Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Sunday 17 September 2023

Minimalist Gaming...or, "If I had know then what I know now..."

I think that Peter Young's advice in Charge! to stick to one wargames period and make up imagi-nation armies for it is one of the most under-rated pieces of advice to a wargamer...although unhappily for me, I didn't read it when I was starting, or re-starting, in wargaming! But as advice for a busy person with a very full life outside of wargaming, it has lots to commend it.   And it is perhaps still the most common way of wargaming, which I guess is to play Warhammer 40K and have done with it, for all one's hobby needs.  
But for the more historically-inclined of us, my advice to myself might have been:
Always remember you are playing a game on a tabletop with models (or counters, or whatever); don't take it too seriously, don't overthink it, playing the game is the thing.
One period, many scenarios.
Build two armies, imagi-nations, which can be slowly added to as needed to play as many scenarios as you need to.
Make the scenario fit the models/toys.
Either build a 2mm/6mm version of the army for big battles and a 28mm (or above) force for skirmishes; or a single 15mm/20mm army for both. If blessed with a really big table, maybe consider 28mm (or above) for everything too.  If cursed with a very small one, make the skirmish force in 15mm/20mm too.
Where you can, use 'generic' troops and vehicles that can then be given identities by use of appropriate command stands, separate flag bearers, that kind of thing.

If the one period has to be WW2 or later, one is faced with the issue of iconic equipment. In earlier periods, generally iconic equipment can be avoided but a Sherman and a Panther are signifiers different from each other in a way that a Marlburian Cuirassier and a Napoleonic Cuirassier are to my mind, not.  In that case, pick Germans and a single Allied army, probably Soviets; or US or British/Commonwealth and Japanese, and maybe Germans too.  I think there is a little less to be gained from making armies imagi-nations here although certainly not saying you couldn't do it.  The issue with picking France, Italy, Poland and so on is of perhaps limiting your options a bit more than necessary - what are you going to use to recreate Kursk scenarios if your basic armies are Italians and Indians? Again, not saying you couldn't do it, just saying it makes more demands of your imagination. If the period is post WW2, pick one army with Communist Bloc equipment and one with NATO-Bloc equipment.  Make these imagi-nations.

For all periods, include irregular forces alongside the regular troops: this really usefully expands the number of scenarios available.
If you absolutely must have more than one period, then three should suffice: an 'ancient' army (anything from 4000BC/BCE - 1600AD/CE; a 'horse-and-musket' army  (anything from 1600AD/CE to 1880AD/CE); and one 'modern' army. There should definitely not be more than 5 (Ancient, Medieval, Pike & Shot, Horse & Musket, Modern)!! Fantasy and Science Fiction armies are perfectly adequate substitutes, just take out the magical elements when using historical scenarios.  Really, the 'look' & 'fluff' of an army/period, whether historical or not, should be the most important guide here: buy what you enjoy painting the most.
Always consider expanding the dimensions of a force (e.g. sea and air, but also counter-insurgency, smuggling, policing etc. if that makes contextual sense) and the medical/engingeering/logistic/intelligence elements rather than expanding the number of forces. But expanding the number of forces for the same period is better than adding new periods (e.g. if you have French and British Napoleonic forces, add 1830 Algerians or Maharrata Indians rather than Zulu War).

Be reluctant to sell models, especially painted models. You bought them for a reason. That said, if you need the space back, either mentally or physically - or you need the money generally - then just do it - you can easily buy more figures when/if the time is right. Obviously none of this applies if you are deliberately painting and selling models as a financial sideline.

Other things to consider: the early wargamers used far fewer sets of rules and were more inclined to tinker with existing rules than buy more.  There is probably something to this, since learning new rules does come with quite a time and intellectual overhead.  So I would advise sticking to a set you like, especially for 'home' games and being quite reluctant to change - but if you must, then don't be afraid to do it.  But don't just buy more and more rules.

Having a couple of how to make terrain books is useful, as are a couple of generic scenario books. Shop around for both to find the ones you like.  The former may be less useful in the C21, although I still like having a reference book around as well as finding things on Youtube and blogs and so on.  Specific period scenario books are great too, buy good ones when you see them.  Have enough terrain, but not too much: consider having a make/buy as you need approach. This is reason enough to limit the number of scales/sizes of models you use.

