Friday, July 8, 2022

Vacation Blues & What do you want from your games?

 An odd title for a wargaming blog post I know, but my wargaming funk followed me all the way into my first week of vacation.  I had BIG plans for this week.  Literally BIG plans because I started painting up more 28mm figures - this time El Cid Spanish - as well as planning for a big Gettysburg MEGA game - but try as I might - I have not been able to get past this dreaded wargaming funk.

A young Disgruntled Fusilier, pondering the imponderable - the lead mountain

Like usual, though, I was able to spend a bunch of time thinking about wargaming.  And if thinking about wargaming counted for hobby time, I could look back on a life of complete fulfillment 😊

Before I go any further and take you all down a rabbit hole with me, I should mention that I was able to get in a single, solo, game in this week.  I finally broke out Hold the Line: The American Civil War boardgame from Worthington out and played their Gettysburg scenario (Little Round Top) solo. 

Sickles' III Corps holds the Peach Orchard salient in my first ACW "Hold the Line" game played sans miniatures

This got me thinking further about Grand Tactical gaming and playing out BIG battles, and leads to an even bigger question which essentially drives all other questions - what do you want from your games?  

I'm not sure if I've ever properly reflected on this topic.  Sure, I've reflected on a "mission statement" for horse and musket rules, and even WW2 gaming, but what do I want, that is what do I mean to get out of, my gaming?  What do you expect to get from yours?  Why does this question even matter?

For me it's an important question because there is an endless list of projects, scales, and games on my "to do" list.  Murphy's Laws of Wargaming dictate that any project plan can become modified the moment you discuss it with other wargamers, so depending on the games you want to play, your prioritization of effort in an age of extremely limited time, bandwidth, and availability is key to successfully assaulting the lead mountain.  

The last few years, joint project plans with gaming pals have been the driver for purchases and project plans - some came to complete fruition, while others have not.  The games and their scope ranged wildly from Viking Skirmish battles, Cold War tactical battles with tank companies and mech infantry battalions, massive Napoleonic battles in search of the right rules, Seven Years War battles, and World War II tactical battles.  

With an eclectic choice like this, one should never hope to be bored or unfulfilled right?   My gaming has ranged from a commanding handful of Viking Warriors, all the way up to complete Army command at Aspern Essling or Antietam.  If I really think hard about it, while I love tactical games played at Battlegroup's "platoon" or even "company" level, I've always strived to play games that have been about Army command.  The Corps-on-Corps fight for landmarks, villages, river crossings, the destruction of the Army across the field in the Horse and Musket era, or the successful integration of all-arms against an operational or tactical problem in the more modern era.  That's tough to achieve for a miniatures gamer who still wants to push miniatures as there are scores of board wargames that foot the bill nicely for a broad mission statement like that.  You can bathtub your games and call everything a brigade and still get to roll to-hit, to-kill, and to-stand, but does it still serve the purpose?  If it's fun for you and your pals, then yes, it's worth it.  If it's boring to do solo and your pals might not accept that level of bath-tubbing - then what's the point?  I think this is where the purpose is so important to games - because for my purposes, playing at this big scale means:

  • using smaller minis to create the desired effect.
  • the mini terrain  is hugely important to creating authenticity and scale in your mind's eye.
  • you're going to need minis - alot of minis to achieve the look you want.
  • you're going to need the right rules to accommodate playing a game like this.

So for me, what do I want to get out of my gaming?  I want to recreate the fight at the Corps or Division level when it comes to my historical gaming.  I want to see the clash of brigades for a ridgeline, or the untimely arrival of a flank-marching division where I did not plan for it, and I want to do so mostly on a 6 x 4 table.  Impossible?  Maybe - but at least it gives my project planning purpose.

My purpose for gaming - what I want to get out of the affair - is setting foot into the commander's boots - looking through his field glasses and be confronted with the tough decisions he faced.  I'd prefer to do this at the Corps or Divisional level - so Army command is really what I want to get out of my miniature gaming.  That's the purpose of all of this work - so where does that leave me?  Still unsatisfied?  Adrift at sea?  Ready to hang up the gaming spurs and retire?

