Sunday, 23 June 2013

What a piece of work a Wargamer is...

... how noble in reason; how infinite in faculties, in form and moving; how express and admirable in action; how like an angel in apprehension; how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.

To misquote Hamlet, is this the picture that springs to mind when you think of the average wargamer?

It would seem not if you are familiar with the hollow, charmless gaming experiences Warlord Paul describes in his excellent Mission Statement.. In fact, and you could probably do to have seen the video Paul has posted up on the Taxonomy of Warhammer Gamers, it would seem that many are far from being infinite in faculties and admirable in action. Quite the opposite in fact in you find yourself at the far end of the "Need to prove to the world you are a winner" spectrum!

In brief, Once Bitten - the author of the video - breaks down wargaming into the following categories and discusses which would be important to a range of gaming styles. Check out Laughing Ferret's analysis.

  • Immersion - You really get into the fluff/universe/world/history of the game you play. 
  • Social - relationships are what's important. You look forward as much to the dinner/drink afterwards as you do to the gaming itself.
  • Showcasing/Modelling - You really like to show your work and see the work of others. Modelling and painting are what give you the most energy.
  • Strategy - You like to read forums, listen to podcasts, work on lists, etc to improve your game. You like the mechanics of how a game works.
  • Competition - you like testing your play style and abilities against others to come out on top. Or, to test your strategies against the best.

  • Now before I go on I must admit I will have to stick to describing my own habits as the last time I gamed regularly and came into contact with gamers who have a different agenda to me was back when I was 13/14/15. Back then we had a little Warhammer Club our teacher let us run after school in our classroom. I will try not to make too many assumptions about other people's motivations - Oldhammerers or otherwise.

    Back to the early 90's and our little Warhammer club. Desks pushed together for a table, books for hills - enduring image isn't it. Those were some good times when we clubbed together to get a copy of Rogue Trader, split boxes of Space Wombles and pitted our badly painted hordes of plastic minis against each other. We also chipped in and bought a copy of Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd ed. and my Ruglud's Armoured Orcs would often face off against Dwarves and other Orc tribes.
    We weren't really aware of the idea of narrative gaming but we had fun. Interestingly though we did experience the arms race effect that is often bemoaned these days with ever more powerful Army lists coming out to enable ever more awesome troop types to be sold because the old stuff is now obsolete. It happened with RT - the appearance of Terminators with Cyclone Missile racks meant the quick demise of my Imperial Guard Regiment so next time I equipped a couple of squads of Forlorn Hopers with Haywire grenades to put the Termies power armour out of action. When my opponent wised up to that one he equipped all his squads with virus bombs and my Guard were annihilated with biological weapons.

    Watch out lads - I think they've got WMD...

    The next week I'd equip my forces with respirators and the 41st millennium equivalent of NBC suits (not modelled on the minis!) and pack a few more melta bombs as their lasguns had little chance of penetrating Terminator armour. This was all quite good fun and came with healthy doses of banter and good humour and we certainly didn't think too deeply about how the lack of a narrative thread meant that each of these "stand 'em and knock 'em down" type games were really only a slightly more sophisticated version of how I used to play with my old green plastic army men.

    However, when WFB 4th ed. came out two things changed in our Fantasy games. Flyers and artillery. Oh and Chaos Dwarves with daft hats and big blunderbusses!

    Suddenly the good old boys from Ruglud's mob were getting creamed each week by Empire volley guns, the aforesaid Chaos Dwarf blunderbusses, High Elves on Dragons and so on. I wasn't too keen on this so I bought a rock lobber. And three Doom Divers! Things were good again.

    Its all a bit OTT isn't it? Masters of the Universe anyone!?

    Then there was a White Dwarf article about using your flyers to take out artillery - now it was a case of whoever went first usually won because there flying monster killed the enemy artillery and could either charge the enemy infantry formations in the rear or fly back to safety while the artillery pounded them from afar.

    That's more like it - still got a big monster but it doesn't seem quite so overblown...
    Despite the proliferation of new Army books at this time (still got my Orc and Goblin one - never did like it much though!) I'm not sure many of my mates were too concerned about having tournament legal armies - just the most powerful, awesome armies their parents could afford to buy them. Hence the volleygun, steam tank, Reiksguard heavy armies with no militia, halberdiers or other regular troop types that were regularly lined up do battle each week. Hell, I'm not even sure why some of the lads even bothered with cavalry as they sometimes never moved - all the dirty work being done by the cannon and monsters!

    Armed to tha' teef  and still outgunned!

