Monday 19 February 2018

In Which I Try Out 'To The Strongest'

I was glad to have the opportunity to try out these popular ancients rules, thanks to my good friend Steve who had invested in a set recently. Being stuck in my ways (see previous post), I had regularly looked into buying these rules, then just as regularly rejected them. Grids? Playing cards? No, don't do none of that shit (as the young people say). 

But it was time to turn over a new leaf. All that was necessary was to mark out a grid with some scenic scatter and trim down my units to fit into the 6" square boxes. Steve came over to Northleach and provided the rules and the know-how.

The set-up. It was about 20 minutes work to mark out the grid.

We played two games, sticking to the basics and leaving out some of the more advanced rules. I can certainly see why these rules have been so well received - they are obviously the product of a clever mind, being original and easy to grasp. Just like everyone says, using grids does away with fiddly measuring, and using the cards also speeds things up. In fact, we played through the two games rapidly and easily. Leaving out some of the more subtle rules detracted from the game a bit, I reckon - but this was hardly the fault of the rules. 

With the inclusion of a good, old-fashioned 'march' rule, units get into action quickly.

The use of grids doesn't necessarily mean that the battles appear too formal and tidy.

Downsides? I had the feeling that the games were over a bit too quickly, for my personal taste. A bit too 'wham, bam, thank you ma'am', if you know what I mean. But adding in more of the game detail that we deliberately left out may fix this. Certainly, I would need to spend more time making sure that the parameters for my various unit types were set correctly - this is very important in any set of wargames rules, but particularly so for ancients with such a variety of troops.

"We were just standing there minding our own business when this bunch of Numidians went galloping past right behind us!'
Once again I find that 'grids' doesn't mean 'boring'.

The author, Simon Miller, has quickly acquired a reputation for being available to answer online questions, and being very open to suggestions and critiques. This is greatly to his credit, as is the availability of army lists and amendments as free downloads. Well done sir.

Elephant/heavy chariot face-off.

As the pictures show, with a little care the cards can be kept off the actual playing area, so they needn't become too intrusive. Overall, this brief taster left me keen to investigate further and learn more. I had to be strong with myself and hold back my natural wargamer's instinct to buy the book straight away (it's very well presented and written, by the way). Yes, the benefits of being careful with your cash go to the strongest.

To get the view from the other side of the hill, see Steve's own blog post.

See you again soon.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

My Narrow View Of Wargaming

Over the last year or so I have met some new (and rather special) wargamers, plunged into a new period, and started writing a new set of rules for which I have some pretensions to publish. These experiences have caused me to reflect on the nature of contemporary wargaming with miniatures, and how my view of it is perhaps rather blinkered and probably more than a little old-fashioned.

One of a lovely set of photos recently posted on the HoW forum.

If you are a regular reader you will know my approach to the hobby was shaped by the early wargaming books that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s, most importantly those by Donald Featherstone. No matter how many websites I now visit, and no matter how many contemporary magazines I consume, I have come to realise that the basic impression of what wargaming is about that I took on board back then, has stuck with me ever since. It has done so because it chimes in exactly with what I want from the hobby. 

So, according to me, wargaming springs from an interest in military history. Therefore, all wargaming is historical wargaming. Warhammer, for example? Some weird spin-off played by kids, which is definitely not real wargaming.

Therefore, the first thing a real wargamer does when intending to play a particular period of history is to read lots of books. Of course, all proper wargamers will have a significant but carefully selected collection of military history books. From these, you acquire a basic but sound knowledge of the political and military background of your period, the way battles were fought, the various troop types involved, how they were organised, their strengths and weaknesses, who won, who lost, etc. etc. Then you might think about which rules to use, and after that what figure and model ranges you might look into. Size? Well, 28mm ideally, or perhaps 20mm. I have compromised on 15mm for WW2 games due to the movement speeds and weapon ranges. Smaller than that? Forget it. This is about playing with toy soldiers and any size smaller than 15mm are just markers or counters. One can't tell the difference between 'grenadiers' and 'line', or an MG team and a mortar team. At least not with my eyesight. This then, is my view of what wargaming ought to be.

Off to the Corinium Museum in Cirencester for some solid historical research.

