Friday, 30 November 2012

Lacking in the Force Was I

Wednesday's first try out of X-Wing was fun, but the favourable odds didn't pay off and my x-wing blew up before I could take out the second tie fighter.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Joy and Art of Participation Games

A couple of weeks ago I told you I was excited about two projects which I couldn’t tell about yet. And now I can reveal the first one: we’re going to make an e-book on participation games.

Mummy participation game, 2003. Photo Rob Koppendraier

So who are 'we' and how did this come about? We are wargaming club Murphy’s Heroes from Delft, the Netherlands. In 2014 our club will be 25 years old, no mean feat for any organisation and especially so for one that’s only based on the spare time of its members. So naturally this is something we want to celebrate.

As committee of the club, but more so because most of us have been a member of this club from the start, or a very long time at least, we wanted to do something special. Something that:
  • we could give to he members to celebrate this milestone
  • we could give to non-members to show what an awesome bunch of people we are
  • would show our creativity and the things our club is best known for
  • would engage lots of people in creating it

A-Team participation game, 2010

We came up with participation games. The club has a long tradition of games designed to attract strangers to our tables and engage. This made us a well known presence in the Dutch and international gaming scene and a welcome guest at shows of other clubs. It is also a source of great pride.

Participation games are different from just demonstration games because they don’t focus on the beautiful terrain and miniatures (although that can also be an important part) but on getting people to join in and experience the fun of playing. This requires an extra effort to design rules and make them work towards speed, action and fun.

But while staging a participation game is fun and rewarding, we feel it would be even better if we collect our experience and give it away, This will not only remind people of what we’ve done, it will also encourage them to join in. Because that is what we want to do the most: persuade people to do participation games themselves.

FRAG participation game, 2005. Photo Rob Koppendraier

So in 2013 we want to create Murphy´s Heroes Cookbook for Participation Games. We want to do this with our club members, but also with those from outside. Many clubs have designed successful participation games and we would like to include that experience and those examples into the cookbook. For example, I´m thinking of the legendary Breakfast at the Bastion game that was based on a scene from the Three Musketeers and which the Pike & Shot Society used to run,.

I hope that those of you that follow this blog and have experience with participation games are willing to come forward with examples, ideas, experience or even gaming materials and pictures of games they’ve designed and run. Or the games that you will design this year out of inspiration.

It is our intention to collect these throughout 2013 and publish the full version of MHC around May 2014.

Maybe you can understand now why I was so excited.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Five Blogs For You To Enjoy - and a few more

It's always nice to be recognised for your efforts and so I'm very happy that Aaron Hunt of the Dulce et Decorum Est blog gave me the Liebster Blog Award. Especially for the kind words he used explaining his decision. That means a lot to me.

The further advantage of the Liebster Award is that I get to point you to other blogs that I enjoy reading. These are the rules of the Award:
  • Copy and paste the award on your Blog linking it to the blogger who has given it to you.
  • Pass the award to your top 5 favorite Blogs with fewer than 200 followers by leaving a comment on one of their posts to notify them that they have won the award
  • List your nominations (complete with links) on your own Blog.
I think I can do that. I gave a short list of my favourite blog wrecks a few months ago of blogs that I would like to see resurface again. But this is a much tougher challenge. To make my job a bit easier, I won't give the award to blogs that I know have already received the Liebster and to those that I've discovered only recently as part of the Am I a Proper Wargamer discussion, as I haven't had time to take them all in.

Furthermore, I will try to pick the best entries in five categories. Because Liebster is primarily a miniature wargaming meme I will focus on that. And as the Frontline Gamer once put it so well: there's really three sides to (miniature) wargaming. There's the modelling and painting, the gaming and the background study. So these will make up my first three categories. But because I don´t see a big gap between miniature wargaming and board gaming there will be a boardgaming blog as fourth category and finally an extra category to keep my options open.

Front page of one of the Squadron Forward rules, available through Too Fat Lardies

The first section is that of those whose creativity is focused on the rules of the game. The first winner is Joe Legan, whose development of campaign settings for all sorts of miniature rules at Platoon Forward  I think is a fantastic service to gamers. Campaigns are the best way to enjoy gaming. Other contenders in this section are the reflections on Wargaming4GrownUps and David Crook of Wargaming Odysee has been steadfast pursuing his block rules.

Screenshot from Dark Age Wargaming

In the military history section, Dark Age Wargaming by Historian On The Edge comes out on top as it has some of the best articles on the subject and has been inspiring to my Dux Britanniarum endeavours.  Also highly recommended comes Midlist Writer by Sean McLachlan for exotic travel with a wargaming theme, like Iraq and Ethiopia.

Out of contention: Bob Cordery of Wargaming Miscellany and Big Lee Hadley often make me jealous of their trips to historical sites and museums. Jim Hale of Arlequins Worlds has these really deep backgrounds on many wars. Both Bob and Jim actually have a big part of rules development as well, so transcend the categories.

Pijlie's scratch built inn, as photographed by himself
The modelling and painting category goes to Jan-Willem van der Pijl's Pijlie's Wargame Blog. Excellent painting and modelling, especially his 17th century inn. Other Dutch blogs worthy of mention are René van den Assem's Paint-In and Michael Fisher's MiniStories which show the high quality of painting around here.

