|Welsh Guards (Wargaming Miscellany: Bob Cordery)|
Given the massive outpooring of reminiscences in the blogosphere, it feels like in a sense we are now paying our last respects to the last wargaming pioneers. Wells who made the transition from an officers' teaching tool to a civilian's game, Featherstone who popularised it in the Anglo-Saxon world, Schoppen who popularised it in the Netherlands.
Look at the sense of novelty and pioneering this old hand describes in his memories of wargaming in the 1950s and 60s. Or read Achtung Schweinhund by Harry Pearson for a more elaborate depiction of those years. There is a recent spate of books on wargaming, boardgaming and roleplaying history. But of course, the pioneering era ended some decades ago already. Don Featherstone has already been 'succeeded' by others.
|Okay, no Featherstone, but I do have some gamer cred|
I just found out I actually have no book by Featherstone at all! I always took him as an icon whose designs had been surpassed by new generations of writers like Bruce Quarry and Stuart Asquith, of whom I have several books each.
Starting wargaming with Hinchliffe miniatures, I was then totally overwhelmed by Foundry's Franco-Prussian range. Just like Magic: the Gathering was a watershed in terms of visual appeal and gaming tension. I remember coming back from a games show and teaching all my friends how to play the next week and then buying them all starter packs the week after that.
|Willem Schoppen and his wife from a Dutch popular|
science magazine in the early 1980s
To me, Willem Schoppen and his Boutique La Grande Armée are natural points of reference, but they are meaningless to most Dutch gamers of my age and younger. Donald Featherstone means nothing to tens of thousands of kids in GW stores worldwide, and neither does Gary Gygax, Von Reiswitz or Phil Barker (I'll share that story with you tomorrow). And they don't have to. Just like you don't need to have heard the Beatles to appreciate One Direction or to have read Marx to appreciate Lenin's writing.
And now there's discussion of a Golden Age in wargaming and boardgaming and on the other hand one of 'the hobby's dying out'. Lots of new stuff is happening. In terms of boardgaming the mechanical revolution has passed from the German/euro style games to wargames and Ameritrash. In wargaming the revolution is now mostly in highly thematic skirmishing rules after a period of highly formated competition rules. And design and marketing have received a welcome energy by crowdfunding schemes in the middle of a general crisis for gaming companies.
But as ever, there is a process of creative destruction going on. The success of Too Fat Lardies, Bolt Action and Flames of War will mean the quiet disappearance of other rule sets, just as Avalon Hill was eaten up by Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast, Peter Laing and Minifigs have become memories of the past. Hinchliffe was sold to Skytrex and now Skytrex itself has gone into administration. Those that see only growth, just don't notice all that we leave behind.
There are counter movements though, like the one sparked by the Little Wars anniversary. I see a dozen gamers with a sense of nostalgia buying up their 54mm toy soldiers and playing Old Skool on their brittle knees in the garden again. I guess there is an age between 13 and 50 where you feel too serious about this kind of thing, just like you feel to serious to play monsters battles with Play-Doh. Wrong!
|Grown Men (Hail! Hail! Freedonia: Jim Wallman)|
Maybe we all just got old
And maybe that is what people yearn for the most when they hanker back to the good old days of Wells and Featherstone. A period when they were young, when it seemed the whole world was still there to explore and map and everybody was enjoying it. It all became more complicated with time. Wargaming became work, with lots of accounting and legal prose. Maybe as the world was mapped and better understood, players lost the freshness and joy in arguments over rules, regimental lace and the intricate mechanisms of phalanx combat.
We need to find back, bring back and/or keep alive that sheer fun of the game. I used to get up early to get to the club in time to play four games of Napoleonics for a club competition. I played 24 hour RPGs marathons. It was the best thing I could think of doing then and even though life now gets in the way much of the time, it still is one of the few ways of spending my time now totally engrossed, immersed, occupied and happy.
If you want to honour your heroes, if you want to keep this hobby alive but you worry about the fact that we can't get the youngsters in anymore, or if you just want an opponent for your dust covered Royalists, do it by playing. With anyone, anywhere, in any way possible, because mechanisms and realism and correct painting schemes don't matter. Just play that game with the same intent and joy as you played when you were playing with the Don.