The point of this exposition is not to deride those who don't share my concept. It is rather to point out that I don't, even after all these years, appear to fully understand or appreciate what the hobby of wargaming with miniatures involves, here in the second decade of the 21st century. My blind spots are mostly without any rational basis. In rational terms, there is no difference between Warhammer 40K and Honours of War as hobby activities.

Now, in the case of 2mm figures I stand by my judgement that these are no better than cardboard counters. Not that there's anything wrong with cardboard counters per se, it's just that they are not part of wargaming with miniatures. And neither are 2mm figures. But of course, my Seven Years War games are no more 'real' or 'appropriate' than fantasy or sci-fi gaming, and my careful representations of historical battles are no more central to what wargaming is than any 'pulp' skirmish. This I know with my rational mind, but my gut reaction is always to ignore such games as being not worthy of my attention, and somehow to regard those playing them as rather weird people who have somehow missed the point. Strange, isn't it?

This impacts on my appreciation of hobby trends. The Osprey Wargames series of rules, of which Honours of War is one, are dominated by skirmish sets, often non-historical and featuring fantasy and pulp themes. In considering pitching my ancients rules to Osprey, I foolishly assumed that they would be gagging for a 'proper' set of wargames rules, relating to 'proper' size battles in a 'proper' wargaming era. Of course, after receiving some real world advice, I was brought to realise that Osprey publish what they publish because it sells well, and fits in well with the format and concept of the series.  And lots of wargamers are really pleased with what is on offer. HoW is actually something of an odd one out (though I could hardly have hoped for a better first time experience with this fine company).

Why does stuff like this leave me cold?

Another example is figure poses. Once again, I find myself bemused by the desire for figures in a variety of dynamic poses. I have been collecting some 28mm hard-plastic figures recently, and apparently contemporary wargamers love lots of head choices, weapon choices, arm choices, etc... No two figures can be the same. I find myself thinking, "who the hell comes up with these ideas? - all I want is a set of figures all in the same pose looking neat and tidy, ideally with no confusing choices, and which are easy to base because they don't get in each other's way". Unfortunately, rather like the tubby metal figures with exaggerated detail we are also so used to seeing these days, the modellers and painters have taken over. Strangely and inexplicably, the people who make model soldiers are just as happy to sell figures to those who enjoy modelling and painting, as to those who just want toys to play games with. Yes, there are some people out there buying and painting wargames figures who don't actually wargame with them. Ever! Shouldn't there be a law against this, my prejudices tell me? Of course there shouldn't. Keeping sales up keeps the ranges alive and improves availability for everyone.

I won't even mention my absurd, and rather patronising, distaste for those who strive for the highest standards of figure painting. This distaste has received some airings in the past, and on one occasion prompted the highest number of comments on a post I have ever had. No. I'm definitely not going to mention that subject. Except to say that I still don't really understand that to some people painting figures is more important than getting them on the table and fighting battles with them. But there it is, you see. I really don't understand. The failure of understanding is mine. Therefore, I am schooling myself to accept this attitude as a fact of wargaming life, and no longer get worked up about it.

Ah, the beating heart of the hobby!
A 28mm Horse and Musket game set up by Chris Gregg.

One final problem I can't rid myself of is a suspicion of what I call 'corporate wargaming', meaning the more fully commercialised and generally business-oriented end of the hobby, mostly run by ex-Games Workshop employees. I think the worst bit is the commercial need to constantly re-invent products in order to keep revenue up - the 'codex creep' of GW is mirrored by the new editions of rules from certain other companies that don't really need new editions. I remain very much the sort of old-fashioned wargamer who just wants a set of rules, in a reasonably produced but modest booklet costing maybe £10-15. I can work out the rest for myself. But even here I am changing my outlook. My current WW2 rules of choice are the Battlegroup series, which could have been tailor made to irritate me with their £20 coffee table basic rules, and £25 coffee table supplements which are necessary to play the campaign of your choice. But I find myself embracing the whole thing, as I have come to like and trust the 2 authors (mainly via the decent Battlegroup forum), and I like the rules, which I am assured are finished with and won't be updated just for the sake of it. There we are; I must be growing as a wargamer!

I won't be changing my wargaming preferences any time soon, of course. In fact, I can confidently state that old-fashioned historical wargaming will remain my only interest in this hobby. But increasing one's understanding of what the hobby is, and what it's realities are, is a journey worth making. It's just strange to see how long it has taken me to fully appreciate my dinosaur-like blind spots.

'Til next time!