Well the urge has been happening for a while now, and I’ve finally taken the plunge into historical wargaming. It took place a few weeks ago and I’ve finished my first unit the other day. As so many of my friends are having new born babies and my girlfriend will be in America working at a summer camp I foresee an uneventful summer, so I’ve decided to get involved in a campaign that a local gaming club is running over the summer. It’s based upon Warlord Games’ Black Powder rulebook and is set in the Civil War (that’s English/British Civil War, or War of the Three Kingdoms if you want to get pedantic). I’ve taken the role of one of the Scot’s Covenanter Armies as I have an affinity for Scotland and the uniforms are grey making painting quick and easy. My first unit is complete (Scots Lancers) so I’d thought I’d share a couple of pics.
So we play games. And more games. And if our wives will let us, will will do it while eating KFC and drinking Dr Pepper. Life can be good like that sometimes, relaxing with the mates, throwing dice and generally ganging up on the tyranid player whenever possible.
But here’s an angle I feel has slowly been sliding out of gaming in the last few years. And it’s actually due to gaming systems becoming better. Back in days of old when your average gamer thought chunky knitwear, beards and smoking pipes were the height of glamour, games were generally an excuse to push your finely painted (albeit with a roller soaked in blue humbrol enamel) model Frenchmen around a table; while your friend pushed around some equally dazzlingly detailed Redcoats that looked like they had been cast by the teletubbies on a gas hob with lead stolen from their grandmother’s bathroom.
Rules weren’t really that important. What was important was the detailed historical ‘debates’ about how the Redcoats were better shots because this happened at this battle, and how the French artillery was better organised because of this event blah blah blah. Overall it was a good excuse to have a lively debate about common interests while the wife was busy curtain twitching.
The games therefore were based somewhat in history… which meant they were nearly always simulations. No battle ever fought in the history of the world ever was balanced, and the sock and sandal wearing gamers of old knew this and incorporated it into their games. Then came the sweeping reformations of decent games (popularised largely by Games Workshop), and slowly games became, well, more game like. Slowly, games becamed balanced, akin to chess. No longer were battles fought and won by daring generals who out-manovered a much larger force.
What we now play then, with the likes of Warhammer 40,000 is the super refined, super condensed ‘arcade’ version of battles. It matters not that your army is highly mobile, or that it excels at long range combat – you are going to end up slugging it out in a meeting engagement on a tiny 6×4 battlefield. There is no opportunity on a table of that size for fast units such as landspeeders to actually use their speed to their full potential and outmanouver slow formations. You know they are gonna get crumped in close combat by about turn two, which to me seems daft. A unit like that would harass slow moving infantry indefinitely, much like horse archers from ancient history. They wouldn’t harass the infantry for a bit, then run out of table, then get crumped by an ork with a power klaw. Similar story for some of the massive artillery available. Having a tank with a massive cannon ending up with melta bombs in its exhaust after turn three seems unreaslistic. What the heck was happening before the armies closed to point blank range and the battle began?
Then there is the issue of balance. Games are now balanced so armies can fairly fight each other. This is also taking into account that the battle will be fought on a miniscule field. Makes sense from a fun perspective, but life is never fair.
I hope you can see the point I am making. Modern wargames are essentially games with fairness, speed and fun in mind, and are not true representations of battles fought. If you want a more realistic experience, then hark back to the days of our chunky knitwearing forbears. Make the playing field as big as you can. Set up one side in defense for a change. Let the defenders set up all the terrain (good real-life generals will pick where to fight). Make sure the armies do not in the slightest bit balance. Make up some kind of scenario (battles always had an objective). Most importantly, enjoy the experience. Let me know how your games fare!
Remember, you will have more excuses when you lose!
Throughout my vast and generally unsuccessful career of winning games I have played many things. Surprisingly however for me it’s only been reasonably recently (say a few years) that I have actually taken fantasy gaming seriously. It’s hard for me to admit to this folks, it is truly a dark secret indeed that I was an ‘Old Man’ gamer for a long time. During my most active gaming years I almost exclusively played historical games. Ok, there, it’s out. Am I proud? Well yes, actually. There’s a lot more to it than pipes, slippers, beards and models that have had enamel paint applied to them with a roller.
Firstly, historical gaming is actually relevant. I actually learned a heck of a lot about the past, about technology, about diplomacy and politics. It inspired in me a desire to learn history, which in turn gives insights into the present. Somehow knowing why the american civil war occured and subsequently how that affected the USA is more useful than say, knowing that elves and dwarfs have always been a bit twitchy since the war of the beard.
Secondly and most importantly, historical games have a basis in fact. For example, we have proof of the maximum range of a K98 rifle. We know that the average Grognard (Old Guard) under Napoleon was one of the fiercest warriors of the day. We also know that the Napoleonic British light infantry NEVER missed a shot, or maybe thats just from watching too much Sharpe. Anyway, the point is that rules can be reasonably accurate. If they are not then they can quickly be discarded. This cannot be done with fantasy rulesets. How powerful is an eldar starcannon? How dangerous is this magic spell? How fast can this non-human infantry move? Who knows? It’s all made up.
This, unfortunately makes the gamer a slave to the person who makes the rules. Whoever makes the rules is essentially a despot. They cannot be reasoned with. You cannot dispute any points which you think unbalance the game. You are essentially forever tied into the rulemakers way of doing things. There is no escape! Hmm slave… despot… fantasy games… no escape… Sounds like a great marketing strategy! Make a bunch of great fantasy games and soon we will rule the world! GW anyone? 😀