Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why It's Hard to Get Into Historical Wargaming

There was a time, years ago, when historical wargaming was the ONLY option.  If you had an itch to go out and push miniatures around on a tabletop, you had to find a group, and hope you liked the type of battles they were running.  While the options are no longer so limited, historical wargaming is still popular and there are many groups around.

I recently became interested in getting into the whole historical wargaming thing, after having played Warhammer 40,000 for over 20 years, as well as a few other games along the way like Battletech, Warmachine, Warhammer Fantasy, Malifaux, Infinity, etc...  What I've learned is that it's HARD to get into historical gaming.  Seriously.

Ok, well sort of.  For every problem there are solutions, and in an effort to be positive about this I will list them.

The Problem: Rule Sets.  

Oh, rule sets.  Oh my lord, rule sets.  It isn't that historical gaming rule sets are bad.  It's that there are a million of them.  I had decided I wanted to build an army to represent Alexander of Macedonia's force in the early stages of his campaign.  Options for rule sets... Hail Caesar, WRG\Warrior, DBA, DBM, Field of Glory(Ancients), Warhammer Ancients... just to name a few.  Most of these cover history from the beginning of humanity up to about the Renaissance.

Normally, options are a good thing to have.  You can pick the rule set that most fits your level of comfort and play style.  Simple, right?  Well, not really.  Because suppose you look at them all and you enjoy a very simple system that doesn't require too many models.  You settle on DBA.  Oops, what's that?  The people at your friendly local gaming store only play Hail Caesar?  I guess you need to learn Hail Caesar then.  Going to a tournament where they only play Warrior?  Good luck finding a copy of that book.  Better luck learning that system.  (Warrior is an immensely complex system.)

The point is that there are a lot of different rule sets out there to govern historical battles.  That means the community of historical wargamers is divided not only by the historical era they like, but by the set of rules they're currently running.

The Solution:  If you like a particular rule set and the folks in your area play something different, then you really only have two options; either learn their rules, or recruit people to play yours.  Not very encouraging, but at least this is the only really hard part.

The Problem: Scale.

Historical Wargamers differ in their preferred scale.  From what I've seen, the most popular scales out there are 15mm and 25/28mm.  Many rule sets accommodate both scales, but very few allow for BOTH to be used at once.  So if your Persian army is 15mm and you have a prospective opponent whose Macedonian army is 28mm...  You'd better be playing something like Hail Caesar where the model size doesn't matter.

The Solution:  Before buying models, find out what the people in your area are mostly playing.  Many veteran historical players can handle either, and have multiple armies (!) so they can be flexible.

The Problem: Detail Snobs.

I once had a historical gamer apologize to me that his Macedonian Hoplites were wearing the wrong type of headgear for the time period we were playing.

I'm not joking.

He had apparently had a couple of run-ins with the Detail Snobs... People who get picky about details to such an extreme that they become critical of opponents who are playing an army using models that don't precisely match the historical setting for the game.  He was apparently afraid I was going to have a problem.

Guys, I don't know about you, but when I'm looking across the table at my opponent's army I can't be bothered with worrying over whether his hoplites are wearing the bronze cuirass with the 6' dory, or whether they're wearing the linen body armor with an 8' dory.... As long as it's clear to me that it's a unit of hoplites I don't freaking care, and I don't know why anyone should.  Wargaming is not a cheap hobby to engage in.  I am going to build a Macedonian army to represent Alexander's force in the early campaign, but I will *NOT* buy a second Macedonian army when I go to play a Roman opponent if we're doing a battle from Rome's Macedonian wars.  That is, except for specific unit types whose availability varied at different times.  Obviously Alexander's Companions wouldn't be present at the later wars with Rome, but I refuse to double up my hoplite units so that one set has the right headgear and armor for one era and the other matches the other.  Of course I'll play by the correct rules that govern the equipment from that period, but from across the table my opponent can't even clearly SEE what my models have on them, especially if we were playing 15mm.

Yes, I did say my army is modeled to represent Macedonian forces under Alexander and I'll endeavor to make them as accurate as I can from a hobby point of view, but that's as far as I go.

The Solution:  Either avoid the snobs, or play them with the understanding that you're there to play a game, not engage in a pissing match over the shape of your Greeks' helmets.