Other favourites like Analogue Hobbies (I love the WWI in Grayscale), Trouble at t´Mill and Sidney Roundwood are out of contention. Furthermore, Musings of A Frustrated Wargamer, Tales of a Tabletop Skirmisher and Frontline Gamer have been excellent in pointing me towards new miniature companies and kickstarters. Even though I haven't fallen for any of it, it's still great to enjoy the eye candy.

Jeremiah's excellent design of graveyard tiles for Zombicide

My award to Front Towards Enemy in the Extras category is based mainly on Jeremiah Terry's continued effort to produce new characters, counters, map and other gaming assessories for FFG's Tannhauser and Dust Tactics, as well as Zombicide. He really puts in a lot of skill and effort and I think all gaming companies should encourage fan contributions, especially of this high quality. Other extras are Savage Tales, for my dose of high quality pulp.

The selected boardgaming blog is Fortress: Ameritrash. This site hosts a collection of several high quality bloggers, like the legendary Michael Barnes of NoHighScores, Matt Thrower, Ken Bradford, Sagrilarius, Pete Ruth of Superfly Circus, Matt of Drake's Flames and Nate Owens of the Rumpus Room. All under the ever waking eye of Ubarose.

From a Liebster point of view this is a bit of a dead end, but it will keep you occupied for ages. Reviews but also a lot of reflection on design and popular culture and a kick ass attitude that you won't find on other boardgaming sites. I'm proud to have been following it from the beginning, to have supported it financially and unashamed of using it as an occassional soapbox.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Golden Age of Boardgaming? Maybe, maybe not

Quinns, of the Shut Up & Sit Down boardgaming blog and video reviews recently gave an entertaining if longish talk at the GameCity video gaming conference on the development of boardgames in the last 15 years. He contended that boardgames are now experiencing a Golden Age and argues this mostly on the basis of a marriage of 'German' style mechanisms with 'American' storytelling. This is a story often told in many different ways at Fortress Ameritrash?.

The presentation includes many of the most interesting boardgame designs of the period under review (although War of the Ring is incredibly left out, while City of Horror is included for no good reason). If your not familiar with boardgaming design developments, the whole video is well worth watching, otherwise some of it will feel familiar.

The thesis of a Golden Age of boardgaming only partly convinces. There are many signs of crisis in the boardgaming industry and it is doubtful whether more people are boardgaming these days than 15 years ago. So we should at least differentiate between boardgame design, the boardgaming industry and the hobby.  While I can mostly agree with Quinns on boardgame design going through a strong patch, I have strong doubts about the industry and the hobby.

What I will do today is go is explore Quinns argument on board game design, and then discuss the industry and the hobby on Sunday. Part of that discussion has already filtered into my discussion of brick & mortar game shops in the last couple of days.


Quinn uses the first part of the presentation to show the influence of German style boardgame designs from the 1990s. I’m fully agreed that these designs were more accessible than many older boardgames, and the design built on keeping the race tight until the end. But Quinn adds the dimension of the higher quality of components. On the other hand, theme in most of these games is thin.

By the start of the 21st century these design concepts started to be copied by ‘western’ designers, who mixed them with ‘American’ storytelling. Examples mentioned are Twilight Imperium, Game of Thrones and more recently X-Wing.

Dominion, the start of something beautiful?

To illustrate how quickly innovation is now taking place in design he went over the recent deckbuilding revolution, starting with Dominion in 2008. Thunderstone in 2009 added theme. Puzzle Strike then allowed playing the oppononent’s deck in 2010. And in 2011 A Few Acres of Snow integrated the deckbuilder into a boardgame, modelling the logistics of war.

Quinns actually leaves the two most exciting developments in game design to the end of the presentatio. The Boardgame Remix Kit allows you to combine elements from Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit to ´build the most dangerous things´. Risk Legacy lets players name continents, add new rules and extra information to the board as the result of events during the game. In this way each copy of the game becomes unique, with it´s own history. 

If it weren't for the Halifax Hammer...

While I agree with the general line of his argument I have two questions. On the one hand, we can also see how innovative designs like Dominion are copied and milked by less innovative designers and publishers.  While further developing the deckbuilding engine, are Thunderstone and other deckbuilder derivates actually good games who themselves will stand the test the time?  

You could also argue that most of this innovation is incremental but that these are not game changers. How many people outside, or even inside the hobby niche, will actually notice?  

Boardgames vs videogames

Later Quinns´ presentation becomes an attempt convert video gamers to board games. He argues that the boardgames revival happened because video games lately haven't reached into areas of social interaction, which leaves room for boardgames.

Videogames are versatile, he continues, but they cannot do everything, like talking, bluffing, joking and auctioning. It’s difficult to imagine a paranoid treason game like Battlestar Galactica or The Resistance working in a video environment.

One of the best games of the past decade. It made me watch the series
Boardgames also do stuff that videogames haven’t done yet: like the dungeoneering mega campaigns of Descent. That kind of 'maximalist' game design is not commercially viable in videogames but in some cases in boardgaming.

Most importantly, Quinns sees no real difference between board and videogames. To him they are two sides of the gaming hobby. Board game design principles can provide a solid foundation for video games with the example of  the recent X-Com being designed as a boardgame. The design tools of bardgames are much more accessible, require less investment and are easier to test. 

