Tuesday, 8 May 2012
A Couple Of Thoughts...
...prompted by the new issue of Battlegames magazine.
Salute 2012 saw a terrific 'game' put on by a pair called The Essex Gamesters. It was called Corunna 1809, and it won a prize, as it well deserved to. See the photos here.
But why do I put 'game' in quotation marks? Well, according to Battlegames, this was something called a Diorama Game. I was struck by the phrase as I had never heard it before, but I immediately knew what it meant. Playing a demo game at Colours a couple of years ago I found myself next to such a game. This is where a purpose-built model railway style terrain is set up, then painstakingly festooned with beautifully painted figures, ships, vehicles etc. In addition there may be one or more information boards to erect as well. This will probably take at least a couple of hours. Following which sturdy effort, the 'gamers' collapse with exhaustion into their chairs and stare at their creation for a few more hours, before proceeding with the equally taxing task of packing it up.
That's right - a Diorama Game is a game where nothing happens. I wasn't at Salute, and didn't see what went on in 'Corunna 1809', but the description by Battlegames strongly implies that this was what was going on in this particular presentation. If I'm wrong in this case, I apologise - but the concept is clearly firmly with us. Now, bottom line, what hobbyists do with their toy soldiers is up to them. And I would agree that such displays can be very inspiring, refreshing one's outlook on the hobby. I can indeed feel a bland conclusion coming on, something along the lines of the usual 'each to his own' cliche. But I have a nagging feeling in my head that the hobby is actually called war gaming. There's supposed to be a game going on. It's not, after all, called war diorama making.
I guess this all seems rather mean spirited, not to say inspired by envy. I'll admit mean spirited, but I don't have any envy. I want to wargame. My inspiration is intellectual - animate those toy soldiers by giving them a purpose, by developing a story (or 'scenario' as it is generally called). Then see how things work out when players with different ideas play the story out. See how the story is influenced by the rules, for good or bad. And see how table top events relate to the historical picture.
Dah! I don't know. What do you think?
One of the areas in which Battlegames really scores is the review section. A wide range of sensible and balanced thoughts on a goodly number of new products. In the latest issue, however, one comment did rather set me back on my heels. Neil Shuck was reviewing a supplement to the Saga rules, called Northern Fury. Early in the piece he had this to say,
"Gripping Beast are committed to supporting this new game, and Northern Fury is the first of two supplements that are planned for this year."
I was so happy. Oh those wonderful, selfless boys at Gripping Beast. Despite all the odds, they're committed to supporting Saga. Bless their hearts... Come on Neil, they're a commercial company. Saga isn't a charity expedition to the Himalayas in support of disabled people, it's a wargames product. Gripping Beast's 'commitment' is to making some more money out of this product. That in itself is fair enough. But the style of the comment seems to me to be an example of the disconcerting idea that companies are doing us gamers a favour by selling us their stuff, and we should therefore be suitably grateful. Wargamers in general seem to be happy with an increasingly commercial wargames industry, and this is also fair enough. But at least see things as they are.
Now, (for example), one could quite rightly say that Pete Jones was 'committed' to supporting Blitzkrieg Commander (he is, BTW, the author). He set up a well designed and well tended website where users could communicate via a forum (one of the best on the web IMHO), where battle reports can be viewed in their multitudes, where he is usually available to rapidly answer rule queries (a definite rarity amongst rule writers), and where he encourages players to become involved in new ideas for rule amendments. And there's a gallery and a free battlegroup creator (providing you bought the rules). OK, you could say this is just promotion for his product, but all this is done on his own, for free and in a spirit of participation and open comment. And all that is for sale is the rules.
Or look at the boys who produce Warning Order. A great, high quality online magazine produced entirely for the love of it and available to anyone to download for free. It's been going for 32 issues now. Yes, that's commitment.
Readers of this blog may be aware that I am grimly opposed to supplements simply for being what they are, i.e. a bare faced con to stretch the profitability of a set of rules. But others are welcome to disagree. Neil evidently thought (in an otherwise well written and informative review) that this supplement was a good offering. But I'm afraid that phrase just grated. Another, more appropriate, choice of words was required. Something between sinking to your knees in gratitude and unconditionally reviling the whole concept. Something a bit more detached and neutral, perhaps. But then, perhaps, I'm just over reacting.
Something with pictures for my next post, I think!