The box cover showed two soldiers locked in battle with swirling smoke and a tattered Confederate battle flag in the mix. The Union soldier smaller, but hanging in there and the Confederate soldier with the upper hand, but clearly losing the upper hand. When the flat box was opened, the representation of a hand-painted Gettysburg with the hex overlay was a revelation.
“You get to re-fight the battle!” my friend Chuck casually explained. To a 10-year-old kid who was addicted to reading about military history that phrase opened me up to a hobby that 29 years later I’m still enjoying as much as that first rainy afternoon in the September of 1988.
WargameHQ is an opportunity for me to help share that passion and love for wargaming. There are so many fantastic games, designers, and publishers right now that I can’t imagine a better time to get into the hobby.
WargameHQ houses a library of the games I own, news from publishers, interviews with designers and other wargaming community members, as well as this blog which will also be cross-published over at BoardGameGeek.com.
So, why wargame when there are so many other games on the market? Wargaming, after all, is a part of a broader golden age for boardgames in general. Simply put, wargaming offers something unique that other boardgames rarely offer: the opportunity to learn about and more deeply interact with history. I’ll even set aside historical boardgames like Freedom: The Underground Railroad from Academy Games or An Infamous Traffic from publisher Hollandspiele.
Games like Puerto Rico, World’s Fair 1903, Russian Railroads, and Steam offer a look at history, but you’re not engaging in an appreciable way with the history that surrounds those games. The history is window-dressing to service the game mechanics and often provide a plausible reality for game sub-systems to exist in the design. Kanban Automotive Revolution has about as much in common with Kanban lean manufacturing as La Granja has with the challenges of farming on Mallorca. That’s not their intent, and great games like these don’t demand players care that much about the topic. In effect, the topic can only serve to alienate rather than to recruit interested players in these non-historical strategy games that have a historical setting.
Wargaming, on the other hand, offers players an opportunity to experience the challenge of history. There’s a wealth of great games covering well-worn roads in the historical world like the campaigns of Napoleon and World War II to lesser known and simulated topics like the battle of Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana during the Boer War. Wargames also allow you to experience history from multiple perspectives. Sometimes you’re the soldier on the ground trying desperately to take an objective in the next street. Sometimes it’s the next town and you’re commanding a regiment. Sometimes, it’s the next country and you’re acting as the strategic leadership for a country. Sometimes, it’s a combination of these things or even more uniquely acting as a single person in a strategic role as we experienced in Mark Herman’s Churchill.
To that end, there’s a little something for everyone. After all, the last five years have given us atypical wargames that cover historical conflicts with a different focus. Supply Lines of the American Revolution, Churchill, Pericles, and the incredibly popular COIN series games like Fire in the Lake are all examples of an evolutionary step in wargaming. Smaller publishers are focusing on topics not often gamed like The Battle of Adobe Walls. Large publishers are getting in on the action as well with The Dambuster’s Raid or Comancheria.
So, the main question remains…what’s holding people back from playing these games?
The issue is thorny enough that I can’t possibly cover it with any depth of fidelity here, but I will point out a few generalizations that I think work against wargaming having a wider audience:
- Access – Wargames are not typically sold in many online or brick & mortar stores with any depth or breadth to truly get eyeballs of casual games on the products. I am thankful that The Gamer’s Armory is my local store and they carry a great variety of depth of wargaming products.
- Complexity – Though this has become far less of a barrier in an era with YouTube tutorials, great bloggers showing off the games, and a focus on refining overly complex rule-systems it remains daunting. Most non-wargamers consider rulebooks of over 15 pages to represent a “complex” game. The typical length of a wargame rulebook is around 25-30 pages and its three-column layout can be intimidating. Even lengthier rulebooks in the non-wargaming world, like Twilight Imperium 4th Edition from Fantasy Flight Games, clocks in at around 21 pages. Those pages are full of graphics, examples, and a 2 column colorful layout with plenty of white-space. Add to this the complexity of then teaching someone who doesn’t want to read the rulebook the rules and it can be daunting for both the teacher and the learner!
- Player Count – It’s not too hard to find someone who is into history and is willing to give a wargame a try. For that person to then go and snag another person can be the stumbling block though. Even for lighter fare, getting someone who wants to sit down across the table from just one other player during a game-night at an FLGS and play something like Commands & Colors: Ancients can be difficult which leads me to my next obstacle.
- Setup & Play Time – Most non-wargames take anywhere from 2 – 3 hours for setup and play with 3 – 4 players. Longer games, like the aforementioned Twilight Imperium, take ~8 hours. Folks tend to shy away from lengthier games. In an episode of the popular “The Secret Cabal” podcast, the hosts were talking about classic Avalon Hill titles when The Campaign for North Africa briefly topped the BoardGameGeek “Hotness” list in 2016. Their takeaway was, “I don’t see how anyone can get another person to play one of these games. Just the time it takes to play them is enough of a turnoff.” I don’t disagree and think their audience probably largely feels the same way. Consider that in the last issue of Special Ops from Multi-man Publishing had an article for the Operational Combat Series (OCS) games that included how many maps, units, setup and play time each scenario in each game would take. It was one of the coolest things within the issue and yet, to a huge group of gamers seeing a scenario with a 3 hour setup time would likely have them running for the hills!
- Hobbyist Misconception – Though I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to admit it, the perception that wargamers are warmongers or are some kind of fringe militant is tricky to shake. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve participated in some odd discussions around the gaming table at my FLGS about things like when German optics remained the superior optics throughout World War II in tanks or just how many Shermans would be necessary to take down a Tiger. To outsiders, these conversations might sound like glorifying Nazi warmachines or even to the less savvy, a celebration of World War II.
So, how do we overcome this?
I think the answer is easier than it might seem at first. Be visible. Be accessible. Show don’t just tell folks about wargaming. The wargaming community has so many fantastic voices, bloggers, video creators, and reviewers that at this point we should be getting near the tipping point of showing off the incredible games being put out on a nearly bi-weekly basis. I look forward to being one of those positive voices and hope you’ll subscribe to this blog and check it out as new content gets added!