Wargaming Roots

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?

I wonder…

2 comments

  1. I don’t have a wargaming background, but I have played a handful over the years. None recently. Wargames typically have a lot of rules to absorb. I get tempted from time to time, but struggle with the time investment for a game that we’ll play once or twice. Modern RPGs are (usually) easier entry, with quickstart rules, similar mechanics, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of GURPS-as-wargame. That is, the players would take the roles of command and other “influence” persons in a faction (I usually play with the idea of a Barony or similar, making heavy use of Mass Combat, Social Engineering, and also the more logistical rules from the Low-Tech Companions and related Pyramid articles rather than Realm Management, I think now; possibly also ideas from a game called Realms of the Unknown) that is contending with similar factions. Then I run into the fact that I would have to run all of those other factions or find players for them, and then I despair of ever running it. How I do wish for a wargames club that could support “from four to fifty players”, preferably toward the higher end there. I suppose I could do with fewer players if I could find enough who were willing to be competitive, but a lot of players these days seem to want (understandably!) the social interaction more than the competition. Also, the bookkeepping would be an interesting challenge.

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