Is Sam Mustafa Right That American Historical Wargaming Is Dying Off?

After having to delete a large number of really strange comments (not those that made it to the comment section), I’ve decided to rework this post to make it more academic and less personal. Personal posts just seem to bring out the weird in some people.

In a Meeples and Miniatures podcast, number 179, Sam Mustafa commented about the decline of historical miniature wargaming in the United States. You can find out more about that here:  https://meeples.wordpress.com/podcast/ (go to podcast 179, near the end). Meeples and Miniatures is an excellent podcast about wargaming, and I highly recommend it. Some of my favorite podcasts were with Henry Hyde (https://meeples.wordpress.com/view-from-the-veranda/).

I think historical miniature miniature wargaming has declined in the United States for both structural and attritional reasons. By historical miniature wargaming I mean table top wargaming with plastic or metal figures. I do not mean computer wargaming, video games, VR gaming experiences, or board games (by board games declined even historical miniature wargaming). I also am not commenting on fantasy or science fiction miniature wargaming; those seem to be doing fine.

Sam’s question is why does there seem to be fewer historical miniature wargamers in the United States. He based that observation on industry sales (as far as he could determine) and attendance at major wargaming conventions.

First, I think there were several structural reasons for the rise of historical miniature wargaming in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. They are:

  1. You could find a shop near most places in the United States that sold historical miniature wargaming rules and figures. I first encountered them in a general hobby shop in the 1970s. That shop sold every sort of hobby thing including model trains, plastic models, and the early RC planes in addition to historical miniature wargame figures and rules. Later on, I was able to buy rules and figures at the local game store, of which about 50% of their stock was historical miniatures and board games, the rest was fantasy, especially role playing.
  2. I, like many of my peers born in the late 1950s and early 1960s, had made plastic models. I made a number of them from age 10 to 14. I wasn’t a great model maker, but when someone handed me a pack of metal wargame figures and said go home and paint these, I knew how to do that.
  3. Also starting in the 1970s, historical board wargames were everywhere. They were the first wargame I played. My first game was Avalon Hill’s 1776, which I got in 1775. I went on to play and purchase many other historical board games over the years. By about 1990, I quit playing many board wargames, but they had taught me at an early age (I started playing them about age 12), how to read complex wargame rules and what wargames were about.
  4. There were also a lot of players around, but they seemed to be of a certain age. When I started playing historical miniature wargames in 1982, almost everyone I played historical miniature wargames with was between age 19 and 35. We had heard of older people playing historical miniature wargames, and read their articles in magazines like The Courier, but I honestly had never played a game with one and there weren’t many of them where I lived. As 20 and early 30 year olds, we had lots of time to play, and enough disposable income to buy the figures were needed. Additionally, the people I played historical miniature wargames had often come to them through a different hobby such as model making, board wargames, or role-playing games. So they had already been trained in some aspect of the hobby.
  5. There were also only so many figure scales and rules to use. When I started the main figures I could get were 6mm (Heroics and Ros), 15mm and 25mm. There were also nationally dominant rules like Johnny Reb, Fire and Fury, Napoleon’s Battles, and Command Decision. You could always find someone who was interested in what you were: same figure size and same rules. For about a year, I ran a club that just played Command Decision in 6mm-1/285 scale, and we always had 4-8 people show up for a monthly game.
  6. Additionally, there were people at the local level promoting historical miniature wargaming. Lots of game store owners then tended to also play historical miniature wargames, which doesn’t seem to be the case these days. You would walk in their store and see a game set up or maybe one in progress and ask the owner about what sort of game that was. In my experience, the owners would then give you a dissertation length discussion of historical miniature wargaming and be more than happy to sell you the rules, figures, and paint you needed to get started (they were smart about that).
  7. Finally, there wasn’t much else to gaming-wise. There were no game consoles outside of very basic ones like Atari. Home computers were uncommon and the games for them were horrible, especially in the early 1980s. With no cell phones, you could not open up a game and play it anywhere at any time. You could play board games, which were becoming overly complex by the 1980s or role-playing games, which I did play for awhile but found they really depended on who ran the game and who you played with. In the early 1980s, I did lots of other things like hiking, camping, shooting, earned a university degree, and got an Army commission, but playing historical miniature wargames was something that filled my interest in history, my desire to make something like models but be able to do something with them, and I met a lot of great people my age to game and hang out with.