Paths of Glory, itself a legendary design, is one of the card driven games that can be enjoyed online using ACTS
But as far as I´m concerned the line between boardgames and videogames is already disappearing. Look at the online engines to play boardgames that have become available: ACTS for card driven games, Vassal for wargames, BrettSpielWelt for eurogames and there´s a host of online/browser games from Travian and Die2Nite to iPad versions of many popular boardgames. 

How will this affect boardgames in the future? Will this mean that physical boardgames will disappear and people will play them online with their friends? Not necessarily. The technology to digitalise boards in player mats is already available, which will allow you to play and easily store long playing games for later use.

It will also make it possible to hardwire the rules into the game components, preventing mistakes or cheating, and allowing limited information, hidden movement and administrative chores to be automated, while still retaining the feel of a boardgame

Friday, 23 November 2012

The State of the Local Games Shop

Following on my post earlier this week about the two competing game shops in my hometown, I now realise that this has happened before in Utrecht where four game shops have existed within less than a hundred meters of each other for some years now (The Joker, Subcultures, Never Never Land and Labyrinth Fantasy). But Utrecht, with over 300,000 inhabitants, is a significantly bigger city than Leiden or Delft, with a wider regional audience. And still I wonder how these shops survive.

As Ray noted, we've been lucky to have so many excellent games shops nearby in the Netherlands. Not just the staple of Settlers and Carcassone, but also FFG, Phalanx and other foreign publishers. Delft (where I play) and Leiden (where I live), both with a population of just over 100,000 are not particularly big to host a boardgame store, although most comparable Dutch towns have a shop carrying board games. In the small towns they often also carry Warhammer stuff, while bigger cities have separate GW stores.

Over the last years I've seen established shop owners returning to the basics, which require much less storage space and product knowledge. From one of them I've gathered that turnover was slow, with quite a few games collecting dust on the shelves and thereby reducing profitability. But specialist sections like Warhammer and board games require a significant amount of time to keep track off. You have to know the new releases, rule changes, etc etc. to keep up with the generally knowledgeable customers.

And yet, we see new shops popping up now and again. As the established shops retreat from the fringes, new shop owners step up to fill the gaps such as Malifaux, Kings of War, Dystopian Wars and Hordes. Clearly some people still try to live the dream of making a living from their hobby but as John Curry, who is republishing some of the classic wargaming books, notes, making a living from wargaming is very hard.

Turnover of Dutch toy shops (Statistics Netherlands)
Looking at the turnover data for Dutch toy shops (a much broader category, so I don't know how relevant they are to this issue), it seems that form 2000 to 2008, the volume of turnover had increased by 50%, but prices dropped by a few percent. The price drop seems to have started even earlier, in 2002. Since 2008 both prices and volume have dropped for a combined loss of 18% of turnover. So times are tough for toy shops overall.

All this together indicates to me that the current economic crisis has greatly affected gaming retailers. Together with structural changes like competition from other pastimes (computer games) and online shops challenging shop prices it is clear that the long term viability of brick & mortar game shops is in doubt.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Accidents waiting to happen

I went out to buy myself a new hobby knife on Saturday so I can finally base my Saxons for field duty.

Along the way I also picked up the new Dixit expansion and X-Wing, spreading my custom over the two FLGS that Leiden now has. Both have been on my radar for a while so I decided not to do too much handwringing before buying them.

I have my doubts whether this town is big enough to support two FLGS. There is a bit of product differentiation, but competition still revolves around GW products and mainstream boardgames. I hope they can both survive, but I feel that both the business cycles and structural trends are going against brick & mortar shops.

Both try to buck the conditions by closer cooperation with local gaming groups and online presence. But speaking for myself, I no longer have the time nor the wish to seek out strangers in a shop in the evening.

Good luck to both the Vliegershop and Tafelridder anyway

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Keeping a Napoleonic Empire in Arms

Indicative of the joy of reading Dominic Lieven's Russia against Napoleon is that I've started thinking of classic Avalon Hill boardgame Empires in Arms again.

I hadn't realised it was published in 1983, neigh 30 years ago!

Lieven describes the limits to expanding the Russian army, the quality of the light cavalry horses and the trouble of acquiring enough horses for the heavy cavalry. While the light cavalry horses were plentily available from the steppes and easily maintained, the heavy cavalry horses had to be bred specifically for this purpose and as a result were scarce and expensive. This meant that Russian commanders were very careful with their heavy cavalry. You don't see this reflected in most wargames (board or miniatures), which is a pity.

But it made me look at Empires in Arms again and check whether it reflected the above. It doesn't, of course. On the other hand, it is probably not a decisive factor and only adds colour.

It is a long held dream of mine to play in an EiA campaign again. I did two years of game time of it in a couple of months when I was 18 or so. I've been harking to get back since.

Infantry and cavalry corps counters as well as a leader

The great thing about EiA is that it combines operations with geo-politics and diplomacy with long term choices in building up your army. Creating a pool of untrained troops at home that can be used to replace losses is smart, while cavalry is expensive and takes a long time before it's ready. Careful planning is therefor required.

