Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Wargame Wall

As I peruse the blog sphere and ponder the meaning of wargames, it seems to me that there is always something lurking in the background. Sometimes bloggers just disappear, perhaps for a while, perhaps for ever. Sometimes they admit that there is a problem and absent themselves from wargaming for a while. Some take refuge in Featherstone books, returning to declare themselves cured. But most of us, sometime, suffer from it.

I’m talking about the wargame wall: that moment when you hit the edge of your wargaming horizon, the end of your current wargame rope. When you cannot be bothered to get the toys out and paint them, or place them on the table. Even the idea of thinking about a wargame fills you with a curious feeling of dread.

The reasons for hitting the wall are probably as many and various as there are wargamers. Similarly, I suppose that the experience of the wall, and any strategy for getting over, around or through it are varied and multiple. Nevertheless, I think that acknowledging that the wall exists and that we sometimes hit it. Naming something somehow makes it less scary.

For me, I am currently, I think, en-walled. I have a game in my campaign to play out, but have not managed to get around to it. I have a Spanish army to paint, with the first few troops undercoated, but in the box they remain. I even have a stack of nice looking books about history to read, yet I have tended to choose something else. Somehow, wargaming seems a bit too much of an effort at the moment.

Seasonal effect of course can have an impact. Traditionally, as I understand it, in the UK the winter has been the wargame season. Most of the shows are between September and April, after all. When summer beckons so do holidays, trips out and gardening. That is not to say that wargaming does not happen, but that the time available is less. However, winter has its wargame problems. In my case, my study / wargames room is cold, unless I heat it, and if I heat it, then the family room is cold. To paint would involve moving the painting operation to the family room, and that seems a lot of effort for something I’m not that keen on doing at the moment.

Seasonal effects are, of course, seasonal. There are underlying issues at stake as well. Perhaps it is recent political events, but my reading of history recently has tended to suggest that most world leaders in history are rather stupid, definitely ill-advised, grasping and do not act with the best interests of the ruled at heart. A wargame, therefore, of, say Agincourt, is the upshot of a decade or so of real princely treachery, mistrust and power and money grabbing on one side, and arrant opportunism on the other. Similarly, seventeenth century Europe (and, in fact, the wider world) was led to disaster by princes who thought their honour and glory were worth much more than the lives of their subjects.

On that theme, I have just read a book on the Siege of Vienna in 1683. The remarkable fact is that swathes of Europe, notably some of Germany, Austria and Poland, came together to beat off a threat to Vienna, the heart of Europe. That this campaign was launched by the Ottomans for their own reasons – namely that foreign success staves off internal dissent – is somewhat beside the point. The fact is that Louis XIV and his allies saw it as a marvellous opportunity to chomp up bits of the west while the Hapsburgs were occupied in the east. And many people think that Christendom only collapsed with the French Revolution….

People are, of course, people. Louis XIV, for all his pride, honour and assumed glory, was probably no smarter than anyone else. He just happened to be a king, and to believe his own propaganda and the sycophancy of his courtiers. Thus central Europe nearly fell to the Ottoman Empire. Short term goals and ambitions sacrifice longer terms security all through history.

For those of you interested, January 30th also marked the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I. The Church of England regards him as a martyr, and some bits of it venerate him as a saint. On the other hand, recent historiography regards the Civil Wars as being largely his fault. I hope I do have a bit of a balanced view on this, but I probably do not. C. V. Wedgewood remarked that he might have been a wonderfully cultured figure as a noble, but he was a bit of a disaster as a king (or words to that effect). The C of E rather glosses over the fact that he was executed not for starting the first civil war, but for starting the second – the epithet ‘that man of blood’ referred to (mostly) scattered, bloody fighting in 1648. But we rarely use history in this sort of balanced way.

All of this has, perhaps, impacted on my wargaming. Perhaps I could be accused of overthinking it. It is a hobby. It is not meant to reproduce history. Historical events have happened and we cannot unpick them. Perhaps all we can do is remember them and work to prevent them happening again in our time. Maybe part of my wall is that, in certain interpretations and certain respects, I do see history repeating itself.

In all probability I need a game to cure my blues. As I said, I have one on the books, but have not got to it. Maybe I need to rev the heating up and get the toys out and chase away the dark clouds. But it would be interesting to know, from my loyal reader, if you have found a wargame wall and, if so, what you did about it. Maybe you are much better than I at separating current events, history and wargaming. 


