Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm not really playing a game...

The Land of Counterpane by Jessie Wilcox Smith
(from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson)

...I'm running a simulation.

I am always suspicious of players who claim that wargames, particularly toy soldier wargames, are simulations. Maybe I'm overly conscientious but it always seems to me to be trying to add a spurious legitimacy to something that is just shockingly good fun.

Its rather like trying to tell your father that you're not really going to a rock concert to enjoy yourself, but rather to learn something very important for your upcoming music exam. Or convincing yourself that chocolate is a special kind of brain food and that you're eating it out of duty.

That's not to say that you can not simulate aspects of conflict in a wargame and they can certainly help you think about certain areas of interest (logistics, small units tactics, reconnaissance, etc) in new ways, but I don't think that wargaming (except in a few very specific cases) can offer you any answers.

But it can help you think of more interesting questions.

And its fun.

Which is justification enough in my book. Work hard by all means, but do not attempt to make your play work or your work play as neither will benefit by the exchange.

As so often happens on the Internet, the person who sparked this spot of thinking aloud will like as not never read it, but I'm glad that despite the fact that we will never reach an agreement, he forced me to consider and clarify my own position.

I think Paddy Griffith said it best, in his "Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun" (1980)

"One final word is called for, about the spirit in which wargames should be played. They are not mathematical exercises in which the players sit silently confronting each other, with their brains ticking over like miniature computers. Instead, they are social events; rather similar to dinner parties. The guest list should be given a little thought in advance, so that all the players will fit into that particular game and enjoy it. The bill of fare should be designed to suit them; and care should be taken to ensure that no one is left out in the cold. Even the most perfect set of rules (if such a miracle could ever be devised) is useless if it is used on the wrong occasion or with the wrong trimmings; so it is worth while tailoring each game to its social setting. If this is done thoughtfully and well, the result should be amusing, interesting, and successful evening's entertainment for all concerned."

A good wargame is first and foremost a social occasion, done for the pleasure of the thing; to see toy soldiers shining in their glittering rows, to eat and drink and gossip with good friends, to argue about history and rules and why this should and that shouldn't and Lasalle would never have done that you know. To be at play.


  1. I play games with toy soldiers for fun. That's it.
    (as a solo gamer, though, it is not a social occasion.) :)

  2. I agree with your sentiments completely. Well said!

  3. Nicely put, indeed... wholehearted agreement from this correspondent..

  4. Dear Joy,
    Jolly good to have you back; it's been quite a sabbatical !
    David Corbett

  5. That's the approach that puts wargaming -and wargamers- apart!

  6. May I add that for me there is something potentially obscene in the association of war with game? This is 'defused' when wargamers know and acknowledge to be 'adults playing with toy soldiers': their plays are as innocent, inocuous, as the 'Bang! You're dead!' of children playing Indians and Cow-boys. But people claiming to 'seriously' simulate a bloodbath make me feel unconfortable.

    That's probably why I prefer the 'Lace Wars' as we like to *imagine* them -those gentlemanly officers with lot of delicate Dutch lace at the collar and cuffs of their shirts, trying to outdo each other with courtneousness ("Shoot first, English gentlemen"); this 'knightly', 'elegant' warfare with opposite commanders exchanging compliments, fine meals and wines, almost invitations to concerts and dinners, between battles... - taste *irreal*, taste more like a theaterical play than the 'The Real world ™'. Even more with Imagi-Nations.