What do you want to get out of your hobby?


  1. Interesting post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You'd thing this would be a fundamental question for most gamers, but I think most do not, and simply jump in without giving the "purpose" or "why" much consideration.

    For me, the "why" is to experience the adventure of the game, generally at a lower command level than what you describe, both through the playing of the game and creating a narrative around it. I also quite enjoy physially creating the gaming environment, seeking to create a "feeling" through the assembly the terrain and associated bits, maybe similar to what a director of a movie might do.

    1. Thank you, Irishserb, I honestly never thought of the movie director angle and have often looked at terrain construction as a chore but what you say makes great sense to "setting the stage". I have to admit that I have not thought much about the "why" but when you have so many "priorities" like I do, the purpose becomes important to sorting through what is just a passing interest, or a real priority.

  2. Like Irishserb, I find your reflective post very interesting. Like you, I prefer recreating historical battles rather than fighting a small slice of battle or a hypothetical scenario. I like to put myself in the army commander's shoes to study the decisions made with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the historical battle through wargaming. There are plenty of smaller battles that do not require bathtubbing or scale reduction. Perhaps focus on these smaller actions?

    What is the source of your current wargaming funk? Perhaps addressing and understanding this will lead the way out? Perhaps a game can right your listing ship?

    1. Oh, and thinking about wargaming is always an enjoyable pastime.

    2. If thinking about wargaming counted as much as playing, I'd be a wargaming master at this stage of my life! Thanks Jonathan, smaller, more manageable games are probably just what my wargamers soul needs.

  3. Hi Steve, I very much enjoy the aesthetic of the larger figure (your Vikings), but also enjoy the visual and function of the table that has bigger gaming scope (your Aspern-Essling) with both pleasures being done in a limited space (a tad less than your 6x4) and like you, some of those contradictions have at times caused a total inertia as too much time is spent pondering and not enough just gaming for the joy of it.

    I do boardgames, which gives a distraction to that figure cycle and always ensures that a game is only ever an hour away (set-up) should I want it. In boardgames, I often see situations that I would like to replicate on the table, in particular if I boardgame at the army / corps level, it generates some local situations that are generally just a brigade or two in size, which is convenient top take to the tabletop for a simple game.

    A major difference between boardgames and the figures is that boardgames require MUCH less prep to get to the table compared to the constant painting of armies and starting new projects etc which is so demanding and though a ‘new thing’ can be exciting, I think it is very easy to lose the balance between actual playing and always working towards being able to play something new.

    In your case, there may be a benefit in not doing new stuff for a while and just get back to more gaming with the stuff that you already have, like and know, just to get a semblance of gaming priority back (rudely assuming from your post that you may have lost it! - sorry if I am wrong on that!).

    I have just bought two starter Epic Napoleonic boxes (French and Prussian), there are a ton of figures and it can look overwhelming if you think ‘I need to get this fully painted and done to put the game on that I have in my head’, so I am currently using a temporary glue to get all the bases set up and the first games will be played in raw plastic ….. this is purely to defeat that work, work, work thing before a game can be played. If I like it, the units will get individually cycled across the painting desk, so that over time it will all get painted, but the gaming can still happen along the way. Stage 1 will be paint enough for small battles (pocket armies) and then stage 2 will be to build on that - but at a sustainable pace.

    I have a small footprint boardgame called Crisis on the Right (White Dog Publishing), which covers the advance of the Prussians towards the Waterloo battlefield, with Plancenoit being a central location to the advance. I hope to take some situations from the boardgame and take them to the table to employ the Epic armies and between the two things get a good sweep of Napoleonic warfare.

    I have started creating a blog post on it, but there is another already in the queue before it, so it will not appear for perhaps a fortnight, but I think it will interest you.

