Saturday 13 August 2011

Historical Wargamers Have it Easy

I  know that the title of this piece will cause a bit of controversy, but it is made partly in response to  Neil Shuck and Henry Hyde's podcasts View from the Veranda, where they assert that Sci-Fi & Fantasy don't have to do research for their armies. I inferred from this comment that they think that having to do research somehow makes historical wargaming a more serious activity requiring dedication to achieve the goal of fielding an army, whereas Sci-Fi & Fantasy just require one to buy an  easily digested source book.

Neither of them would appear to be anti Sci-fi & Fantasy, far from it in fact, as there is clearly evidence that Neil is a player an collector of Sci-fi & Fantasy wargame armies, and Henry plays Neil. However, I really want to beg to differ about having to do research makes historical wargaming somehow harder, and or that one has to be more serious about the hobby.

Okay, I will admit that I have a research background, it goes hand-in-hand with my job, and I have to be able to interpret the results of research trials and apply said result in my work. This without doubt gives me more skills when it comes to researching stuff, but given that any person who can read can go to a library, or in this age of the internet search on Google, I can't see that a determined person can't find out all they need to know about any given subject. Whether or not what they find is correct, or not, is of course another matter indeed.

Of course, if a person is not determined to follow their passion then that is another matter. In this case they want the stuff in an easy to digest format, and preferably be able to buy the miniatures and rules to go, which is all well and dandy until you realise that one still has to paint all the stuff you've bought up. And this is the Elephant in the room, which in all fairness to Neil and Henry they do acknowledge and muse upon possible solutions.

The other problem is that miniature wargames can segueway into military modelling. This is epitomised by the fastidiousness over the correct colours for painting uniforms and the details of the uniforms and equipment carried. I always have a wry smile to myself when this topic comes up, because of the old adage that a unit that passes inspection is not ready for combat. and any unit ready for combat will not pass inspection. You only have to look at the field expedient changes and modification to the gear that is worn by serving soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to see that this is as true to day as it ever was. In my opinion this fastidiousness is driven by the scale/size of the figures that are being played with. I'm with Peter from Baccus in that 6mm is the one true wargames scale.

Actually I'm not completely with Peter, because doctrinally 6mm is not a scale, but rather a very loose definition of the size of a figure that varies depending on assumptions made about the height of a man, and how to measure said height, with complications like variable average heights across the ages.

However, in principle, smaller is better and I would consider 3mm to 10mm, where the average is approximately 6mm as being a good size for miniature toy soldiers, if you want to play anything other than small skirmish wargame. For me the figures need to be as close as possible to the ground scale that one is playing over if one is going to make the most of the benefits of using toy soldiers, rather than having all the downsides that toy soldiers bring to a game when the ground scale is grossly out of proportion.

The topic of ground scale deserves a blog entry in its own right, because what I might consider proportionate others might consider foolish. I'll come to this another time.

Anyway, I've meandered off the topic of research and historical wargaming versus Sci-Fi & Fantasy wargaming, and why I think that neither is easier to do than the other. Quite simply if you are modelling a British WW2 regiment, you chose the one you want to represent, a period where they are deployed and with a little bit of faffing you will be able to get an ORBAT (order of battle) and away you go. Painting the uniforms is then just a matter of finding a paint that matches the colour the uniforms were, and Bob's your Uncle and Charly's your Aunt.

On the the other side of the coin if one is making up an army for a Sci-Fi campaign, and I will use my own Mummerset one as an example, I had to decide what colour were the uniforms would be, how the platoons would be organised, how many men, what sort of infantry would they be, how many platoons to a company, how many company's to a battalion, and how many battalions to a regiment? Admittedly I could just pick figures off the top of my head, but I know that this stuff comes from doctrine. So I had to think what sort of doctrines would the armed forces of Mummerset have? And then I had to think what was the main arm of the army?

All of this actually required a lot of historical knowledge into how armies grow and develop wen reacting to past wars fought and the introduction of new technology. Of course one could by a book on Ork armies, but I'm not playing Games Workshop Warhammer 40K, and I think to label all Sci-Fi & Fantasy wargamers as people who play Games Workshop products rather blinds one to all the other wargamers that are getting on and doing there own things, like for example Gruntz and the Society of Science Fiction & Fantasy Wargamers , not to mention BattleTech of course!


