I thought I might try to ponder what wargaming has meant to me as a learning experience. This is partly based on an idea from Ulrich Betz, in a BJET article a while ago, about what your children (or you) can learn from fantasy role playing games. I confess that the main thing I learnt from playing FRPG was the maxim ‘don’t split the party’.
First, it is important to recall that few beverages are improved in flavour by having a paint brush dipped in them. This might seem very obvious (but then it is the first point), but I have found it quite easy to forget when in the middle of painting a bunch of toy soldiers. I suppose that the human mind, or at least the half of it which is supposed to belong to the male part of the race, is not cut out to multitask, and so consuming a beverage and painting is beyond us, and we somehow combine the two. That said, while the paint may not improve the flavour of any drink, with some of these modern fruit combination squashes on sale these days, a good douse of Vajello’s finest may well improve the appearance,
Secondly, it is important not to believe what historians say we should. All history is something of a reinterpretation of another history, probably disagreeing with it. As a corollary to this, any book claiming startling new discoveries or insights or myth busting or any of these sorts of claims is quite likely not to be worth the paper they are printed on. This is particularly true if the book in question is written by a non-expert, and start off ‘As I was sitting on the sun drenched beach on Crete looking out across the azure sea of the Ancient Mediterranean, I realised that Homer was right and every other interpretation was wrong, and that Troy was, in fact, right here…’. This is neither speculation nor history, but simply nonsense. Nor is it even good journalism.
Thirdly, research into wars, battles, campaigns and the like is, in fact, more than reading the Ospreys on the subject. Now, do not get me wrong, here, I like Ospreys, but we do have to realise that they are very short, not terribly nuanced and based, often on selective information. They have to be. Some Ospreys are very, very useful, and some are not. All in all, you do need to be highly selective when parting with your hard earned beer tokens.
Fourthly, I think I have learnt that you will never reduce the size of your unpainted lead pile. In my case, I have a large plastic box which contains all the unpainted lead I own. Except for the armies which are not in that box, because all it contains are my unpainted ancient armies, so the renaissance ones are in the cupboard. And there are probably a few more hanging around in other boxes. My current project is aimed at painting all the ancient figures which I currently own. It should take a decade or two. Furthermore, in order to make armies out of these figures, I will, of course, need to buy some more to fill in the gaps. For example, I recently painted some chariot bases to double the ancient British army. I now have sufficient to place two standard PM: SPQR ancient British armies on the table at the same time. But when I finished them, I realised that I could only just manage this, and if one side rolled for extra chariots, I would be stuck. So more are needed. Finishing is not in sight.
Fifthly, I have realised that reading widely is the only way to tackle wargame fatigue. I am sure you know what I mean. You look at your massed armies and think ‘do I really want another battle with this lot’. You (and I) get stale and staid. Reading something, even if it is out of period, can give you fresh ideas and comparisons, new vision and impetus. So I read the Greek and Roman historians, interleaved with some philosophy, ethics and early modern and medieval stuff. How else do you think I manage burbling on here on a weekly basis?
Sixthly, it is quite possible to wargame entirely happily on your own. I suspect that more wargamers do this than we imagine. Certainly the solo wargaming Yahoo! Group is a far size now, and it seems to keep growing. Furthermore, I think that most wargamers spend much more time planning, reading books, rules and army lists and particularly painting than actually putting figures on the table and ‘having a battle’. As an extension of this, I also think that few people, although they may pay lip service to campaigns and how wonderful they are, actually settle down an fight one out. Many historical campaigns were, after all, settled (more or less) on a single battle. Why not cut to the chase and miss out all the boring map bits?
Finally, a few tips about running your own wargame blog. Mostly, these seem to be used for demonstrating the wonders of the wargamer’s own wargaming life, in painting wondrous figures in practically no time at all, putting on amazing battles with knife edge results which all involved agree was the best experience since the last one, or explaining how many figures have been painted, based and, of course, purchased at the most recent show (or required an articulated lorry to deliver, and even then one of the axles was bent). If you can compete with this, and most of us cannot, then do not bother writing a blog about your wargaming activities. You will only be read by a handful of people, particularly if you insist on considering the ethics and philosophy of wargaming, and not proclaiming your painting skills, ability with a camera, and luck with the dice from the rooftops.
And on that note I shall shut up, for the time being anyway, and await other people’s comments, if anyone does actually read this…