Saturday, 25 March 2017

How many wargamers in the world




I recently read a thread on TMP which attempted to put a figure to the number of wargamers in the world.  Unfortunately I could not find it again just now, they disappear so quickly on TMP.  However from memory it was a very large number, perhaps hundreds of thousands.

It is a question I have often pondered, and never came to any firm conclusion about.   The main problem is that you first have to define “what is a wargamer”.

On TMP they estimated the number of wargamers based on the number of manufacturers and what their annual turnover might be, divided by how much your “average” wargamer would spend in a year.   I would not wish to bet my own money on the answer provided by such a formula.   However it is clear that there may well be hundreds of thousands of people who are interested in collecting, painting, researching and just reading about wargaming.

All of this has prompted me to try to define what is a wargamer.

First they would have to be “wargaming”, rather than “playing soldiers”.  They would need rules which are based on actual historical performance.    I believe that wargaming is an attempt to recreate some form of historical warfare.   Any rules used would have to be based on some sort of historical records.   Therefore anything else is not “real wargaming”.

I appreciate that a lot of fantasy wargamers would not agree with this first principle.   But remember this is MY definition, and I am not trying to convert anyone.  I just find it hard to take seriously any set of rules which pits humans against non-humans.   I accept that it can make an enjoyable game, but for me it is not wargaming.

Second they would have to involve model soldiers.   That is to say figures which attempt to look like historical soldiers.   Board gamers are not wargamers, they are board gamers.  Nothing wrong with that, but why call them wargamers.

Third to qualify for the title wargamer you would have to actually game with them.   Painters are painters, collectors are collectors and historians are historians.

Some time ago I asked this question on TMP.  I was amazed to find that people who never have, and probably never will, played an actual wargame insist that they are wargamers.   One told me that if you call yourself a wargamer then you are a wargamer.   Fortunately this principle does not apply to doctors or airline pilots!

Personally I have gone through periods when I was a collector, or painter, who was also a wargamer.   I am now a wargamer who no longer paints nor collects.

So how often do you have to wargame to be called a wargamer? 

I would suggest that you would need to play a wargame regularly, perhaps once a month, to be called a real wargamer.   The fact that you once took part in a game at a convention back in 1976 does not qualify you to call yourself a wargamer in 2017.  

It becomes more complicated if you play a game once every three or six months, or perhaps once a year.   I think that I would accept that you are still a wargamer, though I would question your dedication.

I hope that you will appreciate that this is all a bit “tongue in cheek”.   No one will ever know how many real wargamers there are in the world.   I suspect that using my definition there would be perhaps five to ten thousand.

I am sure that there are a lot of hard core wargamers who never go public, and are content to play one a week, or once a month, with a small band of friends or even alone.  This happy group is what I would call wargamers.

I don’t really object to the perhaps hundreds of thousands who will insist it is their right to be called wargamers.   It is a misuse of the English language, but so what.   However I would love to know how many real wargamers there actually are out there.

20 comments:

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

A very interesting and thought-provoking blog entry.

Although I haven't done much wargaming for the last six months, I seem to manage to average at least one battle per month overt He course of a year. Sometimes I'll be able to fight three or four in a month, and then have a break for a couple of months.

At present my main wargaming projects are to complete the renovation, varnishing, and basing of my Napoleonic collection, to write my follow-up PORTABLE WARGAME book, and to prepare a session for COW 2017.

Judging by the number of hits my blog gets, and the location of the visitors, the US has the largest number of active wargamers, followed by the UK. The rest of the English-speaking world seem to contribute a significant number of wargamers, as do the main European nations.

All the best,

Bob

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

Thanks for your comments.

You qualify as a "real" wargamer!

Your comments are particularly interesting because of your wide range of wargame contacts through your very inter active blog, and also your long association with Wargame Developments.

My wargame experience has been extensive, but my contact with other wargamers very limited. I have only belong to one wargames club, though I have run my own small group for many years.

So my sense of how many wargamers there might be out there is mostly limited to forums. And I suspect that because they are dominated by relatively few posters they might be very misleading?

regards

Paul

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Paul,

Sometimes I feel as if I am a bit of a fraud, as these days I seem to write about wargaming more than I do wargaming. That said, I plan to go to SALUTE this year for the first time in quite a while, just to get the 'feel' of how the hobby is going. Ironically I can see ExCel where the show is held from the road just outside my house, and the journey will take me less than an hour and cost me nothing. (It is one of the joys of an OAP's Freedom Pass for London's transport system!)