So what do I think went wrong? First, there seems to be a lack of new players. There are some, and I think games like Flames of War maybe encouraged them to try it all out, but there are not the numbers that there were when I was in my 20s. I do accept the argument that they have other things to do game-wise. My 16 year old son has played a lot of computer and video games, but he and his friends haven’t show massive interest in historical miniature wargaming. Some of the other factors I’ve noticed are:

  1. Kids don’t make plastic models these days. My son has no interest in that and he says that he has never seen a model in one of his friend’s houses. Teenagers and young adults can do exceptional computer modeling these days, but they don’t have any interest or exposure to making physical models. So when you hand them a pack of miniatures and say go home and paint these, they don’t know where to start.
  2. The younger set does play wargames, but they are all moderated by machines. Some of the computer games come with big rule books, but most of the time players seem to just learn how to play by doing. So they lack the experience to read a 50 pages+ set of wargame rules and then play the game. That means that there is a big hurdle to learning how to play a board or miniature wargame all by yourself like I did when I was 12 years old.
  3. Finding a brick and mortar game store that stocks a lot of historical miniature wargaming rules and figures these days is hard. Where I live there are three small stores, some better than others. Two of them used to stock Flames of War figures, but not anymore (the fad seems to have ended). And I don’t get the impression from talking with the owners and staff that they even play historical miniatures wargames. So there is no one there to sell them on historical miniatures wargames as a hobby. Yes, the internet is full of manufacturers’ webpages, but you don’t find them unless you seek them out.
  4. Then there is a lack of peer gamers. If I somehow found out about historical miniature wargaming today, would there be that many people in my age group to play with if I was a teenager or in my 20s? Probably not. Thinking back, it would be weird for me as a 20 year old to be playing games with guys my father’s age and even worse, my grandfather’s age. It would lack the peer to peer social bonding that I enjoyed playing historical miniatures wargames when I was in my 20s and 30s.
  5. Even if I got over those four hurdles, the chances of finding someone who played the rules I liked in the scale I liked would be slim given the massive variety of figure scales and rules available today. I think that this is one thing that the Flames of War system got right; it offered players a clear set of rules and figures in one scale to play. I have seen (about 10 years ago), younger people playing Flames for War, and I suspect it was because the Battlefront people helped them get through these obstacles. But Flames of War is dead where I lived, and I never really liked the rules anyway.

So it is unlikely given the structural forces and competition from other games which are far easier to get into that many people in their 20s will join the hobby, clearly not in the per capita numbers of the 1980s and 1990s. Plus it would just be too strange for me if I was 20 to hang out with a bunch of boring old guys. I don’t have anything against old guys today, but I like to play games and not listen to their medical issues or political views.

But as Sam mentioned, even those gamers from the 1980s and 1990s, now middle-aged guys seem to be declining in numbers. His evidence is not absolute, but I’ve seen the same thing. So what happened to them? Here are some thoughts on that:

  1. Anything that people do has a natural attrition rate. I would estimate that of the people I introduced to historical miniatures wargaming in the 1980s, about half quit playing after a year or two. I suspect that most hobbies are like that. Of those that kept playing, there would be a slow attrition rate. Maybe you moved to a new area and couldn’t find other historical miniature wargamers so you tried a different form of gaming or just did something else with your free time. Plus, real life can get in the way. Jobs become more demanding and families, especially once you have kids, take up more time. So over time, those who started in the 1980s and 1990s will naturally decline and they are not being replaced by the next generation.
  2. Plus I think that there are some historical miniature wargamers who just opted out. They still had the time and a group or another individual to game with, but they had lost interest. That happens. I once was a big historical board wargamer. I think I had 100 historical board games at one time, and I played 2-4 games a week with various people. Then one day, the board games just didn’t work for me anymore. I sold most of them and kept a few favorites, but mostly sit on my bookshelves. The last time I played a board game it was via Vassal on my computer and that was a solo game. It didn’t matter if the greatest board wargame was produced; I am not interested in playing it, let alone buy it.

