Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More on Wargames

Here's another perspective on the present and future of wargames. It's also a few years old, but was written more recently than Greg Costikyan's article.

Thanks to Rob Kuntz for the link.


  1. A much better article! I forwarded the previous to a friedn who has been a big wargamer since ancient times and he replied that Costikyan was (in)famous for writing "articles that irked other gamers" as he put it.

    FYI, there is a whole crisscrossing of military wargamers, recreational wargamers, and fantasy/sci fi authors going way back, including types like L Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Ted Sturgeon, Asimov, and others. Someone in need of PhD or Masters thesis could find rich ground there!

  2. It's interesting that neither of them seem to count the various kinds of wargame that actually are popular (eg Warhammer).

  3. Why, that'd be like someone deciding that the current edition of D&D doesn't...count...oh.

  4. anarchist: There's a lot of disagreement about what makes a wargame a wargame, but I think a determined attempt at accuracy and simulation is on many of the lists. Everyone in the world could be playing Warhammer and wargaming could still be dead.

    Apply that to 4E however you see fit ;P

  5. Well, it doesn't have any rules for terrain, weather, supply, or even the differences between different weapons...but enough about Dungeons & Dragons.

    Seriously, if Warhammer was invented in the 70s I can't imagine anyone drawing a line which excluded it but included Chainmail and co.

  6. I think that when most people say "wargames," they're not talking about minis games. They're talking about hex and chit games like Squad Leader or Third Reich.

  7. Flames of War is an interesting counterexample. He should take a peek at Battlefront’s sales figures if he can.

    Miniatures wargames seem to be doing much better than board & counter / hex & chit, in my observation. Of course, that’s speaking as a miniatures wargamer. Miniatures wargames share a whole hobby aspect with D&D (but moreso) than hex & chit games. You can derive as much or more satisfaction painting and modeling your soldiers at home between actual games as a DM does building dungeons and campaign worlds. There’s also a very strong visual component, much as there is with computer wargames.

    The visual angle leads me to think that the author’s concerns are more accurate in relation to high-level strategic wargames. Squad, platoon, and company-level actions lend themselves much more easily to visually-exciting mediums, like tabletop miniatures and graphical computer games.

    Of course, there are military/wargame boardgames too. Boardgames often have nice components and a self-contained nature which appeals to many more casual gamers. The tough part is making a game which accurately encompasses real tactics and strategies while remaining interesting to non-grognards.

  8. That is just it though the traditional miniature wargame suppliers and companies along with the traditional "map & chit" board wargame producers DO target mainly the Grognards since they are the primary audience. They are also almost all middle-aged or older adults that are willing to drop a few hundred dollars on a box filled with paper and cardboard. But only because the age of "panzer leader" like games that anyone could learn fairly quickly is past and the age of Wachy am Rhein 20 and La Bataille de Moscou rule the day. Squad Leader is dead and Advanced Squad Leader is living high and is complicated as ever if not more so. Especially since the company can;t keep enough stock on hand for the high demand. But even then ASL is so far from beer and pretzels as the Earth is to the Orion System.

    All of those draw a card driven board games were made especially for the tweeners that just couldn't get the real thing. Those games are what Grogs consider beer and pretzel. They are fun as heel but they are not serious games. It's much how they felt, and some still do about RPGs.

    No the war game companies know who butters their bread and when you find some willing to butter your bread you kindly pass them back the jam. Especially considering these are very small companies ranging from 1,2 to 10(on the large side) employees. There are no more SPI's or Avalon Hills that could have 30 to a 100 employees and any given time.

  9. oversimplifying? No. Following rhe original articles lead I was speaking of traditional game companies. aside from ASL you mentioned none. So in a way you made my point.

    There are the small traditional companies that has the Grog market then there is everyone else selling what we consider beer and pretzel games to everyone else.

    The new WWII games like Flames of War had gained a lot of respect in the Grog market unlike Warhammer and WarMachine. Those are left to the "kids" (i.e. those younger or those that didn't care for traditional miniature wargaming)

    All those games you mentioned that are non-trad, most have larger staff since they usuallyu are larger companies that have huge sales orders per year through the big game store and discount store distributors.

    The traditional companies all combined rarely sell what one or two of those non-trad card driven game companies sells in a year. Kids and families, even grog families buy the euro style games left and right since they are easy to learn and all the kids can play too. That is NOT in the marketing strategy of traditional wargame companies. However a few of the traditional companies are hoping that some of the computer based board wargames they are releasing will interest older teens and bring them into the Grog fold. But thus far the marketing scheme to get new players in the traditional market has been for fathers to teach thier kids as they get older and the kids grow up to play.

    If you are not sure who the traditional companies are, go back and read the original articles. (i.e. Fast Forward Entertainment IS NOT an traditional company)

  10. But the point of the article seemed to me to be that the GAMES are dying, not just the small-press labor-of-love publishers. The writer talked about non-digital wargames as if the only ones publishing them were these people, which I don’t think is accurate.

    There are still some historical wargames, with some level of concern about accuracy, that are not selling just a few hundred copies, published by a couple of guys out of their garage. If you consider the non-historical wargames (like WH, 40k, War of the Ring and WM; though there are also Warhammer: historical versions ), and also modern board wargames, you get an even more varied picture. Memoir ’44 and the other Command & Colors games are certainly very simplified, but others like Conflict of Heroes, Combat Commander, and Hammer of the Scots have a more medium level of complexity, but with a quicker play time and usually nicer components than the garage-published stuff, which make them more appealing to regular boardgamers.

    I think the relative popularity of boardgames and miniatures wargames still provide decent pools for recruitment of “proper” wargamers. My local game store, for example, on any given Tuesday night has a 8-12 people playing Warhammer or 40k, 6-10 playing boardgames, and usually 4-6 playing historical wargames. The hardcore historical gamers tend to rotate between different systems, but they definitely have some crossover with/from the WH players and boardgamers, thanks primarily to board wargames and Flames of War.