Wargame Thoughts and Commentary
50 years of wargaming

What I've Learned From 50 Years of Wargaming! Part One

The only advantage to getting older is the ability to get a wider view of the world and more experiences-good and bad-to guide our actions.

I started in wargaming in 1960, and in miniature wargaming in 1965. I’ve had the good fortune to meet Don Featherstone, Jack Scruby, Scotty Bowden, JIm Getz, The “Duke”, and, more recently, Sam Mustafa. I’ve been writing rules since 1972 with Le Jeu De La Guerre, and have attended and run booths at Historicon, Fall In! and Cold Wars, plus a few local Conventions here in Denver, such as Tacticon. I’ve written articles for Table Top Talk, MWAN, Wargamer’s Newsletter, and a few others. So what “Gems of Wisdom” have I learned in that period to pass on? Well, Here’s a few:

1. FOCUS!

Select a period that you really find interesting and stick with it. An argument may be made to select a period in three or four major war-game subdivisions such as Ancients, Medieval, Horse and Musket, and Modern, but limit the number of eras you game in. I’ve seen too many gamers that shift willy-nilly from the latest fad period to another, never finishing any army, and ending up with fragments of armies from dozens of periods-including some so obscure that more people play war-games in the period than actually fought the original war!!!

This includes settling on a few figure scales that fit the period you have chosen. Certainly, some periods with colorful and interesting uniforms cry out for treatment in 28mm, while other, especially the modern periods from 1860 through WWII, might be better served with 10s or 15s-not only to better fit a visual agreement with ground scale, but because the later uniforms are pretty monochromatic and plain. If you have any periods with multiple scales, duplicating the same units in 15, 28, etc.-get real! You will have drawers full of unpainted figures, and, again, nothing will be completed.

2. SIMPLIFY!

This includes focusing on a few periods, and a limited number of scales, but includes defeating the hoarding tendencies of many wargamers. Foremost among these are the “collections” of books and magazines. These items take up a lot of space and are often the source of clutter and chaotic information resourcing.

You will never refer to those stacks of magazines again! Usually there is no index, no means of referencing exactly what article is in which issue; so after two or three years accumulate-they are wortless as you cannot remember, or find, anything when needed. Some of the more progressive pubs are digitizing some of their content by subject or theme and putting it on CD, often with an index. Lately, Wargames Illustrated did this with the Mark Allen 17th-18th century articles. Excellent! Buy the digital CDs, trash the mags-or sell them to some unmarried fool with more room than sense.

Books are even more egregious. Let’s face it, the number of truly useful references in a period, especially for war-game uses, are limited. Buying every damn book on warfare in every damn period, is a waste of money and postage. It may make you feel “smarter” by having walls covered with books, and stacks of books in every corner, but most of the books written on military history are repetitive, offer few new insights, and are not adding much to historical studies, and certainly not to popular literature on history so loved by war gamers.

Every period has a few really well written, and excellent histories, that can help a gamer understand a war, the tactics used, and give insights on the major characteristics of warfare as it was fought, but the gain from adding book after book is one of diminishing returns.

I used to play a mind game where I imagined I was going on a world cruise on a sailing ship and I could only take a six-foot bookshelf of all my books. What would I take? What would I discard? It focuses the critical faculties on what books are REALLY important to you. I have now instituted a wargame/history limit of one three foot shelf per period, and my periods are down to WSS, ACW/FPW, Colonial WWI Air, WWII Naval, War-game History and rules and a general warfare category that is allowed two shelves. Any new book coming in displaces the least needed of the remaining books on the shelf. I have culled my book collection to less than 1/3 its greatest size…and I miss nothing! What’s left is gold, no dross, and it never grows! Digital downloads are making space-consuming printed books less necessary, as is simple on-line research. I’m sure some of you have books with my bookmark in them!

An adjunct rule is that, if you have not touched, opened, or read a book in the last two years-it goes! This is easily instituted by placing a piece of paper in a book with a date written on it. A library card with a two-year due date!

Trust me, too many war gamers become a prisoner of their “Stuff” Free yourself from your hoarding instincts and you will acquire new energy in the hobby ( and some additional funds from their sale to finance your war-game activities)!


3. EMPTY YOUR CLOSETS!

No one benefits from those bags of unpainted lead in the closet. They are, instead, a testament to your procrastination and misspent funds as your wife constantly reminds you. Every time you see those silver mementos of impulse buying and lack of focus they are another indicator of action that needs to be taken. Either paint them, send them to Sri Lanka to be painted, or sell them! The same two-year inventory method used with books may be used with figures. Often, if they are older than two years the artistic and casting abilities of the figure-makers has advanced so far that they may be unsellable. Sell them NOW! This is even more true of figures that are mere fragments of past interests in a period you KNOW you will not pursue!

Think of it as passing on a pet to a good home that will take better care of them, and greater needs, than you have!

4. GET OUT OF THE RUT!

By all means try new things, read new historical studies, examine new rule sets, and open your gaming to new experiences. In fact, strive harder to do this. This may seem to be at odds with my advice to focus, but it is not. Within the areas you have a greater interest, simply diversify. Read areas of the history that extend beyond the military such as historical novels, plays. movies, music, poems from or about the period, diplomatic histories, memoirs, and scientific studies both archeological and science-based inquiry on the historical record. Try new rule sets instead of the same old thing. Open your mind, not by flitting about the historical record, but in expanding your experiences within your chosen interest. New ideas are the lifeblood of maintaining interest in a hobby.

5. STOP BEING A NICE GUY!

This is especially true when you get past the magic age marker of 50. Look, your time is more precious now than it once was, as the hour glass has more sand in the bottom than the top. (this is sometimes true of body shape as well). There is no need to do anything that you don’t enjoy doing, none. If you don’t like a certain set of rules. Don’t play them! If you don’t enjoy the company of certain people at your table. Don’t play war-games with them. Find the people that you do enjoy gaming with and the rules you want to play, and then spend your time enjoying them! Screw the rules-lawyers, people that make gun sounds with their mouth, those move-counter move, perfectly obvious, rule sets, the Napoleonic (or Ancients) pedants, the quasi-racists, and people who never actually read books. You don’t have to be “nice.” You have an obligation to your own enjoyment that is greater than some imagined need to be one of the bunch. Now, if you find that your perfect war-game experience is solo-you might want to reflect on your sociability, but, short of that, don’t be afraid to say “No!” and to be selective in your use of time. You owe it to yourself!

6. FIRM DON’TS!

Never eat at a place named “Mom’s”
Never sleep with a woman whose problems are worse than yours.
Never play cards with a man Named Doc.
Never play Ancients with a man named Phil.
Never play Napoleonics with a man named Todd.
Better yet, never play Napoleonics.