Most of these problems are virtually non-existent in the more well known games like Warhammer.  Because these systems are proprietary, with the publishers in complete control of the rules, the scenarios and the models, things stay consistent.  Warhammer is a 28mm game.  Period.  There's only one set of rules governing every Warmachine game.  There's only one timeframe for gaming in the universe of Infinity.  This is because these games take place in fictional places or fictional times/events.  Historical wargaming is about simulating history, which is something nobody can claim a copyright on.

I don't know that there will be a solution that unites the historical wargaming crowd.  I don't think I'd want there to be.  Some guys really love the detail level of Warrior.  Some guys (like me) like the speed and simplicity of Hail Caesar.  Others prefer the smaller model counts and simplicity of DBA.  It does create some barriers to new players, but they are easily overcome with a little advance planning.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sexism in Wargaming: A Real Problem or an Imaginary One?

This post is in response to a blog post I read recently that, while well written, is not one whose message I agree with.

I posted my response in the comments but they have to be moderated, and I don't know whether the original author will get around to approving it since it was posted a while ago (April of 2012).

Assuming dissenting opinions get approved.  Hopefully they do.

At any rate, my response here will be a bit more detailed.  The author of the blog I linked to is making the case that games like Infinity are "sexist as hell" and that Corvus Belli is wrong to publish them in that way.  I'd like to address some specific points.

First of all, we really need to be more judicious in how we apply the term "sexist."  Refusing women the right to vote or paying women less than what a man would be paid at the same job are examples of sexism.  Is it inherently sexist to make female miniatures look sexy and not male ones?  Well, I suppose you can argue that it is, but is that really a useful application of the term?  Does it really tell us anything of value?  Are we honestly using the same term to describe institutionalized unfair treatment of women to a gaming medium that plays to its male audience?

See, I just don't think it's useful to go screaming "SEXISM SEXISM SEXISM" over this.  If you don't like the way the models are done, don't buy them.  Simple.  If you want to be mad because miniatures like that are made in the first place, then you should really realize that you aren't mad at Corvus Belli (or whatever company makes such minis) you're mad at the consumers who buy them and keep it going.  Wargame miniature companies will sell the minis people want to buy.  That's how they stay in business.  Simple economics, that.

From the original blog:

"For clarity's sake, I'm going to break it down to the most simple and important of ideas, equality."

What's unequal?  If the game stats for female characters differed from those of male characters, you'd have a leg to stand on.   They don't.  Yes, I get that what's being referenced here is that female models are sculpted wearing much less or much tighter clothing than the equivalent male models.  So what?  You do understand, don't you, that a miniature for a wargame is just a representative counter?  It doesn't need to be realistic in order to do its job, which is to show the position (and maybe equipment) of the character or unit represented by the model.  If it does that, then the rest is irrelevant.  I have a few squads of Space Marines.  Most have helmets.  Some don't.  Anybody want to complain about how unfair it is that some of my Black Templars go bare headed?

Yes, I'm sure the counter-argument is that the bare headed Space Marines are still men.  Again, irrelevant.  I have a unit of Bretonnian Pegasus Knights that I modeled to be female because I like the Valkyrie theme.  Their stat lines are not changed.  And yes, they're all bare headed. 

Again, from the blog:

"I'm going to ... giving examples of - standard, mixed-gender units that display this kind of baffling sexist crap."

What's baffling?  It's MARKETING.  You might not like it, and that's fine, but let's not pretend to be bewildered by the obvious - that these miniatures are marketed primarily to the male demographic.  Here's a newsflash to anyone who's been living under a rock: Men usually prefer women who look like women and not men.  (I suppose that's sexism too.  Perhaps only bisexuals are truly non-sexist, amirite?)  Therefore, in a unit of mixed male and female models, the females are going to be modeled to look VERY female and that means curves, skin and poses.  Men are just boring to look at for mist of us guys, so it makes less sense to embellish them.  Again, you may not like that, but it's the reality, and there's nothing baffling about it.

From the blog:
"Even with those exemptions, there are plenty of examples to show that the men are sculpted in more sensible combat gear and in aggressive, combat-ready poses, while the women get heels, crop-tops, and a pose that suggests they're posing for a men's magazine, not in the middle of a fire-fight."