So that is where I think I would add to Sam’s comments. Sam seems to see the decline as an innovation issue. One of his questions is have American historical miniature wargamers just stuck with what they have and are not open to innovations in game design? He bases that on his sales, which have gone from lots of American customers to few American customers. He has noted that European wargame rule sales for him are steady, but not in the United States. He also notes that American historical wargame convention attendance, as far as he can see, has also declined, so it is just not that players in the United States are not buying his rules, they aren’t buying as many rules from any place.

My answer is that the old regulars of American historical miniature wargaming are just slowly attriting away. Not a major collapse, but a noticeable one. And like in other hobbies, like model trains and making models, they are not being replaced by a younger generation. The younger generation has many structural issues which keep them out of the hobby, and no amount of preaching the value of the hobby to them will bring them back in large numbers as there just isn’t critical mass in numbers of younger players to make it a peer social activity like it was for many gamers back in the 1980s and 1990s. So numbers are down and likely to continue to decline. Maybe we will be like the model train guys who now seem on average to be age 65+.

The decline in numbers and the purchasing of products online as has had an impact on the hobby. Yes, I can go online to a manufacture’s web page and make a giant order and get everything I want and have it delivered to my house in a week or less (except for the Battlefront webstore – they are very slow). I like that, but it also means that the local game store isn’t willing to stock much in the way of historical miniatures and rules. Why should they if we are all buying them online? And could they? You would have to have a mega-store to carry even a fraction of the historical wargame figures and rules available today. Store owners and managers don’t want to invest money in a product that one guy might come in and buy every other year or so. The result is that game stores are no longer for the most part historical miniature wargame stores. It doesn’t sell, so they don’t stock it, and they might not even know that much about it. When historically minded Johnny (age 16) walks in, the product isn’t there to excite him, and no one can tell him how to get started. That isn’t true for the other items that game stores sell. You can walk into any decent game store and find all sorts of fantasy and science fiction themed board games and miniatures. That’s what sells and that’s what the staff knows and plays.

So my take is that the American historical wargaming hobby is slowly dying. No amount of proselytizing to the younger masses will bring them in. Sure a few will start playing historical miniatures wargames, but not in any great numbers. They are interested in things that require different skill sets, they like things that are easier to get into, they buy what they see in the local game store, and most importantly, they want to play what their friends are playing. If gaming has a social aspect to it, then players want to do it with people they have a social bond with, it could be a family member, but mostly it will be with same age peers.

Finally, do I care if the American historical wargaming community declines to just a few old guys? No, not really. I’ve got most of the rule sets I will play for the next 40 years (hopefully that long). I’ll try out a few to replace the rules that I’ve played to death and lost interest in, but I’ve given up on just playing what the “cool kids” play as those are often flash in the pan rules, really hot for 4-8 years and then gone, like out of print gone. There are enough wargame manufacturers out there to keep me going (that is if Old Glory, Blue Moon, and GHQ stay in business), plus I’ve got the mountain of unpainted figures to work through. There are enough local gamers if I feel like a group game, but sometimes they need to be reminded of their interest in historical miniature wargaming. I also have rules like Piquet that allow me to have very enjoyable solo games. And I still have my 16 year old son to game with when he is interested, at least until he goes off to college. I’ve got what I need, and I realize that I can’t overcome the structural forces to bring thousands of new players into the hobby, and why should I force them to play my style of games when they seem very happy with what they are playing now.

I can’t answer Sam’s question about why American historical gamers are in decline and why not gamers in other parts of the world. I lived in London in the late 1990s, and I saw how vibrant historical miniatures wargaming was there. Even then, there were good shows every month, and I went to a lot of them and bought a lot of figures (probably too many as I still haven’t painted all of them!). Maybe because the same structural factors are not in play in Britain. Maybe those Game Workshop stores were a good gateway drug to historical miniature wargames. Maybe having the local club instead of playing in someone’s home gave the hobby a wider view to the potential historical miniature wargamer. Maybe having slick historical wargame magazines in the stores helped; I remember buying my wargame magazines in London at bigger bookstores like W. H. Smith, sometimes even in train and subway stations. Maybe the British just have a stronger sense of community than Americans. I don’t know really know the answer to this question.

