I'm not going to pretend I get this topic totally, so before historical gamers take out a hit on me I'm trying to cover this topic from the perspective of a chap who'd rather play a game with giant manga inspired robots, than a North African WWII conflict with my Grandfathers actual unit. So bear with me as I try and tackle this subject in my own 'unique' way. I'm not going to lie to you, historic wargaming has always made me personally feel a little 'hinky'. I don't think there's anything wrong with it per se, nope, it's just that I feel a little weird plonking 'actual' historical units down on the board to play pretend fight a battle that actually happened. A conflict where real people fought and tragically lost their lives. I'm not going to sugar coat this, I think for me personally I used to find something a little distasteful in it, part of me still does. The idea of placing actual units on the table that existed to play the Battle of the Somme didn't leave me cold, it left me recoiling at horror and the potential insensitivity of such actions.
This was with a father figure... erm... my 'father' displaying nothing but respect and reverence for the subject matter, and of course those soldiers who sadly and tragically lost their lives. The men who were fighting for whatever silly and selfish cause their leaders had decided at that time was worth these brave souls sacrifice. I saw how seriously good historic wargamers took the subject matter from a very early age. I saw the levels of respect and knowledge they had about this Hussar unit, or that unit of Riflemen or Dragoons... or whatever. They knew the names of commanders, where units were mustered from, and which wool factory in Yorkshire had made their sodding tunics! The levels of knowledge, and indeed the time commitment displayed to obtain that knowledge is actually quite impressive now I look back on it. I've slowly come to realise there is something noble about the pursuit of such gamers, and their attempts to pay homage to the soldiers of our past battles, and their desire to want to learn so much about their lives, and the inevitable loss of them.
It was as a young whipper snapper that I first encountered what I'd deem 'brass button counting'. Well actually there were two counts. Firstly I was given a British Mounted Dragoon to paint, and reference material to 'help' with the colours. Now as an 11 year old I have to admit I was more about what would look good on a miniature, I kinda still am. So I took my favourite bits from the various versions of Dragoons in the book that I liked and concocted a uniform that never actually existed. Looked snappy though! Little was I aware that what I had done was considered exceedingly bad form. I got disapproving glances, tuts and the odd "but this colour brocade wasn't brought into..." and I switched off. Blah, blah, blah... boring! It looks good, damn it! Perhaps I should have listened, but all I saw were a bunch of grown men who were annoyed I'd painted a miniature in a way they wouldn't have done. I didn't get it, and quite frankly I didn't want to. I decided such pernickety pursuits just impinged on my creative freedom man, "you're stifling my inner artist. I need to breath dude".
|this wasn't the kit I brought, but you get the point I'm sure!|
The second example of brass button counting actually came relatively shortly after the first actually, and had little to do with wargaming. I'd brought a cheap crappy Airfix Spitfire... don't ask me which MK spitfire it was... I don't know, I don't count propeller blades either. I actually painted that bloody thing really well, it was the first time I'd used an airbrush, and I even used my dads water colour blocks to add weathering. It yet again looked sodding awesome... well awesome for an 11 year old boy. It was wrong though... sigh... all of it. No part of my paint scheme was right. The camouflage didn't appear on that MK of Spitfire as it wasn't part of the Italian campaign. The roundels and markings I chose were wrong for both the MK and the camouflage and... boring. It was at this time I decided grown ups who played historic wargmes and suchlike were all a bit tapped in the head, weird and special in the kind of 'ah bless' way. No offence, but you are actually all a little bonkers in some respects.
Yet as I've gotten older, more grumpy and I've begun to have more knowledge myself of the world around me, I've become more and more annoyed at inaccuracies in various art-forms. Whether it be books, films or whatever. I have screeched at TV screens when something I know to be historically wrong have appeared. I've even put books down that get facts twisted and bent out of shape to suit whatever plot nonsense they want to pump into my brain while pretending to be historically accurate... in some respects I've become a sort of 'brass button counter' myself. It's just I'm not so sure whether it was five or six brass buttons. I'm not sure I ever will know if I'm honest with you. I do though have a new found respect for historical wargamers who want to re-create uniforms accurately, and who know the subject matter so well they can tell you the names of that unit of paratroopers in that fire fight. It's not disrespectful, it's not totally weird (maybe still a bit weird) and I think their speccy and brass button counting ways actually stem from a very noble belief.