Yep.  Another newsflash:  The overwhelming majority of soldiers in the world are male.  Female warriors are a rare thing and always have been.  That means the default soldier in a wargame is male.  Modeling female miniatures in aggressive, combat-ready poses make them look MASCULINE.  That's human psychology for you, like it or not.  If a miniature represents a female, then gamers want her to look FEMININE.  Simple.  There's no mystery here.  From the tone of that blog, you'd think the female models in Infinity were modeled with aprons and standing in front of the sink.

"The female Volunteer is wearing the smallest of miniskirts (that's riding up so high that they sculpted her panties), an open, waist-length jacket, and what appears to be a wet singlet.  Let me point out that there is snow on the ground."

I agree that this is silly.  If the characters represent people in a cold, wintry environment then no, it doesn't make sense for one of them to be wearing a mini-skirt.  Having said that, I see no reason to assume that the sculptor goes home from work everyday to smack his wife around for wearing shoes.


Well I wouldn't go that far.  Silly yes... But these are toy soldiers marketed to adult males.  At this point getting hung up on the silly is kind of.... well, silly.

"All the male figures are posed in the act of wild shooting and daredevil riding, waving their weapons around, their asses planted firmly on the seat.  The lone female figure doesn't have a rifle, is braking hard in such a way to put her on all fours, face down to accentuate her cleavage, ass up in an obviously sexual position.  The men are posed to imply reckless power and freedom, the woman is posed to imply... sex."

Probably so.  So what?  Again, consider the target audience.  Consider the points I've made above.  Prettymuch anything other than the aggressive combat-ready pose we're apparently supposed to see is arguably about sex.  But then, sex is the reason there is a male and a female half to humanity. 

("Gender," by the way, is a grammatical term that describes nouns.  Living things to not have a gender.  They have a sex.  Why are we so squeamish about that word?)

"Once more, the male figures are sensibly kitted out and posed, while the female figures are wearing crop-top uniforms and posed like they're modelling the latest in DPM fashion.  These aren't as bad as the other examples, but it's depressing how ubiquitous this kind of disparity is."

Why is it depressing?   You know, if you don't want the character to show so much skin, then paint it so it isn't showing skin.  Here's what I mean.  I have  Bretonnian Damsel mini that showed deep cleavage.  I felt that a Damsel of the Lady should be a bit more virtuous than that, so when I painted her, I painted her so that her chest was more covered by a layer of clothing.  Simple.  Nobody even got hurt. 

I get that part of the issue here is the pose, and there's not much you can do about that without getting out the dremel and some green stuff, but there's always the option of building your army so it doesn't include the objectionable poses.

"Yeah, I'm getting pretty sick of repeating myself."

I know the feeling.

"I don't think it's too much that we, as fans, consumers and players, ask that sculptors to try and avoid this kind of obvious objectification."

You can ask, but the only thing that will make any difference is if the pool of consumers changes their collective minds.  Good luck on that.

And by the way, "objectification" is another of those over-used words whose meaning is somewhat blunted when it gets tossed around in this way.  Objectifying women is a problem, but I'm pretty sure wargame miniatures aren't a threat to human freedom.

"No, I don't care that part of your audience is horny 13-year-old boys. They can get their kicks from the internet like everyone else."

This part is flat ignorant.  The demographic for these games is generally in the 20s and 30s with the specifics varying from game system to game system.  (For example, the average Warhammer 40,000 player is in the early 20s, while the average Warhammer Fantasy player is into their 30s.)  I'm not sure what the target demographic is for Infinity but the system is fairly sophisticated and the materials aren't cheap, so no, horny 13 year olds aren't the main audience.

And yes, if they just wanted to get their kicks, they could get them from the Internet.  They're not looking to expensive pewter miniatures for that.

Now, everybody's entitled to their opinion, and the author of that blog certainly is.  What I have a problem with is the idea of labeling "SEXIST" anyone who either likes or defends these miniatures.  That's neither constructive nor does it give the accuser any credibility.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Whining About Codex: Space Marines and Black Templars

Generally, I intend for this blog to focus on historical wargaming, which is a very different animal from the type associated with Games Workshop and similar.  I won't do that exclusively however, and right now I feel like it's time for a rant.

