David Bickley's Wargames Blog

The occasional ramblings of an average gamer, journeyman painter, indifferent modeller, games designer, sometime writer for Wargames Illustrated and host of games in GHQ.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The future’s not ours to see...

I’m probably something of an ‘old fart’ if truth be told, but I really do try to keep up with all that’s happening in our hobby; it’s just that things seem to be rather more nimble shall we say than I’m proving to be. I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with Matt for a while now centred on some of my views on the seemingly inevitable rise of the ‘Goldfish Gamer’ and the associated never ending line of ‘games in a box’. No doubt some of these ‘games’ are good fun; but, are they wargames at all and do they lead their exponents onto more traditional forms of the hobby?
I suppose I’d better try to define my terms first. The ‘Goldfish Gamer’ first; an individual with a limited hobby attention span, finding it hard to focus on anything for a sustained period, the wargamer’s equivalent of the millenial, needing instant gratification in their hobby as in their life. The true devotee of the ‘50 figures is an army’ brigade. They are tied inevitability to the bijou ‘game in a box’, offering a shallow gaming experience needing no knowledge or interest beyond the boxed contents. These are the sorts you encounter on Forum Boards and such asking for ‘support’ for this or that game, never thinking to read a bit of history and work it out for themselves. Or asking, as I saw once, if such and such a unit is ‘legal’ in a game. The latter left me speechless with laughter. Were they expecting a knock on their door at midnight from some Game Marshall or enforcer? Were they afraid of being sent to the Re-education Camp?
I’m sure now you see where I’m coming from. So, do these games and associated gamers qualify as wargames and wargamers? Matt tells me that they do, but I’m not so sure I can agree. His argument is that I and my generation are 50 years plus down the hobby timeline and have therefore accumulated largish armies in several periods, while the younger gamer just starting out may be daunted by years of painting required to build a decent sized army. The bijou game offers an easy point of entry, with manageable numbers of figures, limited terrain and a structure to game within. In many ways it’s a persuasive argument, but, is it inevitable that they will make the transfer to mainstream wargaming? I’m not so sure on that point, any more than I am on the transfer from games of space fairies! Of course, I won’t be around I expect to see what happens in another fifty years...
There is an advert running on TV at present for an insurance comparison website, it’s relevant here because it sets itself up against too much choice with scenes of excess that might be out of some dystopian future. It’s a decent metaphor for our hobby at present: mushrooming companies, endless kickstarters, new rule books, more MDF than you can shake a stick at, and so on. Is this a sign of a vibrant and growing hobby community? Or is it simply more folk chasing the same hobby pound? Pick up an old wargames or military modelling magazine and count all the companies that are no more. I know which option my money’s on here.
So, having chewed a bit of fat and exercised my old fart credentials a tad, where does that leave me? Well, I’m prepared to admit that my hobby might not be yours, but both are probably equally valid within their communities. The vibrancy of our hobby at present owes a good deal to these new forms of games, leaving aside the moot point of whether they be wargames at all, anyone at Hammerhead or WMMS in the past two weeks couldn’t help but notice that! Against that, there were a large number of more traditional wargames as I understand them, proving just as popular with visitors but in different ways.
Having wrestled with this question of the hobby’s future direction, Matt has challenged me to do something outside my comfort zone. There were any number of choices, but in the end I plumped for a modern game, in plastic and in 15mm! Next year should see the emergence in GHQ of Cold War Gone Hot 1983 wargaming. I’ve acquired already the basics for the game: a BAOR force who will be opposed by East Germans. For rules I’ve been looking around the net for free offerings, so far finding a Rapid Fire spin off and a Battlegroup offering. I’ve also acquired several sets of MDF 15mm buildings, aiming to build a factory complex and a couple of farms to break up the table and provide objectives. Still a long way to go there, but I’ll keep mooching about for suitable items. I'd like to have the initial project on the table in time for my 70th birthday next May, but we'll have to see how that goes.
I'll  keep you up to snuff as the project develops, but for now it’s more SYW and AWI units first, so plenty of time for other hobby stuff in GHQ...


  1. Bravo - chimes with my view of the hobby... we live in a golden age for wargaming whether you are a traditionalist or an MTV-gamer.. more figures/terrain/rules than you can shake a stick at.. there are and always will be periods/genres/styles I'm not interested in but hey ho, I take the view that there will be some kind of crossover I'll benefit from.. PS. Thought I'd seen it all but then this morning in one of the online painting competitions I saw an entry for a regiment of "Renaissance Landschneckt Skeletons" lead by a skeleton with a fish on its head... yeah.. me neither.. LOL! :o))

    1. Thanks for the considered reply Steve. Looking on the bright side, at least they weren't zombies!

  2. Room for everyone and without the vibrancy coming in at the younger end, then the ‘greying’ message will become true, with its innevitable conclusion.