    Anyway, I have only come out of hiding :-) because your post struck a chord with me as I wondered whether we had both hit a similar hobby wall. My recent restructuring of hobby, which includes reducing screen time and actually just going for a bit more simplicity in everything is working to move actual gaming activity up the agenda a bit more. I have eventually come to a point of understanding that for me, doing a lot of thinking is not a route to a solution, rather it is just an indication that something is wrong and that the simple pleasure of gaming for its own sake has become lost in ‘the everything’ that a modern wargamer has to contend with.

    Hope you get back on track soon - time to get your 6mm moderns out perhaps :-)

    1. The way this contagion seems to be spreading, we may need Government intervention for a vaccine.

    2. Hi Jonathan, the government should decree that gamers should have enough free time in their lives and not be too tired, so as to play a midweek game for a couple of hours - quality time seems to be what we lack most in our modern merry-go-round.

    3. Norm! So much to comment on here. First of all, glad you popped out of hiding to comment on my humble blog, and your comments are spot-on. My priorities are really all over the place and I had not thought of it like that but the constant sitting around "thinking" is indicative, with me anyways, that something is indeed off. Hitting a wall is a great way of describing how I've been feeling lately.

      I am eagerly awaiting your future post! And I'm dying to see the Epic troops on the table, painted or not.

      If we were on the same continent, I'd buy you a coffee, Norm. Your thoughts are always a breath of fresh air.

    4. Hopefully not, Jonathan!!!! First of all it'll mean another 90 or 120 straight days of work for me and second I'm sure it'll be another "mandate" that feds have to get it, regardless of their wargaming history...

  4. I think you may be asking more than one question, wrapped into one! ;-)
    The first is really "what do enjoy in a game?" The next " what type of games do I aspire to? " and yet another "who go I game with and what do I get out of it?"
    I've been on a long journey in my gaming career; it started as fun, influenced by the history I read and fuelled by romantic notions of the aesthetics. I graduated to more "serious" gaming when I realised historical knowledge and romantic ideas were no use against the hard headed logic of rules exploitation in order to " win" . Dissatisfaction followed attempted emulation; was the purpose of gaming winning by exploiting knowledge of the rules? After something of an epiphany, I realised that it was more about WHO you played with, rather than WHAT rules you played. A gamer who has a different objective will ruin the best set of rules. Still, it's not always possible to play a like minded individual. I've reached the point I'd rather play solo than against smeone who sucks the joy out of a game. I fell into the trap of hunting for the ever more "realistic" ruleset, especially one that would curb the exploitative gamer, before realising it was futile. Someone who only wants to win will never be anything else.
    I'd realised the rules were becoming more and more complex; I had more fun with those that had "simpler" mechanisms, which while they may lack "realism" were more fun. ...
    Another realisation was that this was all just playing with toy soldiers, with only minimal relationship to reality. Simpler rules also played faster and reached a conclusion. This was something important where a "big" game was being played, especially where only you knew the rules.....
    So bigger games, simpler and more fun.....
    Another realisation. It didn't matter if a battalion wa represented by 24 figures or a stand of 8 IF they behaved in the same way - in essence as a manouvre unit that moves and fights together. The only difference is aesthetics. Do you want a unit to be 8, 24 or 348 figures?
    Then there's the history. Do you want to be Napoleon OR the colonel of the 45 ligne? Many gamers (Nappy ones especially) fall into this trap and want to be Napoleon AND form the 45 linge into square, column etc.
    I'd look critically at the following:
    Who do you want to game with?
    What is the shared enjoyment you get from gaming with them?
    What sort of game do you want? Low level tactical or grand command refights of actual battles?
    What kinds of rules do you (and others) enjoy playing?
    Once you are clear, you may have to accept compromises. If your table is 6x4 then huge units of 28mm figs are going to be at a low level. To refight Waterloo it's either smaller scale figures or smaller units. The only way you can do 28mm Waterloo is with units where the base size fits wth the ground scale chosen, so stands of 4-6 figures. That requires suspension of disbelief and lots of abstraction. If you want to be Sharpe, then it's going to be a very small part of the battle and you may be able to use more realistic rules.....
    Myself; happy to play solo. Simpler rules mechanisms (not necessarily simplistic) with abstraction as games are grand tactical or operational in nature (depending on period). Prefer fewer larger scale figures than masses of smaller, so happy to accept abstraction. Is one model tank less realistic than 3 or 10 models when representing a battalion? Am I happy to fit it all on a mdest table or chase bigger and supposedly better until I end up on a 20ft table covered in 2mm miniatures?

