Wednesday 1 May 2024

Loving the Process

I continue to read the odd wargames magazine, mostly WSS. Issue 129 (the most recent) was pretty good, themed around Bronze Age warfare, but with some interesting non-theme articles as well. But it was the full-page advert on the back that caught my attention initially. There was a new WW2 game in town, apparently - Achtung Panzer! (I'm not much of a one for exclamation marks, but that's what it's called). It's from Warlord Games, as I'm sure you know.

Now, the wargaming internet is currently riddled with ads for the latest Flames of War/Gale Force 9 effort Trash of Steel (oops, I mean Clash of Steel), so my first thought was - what, another tank-only WW2 game? And then I remembered What A Tanker! (yes, it's exclamation mark time again), from 2018. So that's 3 such games now, all from prominent 'historical' gaming companies. 

I was surprised when What A Tanker! came out, as the Too Fat Lardies always made a fair bit about having a lot of historical flavour in their rules ('playing the period, not the rules', as their advertising says). A game like What A Tanker! is clearly one where you play the rules, not the period. But Richard and Nick have never been short of a sense of fun (as their company name confirms), so what the heck. But then there was Clash of Steel (shouldn't that be Clash of Steel!), and now there's Achtung Panzer!. 

It's worth hearing what Richard and Nick
have to say about their game HERE.

It's not hard to see the attraction here - lots of WW2 wargamers find messing around with tanks the most enjoyable part of their gaming. Those infantry and artillery thingies just keep getting in the way and slowing down the game, for heaven's sake. Which is essentially true. So there was bound to be a market for tank-only games. Plus there's all the interest in online tank-only games like World of Tanks, which holds out the promise of a truly vast number of potential customers. So why aren't I interested?

I guess most importantly, these games seem like a different hobby to the one I got interested in in the 60s, and am still interested in now. The historical element was always given a fair bit of importance. When gaming a particular period, it was taken for granted that, as far as armies went, one wanted the whole thing. That was the point of all that research and reading. The idea of playing Napoleonics with just the cavalry, or ancients with just the pike phalanxes, never occurred - except maybe for one-off games to test out the rules. Or perhaps just for the hell of it once or twice. But a whole set of rules just for that type of game? The clue is in that strap line from the What A Tanker! cover - 'challenging and fun'. Of course, the hobby is about fun - I've labelled it 'whimsical' in past posts on this blog, and I stand by that characterisation. But in a nutshell, a game of WW2 with just the tanks seems like half the fun.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, combined arms. Much of the fascination of historical wargaming comes from that. My serious interest in Napoleonics is relatively recent, but once I got some games in I found (of course) that the 'paper, scissors, stone' of Napoleonic warfare was truly fascinating. And the same goes for WW2. Have you ever read a tactical history of WW2 where combined arms wasn't considered vital? I don't think I have. To me at least, these tank-only games are a step back, and look a lot less fun than the ones I'm used to playing.

There is also the 'barrier to entry' argument, I suppose. These games, it is hoped, will get Warhammer gamers into historical (well, sort of historical) gaming. And Napoleonic gamers can get into WW2 just by buying a handful of tanks (plus an expensive rule book). The 'barrier to entry' thing is an interesting concept, one which we will all have experienced. The thought that it might take many months, even years, to get into that new period, to get to play the games you want to, is sometimes not very encouraging. But here we get to the reason behind the title to this post.

Yes, that's right. All that effort, researching, buying (when you can afford it), painting, writing rules or choosing and learning commercial ones, and playing games that might last more than 45 minutes  - it's what the hobby is. These things shouldn't be viewed as barriers to entry. The idea is that you're supposed to enjoy that shit. I think that's something that saddens me these days - those things that I learnt were part of our pastime are now 'barriers to entry'. As mindfulness tells us, the key to success is loving the process. Finding joy in the process. Not discarding the process for a quick fix. Which is why I find these three games not worth my time.

In my case, there's also the point that I'm not really bothered about encouraging young Games Workshop enthusiasts, or any other young people for that matter, into the hobby. I'd prefer them to get into a proper hobby, like football, or kayaking, or restoring old cars, or photography. Wargaming? That's for old tossers like me, you young fools.

Well, I think that's about it. I guess I wrote this because finding an ad for a third, high-profile tanks-only game kind of depressed me, and I wanted to explain to myself why. I've never been interested in World of Tanks, and I'm not interested in these new tabletop games either. It's like life really - I'd quite like to have a go at the whole thing, not just a bit of it. But that's just me. As an ex-editor of Minaiture Wargames once wrote - "it's all fantasy anyway". He's basically right, of course. We're just playing with our toys. So if you like and enjoy these games, good luck to you. I just don't think I'll be joining you.

Over and out. 'Til next time. (No exclamation mark this time around).

EDIT: I just noticed on the CoS packaging the phrase 'Complete WW2 Starter Set'. What is that supposed to mean? A starter set for the whole of WW2? I'm reminded of the description of the Games Workshop 'Lord of the Rings Strategy Game', which was of course a skirmish game. All a bit meaningless, and a bit misleading, IMHO.


