Saturday 16 September 2017

Project Wargame?

There has been a bit of a meme around recently on the wargame blogs that I view around the idea of project managing the hobby. I think, in its inception it was harmless enough, a reflection on what would constitute enough for a wargamer; which projects are those which are to be done before one hangs one’s dice up.

As such, I think the question is, perhaps interesting, but maybe a little pointless. We all know, after all, that there is always that one more project, extra army, more units for this one, a few more terrain pieces for that one. We know that we can give it up anytime. We just do not.

Looking through my archives of figures I have found this a lot. I have a variety of ‘renaissance’ figures, and many of them are, in fact, painted. But I have also found a horde of unpainted figures and other items, presumably bought on the basis of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’. Somewhat surprisingly, given the average wargamer’s ability to concentrate on any given single thing for more than eight seconds at a time (oh, hang on, that is the latest estimate in our smart phone “enabled” world; goldfish, incidentally, can manage 6 seconds, so we are safe from that quarter at least), I have a number of painted, never used figures and objects. The weirdest one of these has to be the Irregular Miniatures Aztec Causeway, part of the Aztec town set (much of the rest of which remains unpainted). Even more oddly, the causeway is about to be reincarnated as Whitby Harbour. But I digress.

Anyway, I tried the Estimable Mrs P. out on the idea of project managing wargaming. She gave me one of her ‘Never mind, I love you anyway’ looks, and then remarked that as wargaming was a hobby, it did not require project managing. Just do things you enjoy, she opined, and stop if you stop enjoying them.

Fair enough, I thought. But then a nasty thought struck me. As you might be aware, I am busy rebasing assorted troops for the Wars of the Counter-Reformation, that is, warfare in the age of the Armada. I had spent some time in reviewing my troops (and ships as well. If you ask me, rebasing ships is a lot harder than rebasing toy soldiers.) While doing so, I noted a number of gaps in the lines. I required (I could say ‘need’, but one never ‘needs’ in a hobby) some more rowing boats, to expedite the landing of the Armada troops on this Fair Isle. Some further sword and bucker men were to be added as well, given that the cavalry would be unable to land mounted and pikes in a small boat would be a disaster, I imagine. Further than that, there was an absence of Huguenot cavalry. ‘Why,’ you might ask, ‘do you require them?’ For completeness, of course.

There is also the small matter of an appropriate Irish army. I had cobbled together such for my previous escapades but now, of course, official, authentic figures were available. Gone (or redeployed, at least) are my bonnacts looking suspiciously like highlanders. On order are the real thing.

And so, looking back, I see a rather alarming trend in managing this project emerging. I have, thus far, resisted the temptation to right down a list of things to do, prioritise them and then tick them off as each militia unit is painted, each ship is rebased and each cannon is remounted. But the temptation is there. Project management is lurking by the door.

Now, far be it from me to be biased against project management. I may simply have had bad experiences thereof, n0t least a colleague who, when confronted with unrealistic goals and implausible time frames responded with ‘let’s project manage our way out of this!’ No, no, and thrice, no. Let us return the idea to management and tell them to think it properly this time. It is not our responsibility to sort out the junk that comes from on high (someone remarked to me recently that they’d hate to be my manager; point taken, so would I).

My other objection to the way of project management is that it reduces everything to money. At least, money is hiding in the background, even if it is turned into weeks or units. Money is the god-idol of our age, and all must bow before it. My favourite story about this was of my poor, benighted colleague who had had managing our major project dumped on him. At a meeting (in the days when I attended them) he exclaimed ‘We’ve got the get this bit done. We should have started it last month, and so we’ve only got two months left!’ I turned to him and said ‘Which bit again?’ He reiterated. ‘Oh, I did that last week.’ I got a long, silent, slightly resentful stare. But it was true.

Anyway, the point is that project management, for all its ability to enable some things that need to happen happen before other things which depend on them, is a bit of a black art dressed up as a science (much like ‘management’ itself. On my lips the ‘m’ word is used only as a term of abuse; Alistair McIntyre’s ‘After Virtue’ does a good job in demolishing the mystique of management. More managers should read it and resign and go and do something useful with their lives).

Anyway, I do not mean to rant (although rereading the above, you could be forgiven for not believing me at all). Project management is something we all do a bit of. I need to buy the toy soldiers before trying to paint them for example. That, in its simplest form, is project management. Most project management is little more than this, incidentally, but beings remuneration that most ordinary mortals can only stand and stare at. I am sure that the original post does not deserve the polemic dished out above for a fairly innocent idea.

In the interests of disclosure, I had better add that I have known at least one nice, human, hardworking and effective project manager. She resigned her post after six months as senior management would not sign off on any of the bits she needed to get done.

It is of course possible that my toy soldiers will do something similar….


  1. "We know that we can give it up anytime. We just do not."

    -- You make wargaming sound like an addiction...

    1. Jonathan, you mean it's NOT an addiction??

    2. Steve, my wife may think so but, really, why would I want to stop? Wargaming is a "calling" not an "addiction!"

    3. 'My name is Jonathan, and I am a ... wargamer.'

      you are among friends. Now we can discuss the wargame solider manufacturer's secret weapon so casting narcotics in with the metal so purchasers are addicted to buying more and more.

      That is the simplest explanation, is it not?

  2. Project management done correctly - think the Apollo Program with lots of smart people, properly resourced and with defined goals - works well and is inspiring.

    Most projects have at best one of these ingredients and fail accordingly.

    I do plan my wargaming projects, project planning assumes a defined timeline which I never bother with for some reason. :)

    1. Project management can be done, and done well. It is rarely the case, though. I like Fred Brook's 'The Mythical Man Month' who explains where managers who attempt to manage projects go wrong.

      And there are no silver bullets, either. Printing Dilbert cartoons and leaving them on the manager's desk is another useful tactic, I found, although they rarely seem to have thought that it applied to them...

  3. Since the lack of correlation between plans and reality was so painfully obvious I have have replaced it by the two pronged approach of day dreaming about my hobby while periodically working on things in fits and starts when inspiration and desire hits.

    To back all this up, once a year I sign on to run a game at a convention where fear of completely disgracing myself forces at least a modicum of focused effort for a week or two....

    1. Nothing like a deadline to force some focus, I suppose. I confess that reality and my daydreams rarely coincide, but that doesn't stop me. Mostly.

  4. It's curious how 'project' so often seems to mean simply 'painting figures', and bloggers rarely seem to me to discuss their research and decisions on organisation of the resulting units, for example. Perhaps these days that's not required, as they will simply be as defined by a chosen rulebook. Also I have a ( purely subjective and not supported by any proper analyis ) suspicion that there are more 'painting' than 'gaming' blogposts. Sometimes I wonder if the end of one painting project simply leads to the start of another painting project - do the figures actually get used in any wargame?
    However, far be it from me to tell anyone that they are 'enjoying themselves wrong'. And a small confession: I speak as one who vary rarely paints ( and never paints well ), and has not rolled a dice in anger in some while.

    1. In my case - sometimes the figures are painted, based and boxed. I've got a classical Indian army, the figures of which are looking at me rather sadly. But I've never invented a reason for using them.

      Project does usually seem to be defined by rule set these days. I remember when I was a lad that there were terrible disputes over whether using army lists was, somehow, 'cheating'. I think that argument has long since been decided as 'no'.

      But actually playing a wargame seems to be everyone's aim, and fewer people's destination. Ho hum.