The cool thing is also that reparations can be imposed on defeated opponents in peace treaties. This hampers their ability to rebuild their army, which was exactly what happened historically as Lieven shows.

The game is a bit of rough diamond. I've seen a few online campaigns of EiA get bogged down in rules arguments and player drop outs, so I'm not too eager to join in. I have thought about buying the computer game, but never got round (and probably shouldn't, considering my inability to withstand the temptation of playing the heck out of computer games). So if you've got a copy lying around unused, DON'T get in touch!

Probably a post-retirement plan, then. I'd better live healthy and keep an eye on the longevity of potential opponents...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Underwhelmed by Mage Knight

We tried out Mage Knight on Saturday and my intent was positive, firing off a few tweets during set up and explanation. It went really quiet after that, though.

The board of Mage Knight towards the end of the game, with most of the map discovered

This is because I got disenchanted really quickly. Even before the end of the first day (half a round) I had just discarded a hand of cards in disillusionment hoping for something useful to come up. That is not a good sign.

As I was stuck behind other players, I had few chances of actually scoring or leveling up, and there were a few turns I was just marching and countermarching, not doing anything.

The complexity of the game is high, with lots of different mechanisms interacting. More than once, actions we'd been planning for a turn had to be revised because we'd overlooked a bit of detail. For example, every terrain type (keep, tower, monastry, questing location) has half a page of stuff you need to know first, and it's not intuitive.

It just grinds the whole thing down. And half of it is not essential to the game. The evil track doesn't affect the game much, so why include it? The game also makes an accounting exercise of something that should be exciting and risky.

This is a thing I've noticed about other games by Vlaada Chvatil, Dungeon Lord and Stronghold. It takes very interesting themes and then harnesses them into euro mechanisms. Like Dungeon Lord, Mage Knight is essentially a multiplayer solo experience. Mostly it's getting somewhere before another player. Attacking other players doesn't gain you much. For me it was a long, boring grind which made me weep deep down inside.

But there was real bad news that night from a few of the other players in our group. It puts gaming (and blogging) back in perspective.

Take care guys. Our thoughts are with you.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Am I A Proper Wargamer? Trebian´s Alternative List

Here are my answers to the alternative questions put up by Trebian of Wargaming4Adults. They are a responseto the original list of Phil Broeders. I like many of these questions, as they are signs of a more independent strand of wargaming. Yes, even in this niche of a niche, there's strands.

There's a mainstream of commercially published wargaming rules, but Trebian is an exponent of the self-publishing, houseruling and modelling type of wargamers. The questions will therefor not apply to all wargamers.

Is there anything that Featherstone did that ranks up with these?

  • You've read at least one book by Donald Featherstone
Nope, and I don't think I miss much except nostalgia, maybe. But I got some of the other classics, like Asquith, Grant, Griffith and Quarry.
  • You've tried to game a period for which there are no figures.
Nope. Although I've wondered about Thai vs Khmer wars in the 18th century and just assumed there wouldn't be minis.
  •  You've played in a game using two way radios or field telephones.
Several, of which Star Trek: The Final Frontier is well remembered for excellent radio procedures by the Klingons! But my first real, operational megagame, Kirovograd (third edition, I believe) with phones was just beyond anything I'd ever experienced before. Brilliant!
  •  You've taken part in a games day or tournament
Done a few club tournaments in the old days, and occasional big battles, like Waterloo, the Crusades, Borodino, Siege of Peking.
  • You've called down fire on your own forces.
  •  You've done at least one plastic kit conversion
No, I'm not the modelling type.

Samurai battles ruleset I wrote together with Dick Bax. Took a bit of digging to find my own copy back

  • You've written a set of rules that have been played by people without you there
Yes, two I think, but only a few times without me there
  • You've started to amend a set of rules two turns into a game (or less).
I don't think agreeing on a shared interpretation of the rules is the same as amending it
  • You've completely misunderstood at least part of a set of rules.
Yes, dozens of times. And it doesn't speak well for rules writing.
  • You've built your own wargames table.
No, I'm not the modelling type. Even though I used to lay railroad track all across the living room  and had a grass matt on a table where I played with toy soldiers when I was young.
  •  You've submitted at least one wargames magazine article that wasn't a battle report
Oh yes.
  •  You've at least tried to play one of those enormous SPI games (Campaign for North Africa, for example)
No SPI biggies, but I think Empires in Arms counts for this.
  • You've run a participation game at a wargames show.
A few times
  •  You've won a wargames campaign by doing something completely different
No, rather by doing exactly the same. We did a France vs Prussia Napoleonic campaign and as the French we just headed straight in without waiting for the reinforcements, catching the Prussians off guard before the Russians could come up like in 1806.
  • You've helped to run a wargames club.
Founding member and many years of duty at Murphy's Heroes!
  • You've dogmatically insisted you're done with a period....then gone back to it.
I never go deep enough into a period to be done with it. I've refused WWI, naval and air combat rules for a long time without having ever played them but come around. No spine, Sir. No spine at all.

My three shelves of WWI books and half shelf of air warfare books.
Almost all collected within the last 5 years

  •  You've played in a command post exercise game without enough space to unfold the map
Sadly, no.
  • You've been stiffled at least once on TMP
I don't do The Miniatures Page. This probably discounts me as a miniature wargamer. Whatevah!
  • You've taken part in mega-game
Dozens. Like this recent one about Vietnam, and a slightly less recent one about Operation Goodwood.