    1. Agree and putting the 28’s on a 6x4 might mean that I have to build up 8 or do units, moving down a couple of scales and increasing scope might mean me painting 20 battalions ….. and is something I don’t want to do as I dabble in too many periods.

      I take my mind back to my ‘Featherstone’ years and feel that is was simply enjoyable, with emphasis on both of those words. I wonder whether it was really different, or was that just nostalgia. One thing for sure is that due to the general lack of money in those days, one seemed to be happy with what one had rather than being pre-occupied with getting the next new thing.

    2. Wow Neil thank you for commenting. There is a lot to ponder on there! I hadn't thought about the "who" aspect but it makes sense as people who are looking for different things will approach the problem differently. I like how you broke my question down a bit. I have to admit, I'm on the smaller side of gaming and mostly game in 10mm and 15mm with 6mm making occasional appearances. Your comments have given me a lot to think about here. Rules are a very important part of this conversation, too. I used to play alot more solo games but all of the rules I play just seen boring to me, anymore, which kind of driver behind this blog post.

    3. I always assumed The Thinker was thinking “Where the heck did I leave my clothes?”

      I always make great plans before a few days off work but never manage to get anything done. I think it’s called marriage. But that is not only the toys: it extends to decorating, gardening, car washing etc.

      I agree with Murphy’s Law though. Most of the time your individual wargaming plans never survive contact with other wargamers. This probably explains why the best games I’ve had have been solo efforts with 1/32 figures in the garden, but it’s a very individual hobby and people who find like-minded chums are very fortunate. I spent many years with no contact with other gamers, so I developed my own style without groupthink. Even when I had space for my own games room (and a 12 x 6 table in my first house!) I never actually played, so I gradually realised the toy soldiers were more important to me than the gaming. Limited time and my total lack of patience has led me to simple but effective rules. Thankfully, I formed the opinion quite early on that wargames were just that, so any pretence at realism was utterly ridiculous and I could happily bathtub without worrying a fig that L’Armee Du Nord only has 12 units.

      So I’m a done deal now and it’s only taken 40-odd years! Not sure if I would have reached this without recognising the toy soldier was king, but you can nail exactly what it is about the hobby that keeps you in then everything else will come together.

    4. I think everyone hits these walls; often when you have planned a major painting week for your leave or time off!
      Planning is easy but when you come to put it into practice........
      It's very easy to then get into mental block where you cannot put brush to paint.....
      My solution is to just try and do something in order to break the deadlock.
      I suspect the boredom comes from having so much choice in periods, figures and rules which in turn increases your expectations.
      Once I used to be totally focused on a single period and built up armies incrementally over a period of time. Now I find I have to alternate what I'm working on or start planning another project or period just to keep enthusiasm for gaming lest I lose it although.