Attendance at shows is a good way to see if the hobby is growing, stagnant, or declining. SALUTE is visited by quite a few European wargamers, for whom it is quite an easy venue to get to by Eurostar. (Stratford International is only a few minutes from ExCel by the Docklands Light Railway.) It therefore gives a snapshot of how the hobby is going within Europe ... but not the UK as UK wargamers seem to be far more regional in outlook. Shows like Partisan attract wargamers from the Midlands and as far north as Yorkshire, and would probably be a better place to visit to get an idea about wargaming across the UK.

Forums are 'interesting' ... but not always for the right reasons. The (in)famous Tango on TMP does seem to have a shotgun approach to what is out there, but I have never objected to his contributions as he has pointed me at some interesting things I would have missed along the way. Others seem to have a very narrow 'this is how I wargame and it is the only way it should be done' attitude, which I find far more annoying. I also find the sort of 'What colour should I paint British Napoleonic Infantry jackets? I've looked (OH NO YOU HAVEN'T!: my comment) everywhere and can't find the answer.' questions very tiresome.

All the best,

Bob

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

I think we all go through stages where we devote more time to a particular aspect of the hobby. Most wargamers, certainly the older ones, tend to be very "hands on" as collecors, painters, researchers etc. And whilst all of that is going on the actual wargaming tends to suffer.

But now that you are retired you will have an opportunity to spend more time on the aspect which appeals at present. You obviously have a lot of varied interests, but I always say that we always find time to do the things we want to do most.

Whatever you do, keep on enjoying it.

regards

Paul

Jonathan Freitag said...

This is a tough question to answer and likely has no definitive answer. Taking the number of manufacturers as a proxy for size might be misleading. How many of these manufacturers are marginally viable in an economic sense? How many are vanity projects started to field their own special projects? How many wargamers or collectors buy much too much to even consider painting and fielding all of their unpainted lead? I know, I buy much more than I can possibly paint. My unpainted Lead Pile is HUGE but my brush is patient.

As for defining a wargamer, I know one when I see one and each can make that call for oneself. Having been at this for over 40 years, averaging about one game per month, with an exclusive interest in historicals, I fit your definition of "wargamer."

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Jonathan

It is interesting that so many people who don't actually play with model soldiers like to call themselves wargamers. When I started model soldier collectors (mostly 54mm figures) really looked down on wargamers. I remember writing to the British Model Soldier Society for advice and getting a very cool reply when I explained that I wanted to find out more about their newly created wargame section!

regards

Paul

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Despite having participated in the hobby for almost forty five years, I now find I am not a wargamer (I fail on the game once a month requirement)... it is like a giant weight lifted from my shoulders..... yours in jest... Steve-the-notWargamer :o)



thistlebarrow said...

Hi Steve

I promise I will not tell anyone!

But you must promise to try harder

regards

Paul

Chris Kemp said...

Dear Paul,

A thought-provoking piece. Consider that by including figure-gamers (a subset of wargamers, but not boardgamers, you are really asking the question "how many figure/miniatures gamers are there". Nothing wrong with that of course. By excluding professional military gamers, of whom there are many, then the question becomes "how many recreational figure gamers are there?".

Kind regards, Chris.

https://notquitemechanised.wordpress.com/

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Chris

Thanks for your comments.

You are quite right it would have been better to ask "how many recreational figure gamers are there?" But that comment on it's own shows how much the hobby has changed over the past 40-50 years. When I started in 1969 anyone who knew about wargaming, and there were not many about then, would have known exactly what I meant if I said "how many wargamers are there". I suspect that there would have been less than 100 throughout the UK.

best regards

Paul

Gonsalvo said...