Umpiring in Long Live Death, megagame of the Spanish Civil War.
Dramatic win for the Republicans

  • You've umpired in a mega-game
Dozens. Designed and organised a few, too. And here's my shrine to Jim Wallman, Lord of Megagames.
  • You have your own blog
QED. But that doesn´t mean you´re a real wargamer. It just means you like the sound of your own keyboard.

See also my answers to Phil Broeders' original questions and to Lee Hadley's extension.

Am I A Proper Wargamer? Big Lee's expansion questions

EDIT: I got this wrong the first time, but these questions were used by Lee Hadley taking the suggestions for additional questions from the original list of Phil Broeders.

  • You have reference books on each period / army you play
Yes. I am a compulsive buyer of books
  • Having played so many different games you confidently quote rules for a totally different period, scale or ruleset to the one you're playing at that moment
Nope, I play so rarely now that I forgot most of the rules I used to play and haven't fully consumed the new rulesets
  • You have lied to your partner / spouse about how much you've spent on the hobby
No. We still have separate accounts ;-)
  • You get genuinely excited when a package arrives in the post
Pretty much, yes. But never more so than when I received packages from my Secret Satan

Last year's Secret Satan was actually not that bad. Ascalion is the German version of Borderlands, and I know enough German to play. The Country Moog CD, however, was pretty vile.

  • You have joined a re-enactment society
No! If I go camping, it will be in a proper tent and no silly clothes, thank you!
  • You have played in an unsuitable venue
Is outdoors considered unsuitable and in a festival with arty farty people?
  • You continue to search for the perfect Napoleonic / WW2 / Ancients / ACW etc. rule set (knowing that it doesn't actually exist).
Given up. Wargamers just like overly long, wordy, complicated and boring rulesets. It probably insults their efforts of researching and painting their armies to use a streamlined ruleset that doesn't include the option to turn around the second rank as at Albuera. If you want good rules, have a look at boardgames
  • For that reason you have developed your own house rules for certain periods.  And think them far superior to the original author's efforts.
I rarely dabble with other people's (miniature) rules. I rather design new rules from the ground up. I have my own ideas
  • You have returned from a wargames show and sneaked upstairs to hide the stash.
No. Not necessary
  • You have an irrational aversion to some genres and vow never to play them regardless of how much fun they look.
I did. Naval, air and WWI I all considered utterly boring. I've come round in each case.

My 1/600 Amiot 143 bombers for Bag The Hun

  • You have made your own wargames scenery.
No, I'm not the modelling type
  • You have reached a painting 'wall'
It's more like The Wall than a 'wall'. Roger Waters ain't got shit on my painting wall. This is why I am outsourcing it now.
  • You have lost - and regained - your wargaming mojo.
Mojo as in ability to win battles (lost and regained a few times) or as in enjoying it and spending time on it (lost and not regained much)?
  • You have the occasional (and short lived) sense of guilt with your wife/children when complaining to them about the money spent in clothes, shoes or toys/Xbox games when you have £200 of unpainted metal stuffed in an upstairs drawer.
Guilt? As a lapsed member of the Dutch Reformed Church I have too much to feel guilty about already
  • You have done armies in different scales for the same period 
Napoleonics 15mm and 6mm

My 15mm Saxons and 6mm Russians. Also illustrates my lack of painting skills

  • You have jealously coveted someone else's troops.
All the time. That´s what you get when you are lazy and lack talent in painting
  • You have laughed (secretly or otherwise) as someone else's paint job
Not much opportunity for me to laugh at others. Standards at my club are pretty high and I don't have much to look down upon
  • You have provided a piece of useless trivia relating to the troops on the table to show off your wargaming knowledge.
Trivia is inherently useless. The facts I bring to the table are always relevant and enlightening
  • You have contradicted someone elses' trivia - demonstrating your superior knowledge and giving you a warm glow inside.
Contradicted in the gentlest of ways
  • You have caused a major disaster on a wargames table (spilling a pint, collapsing the table, dropped someone else's figures on the floor).
I like to believe I haven´t
  • You have cheered when an opponent's dice lets them down at a critical point
A restrained YES!!! is the best I´ve done
  • You have lied to your partner about going gaming.  "Mothers' not very well - just popping around to see her.  I'll be back in about - oh - seven hours".
No. Not necessary
  • You have lied to an attractive woman (man) about your hobby.
Long ago I used to. But I´m ok with being a wargamer now. Besides, the women I like actually think it´s quite interesting when I talk about it.
  • You have made an opponent cry.  It doesn't count if they are under 8 years old though.
It wasn´t my fault really. It was a competition game and she wasn´t very competitive
  • You have painted the same army in the same scale more than once
I won´t count the few 1870 French I painted after I´d sold the old lot

Only three Chasseurs d'Afrique ever got painted

  • You have reference books on armies you haven't even got.
Of course. It all starts with the books, the armies are an afterthought
  • You have bought figures for a period you have never and will never play - because they were cheap.
No, I intend to play all periods I got minis for. The 25mm samurai and cowboys will come in handy some time.
  • You have inflicted grievous bodily harm on a dice that has let you down.
No. I don't like to break things
  • You blog or have a web-page about your Wargaming activities
  • Your book collection is almost all war and wargames related
This is emphasised by the fact that I keep part of my work related books at the office
  • You critique 'war' movies (especially Hollywood war movies) for historical accuracy.
Though not as well as others I know
  • You spend car / train journeys checking out the lie of the land - considering which way you would attack from and whether it would make good wargaming terrain.
Occasionally. When you drive from the east of Caen to the south, the highroad takes you around the Goodwood battlefield. I couldn't help notice how small it was.