My 70-something year old father-in-law really likes model trains, all Lionel O gauge. He doesn’t have a grand layout, more of an old school layout in his family room.  I have even repainted some of the old figures he found for his train. When I visit him, I always check out his train. He always asks me why I don’t get into model trains. I reply, I just don’t have the time, which is partially true, but despite building a model train layout around age 13, I just don’t have the interest. To me, trains are really a very old guy hobby. I suspect that many of the 15-30 year-olds look at historical miniature wargaming like that.

 

 

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18 Responses to Is Sam Mustafa Right That American Historical Wargaming Is Dying Off?

  1. A part that is not discussed is how much history is taught in school, and how much of it covers the various wars.

    I went back and pulled my remaining US history notebook from high school in the 1960’s we spent 1 week on World War 1, 2 weeks on the Civil war, and 2 weeks on WW2, during the year. Now US History is now a 1 semester requirements. My boys had 1 hour on WW1, WW2, and Korea combined. Vietnam was covered the next day in 1 hour. The 1960s – non-war was the balance of the week, with rock and roll, free love, JFK, etc. filling the time.

    So in 50 years the schools went from spending 25 hours on the history of our major wars to a couple of hours.

    I think that may be far more of the issue. Note that the history channel and the Military channel both have high age demographics, and only their shows on the hardware of war, seem to draw younger viewers.

    So it may be that historical war gaming is doomed because no one learns about the history of war any more.

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    • jdglasco says:

      Doug,

      I don’t know about that. I teach all sorts of History as a professor, including a recent course on British military history. I think that social and cultural history are just as important as military and political history. As a student, I was really bored by political/military history that was focused on the leaders rather than the doers.

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  2. Bill Owen says:

    Incidentally, we talked the Navwar owner to finally reprint GQ2 which was written in the 70s for WWI ships! There was a lot discussion on GenQtrs Yahoo group about how “that was not going to happen” but this was the 100th anniversary of Jutland so maybe that tipped the scales.

    Navwar sells 1:3000 ships and your and Sam’s perception about the UK doing well in wargames makes me wonder about the “cultural factor” that I raised about the difference in having the last generation to be drafted (born in about 1954) having an impact. The British seem to still have a much stronger military tradition: navy, infantry and aeroplanes. But the US at 6/10% military particpation, UK has half the service rate of participation, 3/10% (neither include those that served earlier which would cause the living total into the millions).

    Since the UK’s draft ending about a dozen years before ours (1960 vs. 1973), the more important must be a more general public honoring of the military tradition than here. The US has paid more lip service to the military now, “thanks for your service” trite or sincere (when my dad was in WWII he found a number of businesses that had signs “No Soldiers” and some Vietnam vets were spat upon).

    The other thing I notice on the Command Decision Forum and the 6mm Wargame & Terrain Facebook Group is what seems like relatively high rate of members who served in the military.

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  3. Bill Owen says:

    I asked around some Illinois guys and got the following comments:

    [Your former John Street “neighbor” said that wargames will go on with new hits like] vampire mushroom abyssinians vs 13’ radioactive woodchucks [obviously he’s into vicious mockery!]

    [The other is from a younger guy, in his thirties] Yeah, I agree historical miniatures are declining but not dead. There will always be an interest in historical gaming. I think the decline comes from the skyrocketing costs of minis and supplies, shrinking incomes of folks my age, and more gaming options especially miniature gaming (so many fantasy, sci-fi, and roleplaying options not available in the SPI and AH times. I don’t think it helps the misconception among the uninitiated that you need a PhD history to play these games. Just an ability to learn and not be a gloomy gus if the dice turn against you is needed.

    I can relate the senior citizens’ conventions that historical gaming events have become. In Central Illinois, I was literally the youngest guy in the group. Anytime there were younger people it was because they were accompanying their dad to the event. I suspect he couldn’t find a babysitter for them. While I didn’t have a problem with hanging out with old guys, it can see where others would. Sad that the youth of today are not encouraged to hang out with older people or we don’t see it more in culture and the media.

    [Okay, declining and dying may just be a difference in rate 🙂

    I hear what he says about shrinking incomes but not just younger people. At least a portion of seniors are finding their savings & income’s purchasing power decline at a significant rate through financial repression.

    I think one effect of huge variety is to isolate many people in their preferred hyper-specialized interest area. My solution is let’s alternate, your game choice, then my game.