Jonathan Freitag said...

Decent rant, Keith, and one with which I concur. I do think “Over and out.” should have carried an exclamation point!

Donnie McGibbon said...

Can't argue with any of the points you put across, pretty much agree with everything you say. Good post!

Neil Patterson said...

While I'm not supporting these games from any sort of standpoint as they don't interest me, I would contest some of your argument and suggest that by concentrating on one arm, they are potentially MORE historically accurate than most of the WW2 rules currently in vogue.
Surely not you cry, combined arms, like the interaction of line, column and square in the Nappy period are "essential" "to capture the flavour of the period and reflect the historical tactics?"
In a word, no.
It all rather depends on what level the game is operating at and what the player represents.
Most wargames rules are pitched at a low level, with squads, platoons, possibly companies and battalions for WW2 and a bit earlier and later with Nappys focussing on battalions, regiments, brigades and divisions.
And yet simultaneously, they actually are played out with a much higher organisational mind-set and resources a commander at that level could only dream of....
So you have a WW2 game with a "platoon" of infantry, supported by one or two tanks, some artillery, maybe even a plane or two....
The Nappy player represents Nappy himself or one of his marshals, yet forms battalions into squares, sends batteries of artillery to support his cavalry etc...
A platoon commander would concentrate on his arm of service, everything else was probably under someone else's control and needed to be requested, or persuaded or even forced (Hans Luck with 88mm flak guns) to support you.
Few rules force you to struggle with support requests; why? Because it's not much fun.Similarly, Nappy makes individual units change formation, wheel and fire. Why? Because it's what wargamers want and expect.

All of this gives wargamers a distorted view of real war and has now become the norm; justification is that it's "fun".

In theory, being a tank commander in charge of three tanks should give a more "realistic" view, yet again from what I've seen of "what a tanker" games it doesn't as tanks are allowed to roam all over and act independently, each under the control of a player.....

They are all just games when it comes down to it; whether good or bad is in the eye of the beholder.....

Keith Flint said...

Thanks Neil. Yes, I've always assumed that a wargame allows me to be the general in charge of the army, the officer aiming that gun battery and the lieutenant in charge of the light infantry detachment. But that doesn't neccessarily mean the game is less 'realistic', IMHO. But there's no disagreeing with your final sentence. Your comment on What a Tanker is quite telling.

pancerni said...

Weeks of boredom punctuated with seconds of sheer terror. Ear splitting noise layered with exhaustion and hunger.
Thankfully we just play games.

Keith Flint said...

@pancerni - amen to that.

Ed M said...

The idea that it is too much to expect anyone (young or old) take the time to do a bit of reading to inform their gaming, and/or to put forces on the table that conform to a set of guidelines, is belied by the time and energy that "alt" gamers dedicate to the ins and outs of the every expanding volumes of "lore" behind their factions and a dogmatic attention to detail with the rules for compiling army lists.

Nevertheless, I don't think we should start calling history "lore" just to trick a few people into trying it.

Keith Flint said...

Yes indeed Ed. Forunately, a great many current gamers still take the time to enter fully into the hobby, doing their research and trying to get the full flavour of an historical period - as far as is possible without forgetting that we're playing toy soldiers. Those 2 apparently conflicting concepts certainly present a fascinating paradox.

Steve J. said...

When I saw the 'What a Tanker!' Stalinggrad game on Blog posts from the Salute show, my first thought was; where are the supporting infantry? Yes it looked spectacular but no tank crew in their right mind would have done that, based upon my reading of WWII actions.

Personally I love BKCII as you know, due to it's need for a combined arms approach, to allow one to achieve their objectives, again something that you read about again and again in battle accounts from WWII.

For me, half the fun of the hobby is the research and building up knowledge of a period you are interested in, which greatly enriches the experience when you finally get you toys onto the table.

Keith Flint said...

Very well put Steve. My thoughts exactly.

Pieter Roos said...

Of course “real” WWII relied on combined arms. Well, except for the British early war when the tanks tended to ignore all the other arms, then wonder why they got shot up by the Germans and Italians operating tanks and guns together. Even the Germans had a lot of difficulty coordinating combined arms, and kept changing organizations to find the right tank/infantry ratio. I recall in my early years playing plenty of WRG and Tractics games where the infantry, if present at all, trudged slowly up from the base line while the tanks fought the main action, and often didn’t reach a good fighting position before the game ended! Ultimately, these are for a different gamer. One unlikely to do deep historical research aside from what the game manufacturer provides. These are more like “Warhammer 40k, but for Historicals”, complete with army lists to tweak for the competitive edge, ideally all supplied by the same company that publishes the rules.

Keith Flint said...

"I recall in my early years playing plenty of WRG and Tractics games where the infantry, if present at all, trudged slowly up from the base line while the tanks fought the main action."

Yes indeed. I never did understand that 50mm/2" infantry move. Crazy.