See also my answers to Phil Broeders' original questions and to Trebian's alternative list

Am I A Proper Wargamer? Phil Broeders' List

After analysing the results of others, in the interest of transparency, I should myself come clean as to the answers I gave to the questions posed by Phil. I will also answer the expanded list that Lee Hadley put up and the alternative questions put up by Trebian in separate posts as it would get very long. That, together with my answers of Ray and Fran's 20 questions should paint a pretty complete picture of me as a wargamer.
So let's start off with the original questions:
  • Spent at least £500 on figures / tanks - and you get extra kudos for every £500 you've spent
Not in a normal year on miniatures, but if you combine minis with boardgames and books, easily
  • Pricked your finger or thumb on a pike block - several times
No, I don't play ancients or medieval
  • Tried at least 10 different rule sets and vowed never to play half of them ever again
Yes. I'm not the vowing kind, but in practice I've disowned many rulesets. Sometimes even just after reading

Just a selection...

  • Bought an army off EBay
Yes, just recently. A reasonable army of early Franks (which can pose as Saxons for Dux Britanniarum))
  • Sold an army on EBay
No, and unlikely to happen unless I have to make a room big time. I did sell a few units of 1870 French the old fashioned way when I thought it would give me enough money to buy an army (I was 17 at the time), but I never got round to that. No regrets, though.
  • spent months painting an army - then used it in anger once
My zombies haven't seen much action
  • tried several different periods and genres
Oh yes.

The Freikorps miniatures are known to be brittle, but I'm afraid few other manufacturers would have survived this 

  • dropped a box of figures on the floor from a great height
Luckily it was a small box, but it finished my attempts at a Sardinian army for the Crimea
  • lost a battle on the last throw of the dice
Don't remember it ever being so close.
  • made at least one enemy for life
No, I'm not that vindictive
  • had a proper, stand up argument over a wargamers table
I guess... but in most cases I ate my frustration. Even got an award for that once
  • thrown a dice across a room
  • rebased an army for a different rule set
Incredibly, but yes. My Napoleonic Saxons. Long time ago. Wouldn´t happen these days
  • inflicted a whopping defeat on an opponent
I remember a good one. Stopping a German counterattack on Bourgebus Ridge dead in its tracks with an almost perfect defensive fireplan.
  • suffered an embarrassing defeat due to a stupid tactical decision
Sure, more than one. Don't remember those though.

  • joined a wargamers club
First Boutique La Grande Armee when I was 12 and co-founded Murphy's Heroes when I was 17
  • bought a ton of lead that remains unpainted
  • been to a wargamers show
Several, helped organise our club's own show, Murphy Mania, once
  • have more dice than is logical or necessary to own - and have used most of them

Okay, just one more time then. Rene's excellently painted Saxons

  • have taken boxes of troops down to a club just to show them off to your mates
Oh yes, and put pictures on my blog as well!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

What do real, rather than proper, wargamers look like?

In yesterday´s post I´ve shown that all of the 18 wargames bloggers scored between 13 and 18 points on the 20 questions posed by Phil Broeders, with an average score of 15.

But that is all based on the ideal of scoring 20 points, while it is much more interesting to look at the score of each question. This way we can learn about real wargamers, rather than the ideal that Phil holds up (even though with a wink).

The scores for each question, based on 18 respondents

What unites us is that we all spend a generous amount of money on our hobby. 500 pounds is not a hard threshold to attain given the fact that many of these bloggers are veteran gamers. Although most respondents indicate they don't spend 500 pounds each year, I've also seen comments that people have flunked on this question on purpose so as not to arouse suspicion with the wife.

Much of this spending is aspirational. Every wargamer has tons of unpainted lead on the shelf, and more dice than he has use for. This probably also has to do with the fact that we are all very broadminded in our taste of periods and rulesets. Everybody dabbles in more than one period and almost all of us have tried at least 10 rulesets. And if not, that's something we expect to happen in due time. I've written a bit on this aspirational buying and the concept of the anti-library elsewhere on this blog.

Wargaming is not a solo activity. Almost everyone has been to a wargames show at least once, although for many it doesn't seem to a regular event. I am happy to see the high rate of club membership. Playing in a group of potential opponents seems to be the dominant form to enjoy the hobby. I think it's a good thing that we're a social bunch.

These bloggers all seem to have seen both sides of wargaming as all of us have suffered embarrassing defeats, and almost all have inflicted whopping defeats. And although many have experienced a game so tight it went to the last die roll, this isn't a universal experience.

Luckily, less common are the experiences with the occupational hazards of wargaming, such as injuries caused by pointy objects and dropped boxes of miniatures, but they have still happened to the vast majority of us.