    I wonder if both the nature of the military and mood of the country is a factor. I mean about the military status, I signed up for the draft—about one of the last in about 1973. The likelihood that I would have to go to war was something I was resigned to as I saw various generations who were either volunteers or drafted. Now the military has a higher lip service (at least) than it did but because of the volunteer force means that fewer people have any actual direction relatives involved. We got the idea (naïve?) that we were citizens in charge of the government (ho ho!) and so our attitude about wars and their seriousness were both our responsibility and up to a certain point as a likely target! But now people I know see war as “push button” and likely to be over in hours! And they seem much more accepting of a multiplicity of small wars that are just part of the New Normal. I wonder: was that a bit of my generation’s motivation to play wargames?]

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    • jdglasco says:

      Bill,
      I do think costs are part of it. In the later half of the 1970s, I could buy a really well made Avalon Hill game for $8 or $9. The reported inflation between now and then is about 250% (sorry I could not find the exact number, but I know that the consumer price index between 1985 and now is about 200%). That means those really nicely made board wargames should cost $20 to $25 now. The cost for most board wargames of a decent size is far more than that ($50 to $100). As a kid in the 1970s, I could mow a lot of grass and do enough other yard work to buy a new Avalon Hill game every other month. There is no way I could have bought those games it they had cost $20 to $50 in the 1970s. Without those Avalon Hill games, I would have never gotten into any other form of wargaming. With two children just a few years away from college, I might have to mow the neighbor’s lawn so I can afford any gaming stuff, that is until they graduate.

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  4. Jurjen says:

    A long though very nice read. I shared the best parts of it in a news item on our Dutch club wargame website, with a link to your blog. A bit Sinatra it was. September of my years. Keep on blogging! http://amsterdam6shooters.nl/node/908

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  5. Great topic and discussion. It is very interesting. I never considered the connection to model building and BB guns to Wargaming. I did all the same things.
    The first question that popped into my head reading this was: What is your definition of a wargame?
    I think Mike is right. I see ‘wargames’ as an evolving abstract thing. For me it was army men in the back yard with BB guns. Then it was D&D. Then it was cardboard counters on AH games: Squad Leader and the Russian Campaign. Then it was miniatures. Then it was Space Invaders and Asteroids! Aren’t those wargames in a way? More sophisticated computer games and then console games.
    The next generation of kids DO play wargames. They are mostly electronic though. It’s what they grew up with. They do all the same bonding over weekend gaming marathons you describe. Instead of Supremacy and Squad Leader they are playing Pokemon, Call of Duty, Civ, Battle Front and Total War.
    Gaming has been seeing a big resurgence over the last 8 years. Board gaming too! Lots of the Millennial are fascinated with board games. They are new and exciting to them. Being able to touch and fondle the pieces. Physically move them around on a real board. We’ve been emphasizing the tactile nature of our components and boards in our designs. The younger generation really connects with this.
    A new style of ‘wargame’ we are trying to evolve into is multi-player cooperative. These are really popular with the younger gamers. I really like them too! It puts the emphasis back on the player interaction like you described.
    Our new Pub Battles series has 1 page rules. It has a lot of very hefty military science and strategy packed into it but this format makes it much more accessible to the kids. We are also pushing this towards cooperative Team Play.
    Little Bighorn can have up to 11 players! Like Mike says, it’s not about all the technical detail of weapon systems spelled out in a 100 page rule book. It is still a wargame but the game is about command, communication and teamwork. We don’t care about the rifle range and rate of fire.
    Another very exciting development is the Mega Game phenomenon. This is really catching fire. I just talked with a guy last week. He has started a new gaming club based on this concept. They have hundreds of members in a small 60,000 pop town. Members have to pay $30-50 to play a game. They are raising thousands of dollars for charity.
    We are currently developing a Mega-Supremacy rule set for their use. Instead of just 1 player running each country, we break it up into a 4 player team. One player runs the military, one is in charge of the economy, one diplomatic relations and then the president tries to coordinate all their efforts. Spies. A Press that reports on world events. There is a UN where you can give speeches and a world bank with trading floor. Very fun and exciting stuff.
    We are also working on a new game called ‘Dracula’. We are getting lots of excitement on this from the younger kids. It ties into the fantasy market but it is basically a ‘wargame’. One Dracula player must defend Wallachia & Transylvania from an invasion of 6 Ottoman armies at once! Again this is a cooperative team play game. We have based this off an operational scale wargame of the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns. It’s war.
    We’ve been playing Zombicide lately too. I keep thinking how much it is a wargame really. Just imagine instead of Zombies, that they are Russians in Stalingrad. You are trying to break out your German squad to the other side of the city where you can get resupplied. Same game.
    I guess in the end it is how you look at things. Did Wargaming die? In a way. In other ways it has just evolved. I think the new directions in gaming is very exciting. There is a lot of opportunity here. Just imagine Squad Leader being done as a big, cooperative, multi-player, convention, Mega game like Zombicide with 20-50 live players at once. Now that would be cool.

