There’s an interesting letter in the latest issue of Wargames Illustrated. It’s titled “Dude, Where’s my Hobby”, and is written under the nom-de-plume D.I.S.Gusted. At first, I thought this was going to be another rant about the state-of-the-hobby, and how back in 1971 one could go to a convention, “buy 300 25mm figures, 10 pots of paint, some new rules, have a few drinks in the bar, and still have change left from a 5-Pound note” (this last quote from another letter in WI some years ago :-)). However, this letter touches upon another aspect: the lack of history in historical miniature wargaming.
The author claims that history and historical research is dissappearing out of historical wargaming, and that much more emphasis is being put in setting up games which might be visual attractive, but have little to do with historical wargaming as such. One example he mentions is the popularity of Victorian SF / Lost World / Adventuring in the 30s type of games. Although these games might be fun and pretty to look at, they have little or no relation to historical wargaming, and belong more to the type of wargaming advocated by Games Workshop.
The letter makes a plea to spend some more time on research, and try to design games and rules that model some part of military history, rather than design rules that work well as a game, but might have no relation whatsoever to the ‘history’ of the period one is trying to model. The letter ends with a short evaluation of various rulesystem in this light, although this last section is very short.
This letter got me thinking again about what defines ‘historical miniature wargaming’, specifically in relation to other forms of miniature gaming. It is somewhat pointless to discuss classifications (“Is Victorian SF historical?”, “Is a DBA fight between Romans and Aztecs historical?”), but I think it is more useful to discuss whether good historical research should be present in wargame design. In other words, when designing a specific ruleset, should one try to simulate certain historical events, or should one write rules with a focus on gameplay, and then try to fit them to perceived history? The problem with the latter approach is that one uses maybe one source or even a movie as a basis, while historical research requires that you consult many different sources to get things right.
E.g. suppose one wants to design a game about tank vs. tank combat in WW2. Historical research would assume that you look towards % of casualties, likelyhood of damage after a succesful hit etc. The second approach assumes you design with the game in mind: a game might last 10 turns, and we want each tank to have a 50% probablity to survive the game, so that means a specific %chance of knocking out a tank with one shot etc… Note that this is an othogonal design issue w.r.t. simple or complicated rules. You can have elegant and overly-complicated rules using both approaches.
I have to admit that for all the rulesets I’ve written so far, most of them were designed using the second approach: maximum emphasis on gameplay, and only a small focus on getting things right from a historical point-of-view. So, am I still an historical wargamer?