I see people, too frequently, circle the wagons and start firing inward. We are still a small niche within a niche hobby. When we circle the wagons around identity, some form of fandom, or personal baggage it shows how little regard hobbyists show for each other. At their root, hobbies are a community and the willingness of others to join that community has a lot to do with how it is perceived. The salty grognard honorific that was aspirational when I joined the hobby 30 years ago hasn’t aged well. In fact, I’d say that this is a bright spot in the hobby where we can laugh of the image of the “grognard.” A few things will go a long way here:

  1. Have the courage to accept well-meaning criticism.
  2. Acknowledge that there are many perspectives on our hobby within our hobby!
  3. Encourage thoughtful dialog over pithy put-downs in debate.
  4. …check out my next recommendation…

Give people the benefit of the doubt!

It’s that simple. Give folks the benefit of the doubt before taking a shot. When a publisher says they’re working on fixing a situation, give them a chance to do so. If they prove that they are not, point it out. On the flip side of that coin, don’t assume that a critique is a personal attack or coming from a place of vitriolic emotion. Instead, consider that people have different experiences and expectations.

These are, largely, arguments that serve ANY community well. I see a lot more of these actions on ConSimWorld and Twitter than I do on other sites though there are pockets of great folks everywhere. If we can expand the hobby by just 1% every year that has the potential to be (pun intended) game changing for publishers, the community, designers, and our hobby as a whole.

It can’t happen without each other though. We need to come together and identify the opportunities together and celebrate the hobby publicly without cutting down the newest voices and this is especially so for the voices of our under-represented minorities in the hobby. When the hobby expands –  we all win.

A Few Interesting Points…

A very interesting poll was recently published on BoardGameGeek.com


Boardgamegeek poll results

The results gave me incredible hope! At first blush, the poll looks like 67% of all wargamers were born in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. That’s true. However, when you look a little closer you see that 25% of all wargamers only got into wargaming since the 2000’s!

That means we bear the obligation to the next generation at all times. Whether someone is young (rare) or older, when they’re ready to come to wargaming…we need to be ready with a solid community that supports them.

A recent post on Twitter from Ben Maddox of 5G4D (@5games4doomsday) revealed an ugly truth about the hobby.

5g4d tweet about gatekeepers

Everyone is an ambassador whether we realize it or not. Ben’s post is indicative of the attitude that some wargamers feel. The review was of Lincoln from PSC Games,

The game is a Martin Wallace designed deck-destruction mechanic game. While it’s not strictly speaking a wargame, that misses the point of the review. By attacking the reviewer’s categorization of the game, the hobby revealed an uglier truth…that there’s no central definition around which everyone gathers.

Wargaming is a big-tent hobby, to the chagrin of some, and its continued viability depends on encouraging participation in its various forms. This is especially true of anything that might be considered a gateway game. Just because someone only likes a game like Memoir ’44 or Axis & Allies now doesn’t meant they won’t ever square off against one of us in the future over a game of For the People or Holland’44!

Parting Thought…

Every gamer that opens their mind to wargaming is a potential recruit. We love this genre of games for MANY reasons. A shared love of history is only one aspect. Deep strategic thinking and gameplay is yet another. To end on a positive note…throw your reason for wargaming into the comments below!

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  1. “The game is a Martin Wallace designed deck-destruction mechanic game. While it’s not strictly speaking a wargame, that misses the point of the review. By attacking the reviewer’s categorization of the game, the hobby revealed an uglier truth…that there’s no central definition around which everyone gathers.”

    The reviewer also stated that he thought wargames glorified violence and then on twitter admitted that he recorded the review too troll wargames, a particular niche of the hobby he declared he has zero interest in and opposes on moral grounds. What reaction did he think he would get?

    • He stated that he intended for it to cause dialog. Trolling is maybe too strong a word. I will grant you that the whole thing, upon reflection, seems like an attention grabbing tactic for his blog/podcast. That said, it’s illustrative of the experience for many, including inside the wargame community. The whole – “What is a wargame?” debate remains a dog-whistle for some of the fringier elements of the hobby to create hardline stances without REALLY accepting or listening to opposing viewpoints. On BGG those kinds of threads generally end up with the “Red X” being used as a weapon or people engaging in ad hominem attacks.

  2. “Lincoln” is a good gateway light historical strategy game. The negative pacifist reviewer who clearly despises “wargames” because they supposedly glorify war should just be ignored. Do military history books and classes glorify war? Most don’t. PC First Person Shooter games might be accused of that, but certainly not any historical strategy board game. Idiotic.

    • While I would wholeheartedly agree that even a cursory review of the hobby reveals that wargamers defer to the topics gamed with a high degree of sensitivity. Concerns are regularly raised in the community about things like Black SS counters in ASL, unit histories, scenario wording and representation, etc.

      That said, it would not be hard for an outsider to get the wrong impression with the seriously outsized representation of Nazi soldiers and equipment adorning many WWII wargames. The picture painted, to the uninformed can be seriously misleading.

  3. I also think that one of the peripheral problems with wargaming is political correctness, and historical revisionism from the “America is always wrong” crowd. This is the same crowd that banishes speakers from presenting their point of view on college campuses. If we can lift the “social indoctrination” of this generation, then we might have a better chance of teaching history through historical gaming.