Your definition is that of Historical Miniature Wargaming, and as such is a perfectly reasonable one, and reflects the vast majority of my interests. However "wargamer" (or war gamer) without FURTHER qualification most certainly does and should include board gamers, computer gamers, many fantasy and science fiction gamer of all the above types, etc. Indeed, I play computer games, will play board games, wrote a set of Fantasy tabletop rules, and play Science fiction "naval" tabletop games, even though the amount of time and money spent on them combined is a small fraction of that spent on my strictly Historical Miniature Wargimng. Thus I think trying to restrict the term "wargamer" to mean only "Historical Miniature Wargamer is not reasonable, as we can certainly qualify what we mean by informal use of the term, but don't have much justification for stating that others who don't pursue our particular variation within the larger tent aren't "real" wargamers. Finally, the vast majority of those who play Historical Miniature Wragames play one or more of the other genres cited above as well.

As to the question of how many Historical Miniature Wargamers there are, even allowing that might include those who spend well less than 50% of their total wargaming time and/or money on that facet of the larger hobby, well that has proved elusive from the days of Scruby and Featherstone! We simply have no reliable way to measure it. I seriously doubt if it totals even as much as 100,00 persons worldwide.

William Butler said...

Interesting topic. While the topic limits the term to only those who game with historical miniature figures, the definition of the word would be those who play games about warfare. This can be quite expansive and even be stretched to include those who play chess. There are three clubs that I game with. Many of the members of those clubs play fantasy miniatures, science fiction miniatures, and historical miniatures and also play board games covering those same things. I have seen board games played with miniatures instead of the blocks or cardboard counters they came with. It has been a while, but I believe it was a group called Wargames Developments who came up with committee games and matrix games covering aspects of warfare. At one of the local wargame conventions, I participated in a game where we were the crew of a bomber on a mission over Germany in WW2. Our objective was to fly to our bombing point and return safely. We had four tape recorders that were our engines which had to be rewound and played again when they stopped running by our engineer. The referees provided the sound effects of flak and checked for damage to our plane. Eventually we were down to one engine on our return, which stopped playing the engine sounds. At this point we bailed out, only to hear the recorder start playing the engine noise. I have played fantasy games where the combat was a better representation of historical warfare than many of the historical rule sets for that period of history. i have played science fiction games that were more space opera than science fiction and others that have a hard science background that projected what the future of warfare might be liked based on developments of modern warfare methods. It is interesting to see that some of those systems that were only in the science fiction games are now being tested, such as laser weapons, chameleon suits, data nets, etc. There is a website called boardgamegeek that is devoted to boardgames of all types. Their definition of a boardgame is anything played on a game surface using representational counters. This also include games played with historical miniatures, along with all the other types of miniatures such as fantasy and science fiction. I have also seen historical miniature rules developed from fantasy rule sets.


I do not get to participate in as many games as I would wish to due to my job and work schedule. My collection includes 50,000 to 75,000 historical miniatures from most periods of history, about 1000 to 2000 fantasy miniatures, and less than a 1000 science fiction miniatures along with some board games. The largest convention game that i have run has about 5000 figures, while the largest club game had about 6000. i have known wargamers who will only play a particular historical period or with only a particular figure scale. I chose 6mm for ease of transportation and not having to collect scenery in different scales many years ago, though I started with 25mm and also had 15mm prior to making that decision.

Regards,

John Curry Editor History of Wargaming Project said...

There are perhaps 200,000-300,000 historical miniature wargamers in the English speaking world, perhaps 9 times more fantasy and science fiction gamers. These are people who spend regularly on their hobby.

There are also board gamers, computer based wargamers and wargamers who do not use English e.g. Vae Victis.

To work this out I obtained sales data of miniature wargaming magazines. Then I multiplied by 10 as an estimate of what proportion of the active hobby buy magazines.

A flawed estimate, but it gives an idea of the scale of the hobby i.e. there are not a million historical miniature wargamers in the world.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi John

Thanks very much for your comments.

I would have thought that 1 in 10 wargamers buy wargame magazines is probably reasonably correct. But I have a real problem accepting that there are therefore 200,000 to 300,000 active figure wargamers in the world.

However if it the case then most of them must be "hidden wargamers".

My own experience is largely limited to the UK, and I have never been a club or convention wargamer. I have belonged to two wargame clubs, and run my own small group for 20 odd years. So I accept that my experience of wargaming in general is very limited.

On the other hand I have read the magazines and now follow internet forums. And I really do not get the impression that there are that many active wargamers around. If there were then surely we would hear more from them and the clubs and groups would be much larger?

