History, it’s not just for old guys.

walter_historyHistorical gaming has a problem. It isn’t a big problem, not yet, but it could become one.  People who enjoy historic wargaming tend to look like me; stunningly handsome, but a bit gray.  I won’t go so far as to say we’re a dying breed, because that isn’t true at all; a visit to Historicon will prove there are plenty of us around.  Still, it would be nice to see more younger players taking an interest in the historic side of gaming.

Younger gamers interested in miniatures gravitate toward Warhammer Fantasy or 40K, Warmachine, maybe Dystopian Wars, things like that. It isn’t hard to figure out why really. One thing those systems have going for them is one stop shopping. Rules, miniatures, supplemental books with scenarios and army lists, how to books on terrain making and figure painting, and all the tools needed to paint and build said figures and terrain are all conveniently available from the same publisher.  Gamers don’t have to hunt around for figures that work for the game they’ve chosen and they don’t have to wonder if a particular army list is appropriate for the rules they have.  In short, they don’t have to worry if they’re “doing it right.”

Another thing I think keeps younger, especially high school and college-age, players away from historical gaming is that…it’s history. I mean c’mon, didn’t they just have to turn in a fifteen page paper about some guy who did something a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? And now for recreation they’re supposed to play a game dealing with something that happened to some people a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? Sci-Fi and fantasy games are awesome. They’re pure escapism and I love them. Gamers look at historical games though and I think they see them as some kind of test that they’d rather not take. Too much like being in the classroom. The thing is, historicals aren’t a test, they’re escapism too and in their way they’re more rewarding than sci-fi and fantasy games.

Spend any time at all in your friendly local game store and you’re bound to hear at least one conversation where a Warhammer gamer is going on breathlessly about the heroic stand his Bretonnian legion made against the Dark Elf hordes. All was lost until a final desperate and heroic charge of Bretonnian cavalry shattered the pointy eared masses!

Spend any time with historical gamers and you’ll hear a similar conversation, perhaps about the defense of Little Round Top (July 2, 1863) at Gettysburg.  Usually such a conversation focuses on the defense of the extreme left of the Union army’s line, held by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry  and a small detachment of troops from the 2nd United States Sharpshooters (Berdan’s Sharpshooters).  Facing a determined attack from two Confederate regiments Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine, found himself out of ammunition and options. What was left to do, but fix bayonets and charge the rebels, who outnumbered the Maine boys by a goodly number?

Surely that’s at least as exciting as the Bretonnian cavalry action. And it really happened

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that most people dislike history.  I believe they dislike the way it is typically presented. It’s no accident that most fantasy worlds are firmly based in a medieval European setting, so there is some interest for sure. All that’s needed is to make history more interesting and approachable and thankfully as gamers we have all the tools we need to do that.  Much like beer, games make everything better.

History isn’t boring, it’s actually damned exciting; real events happening to real people. The trick is to forget your high school and college history because those classes sucked. I know because I took them too.  (If you want some valuable life advice, forget everything from high school and college; none of it matters.) Do a little reading on your own about eras that are of interest to you. I know there are some; maybe you like gladiator movies Joey. If so, then gaming ancients, Romans and Carthaginians might be your thing. Wherever your interest is though, do a little background reading, even if it’s only on the internet. Then we’ll come back here and start figuring out how to turn your interest into an exciting miniatures game.

6 thoughts on “History, it’s not just for old guys.

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  1. The difference for some people between fantasy/sci-fi wargaming and historical wargaming is that with historical wargaming the group is re-creating history (or so it appears from the outside) whereas with fantasy/sci-fi wargaming they are creating history. Why play in a world of someone else’s choosing (the real world) when you can create your own (a fantasy one)?


    1. callin,

      Here’s hoping that the real world is also yours and not just someone else’s. 😛

      I get what you’re saying though; there aren’t any boundaries in the fantasy/sci-fi realm aside from those you decide on. Historical gaming isn’t necessarily a slavish recreation of events though, that wouldn’t be very much fun. Much of historic gaming actually involves what if scenarios, and made up conflicts that explore what might have happened had history taken a slightly different turn.

      As an example, one very popular area of ‘historic’ gaming is the Cold War gone hot. That is, what if NATO and the Warsaw Pact got tired of just snarling at each other and decided to do something about it? This never happened of course, not in a major way, but I’ve played numerous enjoyable games set in Germany in the mid 1980’s with NATO and Soviet armored forces dueling for control of the Ruhr.

      Another area of historicals that has been gaining popularity of late is in the realm of “Imagi-Nations”. In these games players will make up their own countries, typically but not necessarily based on some real country at some point in history, and develop a background for it. Then they can let their imaginations run wild building miniature armies for their new country and planning campaigns of conquest against other made up nations.

      There are fewer restrictions on gaming history than appear at first. Setting some of these up, especially an imagi-nation takes a fair bit of effort, but that’s part of the reward and fun.


  2. Well Callin you raise a reasonable point but most war gaming worlds are no more “yours” than the real world is (except the real world does belong to us all). There is only one way to do Bretonians the way the codex says you have to oh you have some freedom to pick and choose with in the context of the rule book but you also have that freedom in a historical game, which are realy historical fiction. Freedom is in the gaming not the fantasy.


  3. Like many of my generation, I got into RPG through wargaming. If I could find people to play with, I would.

    Generally, except as part of an RPG, I prefer historical games. The satisfaction of achieving victory from a historical defeat (or following in the footsteps of a successful general) is quite nice.


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