Although not for everyone, there's still over half of us who've gone through the pain of rebasing an army for a different ruleset. Given that this is one of the most highly detested chores in miniature modelling, I personally would hold this up as a defining question to establish whether someone is really hard core.

Me taking an apprehensive stance as the umpire calls the situation. 
Will I explode into rage and embarrass the Liphook Historical Wargamers?

The questions with the lowest scores are obviously not particular to wargaming but more indicative of the individual character and digital behaviour. Although about half have used eBay (or digital equivalents) to buy miniatures, fewer still have used it to dispose of them. Some people just don't like eBay and paying online. Bring & Buys are mentioned as alternatives. And in most cases it was as units or individual miniatures, rather than armies.

Although over half of the wargame bloggers admits to having had a proper, standup argument, this was followed by so many qualifications it was stretching the argument very thinly. Throwing dice apparently is also more a matter of poor hand-eye coordination than frustration. And finally, only very few of us have made enemies as a result of wargaming. That would indicate that we are a reasonably well behaved lot, but then again this describes a group of mostly middle aged men drawn to reflection, rather than hardcore competition gamers.

I think this overall image won't be too shocking for most of us. Tomorrow I will post my answers to Phil's original questions, Lee's expansion and even on Trebian's alternative list and you can judge for yourself whether I am a proper wargamer.

Any questions?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Proper Wargamers? Analysing the evidence

Over a week ago, Phil Broeders started a new wargamer questionnaire Are You A Proper Wargamer?
This was about as much fun as Ray and Fran`s list of 20 questions in September, but that was much more an indication of subcultural preferences than of behaviour. Also, Phil`s attempt takes the scoring approach and most people understand that they need to score as high as possible in these cases.

Phil asked for more questions that could be on the list and these were used by Lee Hadley for a second part of the questionnaire. However, as only a few people have answered these extra questions, I won`t use them here.

Just because it's a classic doesn't mean I can't recycle it

As with all questionnaires (even those designed by professionals) there`s a lot of interpretation possible by those surveyed (especially the Frontline Gamer), but this generally leads to longer and more interesting stories. So it might actually be a good thing.
"Looking at it the late Paddy G might not score above half on the list, and he was a proper wargamer."
Some people, like Trebian at Wargaming for GrownUps, even take issue with the principle of scoring and the contents of the list: "Looking at it the late Paddy G might not score above half on the list, and he was a proper wargamer." Trebian offers an alternative set of questions that is as interesting as Phil's but regrettably hasn`t been answered by anyone.

What I`ve done is to collect 18 questionnaires, including my own and scored both the questions and the surveyed people Most of these people were on my blog roll, but I also did a lazy google search on `proper wargamer`. Although 18 questionnaires is not a lot, the pattern was getting pretty solid, if you don`t take it all too seriously.

The 18 questionnaires are mine (follows later), Phil Broeders, Sidney Roundwood, Ian, Frontline Gamer, Jim Hales, Lee Hadley, Mike Whitaker, Greyhawk Grognard, Legatus, Mik, Stefan, Joe, Wargamer Girl, Anibal, Millsy, Christopher and Shermon.

Some of them had already scored their own responses very carefully, in other cases I`ve made a judgement call. This is not proper social science after all. That`s too much like work. So I`ve also not tested whether these 20 questions actually make a good scale (I doubt it). If you care about these things you`re welcome to use my database and calculate.

All the individual total scores

The total scores of all these bloggers were very close and with little variation. The minimum score was 13 out of 20, the maximum 18 for Phil himself, who of course set his own standard. Next up was Christopher with 17.5. The average was 15. All proper wargamers indeed, I'd say.

But the more interesting thing is the scores of the individual questions. The rate at which each question has been scored is an indication about real miniature wargamers, rather than Phil's ideal one. That post will be up tomorrow, followed on Sunday by my answers. See if you can guess what they will be.

If you have filled in the questionnaire but are not on my list, please leave a comment with a link to your answers. I will do an update later.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Proper Wargaming

Spent part of tonight gathering in answers to Phil Broeders' Are You A Proper Wargamer questionnaire from about 16 bloggers. Including my own.

Some interesting result but I didn't get it finished in time. More to come.

Monday, 12 November 2012

New books: Napoleonics, Apaches and WWI naval

Totally forgot to mention that I have expanded my reading list with two books on the Napoleonic period. Both in the Hero of Waterloo project scope.

First of all Dominic Lieven's Russia Against Napoleon, The Battle for Europe 1807-1814. This has me enthralled because it starts out with a chapter on recruiting, horsebreeding and arms industry and promises more on logistics. You know, the kind of stuff I am as resistant to as chocolate. Easy read as well.

Although the Ruski's weren't at Waterloo, they were instrumental in bringing down Napoleon and liberating Germany in 1813-4. Also, their armies were marching westwards as Waterloo took place and Lieven will have some interesting things to say about the Russian capability to take on Napoleon in case of a French victory in the Low Countries and their determination to bring him down again.

I picked up the less bulky Battle Story: Waterloo 1815 by Gregory Fremont-Barnes because it is really aimed at the general public and explains a lot of things in small text boxes, for example the size of the battlefield, cavalry vs squares, shrapnel and disabling guns.

