Home Forums General Board Games and Card Games Boardgame Mindset vs Wargame Mindset Reply To: Boardgame Mindset vs Wargame Mindset

John D Salt

It seems to me after about 90 seconds’ thinking that there are at least four significant wargaming spectra:

1. Miniatures – – – – Counters
2. Competiton – – – – Casual
3. Historical – – – – Fantastic
4. Simulation – – – – Purely formal game

Where a game or player lies along these lines depends on the answers to these questions:

1. How much do the figures and physical models matter?
2. How much does winning matter?
3. How much does it matter that the things represented could have happened?
4. How much does reflecting aspects of the prototype matter to enjoyment of the game?

Obviously there are intermediate stages along the line, such as paper miniatures, or boardgames which use minatures as some of the counters, it is often pointed out that Cold War games are arguably “fantasy” rather than “historical”, and in even the friendliest casual game there may well be satisfaction in ending on the winning side. The no. 4 spectrum is the one that causes most trouble, because a lot of people still do not understand that “playability vs realism” is a false dichotomy.

Although there is no good reason I can see for it to be so, it does seem to me that boardgame rules are normally more tightly written and better organised than figure rules. Partly this is the historical influence of SPI’s New Jersey lawyers, and partly perhaps because any Tom, Dick or Harry can bang out a set of commercial figure rules, but it needs a little bit more effort to produce a commercial boardgame. So it might be that miniature wargamers are culturally more prone to house rules because they have to be.

Minatures are, usually, used only to represent forces (soldiers and vehicles). In a boardgame, though, a counter might be:

1. A piece (unit, element, whatever you want to call it)
2. A marker (indicating unit status, “suppressed”, “out of supply”, &c)
3. A token (a counter for counting, having no other informational value)
4. A chit (an element of a randomizer, functioning much like a card)

The key thing, to me (and I think this is why Paddy Griffith fulminated against “toy soldiers”) is that counters in a boardgame seem to represent less of a psychological barrier to the representation of astractions. A model of a soldier is expected to represent a soldier, usually with a considerable amount of accurate detail. A counter can be just a silhouette and still represent a soldier; can be flipped to show (say) fresh or exhausted status; or could represent a platoon or battalion or corps, using the appropriate symbols; or could represent such transient entities as a chaff cloud, a mortar concentration, or a flare; or such insubstantial ones as a target reference point, an objective, or a task. Miniature wargamers now use status markers and orders chits cheerfully, but I don’t recall them ever being used before the SPI era, and I suspect they got the idea from boardgamers. Similarly, I am sure that the term “scenario” was imported from board wargames into minature wargaming. I can’t think of any ideas traffic the other way.

So I would be rather chary of declaring boardgamers to be generally less imaginative that minaiture wargamers. And I hardly think it fair (I’m looking at you, Mr. Editor) to contrast “boardgames” and “wargames”, as if miniature wargmes where the only “proper” wargames.

It might also be worth pointing out that nobody has to occupy a single point on any of these spectra; one can stretch oneself out over a broad bandwith of enjoyment. For myself, I have definite tendencies towards the counters, casual, historical, and simulation ends of the spectra, but I don’t find any of them turn-offs apart from the idea of competition gaming. And zombies don’t do much for me, but I am happy to treat “Zombie Dice” as a purely formal game like “Pass the Pigs”.

All the best,