Wargamer’s Heart

Last Friday I received a large box containing some wargaming products, all the way from the US of A. Tucked underneath three supplements for Panzer – the game of small unit actions and combined arms operations on the Eastern Front, 1943-44 – was a copy of Battletech Clan Invasion, the recently released expansion for the latest edition of Battletech.

Regular readers will know of my love for Panzer. I started playing it when I was 8 or 9 years old. Some of my deepest and most fond memories of times spent with my father were while playing that particular game – albeit the original Yaquinto edition published in 1979.

I recently got hold of the revised game, now published by GMT Games since 2016, and I have enjoyed it almost as much. It was a no-brainer to seek out the expansions… although I didn’t expect the recent reprints to all get done at the same time.

Anyway, as I have said before, I have always wanted to play two types of game: World War II big tank battle wargames; and big-scope military science-fiction adventure games. Battletech fits the bill for that second type of game to a tee: big armoured walkers with big guns facing off on the battlefields of the future. With the new expansion we also get to add in hulking power-armoured soldiers who can take a shot from a medium laser, no problem.

As an additional confession, alongside my recent arrivals to complete my Arduin collection, I received a copy of a related game to Panzer from GMT Games too: MBT – the hypothetical game of modern tactical combat set in 1987, just before the end of the Soviet era.

You see, I am a simulationist and I have been for a very long time. But, as Monte Cook alluded to in a recent post, simulationism is not quite what most people seem to think it is:

Simulation isn’t realism, because not every game strives to be realistic. Instead, a rule might capture a particular feeling or truth. It might emulate a kind of story or historical period. It grounds the story being created by the group in whatever agreed bounds of believability the game provides.

You Got Narrative In My Game Mechanics (Part 2)“, Monte Cook, December 17th 2021

This definition resonated for me because, while Cook is talking about tabletop roleplaying games, this view of simulation gaming is what I grew up on. It’s very much about evoking the period, the historical feeling, and the particular stories we want to tell. And yes, wargamers tell stories through their games too.

To some roleplayers, wargaming is the antithesis of what they want. To me, however, roleplaying games emerged naturally and powerfully from the wargaming simulations of the 1960s. They are akin to one-another. Roleplaying offers a deeper form of wargaming.

Not to get into the emergence of Arneson’s inspiration for his Blackmoor campaign here (you can find out about it by watching “Secrets of Blackmoor” for yourself), but I don’t think it’s controversial to state that RPGs began in the hands of wargamers. My Dad was one of those gamers who, out of curiosity, bought RuneQuest and started my journey into 40+ years of obsession.

Opening those boxes today – because it took me a few days to squirrel them away somewhere private and get some time to pull off the shrink-wrap – I realised that I have a wargamer’s heart. Two things happened as I pored over the chits, the hex maps, the rulebooks, the ‘Mechs, the dice, and the data cards:

  1. I was drawn into wanting to set up the games and play them – as wargames I love!
  2. My mind was transported first towards the Second World War (and thinking about GURPS WWII) and then on to the Mechwarrior universe (remembering I own at least two RPGs set in that universe) – these game becoming settings for roleplaying!

Heading into Christmas and a few days (next week) alone, I am drawn towards dusting off these classic wargames and letting loose the dogs of war. In my dream scenario, one day not a million months from now I will play these games face-to-face with a human opponent too.

Game on!

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