    Anyhow, as I say, my 15 year old self didn't think too deeply about these things at the time other than - man, I'm bored of playing the same game over and over.

    Introduce girls, beer, going down the pub, university, job, real life, marriage, kids and fast forward to the present day. Having got back into the hobby in a major way, what I want from it has changed massively. I originally set the blog up to post pictures of the Dr Who minis I was painting at the time - the only forum I could find back then that was concerned with the old Invasion Earht game was a very quiet place. So was my blog for quite some time!

    Then I came across the boxes of my old Orcs and fell in love with Warhammer again. Ebay soon became a source for the miniatures of the 80's that I held so dear - I was none too impressed perusing GW's site and seeing all the changes. I decided my Orcs needed an opponent so Wood Elves were added to the shopping list, although I had no clear idea of who I was going to play against.

    It was more about the showcasing and painting of the miniatures back then, and this is still a large part of what I enjoy about wargaming. Getting nice comments about paint jobs is great, and thanks for all your kind words over the years, but I really enjoy trying to develop my skills, try new techniques and generally improve my level of painting. This is true in  terms of scenery building too and I find this leads into the other big category for me - immersion.

    The big reason for striving for a good paint job on my figs and having a nicely laid out table full of good looking scenery is so that when I do play, or more often take photographs for the blog, it is easier to immerse yourself in that world and the experience is richer and more rewarding for it. We all know how unsatisfying it is or would be to play with unpainted miniatures and no scenery.

    Immersion in terms of narrative and back story is also an important factor to me.
    There's a big reason why I've been so drawn to the old scenario packs like Orc's Drift and the Magnificent Sven - I don't particularly want to go back to the rather empty, one off, no reason for it, stand 'em up and knock 'em down type games that I used to play and that I gather can end up being played a lot at Clubs if players' wants aren't communicated well enough. For me its all about story these days - being the victor is always fun, but I do like seizing the moral victory or achieving some small objective as part of a last stand which could have greater consequences for the rest of the campaign or scenario.

    The social side of gaming is something I'd really like to develop more. Solo gaming can be fun and its a good way of getting to know the rules better but nothing beats a live opponent. So far I've had a very pleasurable couple of games of Blood Bowl with Warlord Paul, discovered my old mate Ollie was also a closet Warhammer fan and played a few games of 40K and Blood Bowl with him, met up with various other Oldhammerers (Padre and Hetz) at Vapnartak and found myself chatting with more folk each time I take myself off to a wargames show. I'm keen to continue widening my circle of wargaming friends and as soon as work/time/kids/etc permit I'll off to one of York Wargames Society's game nights having had a warm reception on their forum. It seems as though there's some interest in a bit of Oldhammer Fantasy Battle too so I'm all set to get evangelising on that topic!

    Now for the competitive and strategy side. By Once Bitten's definitions I don't really fit in here. My idea of strategy is not spending hours finding the optimum list with which to beat my opponent. What I would find stimulating would be working out a way to use the limited (by scenario or miniature collection) troops I had at hand to achieve my objective within a narrative game, or how best to husband my reserves over a series of games to ensure I had a chance of being the victor in the final showdown. Tournament gaming doesn't really appeal to me and I don't really feel the need to prove anything to the world either!

    Warlord Paul asked in his original post how Oldhammer fits in with all this and modern gaming in general. Unfortunately, the immersive category is dismissed in the video as I suppose it doesn't fit in with much of the modern Warhammer gaming that goes on? I think I'd be pretty safe in assuming that most of us Oldhammerers would sit towards the immersive end of the spectrum. As we're all from different gaming backgrounds I'm sure we all bring other aspects of gaming with us too - for me that would be the painting and modelling with a side order of strategy as well as the immersive nature of narrative gaming and a burgeoning enthusiasm for the social aspect of it all.

    What about the wider gaming world? Various members have received positive receptions from their Wargaming clubs for the Oldhammer games they've laid on - Warlord Paul and Orlygg in particular. As I mentioned earlier I've had an interested party mention the Dolgan Raiders scenario and I'd love to run Orc's Drift in its entirety on one of the clubs longer Saturday meets.

    I think Paul's idea of a social contract is the essence of enjoying wargaming. It may seem like stating the obvious but ensuring both parties know what the other wants from the game is the way for the whole experience to be a positive one. I'll finish with a little look at an article I found in WD221 entitled Spirit of the Game. Playing styles are discussed and in particular "beardy" gaming is frowned upon. Whether that takes the form of beardy army lists designed to win with no attention paid to the character of background of the army, or Beardy play, which includes rule bending, picky rules questions and generally carrying on in an unsporting fashion.