  1. Nice piece, Ashley!

    It sounds to me like you approach your sci-fi armies in precisely the same way as I approach my fictitious 18th centruy armies -- see my blog at with all the Wars of the Faltenian Succession and Grenouissian Intermezzo stuff. I agree completely that you have to have the historical knowledge of how armies were really organised and uniformed in order to produce a convincing imaginary one.

    I love the idea of Mummerset army! And that's a great point about the high profile of GW obscuring what a large, but often silent, number of people are doing on their own. A subject for View from the Veranda, perhaps!

    Incidentally, I have to correct you on one little point -- sadly, I've never had the opportunity to play Neil in any form of wargame. He's up in Leicester, I'm down in Hove, but the magic of Skype makes it sound as though we're in the same room.

    Neil has indeed been an avid player of all things sci-fi for years. I've only started playing a bit of 40k quite recently, as a way of getting my godson interested in wargaming, but I have played verious fantasy games for years, starting with D&D when I was a sixth-former, and then Advanced Heroquest with the early Citadel miniatures, and finally Warhammer Fantasy Battle. I collected Skaven for years until some dummy at GW decided Doomwheels were no longer allowed, though I see they've now brought them back. You can even see some fantasy/sci-fi stuff on the Battlegames website at

  2. Thank you for your kind comments. I too bought GW40K set for a friends young son to plant the bug, but his father and him found the whole buy new stuff rather off putting.

    However, I then got him some pre-painted MechWarrior clix and he and his dad have really taken to that. Largely because there is no pressure to buy, it is a discontinued game sytems, and the fact that all the models are prepainted. Neither Trevor or Oliver are really into painting and making things at the level required to amass a large army, which is of course the Elephant in the room for wargaming.

    I also have gotten my Godson Dylan into MechWarrior too, and he seems to have become bitten by the bug, as he avidly reads and quotes information from the MechWarrior Technology of Destruction book I got him.

    I love your writing style as it has a charm to it that is sorely lacking these days.

  3. I must confess surprise at the anti-F/SF snobbery creeping back into the hobby, even WI has a snipe this month, ho hum...

  4. Interesting piece. I'm a LoTR fan and the 'historical research' angle there often takes a further twist. Obviously LoTR SBG by GW is based on the films, but there are hobbyists with blogs who have presented some great stuff from their (accurate!) take on the books, many of them fairly easily accomplished mods. On another note, I'm also a Traveller RPG fan, and took to detailing a world as background for a campaign. This was an interesting exercise in Korean War technology world dealing with future sci-fi tech as a possible threat. So the concrete question of mission is sharply posed and the actual level of threat able to be engaged had to be considered. This forced me to reflect on wider political questions in the game. Hardly any of it made it into the gaming session itself as is the way of many GM's carefully prepared stuff, but I'm always more confident for having prepared well. 'nuff said. Nice piece of writing.

  5. @ Steve: Saw that comment too and I like you I thought Ho Hum what a troll. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    @ OjnoThe Red: LoTR, besides Conan,is a fantasy world I enjoy reading about, but not playing as there are no tanks, or giant stompy robots, but I digress...

    I have some LoTR reference materials from before the movies, and as you say there is a rich seam of stuff that can be mined.

    Glad to hear from you, and appreciate the old school Traveller mention. I have some very happy memories of campaigns I played in, or ran for others.

  6. Totally agreeing with you, Ashley. The good news about F/SF units is that if you want straight up "by the book" units, you can totally do that. For example, in BattleTech you can simply paint up your unit in the colors of, oh, say the Sword of Light regiment or the Davion Light Guards, which are well-defined and known paint schemes. However, if you want to roll-your-own merc unit, you're free to go with what you want in terms of paint scheme, organization, etc. etc..

    So really, you have the best of both worlds. Besides, even if you go into historically accurate gaming systems, who is to say that you couldn't "attach" a sub-unit to a unit? Happens all the time in the military (Former US Army here). So there is that. =)

  7. Absolutely right. Real world flexibility, or necessity becomes through reflection of historical events something that is written in stone, whereas at the time of the events things were/are usually far more fluid. For fluid I mean "Oh my God, where is my Mummy, we are all going to die?" kind of way.