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    • jdglasco says:

      Marshall,

      I guess I’m too old school, but electronic (computer or video) games don’t really work for me, and they don’t seem to be really bringing in people to historical miniature wargaming. I’m more interested in the old school thing with metal or plastic figures on a table, so I’ll let others enjoy their evolution of gaming, but Sam’s point was about what happened to the more traditional version of historical miniature wargaming and that’s what my post was about.

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  6. Bill Owen says:

    Do you ever hit enter and realize you weren’t done and can’t edit?!

    I realized some things:

    1. I implied that I was so wonderful as to deal with all people regardless of strange views or politics as if that were worthy goal for USAians. I recognize that I was very different in “America” (which some people point out is the name for the entire New World). My politics have changed and are pretty indescribable. But in the US, there are a lot more people to associate with and you can find more closely to your beliefs. My point only was here, you either try to get along with all or if you put others to a belief test, you are likely to end up a hermit!

    2. I left a thought uncompleted when I started with “how [young people now] may view WWII” way I viewed the Spanish American War: ancient history. Indeed the time elapsed is similar.

    3. Far from being a constant historical wargamer, I certainly had a D&D and “sutler” phase documented in my Judges Guild kindle book. And also from designing and leading wargamer battlefield tours, I was off on a tangent but also expanding my circle of gamers.

    4. Something I did not comment on but as I put my head on the pillow, I realized “good for you” …that you and your son have something to share …and it may not be the “game’s the thing” so much but that you have good enough relations with him at that age and share some things. It wasn’t until I was until I was in my late twenties and working along side by father in the travel business, that I realize that he was a good friend.

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    • jdglasco says:

      Bill,

      Thanks for your very detailed response. I guess my point is that I’m not really sad that historical miniatures wargaming might be dying off in the United States (at least Salem, Oregon). The Warflag guy, Ian, seems to be coming back to gaming, and I’d be more than willing to help him with a game group, but I have no interest in doing all the work to get a group going. Playing the games is fun, but it is no longer a priority for me.

      Jeff

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  7. Bill Owen says:

    Hi Jeff,

    You wrote a very insightful essay on wargaming and your experiences in it. I agree with so much of it. I have been a fanatic even longer, as best as I can remember since 1965, boardgaming-wise. Indeed we were also making models then (still am) and one can detect the shift from modeler to gamer when I went from One Of Everything (biplanes and B58 Hustler bomber which we set up airfields which the opponent would try to find–occasionally their based in trees!) …to when I bought and made (3) B-25 bombers–a unit. But until 1970, we had no ruleset so other “games” amounted to different delivery systems, rocks from the roof of the house (we called Greek artillery), BB guns from about 60′ feet away (one spotter with binocs watching for the fall of the shot) and the least fair of all a variety of gunpowder based detonations. Game play value wise, all basically lacking oomph. Certainly competition. Mostly the rocks and BBs missed (though even point blank BBs on Candlewax reinforced ship hulls meant the ships could last forever–the hulk of the Long Beach might still be floating down the ravine next to my old house). The gunpowder impact was catastrophic… there the oomph was often so loud, I never heard the bang, just my ears ringing.

    Enough of that frivolity.