    Rick Priestley's definition, according to the article, is,

    Someone who is more interested in playing the rules than the game.

    A lot of the article is gobbledigook to me - mentioning combinations of certain characters and certain magic items that have become well worn ways to victory - Book of Ashur, Crown of Command, Black Amulet, etc - obviously stuff that came after 4th ed. or stuff I've just forgotten. Mind you I do remember the Crown of Command being good at stopping Goblins running away...

    Going back to the social contract bit though, there is one voice of dissent in the form of  Graham Davey, who writes,

    I learnt to play with a group of gamers who always picked their armies specifically to win their next game.
    it was part of the challenge to try and get the drop on your opponent by coming up with an army he wasn't expecting and that would work well against the troops you thought he would have. This wasn't sneaky - it was fun! And yes, we liked to win, but nobody got upset if they lost.

    What heresy is this you may wonder - power gaming in its ugliest form?! Graham however goes on to say,

    Of course this only works because everyone in the group knew what  to expect. To be considered a fair player the important thing is to find out what your opponent expects from the game, and make an effort not to disappoint him.

    So there you go - I hope not to be disappointed down at the Oldhammer weekend this August!



    1. Very good read that, I like to play competitively and go too 2/3 tournament events each year. I do enjoy showing off my old toys at these events though.

      1. Thanks Chico - I'm a firm believer that one shouldn't object to what goes on between consenting adults.

        Even tournament gaming ;)

        Actually I can understand the enjoyment - its the same, I would imagine, that I get from playing and winning at some strategy computer game.

        Your Genestealer Cult certainly looks the biz by the way!

    2. Replies
      1. Chees matey - congrats on your ranking in the LPL this year! Some absolutely stunning entries yet again.

    3. That turned out to be an excellent article Thantsants, well done, it was a thoroughly good read! It's heartwarming to find someone on the same page as me too! Looking forward to our Oldhammer game, I will update you on that very soon.

      1. Thanks Paul - just don't get too heavy with the online dating comparisons. People will talk! ;)

        I have four weeks of term time left before the freedom of the summer hols, if that helps with arranging a date for our Oldhammer game. Can't wait!

      2. Hah! My roguish wit knows no boundaries.

    4. I dunno. I think Shakespeare's description of me is pretty spot on, actually.

      I keep meaning to watch this video categorising wargamers (observing them in their natural habitats? One assumes narrative gamers are extinct, hence the omission...).

      All I can say is that I'm with you. Listening to modern players chat (well, discuss their business on forums), I find myself feeling sorry for them and the level of abstraction they move to in order to describe their story - stuff like "Lord with 2HW and 2+ rerollable save in death star protected by 2 units of chaff" - frankly, one wonders why the writers (even the poor buggers now slaving away at GW with their childish, shallow tales) bother with the background at all. Players only read the background as a way to get more points at tournaments by producing some kind of theme, or by exploring the background as some means of justifying whatever 'beardy' combination they have ("Well, they're magic users aren't they - no doubt they just summoned the chariot into the inaccessible forest - duh!).

      I don't mean to tax you and Warlord Paul, but having both proven your narrative abilities, painting abilities, photographic abilities and your blogging abilities, I have some expectations over your oldhammer game...

      1. Funny you should say that Gaj, but I did have you in mind as the exception to the rule!

        I think you'd enjoy the video - especially the bit where he talks about the gamers who need to prove something and find themselves at the microphallus end of the scale.

        I steer clear of such sites myself - all sounds mighty depressing. Narrative for narrative's sake I say!

        As for the game we have in the pipeline - we'll see what we can rustle up.

        Now what was that he said about Lords with 2HW's, rerollable saves and magic chariots...

      2. I laughed most at the reaction to a double Hydra list with an unkillable lord on an ubertuber tournament report. That one apparently made even the powergamers shed a tear for the good old days.

        Challenge accepted on the battle report btw Gaj!

      3. Just did a bit of research to see what you were on about - its like a different language!

    5. Great post. I particularly like the quote on beardy players from Rick Priestley. I like to win, of course, but more important to me is that the army I play with pleases me aesthetically and thematically, and also has a good back story. I imagine this is why I like old school GW, the minis of that era are packed with character.

      1. Cheers Mr S - I think you may just have pulled that off with your Fimir!

    6. A very enjoyable and spot-on post, Thantsants! And hey, if you ever want to widen your circle to include us West Coast freaks, you know that you would be welcomed most wholeheartedly! Just get on a plane and come on over!

      1. Thanks Private - I appreciate the invite! It'd be great to come and visit the West Coast but I reckon the circle might just have to be a virtual one, for now...

