/Exploring/ Tabletop Wargames
By Lance Mulberry
What is wargaming? If you are uninitiated your first thought might be of generals practicing in a hypothetical war. Testing their wits and the mettle of their soldiers and weapons against a wide array of foes. Truth is, you are correct, but what you might have wrong is the scale of things. Because wargaming, which may imply a grand scale, is actually quite small.
Yes, this is wargaming, and as you had thought, it is about soldiers, weapons, and generals. Only you are the general and your soldiers fit in the palm of your hand.
If you have never heard of wargaming as a hobby before, then what may surprise you is the rich history of the genre. The first wargame was created sometime around 1803 by the Prussian General Staff and was dubbed Kriegsspiel, or Wargame. It was designed so that they could test out hypothetical scenarios on various types of terrain. These games used dice rolls on six sided dice to simulate the randomness of battle, such as fatigue, moral, weather, and weapon malfunction. These games were refereed by highly experienced officers who would then modify the dice rolls based on what they had seen and experienced in actual combat. Kriegsspiel was so successful in training officers to think critically and to explore new tactics that it is often given partial credit for the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian in 1870.
The first civilian usage of wargames came about in sometime around 1898 at Oxford, England, where John F. T. Jane had started a naval wargaming club. Jane would later become the author of the famous series of military reference books named after him. Several years later, the famous author H. G. Wells would write the first ever rulebook for land based wargames. Many of the rules and concepts which Wells put into his rulebooks are still used by tabletop wargamers to this very day.
It wasn’t until after World War II that wargaming became a popular pastime. This was due mostly to the fact that disposable incomes were rising and the costs of manufacturing the miniature figures used in wargaming were decreasing. People enjoyed then, as they do now, the thrill of assembling, painting, and collecting the miniature figurines that would comprise their army. Just as some people boasted about their baseball card collection, others would boast of their armies and custom paint jobs. For wargaming comprised the best of both worlds, it was part hobby because you had to assemble and paint your armies, and part game, because you could use your army to fight against another player’s army. By the 1970s, with sub-genres in almost every category and a gaming club in every town, tabletop wargaming had hit its golden age. However, this golden age would meet its end by the early ’80s as the popularity of role playing games, collectable card games, but most of all video games, started to take off. By the end of the ’80s wargaming was largely forgotten, except for those few gamers that kept the hobby alive.
Today we are starting to see a resurgence in tabletop wargaming and miniture gaming. The cause of this comeback is a topic that is often debated amongst the gaming crowd, with no obvious answer. But it’s my opinion that the genre is coming back partly because of a backlash against one of the very things that ended its golden age, video games. As our society become more and more digitized and networked, people lose that essential face to face interaction with others. Many of these people are growing tired that their only contact with friends and family is through digital media, and they are looking for ways to get back to good ol’ fashioned person to person interaction. This is also true of video gamers. Though they enjoy the thrill of being able to use wits and skill to outdo their friends in an intense, competitive manner. They too are growing weary of their only contact with friends being through a headset or a chat box. Hence the steady move over to tabletop wargaming, where they can use those same skills, and develop new ones, all while playing against friends in a real life social setting. It’s in my opinion that as the craving for real human interaction grows, so will the popularity of wargaming. Perhaps because of this, we are not too far off from another golden age of gaming.