Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

When Is Wargaming At Its Best?

In reflecting back on a lifetime of wargaming, I began to muse upon when did I most enjoy the gaming? What characterized the best of the best when it came to fun, interest, and play? I determined very quickly that enjoyment was never related to the size of the game. In fact, I doubt if any gamers would classify those huge multi-table 10,000 figure extravaganzas as their favorite wargame. Sure, the planning leading up to those monsters could be involving, but they were often all wind-up and no pitch! I’ve never seen a more bored group as a group of gamers on day two of a three day game! Inevitably the promise of these games is not met and everybody walks away thinking what a colossal waste of time they just went through and desperately seeking either food or a restroom!

The hobby shop is also not my idea of being conducive to a good game. The distractions are many, you get some people playing that not only don’t know the rules, but are often lacking basic social skills-especially when they are losing. It is a venue for the very young or those without any other option for a playing venue.

Convention games are equally prone to the poor loser, rules lawyer, loud mouth, and no one has any investment in the social group around the table. The truly bad sport could care less about his behavior when among strangers and people he may never see again. Convention games also seem to tailor their complexity and challenge to the simplest form and most obvious of strategies. That makes sense because of the need to be accessible to anyone who wanders up, but it leads to VERY ordinary games, or those that play fast with loads of dice and no thought. That’s why I never go to conventions to wargame. I go, instead, to mix with friends, shop for new goodies, discuss rule concepts with other designers, and to gather a group up for a good meal, non-wargaming conversation, and drinks later in the day. That’s the best of conventions, in my mind. I can play wargames at home, why travel 2000 miles to play an unchallenging game with complete strangers?

Club games can often work well. People do know each other. Most are conversant with whatever rules are being played, and even within a club, sub-groups are created that enjoy the same period, type of rules, or certain personalities. Like can find like and games can be as simple or complex as the sub-group desires.

But the best-the very best-is a small group of 4-6 people that get together regularly in someone’s private home and play a set of rules over a length of time. They learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses; learn to enjoy the little quirks that each person brings to the game table, and everyone understands every little nuance of the rules being played. This leads to games full of subtlety and challenge. The group generally has the best of good humor, because these people gather because they genuinely enjoy each other as people. Most of all such small, private, groups acquire a history! There are tales to tell, funny moments to recall and laugh over. There are silly reputations that grow up around the group. “Don’t ever give the cavalry to Ed-he’ll ride them off a cliff!” “Good old, Mumbasa, hunkered down in the woods as usual!” The rewards and the affection grows within the group when you can throw in an annual back-yard cook-out, or a summer Scopa Tournament. The best of wargames is only found when a great group of people, play a good set of rules, with good humor and mutual regard over a number of years. That’s the best-believe me!