Thursday, 10 October 2013

I Just Wanted To Point Out...

...something that, as a SYW wargamer, is one of my little hobby horses. 

In the introduction to my copy of Koenig Krieg, the eighteenth century is described as 'the golden age of warfare'. This concept will be familiar to any wargamer who has read the works of such giants as Charles Grant (senior) and Donald Featherstone (RIP), although these sensible gentleman expressed the thought rather less naively. This kind of thinking occasionally also surfaces in various current blogs which don't have the excuse of being written many years ago.

I have long thought such judgements misguided. Having recently come across the following quote from Dennis Showalter's Frederick the Great: A Military History (2012), I wanted to share it with other wargamers. 

Few interpretative structures have been as thoroughly shredded in the past quarter century as the one describing the eighteenth century as an age of limited war. Images of battles fought in vacuums by marginalised men while normal people freely go about their business no longer survive even in textbooks

The interested reader would also do well to consult Szabo's The Seven Years War In Europe, or Duffy's The Military Experience In The Age Of Reason. War has no golden ages, and the wars of the 18th century appeared 'civilised' only in comparison to the appalling excesses of the Thirty Years War which preceded them.

My hobby is about playing with toy soldiers, and must in the end be conclusively separated from real warfare. Doing this means educating oneself about the historical reality in ways other than uniform details and weapon statistics. Such an educative process is our responsibility as thinking wargamers, and ultimately also as citizens.

So there.


  1. My sentiments entirely.

    Sounds like that was something in need of venting.

  2. I would add a recommendation for The Battle That Shook Europe--I'm getting into the Great Northern War, and the author certainly holds no illusions nor minces any words when it comes to describing the realities of 18th-century warfare. Revising the "romantic" notion of that period's wars is definitely one of his secondary goals.

  3. Well said.

    Its amazing how resistant some wargamers are to suggestions that the 18thC was not as enlightened as some would like to believe. Even hard examples are often insufficient.

  4. Interestingly I must have misread that quote before as the golden age for wargaming, I have read much on this period and civilised it is not but for me as a wargamer it holds so much in its image and scale.
    But a period when most of Europe beat each other up constantly can never ever be anything other than as black an age as the dark ages
    Good post
    Peace James

  5. Yes, well said. I recall when the Soviet Union collapsed and Germany re-unified, it was decided that the Volga Germans would return to their ancestral home. It transpired that they were mainly descended from Hessians who'd fled the Seven Years War. So what made them go all the way to a remote part of Russia...

  6. I always thought it meant a "Golden Age FOR wargamers". Pretty uniforms. Battles manageable for a modestly ambitious collection. Nice distinct horse and musket warfare. Linear tactics. It is the 'battle with toy soldiers' par excellence. Whereas with Napoleonic wargaming the armies just get flippin' HUGE and the variety of uniforms gets rather insane.

  7. James, fully agree with your reasons for wargaming the SYW. But my reading is that wargamers in the past, and some contemporary gamers, believe in the myth of 'civilised' and 'gentlemanly' wars fought for limited objectives and where civilians were safe and uninvolved.

  8. I think Terry Gilliam made much the same point at the start of Baron Munchausen:

  9. For the record, the KK quote (from the original rules, not the more recent edition), is

    'The thing I find most interesting about the period is its status as the Golden Age of Warfare'. (Introduction, p.2)