    Those of us that game in a certain ‘old school way’ do so because our roots are in Airfix, Featherstone and an exciting explosion of the hobby. It has formed us. We didn’t have computers doing movie style gaming or access to a ‘battle in a box’ outside of the various Airfix Farmhouse type sets, but if we had, our hobby would look even more different today.

    Without doubt, the boardgame with figures side of things is exploding with vibrancy, but for the reasons you outline, with over-production of so many different systems and the demand for the next shinny thing, it seems to potentially stand on the edge of implossion, if a generation suddenly takes another fancy. At least we had WRG 6th Edition Ancients to play for many years befor the nexy shinny thing :-)

    The new style of small kitchen table game, reflected at shows is also reflicting the reality of the limited gaming and storage space that many, especially those with kids, face. Perhaps that is a more honest inspiration at a wargame show, than the 12 - 18 foot table and a mass of figures that I am never going to be able to translate to my home situation. Wargame magazines and wargame shows need to show more ‘real’ gaming if we are to preserve the larger and reasearched army type gaming world.

    I have a local game store that has set up in the last two years simply because a younger generation want to hang out there and support it with their money, without them, it would not be viable on the high street. They stock a lot of games, many of them euro in style and if that gets families familiar with games again, then that can only be a force for good .... set against their absence.

    The wargaming hobby is a nerdy thing, youngsters are making it cool and if only all those blokes playing endless hours of computer wargaming would see themselves as wargamers as well, then perhaps the profile / image of the ‘wargamer’ would be more widely understood and appreciated.

    ‘Our’ gaming is safe for as long as we enjoy it on a personal level. How long it will be viable is a different question, but old school was born in the tradition of being able to operate as a cottage industry and by its nature can continue to do so (we need to better appreciate traders at shows), so we might lose some corporate players over time, but our bit of world should be safe for the foreseeable.

    I say all of this of course not necessarily because I strongly believe it, want to be part of it or like the plethera of box games with a strong Euro flavour, but simply as Devils Advocate to the post and to shine a light on the other side of the coin and to say that gaming today is good, probably for more people than ever before.

    Anyway, I can’t hang around spilling the e-ink, I need to get on with painting my two 500 figure Kallistra 1066 armies if they are ever to see an angry dice or two rolled by excited hands. I have been researching clothing dyes available at the time and want to do my own rules that reflect the close nature of fighting with the Housecarl and Select Fyrd, rather than the separate units that many rules insist on ....... it is all just so good!

    1. I thought I'd been spammed for a mo there, but on reading it through that's quite the most interesting reply I've ever garnered to a blog post. Good luck with the mini chaps!

    2. Erudite as always Norm:)

  3. Nice to hear your moving out of your comfort zone( I'll be staying in my 28mm one!) We're back to a broad church view aren't we? People who are as interested in the historical research as much as the game,others who just want a game and everything in between, historical and fantasy GW has been successful with two armies and a rulebook in a box for decades now, for most wargamers who are mid 40s and below GW has been the dominant wargaming influence,I started out playing RPG D&D(fantasy) I tried to teach myself WRG but failed the Barker language test! I'm strictly a historical wargamer now,my nephew's are both primarily historical wargamers and they both started with GW. I have no problem with games in a box,if you want to collect more you can,if you have the money and time and space and if you can't you can still paint your figures and have a game.
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks for taking the time to reply Iain, much appreciated. Your last sentence reinforces my view: it may be a game, but is it a wargames? We all have our own take on that.

  4. For a moment there I thought you were going to try something drastic, but WWIII is still fairly safe, all is well with the universe.

    1. No need for unwarranted anxiety spoiling your holiday, I'm too boring and predictable to be off the wall.

  5. Both have their place. We're playing a 'big' game of Chain of Command tomorrow that I'm really looking forward to. But CoC is a relatively small game with limited numbers of figures needed to play. It's definitely a Wargame though. On a Wednesday night we try to play a game of Blood Rage or MB Pantheon, or similar boxed game with miniatures. I don't consider them Wargames as such - but they are good fun and make for an entertaining evening. My Ancient Britains will one day be able to meet the Roman invaders, but there's a lot of painting to go first! Meanwhile ST have just announced Age of Magic for SAGA (a Wargame? Or a board game with miniatures on a table?), so old fantasy figures will emerge from dusty boxes.

    1. I'm not so sure I agree that CoC is a wargames as there's too much faffing about before play can start, a common fault in Lardy rules in my opinion. But, that's just my take, no more no less. As you say correctly the others are games. Nothing wrong with that of course, but hard to see potential cross over. Thanks for stopping to comment anyway, it's always good to know what other folk are thinking and doing.

