Now, I am not denigrating these sorts of wargames, although I confess that they are not for me. The thing that puzzles me slightly is that finding anything out about them is, even in the days of the Internet, really rather difficult. Part of me wants to wonder if that is not the reason why some wargamers choose to play in these eras; it makes the research so much easier if no-one actually knows.
A long time ago now, one of the wargames magazines ran an article on what to do if you feel a bit jaded with your wargaming, a bit out of sorts and out of ideas. Have a look around your local area, it suggested. You might be surprised as to what ideas lie out there.
This may well work a little better in the Old World than in the New, but it is, I think, an idea worth pursuing. History, like geography, is all around us, but often we manage to ignore it, or simply pass it by altogether. Part of being a history ‘buff’ or a wargamer is, surely, to try not to ignore the military activity on our doorstep.
On the face of it, I live in a pretty boring part of the country, militarily. Too far away from the continent to have any decent defences against invasion, probably too poor to be really interesting to anyone except other sheep farmers, and really rather out on a limb, geographically speaking. In fact, so far as I can tell, most wargamers only know where I live because the local market town is named (for reasons I cannot account for) on the Kingmaker map.
So, let me look a little closer.
In fact, my area is a wee bit more interesting that it appears at first glance. To start with, I can think of at least five medieval battles that were fought within a forty mile radius. Not all of them were the Scots against the English, either, although granted that does seem to have been a medieval hobby for the local gentry (and the Bishop of Durham). So that is something that may well take up a fair bit of a wargamer’s time.
Secondly, I live a bit south of one of the most northerly Roman villas in the UK. Oddly, there is a cluster of known villas in the sort of middle reaches of the River Tees.
Why, you might ask, were they there?
The answer, I think, is access to the sea. The river is fairly wide there, and is passable by small boats, so in terms of getting supplies in and out, for the Romans it was a simple business of loading up a few merchant ships and waiting for the right tide.
I suspect that as modern people, we forget (or at least I do) exactly how much easier sea transport was until at least the 18th Century. It was safer from bandits, for one thing, and quite a lot harder to get lost on (provided you stuck to the coastal routes). While, of course, ships were often lost at sea, they could also carry bulk cargoes more easily and cheaply than wagons, even if the wagons were on Roman built roads.
So the Tees-side Roman villas were, probably, commercial enterprises, although who exactly they were supplying is anyone’s guess. They could even have transported grain to Newcastle and the granaries there at the end of Hadrian’s Wall, but that is pure speculation on my part.
A little bit south of where I live are the ruins of a much smaller Roman villa. This was probably not a commercial enterprise, but simply supplied the local estate, maybe with a little left over for buying a few luxuries. Interestingly, the ruins are next to a modern Farm Shop, which performs a similar sort of function.
A little bit further away there are more Roman bits a pieces. There is a bridge, a town (site of another possible medieval battlefield) and a few small forts. Some of these have been investigated archaeologically, and one of the good things about the Internet is that it is possible to find the reports (although often you have to buy them). While these are frequently bogged down with detail about pots, they occasionally give interesting snippets for the wargamer’s imagination, such as destruction layers.
I have not even mentioned anything more ‘up to date’ so far, although there was certainly activity hereabouts during the English Civil War. The local history society believes that there was a firing range over the back of the village. I am, in all honesty, not sure I believe that; ECW outposts did not often have spare powder and shot to waste practicing, although I could believe pot shots at rabbits or similar game.
The point that I am trying to make is that, in parts of the world at least, there are rich layers of history just lying about, waiting for the wargamer to discover them. With a little bit of imagination an interesting back story could be created for most of them, and suddenly you have a wargame on your hands.
You do have, however, to stop, and look around, a bit more closely at some of the places which are in your local environment. As I said, often, we take these places for granted.
Also, I suspect that often we prefer the exotic to the local. If you feel that your local history has little to commend it, then consider this: If there were a large wargaming community in the Far East, they may well consider, say, the Hundred Years War as being really exotic.