Historical 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.