    Then we ordered Tractics, and was sent Fast Rules (much simpler WWII mini rules) and shortly got GRT the samzidat version of what Tractics was based on. Because it was “on loan” from a new gamer friend from Springfield IL, we had to retype the much ruleset and xerox just the charts (thermofax copying was expensive!) …so you really learn something when you retype it all with a manual typewriter. So in High School 1971-1972 we had a burgeoning wargame club, the ICD, at the Franklin Mall that only sunset in 2009 when we played the last game there, as we had sold the building. But before moving to Belize I sold much of my giant wargame collection and so 2011 until now, I have operated as the wargaming equivalent of Light Infantry.

    First the burgeoning diversity of SPI/S&T fractured gamers’ interests and then the company’s collapse hurt. But there are still boardgamers, Consimworld has 4069 members but that maybe worldwide and so may be spread pretty thin. I joined a Worldwide wargaming club because I thought that they had an Uruguayan member. There are just a few miniature gamers who actively post their latest paint-ups but mostly tournament computer games (or may be some sort of computer aided boardgames–not sure).

    Yes, your *big* and very insightful point is that, for the USA at least, much of wargaming was about friends–and if we had done some other hobby together well then we might be talking about how that activity “isn’t what it was” but as you say the people are key. I know that I lost at least one core members of the group because I tended to want to lead what we played. And some of that was because I took on the all-too-typical US One Man Band approach (as compared to the UK’s more division of labor club approach where Reginald collects the UK ships, Bruno the Germans and Giovanni the Italian and Fitzroy the terrain)… so I always had quite a bit invested in “systems”, collections, terrain, rules-learning, game aids (often refreshed and refined for each session). BUT in sad reflection, it may have been smarter to simply ask, “what do you want to do?” And ideally see what part they want to provide of the prep.

    Aside from dying (and indeed, it was a big loss for me when both John Holtz and Bob Bledsaw died–both also wargame fanatics), and short of leaving the hobby altogether, what can happen is that some can get into the just the modelling of the miniatures and may not play more than very occasional game. Or I think others get on forums or Facebook and spend more time “talking” about it than rolling the dice. I veer towards “the game’s the thing”. The “Nuts!” philosophy has been an eye-opener that got me out of usual rut.

    So my venturing into new countries where there may be few gamers and so hard to find them, I found that a workable approach to exposing random new people to wargames is to my learning the core system of General Quarters 3, paint up 4 ships for the River Plate battle and ask various people (new friends and associates actually) if they want to try it out. Mostly they are willing and the next phase was to find out that my teaching tools need to be better–because wargames are a lot different than what people are prepared for. (Do I roll the dice for movement? When you say turn–heading–and turn, elapsed time’s segment, I’m getting confused!) So I made a PDF teaching tool that showed the process in a step-by-step manner.

    So far just ships. Much less geeky or fiddly than tiny toy solders. I think that’s important for initial exposure. And my approach with collection building is what I call “low hanging fruit”–like my foam blocks as stand-ins for regiment/Strength Points in V&B–overnight armies for a whole battle!

    And I have also hovered on the fringes of current younger guys’ Warhammer and Dystopian Wars groups… some of them have gotten into the much drier WWII and I admit I am still puzzled by the fascination with a fantasy theme. And yet I can see how they may view WWII that I connected with because my dad had served in it and Walter Conkrite’s Twentieth Century program that many of us young guys watched (there were only 2 other channels then remember). A few of them have tried GQ3. And I met my local counterpart as One Man Wargame Promoting Machine.

    And I find that chess players often make fast-learners, good players. There are chess clubs here but I have not invaded one yet. There is also a huge “Euro” boardgames group here, I assume part of their popularity comes from how we have an unpleasant enough winter (at least chilly, windy and rainy) and well-educated populace. A few play wargames, but the language difficulty is a barrier; while many people’s English is pretty good, their confidence is often low. And my Spanish is muy malo. But with an embarrassing number of years, I can occasionally spit out a real sentence that the hearers rarely wince at (but I hope at least get some hilarity from).

    OTOH, back to historical miniatures, one could presume that *someone* is buying all this absurd diversity of periods, fronts, scales and perhaps many of the vendors’ efforts are just labors of love. But that sounds like someone who may not be playing the game any more but suttlering it, doesn’t it?

    So player casualties in historical wargaming may be like how Brent Noseworthy described a Civil War firefight where the troops are picked off over an extended period of time. It adds up.