  5. Lots of interesting insights here. For me, it's primarily about the aesthetics....I like ALL scaled down presentations of real life...and my dad was a big model railway fan. I am not sure I have ever gained much insight into the real problems of battlefield command from playing with toy soldiers on a tabletop....and I think the use of the words "realistic" or "realism" in referring to the rules used or thehobby in general, are questionable!
    Currently, I feel I am trending towards lower level probably started with my ultra modern collection about ten years ago ( the so called War on Terror type era) and since then, I have also built up collections for Border Reivers and Pulp type skirmish level games.
    I am also tending towards much simpler rules .... I want to play with rules that I can remember after a couple of games and don't have to refer to twenty different tables to calculate casualties etc....
    In terms of opponents, I have been pretty lucky..... the group I "joined" thirty years ago in Auckland are all of a pretty similar mind set and we don't suffer from any "win at all costs"
    rules lawyers!
    I have never had (nor do I expect to have) room for a decent sized table in my own home, so I have always been reliant on other venues. I tried solo games a couple of times as a teenager but felt they were rather pointless...I have only very recently experimented with this genre again...the skirmish level Pulp or Reivers games seem to lend themselves better to solo gaming, in my opinion.
    So why do I do it and what do I get out if it....still can't really answer those fundamental questions, but it's probably got more to do with simply playing escapist games with cool looking toys than we would care to admit to most people!

    1. Ross I have to agree and that seems to be a common theme across many answers - it's the toy soldiers, maybe even more than the gaming sometimes. There have been so many good and thoughtful answers to this post that I think I will have to write them all down! Having been a commander in the Army (albeit a very low level with a way more staff time than command) there probably are few considerations that would port over nicely. I attended a meeting one time (flipping PowerPoint slides lol) with my boss briefing a 4 star - they conversed for 30 minutes straight about ordering aviation parts for helicopter maintenance. Can't represent that on a wargaming table!

    2. And nobody would want to....that's my point I guess! Kriegspiel type map games with blocks or computer simulations might reveal some genuine insights into battlefield tactics, but moving well painted toy soldiers of any size around on a table ....I doubt it!

    3. More and more I'm finding it's about the toy soldiers.

  6. Jeffers now you know it's actually a wargamer thinking about wargaming! A GREAT point and it seems you have understood my point. You have found your "why" and that's outstanding. Wow a 12 x 6 table!! Envy! Question for you - Do some of us affix more seriousness into this business than it deserves?

    1. Undoubtedly! I’ve also played with them - not an experience I enjoyed. There was one chap on TMP who trolls a lot about the ‘tyranny of painting’ and describes himself as a ‘serious gamer’. When he described how his group operates all I could think was “those long winter nights must just fly by…”. Sadly, my table had to be dismantled when I moved and all I have left is part of the frame. I averaged 1.5 games per year with it!

  7. Neil another great point. Choices are considerable. I have tended to fly from project to new project and as Norm says have often looked at the shiny, new thing.

  8. So many great points above, echoing what I was thinking when I read you post. I wont repeat them again and concur all

    The only other point I would offer is that the spirit of different eras can broadly lend themselves to different gaming opportunities. Skirmish games with a handful of Vikings off a ship raiding the coast is very thematic. For hoplites I find smaller games more enjoyable - while bigger games look AWESOME, they can quickly become push of pike dice roll offs that feel very unsatisfying. I love WW2 at Plt and Company levels (15/28mm) because of the personable/narrative feel, but love the Clash of my ECW armies at 6mm. I think it goes back to Neil's comments about WHO you want to be.

    Yes, thinking about wargaming is thinking about your hobby, so totally counts. This means you can be hobbying while driving, listening to podcasts etc. Embrace it!

    1. Great to hear from you, Paul! I've got much to think about from this post! Over the years I guess I've lost sight of the who I want to be when it comes to the hobby as well as what kind of game I'd like to play.

    2. You aren't alone on that front! :-)

  9. I know the feeling you describe. Some wargamers try to optimize their hobby in several different axis, which is probably next to impossible. Finding or designing the perfect rules that are realistic, are not overly complicated and bring big battles together on a 6'x4' is such an example (as I learned the hard way). There are too many factors which cancel each other out. Similarly on a more meta level. Trying to cram in painting three armies, researching a scenario and gaming all in limited time is trying everything at once. You either find a compromise between these parts or optimize for one thing only (for a certain time). I found it helpful to let myself flow in the direction of interesting instead of staying focussed on a plan or goal, that's what the job is for, not the hobby (for me at least).

