A comment on “Is Historical Wargaming Dying Out?”

The US-american wargaming channel Little Wars TV asked the question, "Is historical wargaming dying out?"

It feels like an rather odd question to ask, for one thing at the current time, with a completely empty event schedule accross the board of wargaming, not just historical. But not that, but a rather enthusiastic article on The Economist about the lead belt booming - not just Games Workshop.

I think the assumption comes primarely from the american-centric viewpoint of the inquirer. The not only the current situation is a different in the US compared to the one in Europe ( and even within Europa it differs), but the overall approach to (parts of) our miniature wargaming hobby. To give an example, in the US conventions are often hosted in hotels, with the parcipants flying to the shows within the country. The only events hosted in hotels in Europe to my knowledge is the Scale Model Challenge, and unique shows like the Warhammer Fest Europe in 2018 or one of the Warmachine/Hordes championships in Frankfurt. Europe shows are often hosted at venues like community centres with the exception of the really large shows. And that creates a difference in the size of the games played as well. You can often see these differences for example with Uncle Atom, as the topics he discusses often aren't as present over here or different (dominant rule sets, availability of Kickstarters and so on).

But one thing to keep in mind with miniature wargaming, and that is something that people who are already in the hobby for some time tend to forget - it has an incredibly high entry barrier compared to other hobbies. Well, yes there are other hobbies that have high entry barriers, but are often tied with gear and that is a problem that can be resolved with money. Yes, you can buy (pre-)painted miniatures, painted terrain and such, but acquiring those is not as easy as it seems. But to not to drift too far away, simply compare tabletop wargames with other products often sold in the same stores. Let's say we have an event on a friday night. With trading cards, you can show up half an hour before, buy a deck, sort the cards and participate when the event start. With board games, depending on which game you go for, you might have half an hour to an hour for preparation (punching the card board tokens, assembling counters or miniatures) and have a self containing game. But for miniature tabletop? Unless we go for a game like Warhammer Underworlds (which is technically a miniatures board game) where around 2 hours of preparation time should be sufficient and you have pre-coloured miniatures, the overall prep-time is about 2 weeks with some intense work

  • Agree and acquire a ruleset, depending on which ruleset you go for agree on a scale
  • Buy the miniatures
  • Buy the tools, glues, brushes and paints required to assemble and paint the miniatures
  • Unless the venue you're playing more than just the table to play on, prepare a board incl. multiple terrain pieces
  • Transport your army and gaming accessoires to the venue (usually a bit more difficult to handle than just a card deck or boxed board game)

We will skip the part, about how much revenue shelf space can create for different kind of products for the shop owner, as that will not benefit towards the glory of the miniature hobby.

The biggest difference between historical wargaming and the market leader(s) - and probably one of the major reasons, why on top of the things I listed above, getting into historical compared to fantasy or sci-fi wargaming is more difficult - convenience. Dave from The Wargaming Company pointed it out and the delta is pretty huge, especially if you are used to what Games Workshop provides. In historical wargaming you got your rules from Bob, your miniatures from Steve, the banners or bases from George and the books and such by another or multiple different people. Warlord Games is changing that for historical wargaming, they started with 28mm for among others World War 2 and Napoleonics and continued from there into more exotic fields like naval or aerial combat, and far beyond 28mm. In Germany Stronghold Terrain is doing something similar for SAGA. You get the translated rule books, along with the Gripping Beast, Footsore and V&V miniatures, they offer warband deals, that even cover basing materials. They are not the first to offer a broad variety of historical miniatures, North Star did that before or Battlefield Berlin and Miniaturicum in Germany, but the "McDonalds Menu" where you don't have to individually order a side and drinks to your burger makes it much easier, especially if you don't know what you need. And is something that especially younger players are used to.

And the other thing that historical wargames don't really provide are entry level games. In the early days of wargaming a lot of - especially historical - wargamers came into the hobby, by building their airfix kits and having the need for rules to recreate scenarios or play games between their platoons or regiments. Many of the people from my generation, who started in the 90s came via the first entry level games / cooperations of Citadel / Games Workshop with MB - speaking of Heroquest, Battlemasters and/or StarQuest. Today these entry level products are incredibly well placed and produced, but once against most dominantly by Games Workshop, they have Underworlds, Warcry, the Conquest magazine series and small bite portions to dip your to into. Even as historical wargaming is overall cheaper than a Warhammer Army, there is no 30 EUR ready-to-play starter for napoleonics, ancients or medieval.

If somebody is worried about the up-and-coming historical wargamers, beside the already high barrier for the hobby and less convenience as mentioned above, "elitism", "gatekeeping" or what ever you want to call it, makes it even more difficult to join historical wargaming compared to fictional settings. Some people I got in touch with in historical wargaming would be incredibly bad advertising for the hobby. Nitpicking about wrong uniform colours, unhistorical forces and so on. Remember most knowledge about historical events is gained during school or from main stream media - and usually in a very summed up way. So be gentle with people, who only know Romans from Asterix Comics, world war 2 from World of Tanks and think of Napoleon as boring, because they weren't the most entertaining history lessons. These people already came along way to dip their toe into historical wargaming, give them a chance, because it is much easier to simply stay with space soldiers and aliens.

So all in all, I think historical wargaming is far from dying. We have a broad and evergrowing range of plastic kits, more professional manufacturers, by far more appealling rulesets and much easier availability of all those products compared to 10 years ago. If all that isn't something to be happy about, I don't know what is.

Posted by Dennis B.

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