    • We stand a better chance of that by getting someone to the table to game. I’ve had some of the best historical conversations and learned A TON from the people I’ve been lucky enough to game with. It’s a shame if people won’t listen…folks have to be receptive to wargaming in the first place. I love chocolate, but if I try to fish with it…I’m not going to have that fish fry I want at the end of the day. lol

  4. While I agree that there are plenty of good points here (like cut some slack to the publishers, instead of blasting them for every perceived mistake!). Yet there are also some negative ones. There is a certain perversed bias against ‘grognard’ and the rehash of some myths. Basically that grognard are negative individuals discouraging people from picking the hobby (yes, some are jerks, but wargamers are also humans, sadly plenty of humans are jerks…). It is like the categorization of wargames. There are two excellent academic definitions of them (Perla and Sabin), and often the games that cause uproar are not fitting into them.

    Also the idea that gateway games (an amorphous definition) are the key to get people in (based on? what is a gateway game? I am afraid it is a personal definition, can I say the game that really brought me in was Gulf Strike?). Also I am not sure that being helpful to anyone who has a passing interest (beside being nice by itself) will help, passing interest seems to flimsy to me. Finally there is something that worries me:

    ‘There are more vocal and visible under-represented minorities within the online community.’

    I think that this is a negative point. Vocal minorities are usually a negative aspect of any community. Basically what I see are a lot of people claiming they are the only one who have an idea of where the hobby should go and everyone must follow. Hardly a positive element.

    • To simply address a few points:

      Gateway games are generally mass market and sell more copies. The chances that someone enter the wargame world through Axis & Allies or Memoir ’44 is simply much higher by virtue of sold copies than entry via a game like Gulf Strike to your point. That said, A LOT of people (particularly older 40+) did enter that way because there was someone there to stoke their interest and show them what the games had to offer. Also, I do suggest in here that topical interest is important.

      RE: Vocal Minorities

      Context matters. If you take it out of context, you’re right…that’s typically a negative thing. In THIS case, it means that we’re seeing more women, more younger men, and people of color with blogs, podcasts, and social media presence. The diversification is good and shows that while the trend data from the BGG surveys show a “graying” of the hobby, there are plenty of areas where the hobby is expanding.

  5. As far gateways are concerned I think we are just running circles in typical net fashion… something that a chat in front of a cup of tea would not produce :) . My issue with gateway games is that they are often a chimera because they are a subjective definition. Basically the perfect gateway is what stokes your ‘fervor’ for the hobby. The issue is that this is different from each of us. You can even perversely say that a good gateway is something that you react saying ‘this is crap, I want better’. The big issue here, IMHO, is that often the gateways are just imagined. Sometime a more complex games could be a better gateway than a simple ones and so on… but we tend to see comments (from some vocal minorities) that flatten gateways to ‘simplistic, unrealistic, with plastic blobs’.

    Part 2: I got your mean. But there is a danger, perversely these become poster-child rather than just happy member of the community. There was a discussion on FB wargamer group (just before I threw the towel on that thing…) involving some big names, Including Jack Radey and Rex Brynnen. It was a pitiful show of stereotypes on both sides of the argument, I just took comfort that they were few people… Now I have played wargames with ladies and they are great. And not axis and allies, Ici c’est La france, just to threw a title. Me and a friend literally chewed up Charles Vasey in Lost Battles, to the point he said next time he would have provided his own loaded dice… This just to say that I am not against them. But on the other hand I do not care about sex, age, or color, a wargamer is a wargamer. If we start to place labels it could led to actually discourage them.

    Yes, I have seen the other side (a colleague for whom I was substituting, telling me about is wargaming module ‘yes some time we have girls but they ran away’) but I doubt he was the majority. It is the same thing about wargamers and personal hygiene… or wargamers and SS…

    I have spent the better part of the last 10 years being involved with Philip Sabin conflict simulation module in King’s. I saw plenty of female students. some of their games were exceedingly excellent, better than their male counterpart. Some of course (as happens with students everywhere :( ) halfhearted efforts (but it is not a gender thing, I think that, decades spent on both sides of the classroom the worst offender was male…). One thing that I realized was that the bigger ostracism against them was not coming from gamers but from their friends and families when they were seeing playing games. So probably the minority thing is not our problem…

    I think a good starting is avoiding to see minorities, and just think of wargamers.
    As BGG surveys… well I never considered BGG too highly as my blog posts attest… ghghghghg

  6. ‘folks have to be receptive to wargaming in the first place. I love chocolate, but if I try to fish with it…I’m not going to have that fish fry I want at the end of the day.’

    Cannot agree more. I spent the best part of the last 12 years being involved with Phil Sabin and his Consim module at King’s, on both sides of the classroom. One of the biggest hurdle is getting beyond prejudices, or the idea that it is about call of duty… ahhhhh. It is not a gender related thing too. Sometimes students had to face scorn from colleagues and families just because they play wargames even if it is for a MA level module. what is even worse it is that ladies are subjected to more scorn than boys, and often by other female students. Once I was playing with a student in one of the study space, some of her friends passed and were basically shunning her…

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