Many historical wargamers view their own games very differently to how I view the games I play, they're not there to win or lose. They're there many of them, these brass button counters, to pay their own respects in someway to the fallen, and to be as accurate in their homage to history as they can be. They want to understand the sorts of decisions real generals and commanders had to make. They don't really care all that much as to whether the 'army lists' are balanced, why? Because that's what the conflict actually was, there were no Dragoons coming riding over the hill to rescue them. The Sherman tank was horribly outmatched. They're after accurately representing what real wars were like. They don't many of them care that a certain rifle was 'bent' compared to their counterparts. I get that now I really do, even if I'm not so sure its the sort of wargaming for me. So what happens when this culture for historical accuracy and respect for the subject matter rubs up against our hobbies desire to build fair games with internal balance, or tactical list building? What happens when I guess my world collides head on with that of my fathers?
|Warlord Games actually do some really nice plastic Historical miniatures.|
Can the two of them comfortably coexist in the same subject space? Well if some of the anger that has been caused by, or perhaps directed at Warlord Games and Bolt Action is to go by I'm going to have to say no. Emphatically so actually! I'm not going to pretend to totally understand the issues, or the historical inaccuracies with unit selections in that game, because quite honestly I don't fully understand them, and they're not important to the points I'm trying to make. Suffice to say there are unit choices, and weapon loadouts that aren't exactly kosher to brass button counters out there. They exist to improve the game. But, to wargamers who just want to play a game and build lists that are competitive it doesn't really matter. I'm not sure where I sit on the debate. On the one hand I'm all about the game, and have been for so long I don't really know anything different, for me I want a tactical challenge with the confines of a tight system that's as fair and balanced as possible. But, that's in the realms of Dragons not Dragoons, it's with hovertanks not actual tanks. It's one of the reasons I've never gone in for historical wargaming, I was brought up believing that historical wargaming was all about historic accuracy, and showing respect to the lives of those soldiers who fought in the conflicts you were about to depict, but I'm a really competitive person, and I know that while I have a respect for that sort of pursuit... it's not me. So I leave it be.
Now I'm not having a dig at Warlord Games here, despite how that paragraph might have come across. For better or worse they've been really successful, it seems to me at getting more people involved in historical wargaming, which should be a good thing. They've produced quick, easy and accessible games first and foremost, and that's pulled the punters in. So there is another way of looking at it... they've actually got people interested in historical wargaming. As I say that should be a good thing, and indeed it could still be a good thing, as long as the established historical wargaming community embraces the opportunities Warlord Games have presented them with. There's no need to alienate people by being rude and telling them they've got the wrong amount of brass buttons, engage with people and politely inform. Having spoken to people at Warlord games I know that disrespecting the history of conflict, and those who fought in them is the furthest thing in their minds, and I'll stand up and say there has to be more than one way to do historical wargaming. Not everyone wants to know how many tracks there were on a Tiger IV, and not everyone wants to know exactly what happened in every conflict during WWII, and only re-enact conflicts that actually occurred. For some there is room for the hypothetical, and I guess I'm at a base level OK with that, and I don't think that in and of itself is disrespectful to the memory of those who fought in wars.
|An interesting read, even if it does gloss over certain 'difficult' parts.|
I guess though that at some point, without me even noticing it myself personally, a new sort of 'McDonaldized' form of historic wargaming was ushered in. Where historic accuracy is paid lip service, rather than being at the core of the game, it's a thin veneer. I'm loathed to say that Battlefront and Flames of War have popularized this sort of 'historic' wargaming. But, like Warlord Games by making it so much more accessible, and by not actually placing the emphasis themselves on how important brass buttons are, they have allowed a sort of mindset change to happen within the historical side of the hobby. I'm not going to say it's right or wrong, or a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. I've heard this sort of 'historic' wargaming termed some really unkind things over the past few weeks. I though prefer to term it 'Hollywood Historical Wargaming', it looks like the real thing, but its focus is on explosions and action. The question though remains, is there something wrong with this? What is wrong with two consenting adults (oooh er missus) deciding in the privacy of their own home (it's not what it sounds like honestly) deciding they want to play a Michael Bay version of WWII? Or Quentin Tarantino's take on the Dark Ages?
|We should never forget!|
I'm torn. I would never want to tell anyone how they should approach their hobby. On the one hand I'm likely to be sympathetic to those consenting adults wanting to have a bit of fun... I'm really not trying to make it sound like a sordid affair... but I think it might be. We're talking about making light in some respects, not all, of conflicts that cost real people their lives. If you want a bit of fun, and to have big explosions etc. that's what Infinity, Heavy Gear Blitz and their ilk are for surely. Look I'm not a brass button counter, I probably never will be, but I understand that the subject matter itself needs to be dealt with carefully, with respect and reverence by those who engage with it. Otherwise you do a disservice to those poor soldiers who sadly lost their lives in such conflicts. I'm not trying to put a downer on things, but if you put down a miniature soldier on the tabletop who potentially depicts an actual soldier who might have fought, and died in a real battle, then I strongly believe it is beholden on you to understand a little about what that individuals life was like. To know what camouflage he or she wore. The weapons they held in their hands, the trials and tribulations they endured. To treat their life with the respect it deserves. When we fiddle with history to suit our gaming pleasures, we do a disservice to the memory of the fallen, the brave and the damned... and I personally want no part in that. Peace out!