        Mind you - we've got a UK Oldhammer Weekend organised. Who knows whether in the future we could pull off some kind of international meet?

        It'd certainly be a great goal to work towards - Oldhammerers of the World Unite!

      2. You're welcome, Thantsants! And the virtual circle is a good one too! Speaking of which, how would you feel about about an Old World/New World online bash? Perhaps you and Warlord Paul vs. Me and Mouse? I haven't broached this idea with Mouse at all (it just lit upon on me right now) and I haven't considered the crazy logistics of it, but wouldn't that be an amazing internet event and a potentially very fun time? Perhaps even a campaign/series of related battles/skirmishes where it might be two armies/forces vs. one etc. Oh-oh, now sieges, bridge battles, rescue missions, village raids, night-time camp attacks are flashing across my mind's must be this coffee I'm drinking - it is very strong! Anyway, just an idea I thought I would suggest to you. Charge!

      3. It certainly would be a momentous occasion! Like you say though the logistics are likely to be fairly torturous. Can't speak for Paul but I'll try anything once though!

        You forgot probing reconnaissance attacks, desperate rearguard actions and break outs ;)

      4. Count me in for anything crazy!

      5. Hey, that's great, Warlord Paul!! I look forward to gaming with you!

    7. Hey, All-Right!! Logistics be darned!!! We'll figure something out that I'm sure can work and be a lot of fun for everyone! (He writes while beaming and hopeful.) Perhaps a small skirmish to begin with - a probing reconnaissance attack! - to set the stage, introduce the story and to test/tweak out the internet playability of this madcap multi-player adventure? Thantsants, just the possibility of seeing four different takes of four sets of forces on four different tables on four different blogs has me loopy with excitement!! Thank you for considering this! I'll email Mouse when he returns at the end of the month to see if he would be into it. I hope he is - he is a great opponent and he has a fantastic flair for narrative! Desperate rearguard actions and break outs here we come!

      1. Ah, excellent - Paul's in - cheers buddy!

        So how do we work this thing? Forces I have some volume of are Orcs, Empire, Wood Elves and Dwarves at a push - think Orc's Drift. The Lustrian stuff only comes in groups of about 5 of each troop type at the mo - cheers LPL!

        I think small skirmishes are definitely the way to go - anything bigger with exotic troop types and I think we may struggle to replicate each others' forces on our respective tables. I say let small bands of warriors of individual characters drive the narrative forward - against the backdrop of some grander conflict that we never see in its entirety.

        I wrote a bunch of scenarios for the Oldhammer forum a while back - any good?

      2. Fantastic, Thantsants!!! Yes, let's just start out with a small skirmish. We can use any force you like (except your very beautiful Slann, if that is alright). (Actually, on second thought, it would be brilliant to see your Wondrous Slann in action - it's just that the rest of us will have to use proxies for them (which would be fun too)).

        I love the idea of each of us having the same table set-up - what about a 2 x 4 sized one for this game? Or even a 1 x 1 one might be interesting?

        As for your scenarios, I would excited to play any of them! Whichever you like. Or you can just dice up one? Or we can meet and bash out an idea as well?

        How about next week sometime for meeting to set-up things up? And perhaps start the game in two weeks, all being well?

        This will be a blast, Thantsants!

      3. Agh so many choices to make! Which warband? Which scenario?!

        I'll start with the table - that's easy. The one you see in all my pics is pretty much exactly 2 x 4.

        Scenario - actually I just remembered there was the one I adapted from an old White Dwarf for the first issue of the Oldhammer fanzine that never was - Indio Anjones and the Barrow of Doom. Might be nice to use that as a starting point and get some good pics for if we ever get round to resurrecting the fanzine? Who knows what other interested parties are seeking out the legendary weapon, or what curse it might carry? There was some rather lovely artwork done for it by Knobgobbler which sadly has never seen the light of day. Might see what Erny thinks about previewing it as he was the main man behind the fanzine.

        How about then having the various factions pursuing each other in and out of some larger conflict they have no part in - kind of like Blondie and Tuco and the bridge they blow up when they bump into the Civil War. This could easily become the Bridge over the River Whye. I'm sure we could work the others in somehow - or come up with other ideas as we see how we go...

        Must say I'm quite fancying Indio Anjones and his Mercenary treasure hunters!

        Next week sounds good to get our heads together - I'm writing reports and doing the hundred and one other things that need to be done as we come to the end of summer term so its a bit mad! Is it worth getting in touch via pm on the oldhammer forum?

        Can't wait!