His description of the timing of events is also elaborate and might help the uninitiated. There's concise biography's on the main participants and many small illustrations. This all looks promising.

The three Ospreys show my inability to stick to the confines of my projects. The Nile campaign book I bought more for the land battles than the sea engagement. And I have this interest in North American Indian that sees me buy these Ospreys one at a time.

Coronel and Falklands I bought because it is written by Mike McNally, who's a friend I helped out researching his books on the Boyne (1690) and Aughrim (1691). He's also done a good one on the Teutoburger Wald battle or Varusschlacht (some things just sound better in German), and although Colditz and WWI naval stuff aren't my first love (or second, for that matter), I picked them up anyway.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Bonapartist France defeated - Levee en Masse

Played a game Levée en Masse tonight, relearning it after more than a year. But it's fairly easy to pick up and once you've gone through the rules, the game plays fast, in around an hour.

Not bad eh? No real challenges to the republic after first deck
Levée en Masse is one of the solo States of Siege games published by Victory Point Games. It comes in a ziplock bag with rudimentary quality of components, but a well written rulebook. Recently VPG has published higher quality versions of some games, while GMT is also releasing a few. But if you don´t care more about gameplay than components, you´ll be fine with the original VPG edition.

In the game you play solo as the French republicans against foreign armies on the map and monarchist and despotist (ie Bonaparte or some other general) rivals on the political track. The enemies are all driven by the event deck while you can counter them in a limited number of actions.

The main challenge is to survive the game to the end, which means keeping the enemy armies out of Paris. If you make it, the extent of the victory is determined by the extent to which you have kept the monarchists and despotists down and the enemies back.

Looking good after the Terror: puppet states in place, republicanism dominates, enemies far away
The game goes through 3 decks. The first deck covers the initial revolution up to the execution of King Louis XVIII, the second the Terror and deepest military crisis, while the third deals with French expansion and later coalition wars. Each deck poses different challenges, with the Vendee more active in the first deck than later, and the Austrians and Brits becoming active later.

Things seemed to be doing quite well for me until the last deck. Although I had been able to keep a decent edge for the republicans vs the despotists and monarchists, this situation reversed in the space of two or three events, which partly limited my ability to react. This meant that the despotists claimed domination of the state and I lost my military advantage.

Three turns short of the end, Paris falls to the suddenly unleashed Austrians

My dice then seemed a bit less lucky as the Austrians suddenly pressed through my Belgian puppet state and into Paris. Without my military advantage I couldn´t get them out and I lost, with only three cards to go!

But considering the domination of the Bonapartists and the many enemy troops on French soil, I wasn´t going to score well even if I had made it to the end. No real idea why it all went pearshaped in the end, probably because I don´t know the contents of the deck too well, so I may have focussed on the wrong things. Will try again soon.

Fun solo game!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Exploring Nautilus, Thunderstone and Slavika

On Saturday we played a couple of newly acquired games at Murphy's Heroes. Tom had brought Nautilus and Thunderstone, while I added King of Tokyo and Slavika to the programme.

The underwater base expands, submarines scan the sea bottom for treasure
We spent quite some time at Nautilus, a eurogame with little conflict where the players expand an underwater base. From there they explore the surrounding sea in submarines for the lost treasures of Atlantis.

By adding new labs to the base and staffing them with scientists you can improve your searching capabilities and ability to retrieve treasures. You can even make more money out of finds and increase the number and the speed of subs. In the end these little advantages proved decisive as I was able to score bonus points by being able to ignore the less valuable treasures.

Not a game I´ll be asking to play again.

The heroes of Slavika
After that it was on to Slavika, in which the heroes of each clan take on a range of monsters from Slavic mythology. Apart from overcoming the monsters, the challenge is in dividing the spoils.

That was easier said than done because there are limits to where you can put your heroes and monsters and because the situation changed constantly. The winner was the one best able to profit from these opportunities.

This looks to be a decent but not entirely special eurogame with a reasonable level of interaction but not direct conflict. There were more rule questions than I had expected and we couldn´t solve all of them quickly.

The unique selling point for this game is that it's beautifully illustrated with a cast of relatively unknown mythological characters. I´d like to give this one a few more goes.

The runner´s up kill pile in Thunderstone. The winner scored 19 points
There was some time left for a game of Thunderstone, a deckbuilder in which you either enter a dungeon to kill monsters or spend time in the village preparing for these expeditions.

Like all deckbuilders, the challenge is to balance between the size of your drawing deck and the quality of the cards. In the end two of us had spend to much preparing and were surprised by the end of the game, without having killed enough monsters.

Considering that this was one of the first evolutions on Dominion it is not a bad attempt to cash in on the popularity of the former, but I don't see this one keeping the attention of players for very long. But the range of cards will probably give you enough opportunity to try out differing strategies. Happy to play again.

Things are heating up in downtown Tokyo
We had started the day with three very bloody and quick games of King of Tokyo. You already know I'm quite taken to this game.

I tried to just go for maximum damage and this proved effective in frustrating the build up of strong cards with the other players. It proved tit for tat and all games were decided by last monster standing rather than victory points. Maybe this was part of the three player setting.

This was a good start to the Essen 2012 challenge, with Slavika receiving it's baptism, and King of Tokyo's first play after Spiel.