I've been playing Warhammer 40,000 off and on for about 23 years now, having picked it up when I was in high school.  I originally started with a homebrew Space Marine chapter, then a few years later started a Khorne Chaos Space Marine force (World Eaters!) then went Ultramarines, and then on my third iteration into 40K I started with Black Templars.  I took my old Ultramarines, stripped them down, and gave them a new coat of black paint.  I picked up the Codex: Black Templars and off I went.

Well, we've at last had a Codex update.  I went on over to one or two Warhammer 40,000 themed web forums to read up on the buzz from the Black Templar community regarding the updates to the rules for playing them, since now Black Templars are a part of Codex: Space Marines.

Now, before I go any further, I should say that I LOVE the Warhammer 40,000 fluff.  I love it.  I've been reading the Horus Heresy series like a fiend, (A Thousand Sons is one of my favorites, and inspired my pre-heresy Thousand Sons army) I squeal with delight (on the inside) when Sigismund is mentioned in these books because he was the first Black Templar, I loved the Grey Knights Omnibus... I just love it all.  So I was eager to see if there were any fluff changes to the Black Templars in the new book.

There were.

And this is the part where the Black Templar community splits right in two.  On one hand, you have the players who understand what Warhammer 40,000 is and what the fluff is.  On the other hand, you have the martyrs' corner for those who have no coping skills.

If I sound a little harsh, it's because I'm rather disappointed.  Often I'd go to Black Templar themed threads and the players would lament having the oldest codex in  the game, but that hey, we're TEMPLARS!  We can handle anything with that stoic "get it done" attitude that is supposed to characterize the sons of Dorn in general.  So naturally, I figured these folks would weather a few changes in the Templar fluff.

Boy...  was I wrong... I was amazed at the childishness and crying that came about.  Sure, the community was somewhat primed for it... being disappointed that we no longer rated our own Codex the way Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, etc... did... but hey, you roll with it like Grimaldus, right?

Apparently not.

"Hang up your tabards, boys" said one disgruntled Black Templars player.  I just rolled my eyes.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, part of the Black Templars' theme was an absolute and utter hatred for psykers - characters who could use psychic powers like magic spells on the battlefield.  Black Templars don't use them, and in the 4th Edition Codex couldn't even have allies with psychic powers on the table (except Grey Knights).  This has changed somewhat in the new book, which now allows Black Templars to field allied detachments that include psykers.

And the moaning began.  "Well now The Black Templars are just like the Ultrasmurfs..." wailed another BT player.

Ok, listen... if you're reading this and you're one of those who just can't bear to play the Black Templars under the new fluff, let me explain something to you.  Grab a chair and make yourself comfortable.  All set?  Ok, listen:

The fluff exists to support the rules.  It's there to provide flavor and backstory to make the game more interesting and fun.  It's there to justify decisions that are ultimately made for the sake of game balance.  In the previous edition, the Black Templars refused to ally with psykers because on some level that balanced out extra powers and abilities the BTs had in other areas, most notably, close combat.  The rules have changed.  Therefore, the fluff must change.  It's a bit of a retcon, yes... But I think it's a very good retcon and one that needed to happen.

Let's be honest here folks.  This elephant has been hanging out in the living room long enough and I'm just going to say what Black Templars players everywhere have been in denial about for years.  The 4th Edition Codex: Black Templars SUCKED.  It was a terrible codex.  When we won games, it was through superior generalship and gamesmanship, not because we had a good toolbox to work with.  The codex was underpowered, overcosted, and provided too few options.  Think about it.  We had exactly ONE Troop option.  One.  ONE.  Count 'em.  One.  Crusader Squad.  That was IT, and it didn't even have the tactical flexibility of a Space Marine Tactical Squad.  There was no sergeant of any kind, it couldn't split into combat squads and it made up for it how...?  With neophytes?  Are you freakin' kidding me?  Meat shields woo.  Our Elite options were not nearly as good as those of other Space Marine chapters and everything in the whole book cost too many points.  50 point Rhinos, 16 point Initiates... are you kidding me?

And no Librarians.  Couldn't choose them.  Not even in the book because they're psykers.  Ok, that's fine.  But it's yet another lack of options in a Codex that already had too few options.  Add to that the bizarre rules that had us potentially fleeing the table after taking ONE casualty (Not even Imperial Guard do that) and having to roll Ld to attack any target other than the closest... A lack of ability to hold objectives (ONE Troop option that runs off an objective every time it takes a casualty... )

Seriously, people.  It sucked.

