Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Historical (?) Wargaming...

While I was attempting to sleep, last night, while undergoing a sleep study, with a lot of wires attached to various parts of my face and body, causing me to be highly uncomfortable, I was thinking about wargaming and especially historical wargaming in general. No pun intended.

When I frequent, less often than before, the biggest (as far as I know) wargaming forum website, I see posts about games or campaigns of historical battles. For example, "Waterloo," "Kolin," "Gettysburg," or even "D-Day." I think think to myself, "why?" Why are historical wargamers so fixated on "re-fighting" battles that happened historically?

I do not exclude myself in this. Way...way...way back, I owned a number of Avalon Hill games, ones which let me game out some of Alexander the Great's battles or Gettysburg or, yes, D-Day. I suppose it was too much for hobbyists to ask them to play a WWII-ish game, and then create a game system allowing them to do just that. No, the designers and publishers had to have historical OOBs, a relatively correct hex map, and CRTs that required a 3-1 numerical advantage for the attacker to have a decent chance at winning a combat. This was likely due to the state of the market at the time, a post-WW2 group of consumers that had recent history inundated within society.

However, in miniature wargaming, this just does not make any sense to least in perspective. Now, I have put on games that were "not-Austerlitz" and "not-Wagram," borrowing many of the terrain features of those battlefields and also the OOBs, but these were really games, if I am going to be honest, that were based closely on actual historical battles.

Looking at different historical miniature rules systems that I own, the majority are set within the period of a given conflict, but do not force the player to "re-fight" certain battles. Any of Sam Mustafa's games fall into this category, but so does Flames of War (which I do not play), and the numerous rule sets from Too Fat Lardies, SAGA, and others. These rules all give the player the tools to play games of certain eras and ages, but they do not shoehorn gamers into only re-fighting a set group of historical battles.

So, why do we do this?

We are not Robert E Lee, so re-playing 3 July 1863 again and again is not going to save the South from utter defeat and it will not gain us eternal glory on the field of battle. Most often, we're going to remember "good" die rolls or "bad" ones, from those games, and maybe a few of us will walk away thinking, "If I'd been there, the battle would have turned out differently." I do not include myself in the latter group, but I have to allow for the outliers from those involved in the hobby.

Over the past half-dozen years or so, I have become more and more inclined to play historical games that have no direct relation to a particular battle. Thus, my various ImagiNation projects, which are temporarily on hold due to my pending move across the country. I have also become more involved in working on versions of the Portable Wargame, which will allow me to play different kinds of periods, beyond what the currently available rules support. This is not to say I am better than others, just that my tastes have changed to be a bit more flexible and ahistorical when it comes to gaming.

But is that really even true? Isn't gaming by its nature ahistorical? Even the values used to represent strength, weaponry, armor, etc., are relative representations to historical entities and not actual history themselves, no matter what name we give it. Of course, this applies to historical wargaming in general, which probably would be more accurately called science-fiction, as the historicity of a game or rule system is only found in the names and titles given to places, pieces, and persons found within them.

One of the early and common criticisms of Flames of War was that it was a WWII version of 40K, and as a playtester (unofficially) I felt the same way. Yet, could not 40K be called, in a sense, a sci-fi version of a historical game? Sure, two systems are not all that dissimilar, using measurements and dice to adjudicate movement and result, only the genres differ, and in some cases not all that much. One could compare an Ork army to a Sino-Soviet one, with green skin and "advanced" weapons, but they are tactically similar in many respects.

I'm not sure there is a definitive answer, at least one I am not qualified to diagnose, but there must be something in us that wants to make that connection between what happened and how we play. I mean, even games we played as children, at least my generation and a few before it, such as "cowboys & indians," which pulled its terms from the American west, and no other. It could have been called "nobles and serfs" or "knights and peasants" or whatever, "cops and robbers" being another name and another variant of the same game.

In my club, we have a game coming up, WWII Pacific, Tarawa. A good friend is putting the game on, and I will play it because he is putting it on, but he went through a great deal of effort to cut out a foam table, closely matching the island. While not a criticism, my question is why does it "feel better" to have named the game Tarawa and not "a WWII marine amphibious landing?" A possible answer is that the latter name is a mouthful to say in comparison. But, my point is that it is a LOT of effort to go through in order to put on a game that the club members will play. Could it not have been a rough oval, with some jungle terrain, pill boxes and bunkers, surrounded by "water" with USMC figures and landing craft? Would the players like the game experience any less if it was a generic title?

Yeah, just some of my questions and thoughts as I was trying to go to sleep.

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