Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A Couple Of Thoughts...

...prompted by the new issue of Battlegames magazine.

First Thought

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?

Second Thought

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!


Mad Padre said...

Clearly an impressive game in all respects, I am glad that Messrs Ringrose and Browning received some reward for their magnificent obsession. Clearly it's not wargaming, but it's wonderful to look at. This sort of thing doesn't get me worked up, but the UK phenomenon of the game where the hosts play and the punters can't, and in fact are actively ignore, is downright bizarre and plain weird. We don't see that in N America, to me knowledge.

Thanks BTW for the tip ref Warning Order, will check it out.


tradgardmastare said...

Never seen the point of a non playing demo game myself. I enjoying ,at shows, seeing the games proceed during the day and come back and forth to watch the progress made. I feel the public are "cheated" when it is all show and no game.

Arthur said...

Hi Keith

I would have thought a wargame show was about the war and game, too. But to each his own, I guess.

Thanks for the heads up on the Warning Order site, never knew of it until now - and it looks very interesting.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Hmmm.... ok I have a slightly different view.....

I'll start off by agreeing with you wholeheartedly about supplements, and "supporting" the rules - well said indeed...

I would disagree about Corunna though... I've seen this on a few blogs now - the slightly dismissive "they weren't playing it" attitude, which I think is a little unfair (but probably typically British, we really aren't comfortable with success??). A "diorama game" describes the setup exactly - it was a diorama quality game...

I spoke to the guys at the show and they had played it to completion several times before Salute (invariably with a historical result which was quite interesting) but with 3000 figures to move, and having to answer peoples questions on the game, and with only one day, how on earth were they ever going to be able to play it live at Salute?? They'd need about 10-20 people and all we'd see would be an array of backs turned to us.... nah... hats off to them - a superb effort!

Mark Dudley said...


When we put on demo games we always aim to get a result. The game is a moving tableau that unfolds during the day.

We also make sure that anyone can ask questions and indeed we actively engage with the public. We will offer anyone a chance to roll a few dice and have a go.

Our next game is a good old school bash at Triples with 1200 Prince August figures on green painted MDF with minimal terrain.


Keith Flint said...

Steve - thanks for your perspective. I post up these thoughts in the hope of getting thoughtful replies, and yours was just the job. You might just have convinced me.

Mad Padre - yes, I get the impression that shows on N. America are rather better than those in the UK, in just the way you indicate. Sadly I doubt I'll ever be able to sample a show in the good old US of A.

Mark - I've been following the preparations for your game via your blog. Looks terrific. Best of luck, expecting lots of pictures. Looks like you have just the right approach to a demo game.


Archduke Piccolo said...

I know this is late in the day, but I was interested in your comments on that Corunna game. Now, that is what I would have called a 'static display' - a term I'm sure I've read before concerning this type of thing. It is meant to be looked at and admired, and they do hold the interest for a little while as such. But, yeah, I'd find that something less ornate, more functional, and more dynamic is likelier to hold my attention longer.

But I can understand the 'static display' as showing just what a wargames table can look like if you are prepared to put in the time (and money). But another function is convenience. Over 20 years ago I was one doing a display game (WW2) on show day in Christchurch. Of course, during the course of the day a gusty blistering nor'wester was blowing dust and sun-drenched heat into our tent and kept blowing the scenery over. So unpleasant was it we jacked in the actual game and left it as a static display (picking up scenery from time to time) until the end of the day.

Keith Flint said...

Wargaming in a 'blistering nor'wester'! In a tent! So that's how you do things on the other side of the world.

Sounds a lot more challenging than any game I ever put on.

My views on 'diorama games' have softened since this post first appeared. I now know that this game in particular was developed as a playable wargame, but even if not, what the hell. It was a fine effort.

Thanks for commenting.