Thanks again for your comment. It has certainly given me something to think about

regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi William

Thanks for your comment

I appreciate that anyone can call themselves a wargamer, and indeed I can see that board or committee type gamers can reasonably do so. But I was pondering how many “traditional” wargamers there were out there. I tried to define what I meant, but that was only so that readers could understand what I meant by the term.

The problem with using the term wargamer to apply to committee or board gamers is that you confuse the issue. There is clearly a medium sized industry out there meeting the needs of the wider community of “wargamers” you refer to. And no doubt there would be millions of those throughout the world.

But it would be interesting to know how many historical wargamers there were who regularly push their model soldiers around.

Regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Stuart

Thanks for your comment

We obviously share a common history and memory of the 60s-70s UK wargame scene, and it is against that background that I developed my personal definition of a wargamer. I would hazard a wild guess that there were less than one thousand wargamers throughout the world then. It would be interesting to know how many there actually were, and equally how many there are now. Incidently it is only recently that I discovered that Peter Cushing was a waramer!

Regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Gonsalvo

This post was not prompted by a desire to define the term wargamer, but rather a genuine interest in how many “traditional wargamers” there might be throughout the world.

Had I just put “traditional wargamers” it might have led to confusion about what type of wargamers I meant. This led me to try to define what type of wargamers I meant.

Clearly I have opened a can of worms that I had not intended to.

I do of course accept that table top wargamers might also be interested in board gaming, committee games and chess. And of course they would all qualify under my definition, because participating in one does not exclude the other. But equally they could be called board gamers, committee gamers or chess players.

Regards

Paul

Gonsalvo said...

Paul,

Understood and agreed. . I'd just suggest that calling what your interested in counting what they (we) are, ie Historical Miniature Wargamers is both unambiguous and less potentially divisive.

All the best,

Peter

Ross Mac rmacfa@gmail.com said...

I have to say that I used to find it aggravating in the early 70's that in the US and Canada a "wargamer" was, generally, by default and/or by their definition a person who played historical wargames with counters on a map (S&T etc) while to them I was at best a Miniatures Gamer. To them a Board Gamer payed Monopoly! They certainly outnumbered us Miniatures type back then but there were heated discussions in the mess!

So would the likes of C. Grant and P. Barker still count as Traditional Wargamers when playing in battles set in Tony Bath's Hyborian Campaign? :) (Luckily they also played the real thing.)


I think there may be more wargamers playing in their basements, game rooms etc now than in earlier days if only because houses have grown. I do know some that regularly play as part of a club but not many and those all play games "on the side" as well. It is intriguing to see thousands of wargamers emerging from the shadows to show up and play in games and spend money at conventions.

Perhaps the most that can be said is "more than there used to be 50 years ago".
-Ross
( gameofthemonth.blogspot.ca )

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Ross

Thanks for your comments.

I was never much into board games, other than Risk which I would definitely not call wargaming. I am not sure whether strategic board games were as popular in the UK as they were in the states, certainly I was not very aware of them. I believe that in the 70s they would have been called board gamers in the UK. Mind given how touchy folk are about titles, I may now get a huge response that I am completely wrong!

I remember that I did have a board game of Waterloo, but can’t remember which company made it. I found it a little boring compared with moving model soldiers around. I suspect, though again I may be wrong, that board gamers and model soldier gamers are two different animals.

I am sure that C Grant and P Barker would qualify as Traditional Wargamers. I remember reading about the Hyborian Campaign, though at that time I was not interested in campaigns, and know nothing more about it than the name. I have a vague memory that it was an early Fictional Ancient Campaign?

I completely agree about hidden wargamers playing in their basements etc. Indeed for many years I ran a small wargames club in Salisbury. I had a couple of write ups in the local paper in order to drum up interest, but received very little. Then just before we moved to Spain I was contacted by a serious wargamer with a large collection who also lived in Salisbury. He said he read both articles in the paper, and always intended to contact me, but never did! I suspect that this is very typical of a lot of the secret wargamers. And it is this very attitude which would make it impossible to hazard even a wild guess at how many “real wargamers” there are.

I am pleased that there has been so much interest and response to my blog entry, indeed by far the most response I have ever had. It confirms that I am not the only one who has pondered this question.

Best regards

Paul