Sitting in my old teenaged bedroom while visiting my folks, I am once again reminded of the deep roots I have in the culture of wargaming. While I am often heard talking about the merits of an emphasis on the “make believe” elements in our roleplaying games, I am also conscious of the enjoyment I have had from the wargaming origins of RPGs.
I grew up playing hex-and-chit board wargames with my Dad. As the 1980s arrived, so did games like OGRE and GEV from Steve Jackson Games which blended the science-fiction I loved to read with the wargames I enjoyed playing.
This type of light-hearted wargame was also shared within the RPG group my friends had forged and many an evening or weekend was filled with games such as Car Wars, Snit’s Revenge, and The Awful Green Things From Outer Space.
Meanwhile, Dad and I played tactical and strategic wargames whenever he was around long enough to set up and get in a game. Panzers roamed across the battlefields of Europe and the Middle-East, Napoleon’s armies engaged with Prussian and British forces, and we enjoyed many hours sinking battleships during the Battle for the Atlantic. I grew up on late Imperial British campaigns through to fighting in the Arab-Israeli Wars of the late 1960s.
Today, I rarely get to play wargames unless I engage in solo battles. Despite a long period playing tabletop miniature wargames, ranging from Games Workshop’s Warhammer through to World War II and other historical periods, this element of my hobby has withered away to non-existence. Every now and again I get the hankering for a good miniatures battle, but the cost and time required stymies my enthusiasm.
Yet I am, I think, a wargamer at heart. Deep roots in the traditions of wargaming inform my approach to roleplaying games too, especially in how I think about the idea of campaigning. Simulationist tendencies run through my experience, especially when I dig into games set in near-modern historical periods, such as World War II. Questions of supply are just one aspect of gaming that fascinate me… and probably leave others boggled.
The appeal of roleplaying games was always the idea of playing a singular character and experiencing the challenges of the gaming world through their eyes. I was enthralled by the make-believe and the freedom to try anything, the agency on offer being the largest degree imaginable in wargaming. But I also love the gritty detail of combat and the tactical challenges that fighting with miniatures and tokens offers.
There is a fundamental tension inside which is drawn both towards the make-believe of Otherworld-immersion and the tactical challenge of wargaming. I am learning that it is not ideal to try to mix these two aspects of gaming, discovering as I have that the one tends to negate the other. But I am also torn between wanting sometimes to explore the Otherworld and at other moments to battle on the fields of detailed combat.
Perhaps I would be better off enjoying wargames as a distinct category and roleplaying games as another. But it seems sad to me that we should feel the dichotomy. What’s an old gamer to do? Is there a way to find a balance in a busy life?