    Have you considered the possibility of starting a monthly military history group that involves those curious with simplistic scenarios? Not a book review discussion group but bill it as a chance to Push Away The Keyboard and Play A Role Changing History or similar. But make sure it is not all on one participant’s shoulders. Perhaps each is a sub-commander of the game system or referee’s planned script. You don’t want to scare them off before they start. Or discourage them with spectacular failure. (Although if you can do a bit better than the original participants, that’s still a worthy goal.) If structured so that the members are canvassed about their interests and so catered to (eventually) as possible the initial portion of each meeting could be the Command Exercise and then devolve to discussion afterwards. A few may make the jump to more challenging rulesets. As you said affinity, friendships, are key and for guys (at least) that can come from shared interests.

    Indeed I have wondered about extremely small scenarios (like GQ3’s River Plate and GBoWWII’s Agira) and still puzzling a bit of one for CD:TOB and V&B. Nuts! I have to just learn first. And these big picture (battalion stands) of Sam’s Rommel and Frank Chadwick’s new Fast Attack:
    http://www.testofbattle.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=5187&start=0&sid=505a16569657eae02898b1de27c9a16c

    How have the Brits carry on with wargaming so long and survive various evolutions or invasions from D&D, commercial ventures, competition play etc.? I do remember that there has been articles about UK grognards bemoaning the trend towards skirmish. Indeed by direction is more towards company-per-stand game like Great Battles of WWII where one can play a “campaign” in a day meaning multiple days not just refight a 5-hour battle.

    Indeed real-life distractions are an issue: like I have to weed-wack around 2708 more trees, currently I have just one other recruit in my squad to help with that! Plus planning tours–but that’s what I can catch up on during evenings. If I used to play games while working 80 hours a week, certainly I can do that with a mere 60 hour semi-retirement schedule!

    Finally, I find that one huge advantage of being overseas is my greatly increased tolerance of kaleidoscopic diversity of opinions. I know people who believe in alien lizard people, plus various conspiracies of either end of the spectrum. Passionate adherences to mutually-exclusive Ideals and Panaceas (that Society may still not be ready for!) But one either withdraws from all that or instead I decided to just be a good listener and I don’t have to agree but at least I understand better where they’re coming from. So the shared experience and bond here may only occasionally be games but more often just figuring out how to make your way in, not a foreign land, but a friendly land, with *us* as foreigners who are often treated as kindly as pair of lost kittens who are cradled to where we need to go.

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  8. I definitely have lived and experienced many of the same things you are describing, at the end of the article when I discovered that we’re the same age it all made sense.

    I can’t speak for those living outside the US, but around here historical wargames have gone the way of buggy whip manufacturers. There are just better ways to do things now. I’m sure you remember Alan Moon’s article in the General “Panzer Dreamer” which was about how it would be to play Panzer Leader on computer. As soon as I read that I floated into reveries about how cool it would be to play wargames on computers, and this was in the late seventies, when the idea of playing remotely via the internet was just a vague notion (it was a long way from Oregon Trail to Steam!).

    Simulation game design has found its end. Games got more and more complicated as they became able to simulate in greater detail. Unfortunately, no one seemed to realize that the end result, the big picture, was a less accurate simulation. The more details you tried to cover, the more details you had to leave out. People left in droves and no new players were foolish enough to even try and learn those games. Especially when a computer could handle all that detail for you, and much better.

    I don’t think historical wargaming died so much as evolved into something that many of us old grognards no longer recognize.

    I, for one, would rather embrace the future than lament the past. I think the next big thing in simulation gaming will be a game where VR puts you right in the commander’s tent. You’re sitting around a table with a canvass map and some of your subordinates as messengers bring in reports and you make your decisions. Maybe you decide to ride out to the nearest hill and see what you can see. Then you will experience true fog of war. Staring at a chart and counting hexes is not fighting a battle. Staring down a table at Longstreet and wondering if you can trust him to follow your orders is.

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    • jdglasco says:

      Michael,
      Thanks for your comments. I like miniature wargames as they don’t involve a computer. Even as a college professor I seem to have to use a computer far more than I would like to, so I like my hobbies to be something tactile rather than computer or VR driven. I guess I’ll just soldier on with the metal figures and hope for the best.

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  9. […] Glasco has written a response to this on his Gentlemanly Gamers blog, which makes for very interesting […]

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