  6. A very interesting post David...
    I am more in agreement with Matt here ...
    Gaming and Board Gaming with miniatures is on the rise and is definitely drawing more young people- male and female-into The Hobby... and by The Hobby I mean playing with painting and collecting toy soldiers.
    Are they Games...yes
    Are the Wargames... mostly
    Are they Historical Tabletop Wargames... certainly not

    It is possible that with rise of the media both social and network... the horrors of modern warfare are all to real for the young and playing with bijou fantasy type games allows them to fulfill there competitive needs without having to confront the realities of people their own age dying.

    There was in fact a downturn in the sales of war toys after both world wars...

    I think a number of them will move over to historical gaming... I know quite a few people who are regular bijou gamers but also have reasonable collections of historical miniatures.

    How do we encourage the youth to start historical wargaming?
    Maybe it’s a case of let’s not discourage them...
    No one will come and join you for a big game of Napoleonics if you have just called them a bunch of weirdos who play with space pixies.

    Goldfish Gamers (a good name for a club)
    They have always been around... it’s just that they are now in a bigger pond with a lot more food and have multiplied. Us butterfly gamers have always despised them.

    15mm and Plastic!!!... Fantastic!
    Although I think you still have one foot in comfort zone... but 15mm and Plastic!...
    I would only have been more surprised if you had said Space Marines ��
    Cold War Gone Hot.... Hmmmmm...
    Chieftains,Centurions,M48Pattons,T55s,Leopards... nice ... what’s not to like... I am a bit goldfished myself ��

    Okey enough of my rambling... we should meet up for a beer and a proper chat...

    All the best. Aly

    P.S. where does A Very British Civil War fit in...?
    I’m thinking... None bijou none pixies and fairies vaguely historical fantasy tabletop wargaming.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to reply at length Aly; as I've said it's always good to hear other points of view and learn what folk are doing themselves. You are essentially more optimistic about the future than I am, but then you are younger too. What kicked all this off was a conversation about what would happen to my toys when I'm gone. I realised they might well end up at the tip if historical gaming as I've known it is gone. So much time, care and effort and all for nothing, scarry...

    2. I think historical gaming will be around for a while...
      I intend to leave everything to my daughter... whether she wants it or not.
      Impose all your toys on Matt... if doesn’t want them... leave them to me.... ;-)

    3. I mentioned it to Matt but he wasn't keen, though I'd like to think he'd keep some for a momento. When having my will drawn up last year the solicitor advised asking friends what they would like and writing a guide note for my executors. I've settled for telling Sue, Matt, Phil and Jon what I'd like. After all, it won't bother me much then...

  7. I agree with many, if not most, of the points that Norm has already made. I'll just add a few of my thoughts:

    By and large myself and my wargaming chums simply do not have the time, the space nor, quite frankly, the interest to put on the 'big' games you see at shows or in magazines of old. I certainly admire those that put these on and like these games, but they are not for me.

    I struggle to find the time and the space to be able to put on a game, even in semi-retirement, due to the myriad pressures and distractions of modern living. So when time does allow, I love the fact that I can get good historical games (well I think they are!) on a 4' x 4' table using rules such as BKCII and Bloody Big Battles. Others may disagree, but thank God wargaming is a broad church as it were, others wise it would be a rather boring place!

    Of late I have enjoyed using 'The Portable Wargame' by Bob Cordery. Easy to set up, gives a good game yet provides many tactical challenges. When does a game become a historical one is one of the probably unanswerable questions...

    1. Of course the circumstances in which each individual finds themselves naturally helps determine their hobby activity. Having retired at 51 and thus had 18 years so far to pursue my interests unencumbered by the distractions of work I prefer traditional sized wargames. Others are free to differ. Your last sentence is your most interesting and worthy of further thought.

  8. "Your last sentence is your most interesting and worthy of further thought."

    One of my regular wargaming chums is a Royal Marine Major (rtd) and it is interesting chatting with him in relation to historical games. Having had to do detailed simulations etc at Sandhurst, he is very happy to have more 'game' in his hobby wargames due to his old day job as it were. Afterall we want it to be fun, entertaining and give some nice challenges etc.

    1. Your last sentence probably hits the spot for most gamers, baring the competition types of course.

  9. Sorry Im late to the discussion David. I have been away on grandchildren duties. I dont want to worry you too much but I totally agree with you, or to put it another way, You agree with me. [worrying isnt it?] The only thing Im not certain about is your choice as regards leaving your comfort zone, 'modern war? is a little too tech heavy for me. As for the 'modern' wargamer well if it leads to somebody carrying on this wonderful hobby then great, but sadly I just know as they will be more concerned about the lists and rules than the actual history of the period they want to convey. Yes I would play some of these games, purely because I want my grandson aged seven to get an interest in wargaming. But surely as one grows up they should put away these toys and play with BIG boys toys ie. large historical armies.

    1. I have no difficulty in being in agreement with you Robbie!