But we played it anyway because we're TEMPLARS!  We can handle it!!!!  Right?  Well I guess not, judging from some of the reactions I saw.  "WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH now we've lost our identity WAAAAAAAHHHHH"

Here's another piece of news for you:  Nobody is putting a bolter to your head and telling you that you have to take psykers in your list.  Nobody.  Want to keep playing it like you did before?  Go right ahead.  If anything, the new Codex gives us more options than any other Space Marine chapter.  We still have exclusive access to the Crusader Squad (which is considerably improved over how it was) as well as being the only unit in that book that can use a Land Raider as a dedicated transport.  We still have exclusive access to the Emperor's Champion and the chapter tactics are consistent with Black Templars themes if not the same special rules we had before.

And finally, I'll just say it... the retcon fixes a lot of fluff issues that I've had for a long time.  For those unfamiliar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe, people with psychic powers are used not only in battle, but they serve as psychic navigators for starships in the warp (Yes, just like Spice Navigators in Dune) and for communication over interstellar distances.  No Space Marine chapter can operate without them, and that includes the Black Templars.  So there's been an inconsistency for a long time... Black Templars hate psykers so much they won't even ally with Space Marine Librarians (psykers) of other chapters but they completely trust their psyker navigators and astropaths?

Really?  That makes NO sense at all.  The "necessary evil" excuse doesn't work either when the Black Templars are known to be utterly uncompromising and hardcore.  The fluff revision allows things to be more consistent and logical.  Black Templars now trust allied psykers who are properly sanctioned just as they do with their navigators and astropaths.  Consistent.  Logical.  Better.

I like it.  I miss the army-wide Emperor's Champion vows, but I think we've gained much more than we've lost, and who knows?   Perhaps an upcoming Black Templars supplement will give us some of those options back.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In the Beginning... there were demos.

It shouldn't be this difficult.

But then, maybe I'm expecting a bit too much.

I'm Chris, a guy who's been wargaming for oh, a little over 20 years.    At least, I call it wargaming.  Some might not, but I'll get into that a bit more later.  For now here it is in a nutshell:  I learned about Warhammer 40,000 when I was in high school and I started playing it.  (Remember the 30 Space Marine box set you could get at GW for $20?)  I played that off and on for a few years and then in 2004 I expanded my gaming world into Warhammer Fantasy, starting with Bretonnia.  (And yep, the "current" army book for Bretonnia is still the same one I bought back then...)

In the last couple of years however, I've branched off even more into Warmachine, Malifaux, and now Infinity.  I also have a Bolt Action army underway and then there's the problem child of my wargaming, and the trigger for this blog...  My Macedonians.

I've been on a real Sword & Sandals kick lately, studying history, reading the Illiad and the Odyssey, reading up on some of the original source material for Alexander the Great and his campaigns... I've fallen in love with the idea of historical wargaming...  It's the reality of historical wargaming that's giving me fits.

A few months ago, I decided I wanted to get a little distance from the kind of wargaming I'd been doing and get into something a little more "serious."  Something a little more tactical.  Something a little less gimmicky.  Warhammer Fantasy is fun and all, but I wanted to cut my teeth on a system that relied more on tactics and less on random dice rolls for bizarre phenomena.  (Winds of Magic, anyone?)  So I went up to DropZone Games in Glen Burnie (Site of the old GW Battle Bunker) to see what I could get involved in.

There I learned about Hail Caesar, which covers ancient through Medieval History in its scope.  I picked up a copy of the book and the Ancients army list and was off to create my Macedonians.  Problem was, there wasn't much of a historical community playing there.  Most of the players at DropZone are about the sci-fi and  fantasy type games.  There are a couple regulars there who are interested in historical gaming, but it hasn't really generated much traction as of yet. 

So I spoke with Tom,  the owner, about helping to establish a regular historical gaming night there.  He suggested that I run some demos of Hail Caesar at the one-year birthday event for DropZone in June.  To support the effort, he hooked me up with a Conquest of Gaul boxed set for Hail Caesar which would enable me to run a Romans vs. Gauls game.

So I did so, got all the Romans (3 units of legionaries and a scorpion) and all the Gauls (3 warbands) together, did a little research to create a scenario (The Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC) and did a handful of successful demos.

The next big step was... Historicon... (Next post)