Monday, 25 August 2014
Playing With Toy Soldiers
I did think of calling this post New House, Old Magazines 2. I have been reading through the old wargames magazines which I unearthed when moving house. The main result was the realisation that I was keeping most of them for old time's sake only - there was nothing in the majority of them that really interested me, and I would never read them again. So most of them went in the bin. But I did keep a select few with thought-provoking or useful articles inside.
Particularly thought-provoking were a series of articles on the use of toy soldiers in wargaming. Now, I think of my hobby very much as playing with toy soldiers, though I suppose 'miniature wargaming' or 'wargaming with miniatures' is more like the official title. So an article entitled 'The Case Against Toy Soldiers' (MW 13) was bound to jump out at me. Some of you (those of a certain age, shall we say?) may even remember the article. Basically, it was Paddy Griffith being deliberately controversial by making the point that those looking for any sort of realism in their games would be better off trying some other sort of wargaming than that variety which uses model soldiers. Paddy rather patronisingly lets wargamers such as me off the hook early in the article with this statement,
Please note that the points I want to make apply only to games which are aiming at some sort of historical realism. You can ignore them if your aim is just to have a bit of knockabout fun with your toys, or if you are into fantasy.
Yeah, cheers Paddy. Though having 'a bit of knockabout fun' does describe my attitude to wargaming reasonably well. What really struck me was how firmly Paddy completely missed the point about the hobby. Model or toy soldiers are not peripheral to some practical attempt to recreate the warfare of the past. They are the central factor in a lighthearted pastime that at most aims to create 'historically plausible results' (to quote Henry Hyde). Paddy reckoned that around 50% of wargamers were 'informed members of the wargame hobby' (thanks again) who were seriously into realism in their games. I don't really think that was true when the article was written in 1984, and I'm sure it's not true now. Thankfully, whatever tosh people used to believe about recreating or researching warfare through recreational games has faded into the past. Indeed, how Paddy got to thinking that that was what the hobby was about after reading Donald Featherstone or Charles Grant is beyond me.
What his article pointed up is, I think, an aberration (or, more accurately, a dead end) that surfaced as wargaming began to develop during the late 70s and 80s: the aberration that we really were trying to research past warfare through gaming, and/or that realism was the holy grail of the hobby, and in particular the holy grail of its rules. This seems to be confirmed by the 3 articles in reply to Paddy that appeared in MW 17, one of them by Phil Barker. None of them makes the obvious point that Paddy was just barking up the wrong tree. They all try to justify how toy soldiers really can help you out in your simulation of warfare, or how said soldiers really aren't such a problem as Paddy makes out. I won't bore you with the details of the arguments. They were all rather unappealing I'm afraid.
A little later, there appeared a three part article in three consecutive issues of MW (21, 22, and 23 in 1985) entitled 'The Wargame: Game or Simulation?'. This was by another member of Wargame Developments called George Jeffrey. I remembered these articles as soon as I found them - I had read them with considerable care in 1985, thought about what George was trying to say, and finally concluded he was talking bollocks. Again, summarising the arguments would be tiresome, but after assuming that a move towards 'simulation' was the goal of all serious gamers there was some largely inexplicable stuff about games moving from 'decision point' to 'decision point', and what happened between being calculated by applying known casualty and movement rates. Known casualty rates? Fat chance, I thought, even in 1985. How all this could be made into a workable set of rules was unclear, and certainly not laid down in any examples. Most tellingly, nothing along the lines George was suggesting has ever appeared in any published set of rules, at least as far as I know.
Thankfully, this kind of thing then seemed to die out. We all know the results - rules started to get simpler, easier and faster to play, and wargamers began to return to what the hobby had started out as - a bunch of grown men (and the occasional woman) playing with toy soldiers. Unfortunately, those articles coloured my idea of what Wargames Developments was about. Apparently they were a bunch of wargamers who looked down their noses at people like me, and wrote patronising articles pointing out what the rest of us were doing wrong. But they certainly weren't the only ones thinking along those lines.
I don't know a great deal about what WD get up to, even now, but good luck to them in their quest for new ways to play games, with or without toy soldiers. They deserve more publicity. However, I know which branch of the hobby I'll be sticking with.