Read And Respond: Four Ways To Wargame Differently

Four things have struck me in today’s trawl through the ol’ blogosphere – four things that have one thing in common.  Allow me to elucidate (or just ramble on for a few minutes of your precious time).

Table Top War has a post up about conversions, substitute models and making the hobby your own which has struck a chord with me, especially given the recent fandango and brouhaha about GW price hikes, resin, Australia, poor business models, the sky falling, and some beardy Brit advising people on the best ways to disassociate themselves from the company but not the scene. Using alternative miniatures and scratchbuilds is definitely in there, but as I considered the issue, I realised the extent to which things have changed. When I was just a lad, the 40K range in particular was full of holes. We were halfway through the lifespan of second edition 40K and still, in many respects, making the transition from Rogue Trader (where vehicles could be, and frequently were, made out of household detritus) to 40K-as-we-know-it with its rigidly defined chassis and options lists and named variants. There hadn’t been a Land Raider or Ork Battlewagon kit for years, and in the latter case there wouldn’t be one for twice as long again. Bodging stuff up and using some parts from other companies was considered the norm, not an atrocity, and I distinctly remember a White Dwarf article about painting Bloodletters with Humbrol enamels. You’d never see that in this day and age, oh no. Anyway, the point is that contemporary gaming has, I think, a much stronger hangup about WYSIWYG than the gaming of my youth – while there are a lot of excellent conversions out there there’s a lot of preoccupation about what they Count As, rather than what they Are, and true, broad innovation is the exception rather than the norm.

On the Painting Table talks about custom objectives, making them more than just the flag or token that’s used to mark the exact square inch from which victory is to be measured.   For one, it reminded me about a post which I still haven’t written despite having had it in my head since GAME OVER started up, concerning contextualising of abstract scenarios.  Ryan’s beaten me to it, though, with his recurring use of a simple in-joke to add a weird kind of continuity to his games.  I love things like this.  Despite the mechanical stress of the Big Game, the Gates of Woe was enormous fun, and I only wish I’d been building up a breadcrumb trail of storyline through my prior games like I used to with my 40K Chaos (where every summer’s gaming was the chronicle of some Evil Plan or another, destined to be thwarted by one or the other of my regular opponents).  That’s one thing that, perhaps, the New School of 40K has over the Old School – the rise of the custom objective marker.  Even as the scenarios have become more abstract and harder to contextualise, a device has emerged to redress the balance.

Gaming All Areas discusses alternative movement systems in wargames, and it’s curious to note how many of the notions – ‘spotting distance’ and broader-than-binary morale systems in particular – remind me of the Old Days.   Going to Ground may conceivably be the new Hiding, but what’s the equivalent of Overwatch, a mechanic which I have to admit I sorely miss even if it did have the potential to create some very boring games of wait-to-see-who-gets-bored-and-moves-out-of-ruins-first if the mission system didn’t work to bring the armies together (imagine if both players drew Hold the Line).  The discussion of Leadership and Morale is particularly interesting to me, interesting enough to maybe warrant a post in its own right, but I mention it in here to indicate partly the success of older editions of 40K in having ‘shaken’ and ‘broken’ as distinct states of unit morale (if only for Space Marines) and partly the success of newer ones in introducing a tactical retreat rather than running off in a complete tizzy.  Bring those two together and maybe add Rage as a condition (bringing in the best of the excellent Tyranid Synapse rules) and you have something that’s a pretty realistic spectrum of unit morale… although it would seem to come at the cost of easy recording and playability, with four or five states of mind to track and represent somehow.

Finally, A Gentleman’s Ones features a battle report with an interesting set-up condition; Infiltrating everything to start the forces right on top of each other and forgo the usual jockeying for position.  Reminds me of the third edition scenarios like ‘Battle at the Camp‘.  Many of us would shriek in terror at the thought of our carefully planned deployments in standardised areas for scenarios we’d prepped for in advance being torn to ribbons by this wilful anarchism (well, I wouldn’t – my favourite Warmachine scenario was Crossed Lines – but I understand why we might), but it’s certainly different and tense and actually forces you to think on the hoof rather than executing the brilliant strategy already preconceived of.

That’s my Saturday morning in the blogosphere, anyway; four things that will hopefully make you think about doing your next bit of gaming a bit differently.

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