Writing your own scenarios is great but can take a bit more time than you think to write good ones, so don't be afraid to go to your pool of generic scenarios. They still tend to be better than 'points-buy' scenarios or 'line the troops up' games.

Give thought on the practicalities of getting a game to the table: the board, the figures, the terrain, the rules, the scenario, dice, space, note-taking, transportation etc.  This will reward you with many more, and better, games.

Campaigns are great but can be quite hard work. Lots of the 'greats' of wargames campaigning really aren't that amazing for actually getting a campaign on the table and played, they are more inspirational and thought-provoking. Campaigns based on existing boardgames tend to work much better, IMHO. If you do homebrew them, then simplicity and structure are your friends - the interesting situations and character of the campaign can emergence nicely from quite simple campain rules, whereas detail and administration will definitely make it harder work with little guarantee of a richer strategic experience.
If you are using wargames for serious research, I would ignore the figures and terrain and make DIY boardgames etc. The overhead is much smaller and you can concentrate on the design rather than the aesthetic and fun aspects.

Wargames magazines are generally pretty good but there is only so much brilliance to go around. One subscription at a time is more than enough for interest and inspiration, so unless you are playing an awful lot, I would keep it to that. On the other hand, wargames magazines considered in totality can satisfy the terrain, campaign and scenario needs. I would consider this as an either/or.  There are some great blogs out there too which can satisy some, but probably not all, of these things. Taken as a strategic whole, they are great for modelling and painting advice, not bad for thinking about design, okay for free rules, not great for scenarios, and very poor for campaigns.

Anyway, I think this is how I would advise my beginning self - how about you?

Not Much Happening Game-Wise...

I haven't been up to much modelling or figure gaming-wise recently due to work/family life pressures. As ever, when things get tight I feel much more inclined to play RPGs, computer games or board games than miniatures wargames; even the painting has suffered somewhat. I have painted some Zulus and British for my youngest and am starting to build some Mahdists and some Agincourt-era knights for him (it has been his birthday this month) but that has been about it, with the exception of some 6mm Dutch WSS infantry (pictures soon); with the result that I have actually managed to build up a little bit of a lead pile: most of my purchases from this year's shows have remained unpainted thus far. Still, hope springs eternal!  And it isn't like I have lost any general interest, just the specific decisions I am making about any spare time have defaulted in the direction of RPGs.

I did get one game of 40K Rogue Trader in with my youngest, which he seemed to enjoy. 

 The good thing about 40K is that the basic system is so intuitive, you can get playing with it very quickly.  In this game, a small force of Space Marines is clearing a slightly larger group of Ork raiders from a ruin and an industrial facility on the outskirts of the jungle.

The hill is scratchbuilt from polystyrene, intended for a new refight of White Mountain (!)

Painting has been painfully slow recently, although I seem to have done a fair bit of constructing and preparing plastic figures. Anyway...

Some Heroics & Ros WW2 French Armour - some reinforcements, so I can field full-strength platoons for all of the major types for 1940

Some of the newer Baccus 6mm US Sherman tank variants

and more, along with some M-10s

Beginning to re-fresh some WW2 German trucks - Opel Blitzes and Protzes? - from two or three different manufacturers

A platoon of A9 Cruisers; this is probably in the 'wrong' paint scheme for 1940 (FoW guidance has this limited to light tanks and infantry tanks, whereas the cruisers were in a more medium green - however, I much prefer this more subtle camouflage scheme).

Some Zulu War era 28mm Perry British Infantry (and very nice figures they are too)

And ditto for their Zulu opponents

Another shot

I am not really sure what to use for playing with these; Neil Thomas has some Colonial-period skirmish rules in his Wargaming: An Introduction I could give a go, although they look at first glance as a fairly crude attempt. Still, worth a try I guess.

Plus some space fighters from Brigade Models - some Neo-Soviet type, I think. They are nice models although I don't have much idea of what to do with them! Perhaps I have an old copy of Delta Vee knocking around somewhere...

and some 'British' opponents from the same range.

Apart from that, it has mainly been RPGs for me (my other blog gives some idea of which games have featured) and boardgames.  For the latter, the two I have been giving most attention to are Europe in Agony, which I find just fascinating, and Over the Reich, as I continue to try and refine my own much simpler WW2 air warfare rules.