Obviously, there are a lot of things that I have not learnt from wargaming. For example, I did not learn about wave particle duality while reading Phil Barker’s finest, nor did I come to even a very slight understanding of Kant’s transcendental idealism by rolling dice. However, within some sorts of limits around the central idea of wargaming, there are some things which I have not learnt by being a wargamer or indulging in wargaming.
The first thing I have not learnt anything about is history. I have, it is to be admitted, learnt a fair bit about history along the way, but I do not think that any history has been learnt as a result of a wargame, or of wargaming. On the whole, historians tend to look down on wargaming and wargamers as being somewhere beneath living history re-enactors in the food chain, and only just above pond slime. Of course, this does not stop retired historians banging off a few books about military stuff to pad out the pension, much of which may be bought by wargamers, but it does not stop the pond scum viewpoint.
The second thing I have not learnt anything about is statistics. Now, we can all analyse dice rolls to those nice bell shaped curves of the roll of two six sided dice beloved of school probability projects. However, even when you try to use them for writing or checking rule sets, the laws of probability only give the results for a single encounter. Wargames (let alone real battles) are much more complex than this.
The third thing I have not learnt from wargaming is any sense that historiography has, in any sense, developed over the last fifty years or so. Wargamers still refer to the weighty tomes of late Victorian and early twentieth century military men for interpretation of campaigns and battles. Now Oman and Burne and their colleagues did their best, but they were constrained, as we all are, by their view of history, politics, life and what armies were like. This may not have been how armies actually were, or, at least, how we now think armies might have been. Wargamers seldom catch up with this, and so the older descriptions and discussions are maintained.
The fourth thing I have not learnt from wargaming is any sense of proportion, especially when related to buying wargaming figures. Walk around any show and you will find vendors happily selling wargamers huge bags and boxes of figures, terrain, books and other paraphernalia of wargaming. Both parties must, surely, know that the bulk of the figures will remain unpainted, unbased, unloved, and the rest might be used or looked at once and then never see the light of day again. Now, of course, it is entirely possible that the vendors know this and really cannot do anything about it. After all, they have to make a living and a toy solider sold is a toy solider sold, whether or not it ultimately gets painted. You might have thought, however, that the rest of us might have wised up a little, but we do not seem to.
As an example of the above, you might be aware of my doubling project, the plan being to double each Polemos: SPQR army that I have, given that most armies of the era spent most of their time fighting each other. To that end I ordered a pack of Roman archers. I needed 4 strips of archers to make two bases for my second Early Empire Roman army. But then I thought: paint an extra one or two, because the random rolling might give you armies with more archers. So I did, and then thought again – just a few more. And so on, until I painted the whole pack of archers and now have, in total, eight bases of archers. Now, while that has much reduced my unpainted lead pile (well, slightly reduced it) I have to confess that I’m unlikely to need all those archer bases. But I do now have archers for any possible eventuality…
The fifth thing I have not learnt from wargaming is the information I need to be a wargamer. I suppose that this is linked back to the issue about history and historiography, but the information that I want, deployments, numbers of troops, command chains, uniforms and so on is simply not out there. Some authors, for example of Ospreys, do their best. But if you try to track down sources and chase the assertions to their origin, you find that most of our understandings of practically any period of history is at best built on air, or a single statement of something.
Even sophisticated wargame authors occasionally fall into this trap, treating, for example, Herodotus’ list of Xerxes’ forces as a real list of units (if not their numbers), when it is just as likely to be a rhetorical device aimed at raising tension an emphasising the Great King’s power. At least the latter method of understanding the list means we do not have to argue or wave away the actual numbers Herodotus comes up with.
Modren wargamers should not be looking smug at this point, either. For all the bureaucracy of modern states, it is often not knowable which units were up to strength, or what the actual TO&E of a particular unit really was, rather than what it was supposed to be. Matching reports from unit diaries and individual recollections, where they are available, with the official paperwork is a game that has defeated many professional historians, after all. And that still assumes that the paperwork exists.
So there you are; five things I have not learnt from wargaming. I am sure there are many more, not least time management, in that I spend too much time writing a wargaming blog, and not enough time wargaming…