Monday, November 13, 2006

Gaming as History

A comment on my last post made me reflect a little more about what it is I get out from gaming (in the aforementioned comment, Simon points out a link between historical wargaming and the study of history). I most fully concur.I've noticed a couple things along these lines during my own experiences over the years.

My interest in military history preceded my wargaming. I was ten when I started to immerse myself in Christopher Hibbert's 'Battle of Arnhem', it was from there that my knowledge of WWII traces. I was 11 when I came across the concept of miniatures wargaming (Charles Grant's 'Battle', discovered almost by random at the local library).

Making a scenario as 'historical' as is practical adds to the experience of playing the game. Thus, when we recreated classic WWII battles such as the airborne attack on Plimsole Bridge in the (Sicily campaign), the initial assault on Stalingrad, or the fiasco at Malame (Crete) in 6mm - the game came readycast with various roles that each of the players could switch into, adding a 'moral compass' to the simulation.

Thus, at Plimosole, the player who was responsible for Colonel Frost's battalion at the Bridge not only played with valorous troops in a very gritty situation, but had the heightened dimension whilst playing of knowing that real men had had to survive just such a situation as he was presented with, except for real. Thus, the derring-do of his model men was prevented from retreating into farcical make believe by the sobering fact that it had actually happened something like this in real life.

By making the game more real, past history itself becomes (to some extent) experienced.Of course, the whole thing could be trivialised by looking at it as 'playing war', with the insidious effect of trivialising what is a great and tragic dimension of the human experience. Gamers that do this generally run out of thrills fairly quickly, or are so much into their own infantile egos that they become justly labelled 'freak' fairly quickly. But, they can do the hobby's image a power of harm with their worship of war never-the-less.Fear of being mistaken for one of the war worshippers itself acts as a brake on some other more mature gamers, preventing them from prosetylising the hobby as much they would if they didn't fear being mistook for a warjunkie (as I said, wargamers were well represented in this milleniums largest anti war marches).

Another danger sometimes is that, recognising the reality which formed the historical basis of a game's design, one can be sickened by it to the point of not playing the game again. This is what has happened in 'a near run thing'. I have had friends not play the excellent Avalon Hill boardgame 'Geronimo' (very inovative and balanced game of the white man's invasion of the 'west' in the the 19th century in America) because it is too historical, makes it too easy to realise the truth of what occurred, too likely to make you feel physically ill.Overkill on the history, you might say.

More later...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Square the Circle - Myself as Commander

I have just read the posting last entered on a near run thing (a blog I have continued to visit in the hope it keeps the breath of life). It speaks of the existential sickness that can strike a wargamer when they think long and hard about what it is they are 'simulating' - the revulsion at the abstract enjoyment as it builds itself upon historical tragedy. Rob, of A Near Thing, dealt with it by getting rid of his historicals, and venturing out in a smaller way with fantasy/sci-fi stuff. Good on him, hope he keeps on gaming.

From my own experience in my twenties, I remember also going through this 'phase' in my moral development. It lead to a several year hiatus with gaming generally, and then a remergence via a long term fantasy role playing campaign. From there, it wasn't too far before I was introduced to 6mm historical miniatures. And here we are now.

I remember playing the first of my 6mm games, I played the german in a simulation of the 'fourth' DDay beach. It was at a meeting of the South Australian Historical Wargaming Society. I remember thinking about the realities of what I was doing, and wanting to punch out several SS worshipping wargamers who had also been roped in.

As the game progressed, however, I started seeing the game as being more about myself as 'commander', and realised that the commander in 'real life' would have had less contact with the front than I had in the game. I started looking at the decisions I was making as being about minimising casualty while achieving objective, something one has to do when you have no other choices. Far better to get some idea of the mentality needed than to remain ignorant. The experience also led to quite an interest in strategy.

Of course, what made me extra proud as a wargamer was to see so many faces I first saw at that wargaming exhibition on the huge anti war march which Adelaide turned out prior to the present gulf war (over 100,000 marched, the city is about 1,000,000).

Somehow, those of us who have these vital human sensitivities have to square the circle. If we can't, it's not the hobby's fault.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Comment on Rome and Total War

The game takes a few hours to master the controls, but then it's pretty intuitive. A 'short' campaign takes about 20 hours of playing, depending on how automated you allow it to be. I haven't yet played to the point of world domination, but intend to this time round. It takes a long long time, and I find that I slowly get into the rhythms of long term relative peace and intense periods of movement and death. It's a game you get into far enough to decide whether it's worth it in your particular circumstances to embark on the full thing.

A turn or two a night is usually quite manageable, especially if, like me, you only fight out the larger or otherwise most interesting or vital battles (allowing the computer to simulate the other combats).

The battles happen too quick - something like a half hour. You really have time only to form a plan and then try and stick to it. I suppose that is in some ways 'realistic', but you don't get the hours long ding dong affair that used to occasionally happen in the game's predecessor - 'Medieval: Total War'.

Of course, it's only a substitute for a well run miniatures campaign. Maybe that's why I've refused to part with those couple of legions of 15mm republican roman armies that I acquired in my early teens ...