In which guest author Mark Rivera takes us on a journey through his wargaming roots.
Yes, I am a Grognard (wargamer), and I’m proud to say it. We wargamers are better known within the hobby by the monicker, “Grognards”, in deference to Napoleon’s Imperial Guard,
From Wiktionary –
grognard m (plural grognards)
- a grumbler; one who grumbles
- an old veteran soldier, specifically an old grenadier of the Imperial Guard (Grenadiers à pied de la Garde Impériale); an old complaining soldier
We wargamers, are a niche within the wider boardgame community. We love to play games about battles, wars, campaigns through all periods of history as well as fictional settings. I have been playing games from a very young age and have loved many different types of games but when push comes to shove, I always go back to wargames as my favourite games to play. And yes, I grumble… a lot. And yes, I have reached 60 this month so I’m an old grenadier in the wargame community. And no, we aren’t warmongers and those who say we are are ignorant idiots.
The truth about us wargamers is out there somewhere…
Why do I like wargames? Well I’ve been really interested in history and in military history since I was very young so wargames was an extension of this. Wargames have been a way for me to attempt to get a sense of the problems and challenges in warfare and what commanders and troops had to deal with. Abstracted, to be sure, but interesting nonetheless. Wargames tell the story of these events and bring them somewhat to life. They have always added to what I have read and learned through the years and have given me a profound respect for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
It all started for me with a Parker Brothers game from a long time ago.
1863 from Parker Brothers
I was particularly interested in the American Civil War as a child and I’m pretty sure that this game was the first wargame I’d ever owned. I remember playing the heck out of it. I don’t suppose that it stands up well today but I was in early Grognard heaven at a young age.
Battle Cry – Milton Bradley
“Milton Bradley?” I hear you say? Well yes indeed. Another early game found its way into my room and I was off having a great time. The later reinvention of Battle Cry is still in my collection and much treasured.
The first “Golden Age of Wargaming” circa late 1960’s – 1970’s ish…
I was fortunate enough to get seriously into wargaming during what is known as the First Golden Age of wargaming, so called due the proliferation of titles published by 3 companies, Avalon Hill, SPI and Games Designers Workshop.
My first “serious” hobby wargame, Gettysburg was given to me around 1970, I think anyway. I became aware of the Avalon Hill publishing company as there was a full colour brochure included in the game. I was amazed that the were so many games available. This was a simple game using a square grid for movement of the units.
Another game in the AH stable, and my first of many “hex and counter” wargames, this time set in World War 2, another area of interest for me. Designed by James Dunnigan who I would become familiar with when he started SPI and i became introduced to…
Strategy & Tactics Magazine
This was a revelation for me. James Dunnigan and Redmond Simonsen were keen to take on the Avalon Hill dominance of the wargaming market. Avalon Hill published the occasional game with very strong production and lush components for the time. Dunnigan’s Simulations Publications Inc (SPI) would change this model, producing a ton of titles covering a much broader range of historical topics with relatively decent components and paper/card maps and their marketing flagship was Strategy & Tactics magazine which came with a complete game in each issue. My first 2 issues were these…
Well I say complete…
The proliferation of titles meant that the playtesting was pretty shoddy on a number of titles and there was almost always the eventual errata. To be fair, all wargame publishers had this problem but its more pronounced in SPI’s case due to the sheer volume of titles published.
And the publishers wrote rules almost as if they were legal documents, rather than a user friendly explanation of how to play
Trust me, it was hard work in those days learning rules. You were forever having to go back to the rulebooks for clarification. But it was worth it! Some awesome games were published back in the day like…
There were so many games and the vast majority were traditional hex and counter games. It was quite amazing. The downside of all this was that it became increasingly difficult to attract new gamers as there were so many games that were more simulation, less game and added to this was the cost of doing business increasing for such a niche hobby to the point where almost all publishers but Avalon Hill failed to survive, and even they were bought out by Hasbro.
Many of us were saddened by what appeared to be the demise of our beloved hobby…
The 2nd Golden Age of Wargaming
The 1990’s seems to have ushered a new wave of publishers and thankfully, it still continues as business models and production costs appear to have been sustained by the hobby and that is fantastic news. Companies such as GMT, MMP, and a host of smaller wargame publishers such as Victory Point Games and Columbia Games have really published some fantastic games and the hobby seems to be pretty healthy.
The traditional hex and counter games are still there but the rules seem to be better and games more thoroughly playtested in many cases. Card-Driven games, have brought in much more historicity and new approaches such as area control and Block war games added to a much higher standard of graphics have raised the overall standard of wargames across the board.
I personally have become a big fan of Victory Point Games and their States of Siege series of solitaire games. I would also say that Columbia Games and their library of excellent Block wargames are personal favourites.
Days of Wonder who produce a variety of game styles have an absolute winner in Memoir 44 which is probably my favourite wargame. Its simplicity and accessibility have opened the hobby to many non-wargamers and this can only be a good thing.
Here are some of the cool titles available today. Even if out of print, you can probably find them on ebay.
This is unquestionably the best time to ever to be a wargamer or to discover board wargames!
So why write this?
Well, it seemed like a good idea to go down memory lane and talk about something that is a true love. I love being a wargamer. I have learned a lot by playing war games and have made a lot of friends over the years who share this love. I have had such fun and loved stretching my brain to challenge myself against historical leaders and to understand just a bit more about these epic events. Through playing war games I have come to really be thankful for those who fought and paid the price for the freedoms I enjoy.
War games may not be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s fine but for this old grognard, it’s been and will continue to be an awesome hobby!
Find me at –
Twitter – @blightygamer
Website – Boardgames in Blighty – http://rivcoach.wordpress.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boardgames-in-Blighty/150071511711792
http://www.consimworld.com/ The leading website for all news related to board wargames
http://www.victorypointgames.com/ One of my favourite wargame publishers
http://columbiagames.com/ Another of my favourite wargame publishers