    For example: I have a wargaming table that is not even 4'x3' and I'm playing multi corps Napoleonic battles on it and I don't like painting. I'm scaling every measurement and figures or replacements down. So I optimized for that and it will never look as splendid as magazine shots or even the average gamers collection. But playing big battles in a reasonable time is more important to me, so looks and rules enforced realism had to take a hit. Luckily I play solo, so I can just play like I read the history or tinker the rules and don't worry about the best move rules wise.

    If I would play with opponents this would be another area of optimizing. Other people have other goals so the plan is not to force my goals into a game with them. That might be trying to optimize their and my goals at the same time. Rather find something that is a good middle ground.

    I start rambling here but one last point: Thinking about wargaming and trying new stuff is, to me, a very important part of the hobby. I have good rule books but I'm always searching for more and trying out new stuff. It might not always feel satisfying while doing so but upon reflection I have a large trove of experience with rule sets and can weigh them against each other in my head. Something I now find very satisfying.

  10. I think these are pretty key questions, and time spent pondering them is not at all wasted; hopefully it will lead to one of those "Eureka!" moments where things become clearer. I like big games with nig (25/28 mm figures), and chiefly historical, at least for my Napoleonic collection. For earlier eras (renaissance and prior), I find that To the Strongest (and the related For King and Parliament) works just right for me, allowing lots of troops, little or now arguments, and enough chance that you can always blame the cards instead of your lousy generalship!

    I probably like running games as least as much as playing them, too; Convention games, and our Snappy Nappy Campaign in a Day events are good examples, as, for that matter, are the games I do for HMGS Next Gen, where a goal is to expose as many to the hobby as possible.

    Like most, I have a huge collector streak, too, LOL!

  11. Very interesting post & questions you raise that I think we can all relate to. As others said, I think another key is: Who do you want to game with? I treaure the tattered and battered copy of Featherstone's Solo Wargaming that my Parents gave me when it was first published. But I'm just not a solo gamer. I have been Lucky enough to game with three Old Friends in my Home for decades ~ now five with the addition of two like minded souls reunited from our long past High School days of playing Ogre, Panzerblitz, Squad Leader & 1st Edition D&D. (Yeah, we're that old.) We're spread across the States now and it has always taken a certain amount of email 'work' and effort to stay in touch and organize our now biannual DudeCons. But it has been so worth it.

    Ironically, The Plague has brought us even closer together and we have gamed more often than we had in years. T theYounger sets up Zoom meetings for us every Friday evening. When there's no game on hand we catch up, compare beers, and talk music. We just began T the Elder's homebrew big battle DBA-MACE (Morale And Combat Effect, I think it is?)15 mil Cravant game.

    To me, as you pointed out so well, the other big question is what do you want to play, at what battlefield scale, and why? We have similar desires there. I'm at the point of reducing my huge accumulation of fleeting whimsies and trying to concentrate on what I really want on the table. I happily encourage my Friends to put whatever they want on the table. (Which has resulted in some outragously good & unexpected games over the years!) I've got a fifty year Collection of Ral Partha 25 mm lead waiting to finally be painted and based up as big units for Fantasy battles that are going to be too large for my 6 X 4 table . . .

    If I had it all to do over? 6 mil Napoleonics & Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules. Without a doubt. That hits every button for me. Scale, scope, reasonably relistic rules that match my research & expectations, playable on my table in a sane amount of time. Perfect. Oh, yeah ~ even better ~ I can play a miniature game out without figures! (And it works!)

    Mark Herman's Gettysburg & Waterloo Campaign are innovative board games that I'll actually try solo.

    Apologies for my lengthy digression. Your musings echoed my own recent cogutations & they've been particularly good ales tonight.
    ~ TT
    (using my Wife's laptop)

  12. Great questions Steve. And some great answers. Very thought provoking. I''ve nothing to add right now, except to say this has set me off thinking about the same questions.