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John D Salt

There is a very nice piece by Phil Barker on p.21 of the May 2016 issue of The Nugget (no. 290) called “Writing Wargames Rules”. This is already available Harry Freeman’s at the WD web page http://www.wargamedevelopments.org/nugget.htm and is worth a read in its own right. What matters for this discussion is the first paragraph, which struck me as an excellent conspectus of the several motivations for wargaming:

“A set of wargames rules should not only provide an exciting game in which players can demonstrate their skills and show off their painted figures, but also a game which realities to the real historical world.”

Unpacking this gives us, it seems to me, four more or less distinct motivations:

1. Playing a game for its own sake
2. Demonstrating skill in (presumably competitive) play
3. Showcasing gorgeously-painted military minatures
4. Simulation of historical reality

When I started wargaming, 2 and 3 mattered to me a good deal more than they do now, 1 and, especially, 4 now mattering most. I expect that most wargamers are driven by some mixture of all four motivations, but I suspect there are some who can manage entirely, or almost entirely, without one or more of them.

Paddy Griffith was in the UK the leader of the revolution against “toy soldiers” that WD grew out of, but the (primarily American) world of board wargames had been managing happily without them for a couple of decades beforehand. Certainly there is some pleasure to be had being praised for designing attractive and useable game components such as maps, counters and charts, but I think it is fair to say that this is never going to occupy such a central place in any wargamer’s heart as the decoration of minature figures does in many.

I have never really seen the appeal of league or tournament style competition in wargames, but I doubt that even the most uncompetitive wargamer’s enjoyment of a game is not sharpened by playing to win. There are colaborative or “multi-player solitaire” games (a format I over-use) where the players are not competing (directly) against each other, but they are still trying to win against Nature/The Plot/The Gamesmaster. We recently had a very interesting discussion about non-random games, motivated, as I saw it, by a desire to emphasise the skill element of wargame play. I think most wargamers would protest mightily if presented with a game that they had no chance of winning (with the honourable and hilarious exception of Greg Costikyan’s “Paranoia”).

Simulation of historical reality one might think is irrelevant to SF, sci-fi and fantasy games, but it is not necessarily so. Games based on established imaginative stories (Lord of the Rings, Dune, Starship Trropers, why have I never seen a Narnia game?) might be characterised as “literary simulation” — they still try to represent aspects of their chosen world more or less faithfully, it’s just that this world happens to be an imaginary one rather than the historical one.

The game for its own sake is the only motivation I cannot imagine doing without. Some wargamers seem quite adamant that it is the only permissible motivation of the lot, and will start yelling “It’s supposed to be FUN!” at anyone foolish enough to attempt a serious discussion about any of the other aspects, as if this might be something that had somehow not occurred to them.

Does that cover the lot? I woudl suggest there might be a couple more.

Storytelling has been mentioned, and I am thinking here if the sustained narrative effort required to invent your own imaginary world, or create a deep and convincing setting for a wargame campaign. This aspect has a long and venerable thread in wargaming; even before Tony Bath’s Hyborian Campaign, there was H G Wells’ “Floor Games”, the precursor to “Little Wars”.

Finally, for the excessively po-faced and grown up, there is the design of wargames as educational tools. This is something I have done a little of, and there are sufficient people doing it professionally in the US and the UK to justify the annual “Connections” and “Connections UK” conferences. And, of course, there’s Prof Phil Sabin, who runs the course on wargame design for the Department of War Studies at King’s London.

If anyone else can come up with any other motivations for wargaming, I’d be interested to know what I’ve missed.

All the best,