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.

Sunday 19 March 2017

The Internet - Good or Bad

I often wonder whether the influence of the internet on wargaming has been good or bad.

At first sight it would appear to have had a very good influence, bringing all of the knowledge and experience within the hobby to any new wargamer with access to a computer.    They have only to type a question on TMP (for example) to have it answered within minutes by an array of experts.

There is also a mass of information readily available on all aspects of the Napoleonic Wars.   Uniform information, tactics and strategy, campaigns, battles, generals etc. All available instantly and for free.

But does all of this information make it easier for a newcomer to the hobby to develop a lasting interest?

Unfortunately most of these forums are dominated by a small number of experts.   They are quick to offer advice to any novice who posts a question.  But they are also quick to engage in flame wars with anyone who dares to disagree with them.

The end result of this is often to stifle a genuine exchange of information.  Worst still I am sure it must put a lot of prospective wargamers off the hobby. 

I well remember the excitement of discovering wargaming through “Charge, or How to Play Wargames”.   It took me a week to discover where I could purchase any figures.   I had no idea what I wanted and ended up with a collection of metal Hinton Hunt figures covered in flash consisting of Scots Greys, French Imperial Guard, Polish lancers and RHA gunners.

My first attempts at painting were best forgotten.   But there was no one around to offer advice.  More important there were not a mass of photos of professional looking figures and terrain to discourage me.

It took two years before I realised that a Napoleonic French army did not consist of Imperial Guard infantry and Polish lancers, or that a British one did not always have Scots Greys.   In my ignorance I was happy to play what would now be dismissed out of hand.

It was only after another couple of years apprenticeship that I discovered balanced armies and felt I had to leave my French Guard on the shelves and purchase lots and lots of the new Airfix plastic figures to fight my battles.   The modern British Guards trooping the colour figures were replaced by the newer Napoleonic British and French infantry.

I think the reason I became deeply involved in this wonderful hobby is largely because it was a long voyage of discovery.   For years the first volume of Fred Funken Napoleonic Armies (in French) was my sole reference book.   When the second volume came out it opened great opportunities to paint minor armies of the period.   When both volumes were issued with English text I immediately ordered them. 

The very fact that so little was available at all made each small discovery more rewarding. 

Now everyone seems to be an instant expert.   Novice wargamers ask the most detailed questions on TMP.    The ready availability of free information and a mass of cheap figures, the mass of rule books plus the modern demand for instant information, has removed the fun of doing your own research.

Certainly the internet has enlarged the pool of prospective wargamers.   Without it perhaps the whole hobby would have fallen into decline many years ago.   But whether it has also removed a lot of the enjoyment of the early years is the question that prompted me to write raise this subject.

Sunday 12 March 2017

The Internet and Wargaming

For many years I have read TMP each day, particularly the Napoleonic Discussion forum.   I like to think that it helps me to keep in touch with mainline wargame developments, although I sometimes feel that it is dominated by some not very nice people.   I am always careful to keep any contribution I make non-controversial, as I really do not want to get involved in one of the heated discussions which seem a feature of the forum.

Last week I found a discussion about Famous Wargamer Feuds.   It mentioned one between Don Featherstone and Jack Scruby.   It gave the link below and recommended reading 1962

I started wargaming in 1969 and Don Featherstone had a large influence on my hobby through his Wargamers Newsletter and the many wargaming books he wrote.   I also met him in the 1980s when I lived in Salisbury and used to visit his monthly Wessex Military Society meetings in Southampton.  He was a great help when I started planning my Napoleonic battlefield holidays in the 1990s,

In 1969 I was vaguely aware that there had been some disagreement between him and Jack Scruby.  I also recall that there was some bad feeling between the Southampton and London based wargame groups.   However I did not know any details about the Jack Scruby business until I read the link above.

I was aware that Don considered wargame as very much a game, bearing very little resemblance to actual warfare.  I believe he was greatly influenced by his own military experience during WW2.   And as a serviceman myself I completely agreed with him.   In fact I suspect most wargamers with military experience would do so.

So I was not surprised to find that in 1962 Don was a “fun” wargamer, and Jack a “serious” wargamer.   But I was surprised to find that Don did not feel that any articles should be allowed in their joint magazine War  Game Digest which did not agree with his conception of what a wargame should be.

It make me wonder how he, and many other wargame “greats”, would have fared had they been expressing their comments on a forum such as TMP.

Back then one tended to accept written views without comment.  This may well have been because in order to comment you had to take the trouble to write a letter and post it to the writer.  It was then entirely up to him whether it was published or not.  Even if he did it might take months before it appeared in print.

How different now when anyone with a computer can claim be an expert and instantly degrade any comments they do not agree with.   And if they do so in a bullying way then there is a good chance that even if they have no support no one will be brave enough to defend the original comment.

I have no idea how Don would have responded, or indeed whether he would not have been one of the current “silent majority” who disagree but remain silent.  I like to think he would have put his case and defended his opinions, but in a polite manner like the gentleman he was.

It is sad to see how wargame debate has sunk so low in recent years, directly due to the internet.   

Surely no one has gained.