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.