Historical gaming - 'The times they are a changing.'

20th Sep 2017

Bit of a change of tack with this entry.  No new items to pimp or updates to give.  No, I’m going to have a bit of a ramble about the state of the wargaming hobby as I see it.   It might go on a bit, but I hope that you’ll stick with it and let me know what you think on the Baccus forum.

Firstly, as the title suggests, this piece is referring specifically to historical wargaming, although it may reference and have a little relevance to other genres within figure gaming as a whole.  Baccus is primarily a supplier of historical figures and rules and that reflects my own personal interests, so no apologies at all for this approach.

So, what’s brought this on?   It’s all the fault of those there glossy magazine.  It’s them wot did it.    Like many in the hobby I get the three main glossy mags; Wargames Illustrated, Miniature Wargames and Wargames Soldiers and Strategy.    I’ve actually read all these for decades and have very early issues of all of them stashed away in the bowels of the Baccus workshop.   

These publications are important.   Despite competition from the growth of the internet, they still hold a mirror up to our hobby and provide snapshots of trends, approaches and activity.    All have undergone major changes of format, content and style over the years.    Of these, it is the content that is of most interest to me.   What can we find if we peruse the pages of the glossies?

  1. The overwhelming predominance of 28mm figures, almost to the exclusion of all else.    By the way, this is not my usual rant about the chronic under-representation of 6mm in their pages.   This applies equally to 42mm, 20mm, 15mm and any other number suffixed by mm that does not fall between the range 29 and 27.

This ‘could’ just reflect the bleeding obvious that 28mm figures are by far and away the most popular size pieces of metal and plastic in the hobby.  Fair enough, and I can accept that most wholeheartedly.  No, it’s the unwritten assumption that oozes from the pages that is the ONLY option.  To a newcomer to the hobby using these magazines as an introduction there is little in the way of alternatives given.

2)        The majority of games and actions that are presented as scenarios are skirmish and small scale.   A lot of the reason for this is that 28mm figures are becoming increasingly costly and labour intensive to paint, so big armies are becoming impractical and an increasing amount of time and love is being put into games where you can play with a handful of figures.  

As I said, this may just be down to the fact that the magazines reflect the interest of their readers and contributors.   If that is the case, then I really do think that we are seeing a major trend in the hobby whereby historical gaming is now predominantly played at skirmish level and the big games are rarer and therefore become more noteworthy when staged.

Personally, I find that this approach of editing can result in some ludicrous juxtaposition of content.  A good example of this was a magazine that released a ‘special’ covering the battle of Kursk.   By any standards this was a HUGE action.   The historical articles were excellent showing the scope and scale of the battle.  Then came the scenarios.   Yes, you guessed it, squad scale skirmish with 28mm figures.  Hardly representative of the large nature of the subject.  I’ve seen the same done with Waterloo and the Somme.

Where is this all leading?    Well, I don’t necessarily blame the editors.   28mm figures are much easier to photograph than, for example, 6mm and some do make better efforts at showing a range of options than others.   All three of the would say, they would publish articles featuring other scales if they got them.   In fairness to them, they would also say that their pages reflect their readers’ views and they must satisfy expectations.So, no, it’s not a rant at the editors, even if I feel that more effort could be made to be more inclusive.

What I am getting at is that what I have seen a trend in the hobby over the last few years, has, I feel, become a major shift.   This is all based on what I have written below and my observations at shows.

28mm continues to dominate the hobby, bolstered by a large number of manufacturers, rules and accessory suppliers.   This is reflected in and will continue to be presented by the glossy magazines.

The way that people game in 28mm is changing.   There are fewer and fewer large armies being put together.    A recent discussion on TMP centred around people referring to a collection of 60 figures as an ‘army’.    This trend is being influenced and reinforced by the example of fantasy/SF/Pulp/genre gaming where this sort of game is the norm.

Larger games are increasingly becoming the province of smaller scales.  This makes sense on so many levels it is almost self-evident.    However, larger games which don’t feature 28mm figures don’t get the pictures taken and so don’t get the publicity or acknowledgement of their presence.

The ‘Whys’ of all this is happening are many and may yet be the subject of a further piece, but for the moment it is a phenomenon that is happening and people like myself in the hobby need to acknowledge and take into account.

Please feel free to chip in, take umbrage with, add counter arguments and generally kick around in the Baccus forum.