I just wonder if trad. historical wargaming, with its requirement of basic English and arithmetic, might now present a barrier to entry to the average US High school graduate? …Before you scoff, consider – to wargame at the very least you have to have an inherent understanding of scale and ratio, probability, and often be able to cross index charts and even, god forbid, if playing Empire V, apply a flow chart…
Actually, math and science are the only things that US public education does reasonably well. Our kids routinely score pretty well in those fields compared to other nations. We are disastrous when it comes to teaching languages (including English), Geography, the Humanities in general, and we regard the Arts and Music as fluffy non sequiturs that no one could possibly want to waste their time on, but American kids can generally put 2+2 together.
And interest in military history is very high in the general populace, at least among men. Sure, it’s the silly, dumbed-down, über-patriotic Hollywood version of military history in which Americans always figure as heroes, but that’s enough for wargaming! Interest in World War Two, for example, has never been greater in the general populace than it is now.
In other words: I don’t detect any educational or literacy factors that would mitigate against Americans taking up tabletop wargaming.
And in any event, I don’t think that teenage boys are particularly math-averse. Older men, on the other hand, certainly are! Who the hell wants to do all that math anymore to play a game? We did that when we were kids, but now we want faster, easier games that don’t make our brains hurt after spending a week at the office filling out reports. Consequently, most games today are very math-lite. Nobody is trying to introduce a 13-year-old by getting him to try Empire IV. The games that most new players would encounter today won’t require him to do any fancy math.
What I have seen in the US, though, is a hobby that became insular like some medieval religion, more concerned about arguing over simulation or which rules are “historically accurate” rather than trying to build a broad church that would interest a new generation of hobbyists. Indeed, games that were pitched to a broader audience were usually panned and insulted as being insufficiently historical. (If you want to experience the white-hot hatred of total strangers, try releasing an introductory Napoleonics game!) Even now, as convention attendance is falling, there are passionate complaints about too many non-historical games being allowed into Historicon and the other conventions, as if now would be a good time to deliberately make the hobby smaller!
Consider the state of the US hobby 30 years ago: Avalon Hill & SPI were still in business, making games that people all over the world wanted to play. To use your example of Empire – that game sold something like 25,00o copies globally (!) There is no American rules publisher today who would dare to dream of such numbers. Those are the kinds of sales figures achieved today by the best-selling non-US games like Black Powder, Flames of War, Bolt Action, Field of Glory, etc.
About a year ago, there was a thread on TMP in which somebody asked who the best American game designers were, and it was striking that the majority of those named were either dead or no longer publishing. Then somebody praised me as an example of a “young, new author…” Umm, thanks, but I will be 50 this year! You know the scene is in trouble when a 50-year-old who has been publishing for twenty-five years is considered “young and new.”