  1. I am reluctant to lower the lofty tone by commenting here, but I can say yes, I hit a wargaming wall some 25 years ago. I was hugely busy doing work things and family things and other things, my regular opponents had variously emigrated and/or died suddenly, and I was mightily fed up with the demise of figures in my chosen scale.

    What I did was I safely packed everything away for a while, did some gentle reading on history and so on, and came back to it after about 14 years - I had more time, eBay had changed figure availability, and the hobby seemed to have become more sensible. It's not necessary to have a sabbatical of such length.

    Here's a plan. Get a bag of stale bread, and go to feed the ducks in the park. While you are feeding them, remember how much you enjoyed some wargame years ago that still pleases you, and think how you would feel if you could never play again. Then have a little cry and go home and tidy up your soldiers, ready for action.

    1. I'm not sure there is a lofty tone to be lowered here, but it is kind of you to suggest that there is.

      Over-business is one of the issues right now I think. Maybe I need to finish some real life stuff before getting back to the little men. And our local ducks will appreciate you kindly advice too.

  2. Your comment about leaders struck a chord today and made me chuckle. I attended a conference and one of the papers discussed Cnut the Great. The speaker had included a quote from a contemporary source stating that he was tall, handsome, of piercing gaze, but not a man of great wisdom. The source further stated that his forebears were lacking in wisdom too. I wonder if we might not find similar, probably unexpressed views of many rulers.

    Regarding the wall, I've always thought of it as a saturation point. I've either had enough of painting, or my unpainted lead pile has reached daunting proportions and puts me off, or I just get fed up of whinging about dice rolls. There's also the point where I have too many games I want to play and choice overload kicks in, leaving me unable and unwilling to pick just one. Real Life(tm) is occasionally to blame, leaving me valuing my gaming time less as a result of other factors that reduce my joy in everything. Reasons are manifold, but the saturation seems to go in cycles too. I've gone several years at a time without gaming and then return to it somewhat refreshed and more willing to play again. The fallow years do tend to coincide with periods of no opponents, so I guess my gaming is largely social. I find it harder to motivate myself to set up and play a solo game.

    1. I recall, a long time ago, someone paraphrasing a film posters as 'Dr Strangelove or how I stopped worrying and learnt to love the dice' to describe one of their problems with the hobby.

      It is a cycle, I agree, but every once in a while i start to worry that I've fallen off it and can't get back on....

  3. I think that is why I have always preferred to play historical battles - I like to understand why the battle occurred. Putting the battle into context makes me enjoy the battle more. Ancients battles are really good for me in this respect as there is always a decent prequel to the battle that can sometimes stretch back decades! The other period I play - WW2 - is similar in that there is enough of a background available on why a battle is being fought.

    I have never hit a wall where I do nothing. I have slow periods (one lasting 12 years with only a few games a year). I do hit periods when the motivation is not there, and getting a game on the table does not break it (just coming out of one of those right now). I seem to like research and tweaking my rules at least as much as I like playing. To get out of this current slump I am writing some rules for pulp skirmish gaming to play with my children. I did not intentionally do it do get out of the slump. I have been thinking on doing this for a while and just worked on it more over the last few months, and realised only last week I am out of the doldrums. From reading on others that have been in the same boat, I think doing something different, even different hobbies, seems to be the way over the wall; in comparison to forcing more of the same wargamimg that is probably not going to actually help.

    1. On doing something different, I was only thinking last night about my Hussite non-project.

      For years I hankered after hoplite armies, as my first 'proper' wargame figure was a Spartan. I've done that now.

      But for years I've hankered after a Hussite army, as well, mostly because it is one of the oddest ones out there in my periods. But I've never managed it. But would buying more lead and starting another project really help? I'm not sure.

  4. For me, the wargaming wall is entirely related to "real life". There is a point of stress when wargaming stops being fun - for me, it is a hobby that I enjoy in the good times, it rarely gets me out of the blues. So the solution for me is to forget wargaming for a while and concentrate on sorting out my life. What can be good in these periods are regular board games - or even something like Heroquest - played with friends and family.
    I wonder if the wall would feel very different if I weren't primarily a solo player?

    1. I think, as I noted in another comment, that perhaps I need to get the current real life stuff sorted out and then I might have some resource left to do some soldiers. Deadlines are looming, but I do try to keep a sense of perspective, and some time aside for hobby stuff.