Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday Sermon: Were there five or six brass buttons?


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!


  1. Very thought provoking. Thanks you for this.

    All I can say is that historical wargaming isn't for me. I want the whole Hollywood experience and for that actual conflicts are not the place I feel. That's not to say that I want to judge anyone who disagrees with this view, it's just my personal opinion.

    Also, it doesn't mean that terrible events like WWI and II leave me cold. I think every Belgian should see the Flander's Fields museum, the Tyne Cot cemetery (English) and Vadslo cemetery (German). And every visiting foreigner should do the same.

    1. Well I don't want to tell people what they should do in their own hoby. But, I can have thoughts on what is happening in that side of the hobby. Anyone who has been to War cemeteries like those at Arnhem or Flanders can't help but be struck by the scale of death and destruction many of the most recent conflicts in Europe have wrought on people. Having been to various concentration camps too the full horror of what WWII was about hits home in ways that make hearing people in shops shouting "die you Jew loving swine", in bad German accents, leave a really bad taste in your mouth. Part of it has to be teaching in school nowadays. I remember leaving a hostory lesson aged 10 almost in tears at hearing what had happened in WWI in the trenches. It shocked us all, and I can still remember Mr Woods recounting the tales and showing us pictures on the OHP.

    2. I've only seen fort Breendonk on a schooltrip. It was a guided tour by someone who had been there. You know that slightly sick feeling you get when you hear something horrible. Everyone had it.

    3. Part of me think we should all have to go and see the horror of such sites when we are young and impressionable. They made such impacts on me that I personally have a real aversion to war, and causing others harm. Undoubtedly going to such place made me a much better human, I know that.

  2. I share your discomfort with wargaming certain historical subjects. For me any conflict from the turn of the last century on is too fresh for me to really feel comfortable re-enacting it on the tabletop. Were the Napoleonic Wars awful? Most definitely. However, I can embrace the romance and the pageantry of the age while overlooking the more horrific aspects.

    On the other hand, the idea of wargaming WW2 makes me decidedly uneasy. Partly because I've known a fair number of people who were involved in the conflict, that does make it seem more real, and less an acceptable subject for a game. But more because National Socialists (and Soviets for that matter) were really, really bad and the intellectual descendants of those political philosophies are still causing misery in the world today. Mine seems to be a minority position as WW2 appears far and away the most popular historical period to game.

    As for button counters striving for accuracy is fine, but like anything else it can be taken too far. I like to make sure my toy soldiers are in the right uniform (as far as the correct uniform can be determined.), but I don't worry about things like how many buttons they have or the exact shade of dye used on their clothes. My American Civil War Federalists, Napoleonic French, and Seven Years War Prussian have had their jackets all painted the same shade of dark blue. Its not perfectly accurate, but they did all wear dark blue, and its close enough for me.

    Sometimes Hollywood history bothers me more than others. I like games that make an attempt to accurately portray history, but in the end it is just a game and systems like FoW don't really get under my skin like they do for some people. All wargames make compromises for playability and there is nothing wrong with some beer and pretzels gaming. Indeed after spending fifty-ish hours a week pouring over spread sheets and worrying about the alternative minimum tax a beer and pretzels game is about all I can handle.

    Bolt Action is fine, more power to them. Maybe it'll cause some kids to learn something about history (ever if its painted in broad strokes), and hopefully that knowledge will mean our grandsons won't have to go through what our grandfathers did. Personally, I want nothing to do with Nazis in any form, so I'll be painting (and playing with) Romans, fusiliers, and Elves happy to look back with rose-colored glasses and see only the glory of battles long past.

    1. Anything taken to excess Spiffy can become a problem, and brass button counting is no different. However, at least those that practice it do so out of respect for the subject matter. Even if sometimes they can go over the top.

      I did consider the whole time separation thing for historical wargaming. I freely admit I seem to be the odd one out, time or distance doesn't seem to diminish my own personal horror at the loss of life. Although having known and indeed still knowing people who lived a fought through WWII does bring that conflict home very sharply. When I was much younger I actually spent time with my Great Grandfather who spent time in the trenches during WWI as an officer. Sadly I never got to hear much about the 'Great' War as I was far too young.

      I think like you I see nothing wrong with beer and pretzel games, but I guess I get hinky about any potential disrespect that my actions would show the fallen. So I steer clear and stick with the Elves and hover tanks. Like you I think what I term Hollywood Historicals bothers me too, but as I said in the article, and as you've pointed out here again, it might just get some youngsters appreciating the sacrifices others had to make so they can roll dice with their freedoms intact.

  3. It surely is a touchy subject, that can derail into hypocrisy pretty fast and has the tendency to get very emotional on top of that too.

    At my local club the two biggest systems are WM/H and FoW. I don't lord it over the guys who play it. Nobody around here speaks with a bad German accent (rolling the R), attends the gaming night wearing a WW2 uniform or fields a German army spotting swastikas or Sig-runes along with the complementary dice&token set.

    I'm not against historical gaming in general. I played a ton of wargames on my PC, ranging from combat flight simulators like Aces of the Pacific and turn-based strategy games like Panzer General, to first person shooters like Medal of Honor Allied Assault back when gaming with friends didn't meant playing online. I always had a interest for military history and history was one of my major subjects back in school.

    So where's the difference between FoW and Medal of Honor or Company of Heroes?

    Most ww2 computer games only let you play the good guys, as long as you stick with the single-player campaigns. Playing online against other people changes that, but it's not that you can pay an extra 5 bucks and make your model look like Dr.Mengele or unlock the "Das Reich" SS Division. They don't ship you a mouse-pad with the "Totenkopf"-insignia and the games brand name on it, if you preorder your copy of the game.

    Both Battlefront and WarlordGames do something similar to that. You can field Waffen-SS units, you can buy gaming tokens&dice with the insignia of some of the worst offenders for war crimes on them. Sure, nobody forces you to buy and play with them, but the fact that you can makes me feel a bit itchy.

    Sure, if you want reenact some specific battles from the war, you may need rules of those units. Not my cup of tea, but if you want to be 100% historical correct you may want to have such a unit on the table. But do you really need to have a set of dice and tokens to along with it? And what's far more worrisome: Does the original vendor really needs to provide them?

    People are not buying those tokens, because they need them for historical accuracy. They don't! Chances are high people buy them, because they look cool. And THAT worries me...

    1. That was an interesting post. Thanks for taking the time to articulate your thoughts.

      I have a different view on some of the computer games though, CoD2 for instance had a pretty strong effect on anyone I think at the time who played the Normandy beach landing on the hardest setting. Seeing just how bloody difficult it must have been to get onto those beaches let alone off of them made me personally sit back and reflect. However, I've always felt a bit hinky with them too.

      I can admire them from a purely craft perspective for how tight a set of code they sometimes are. However, there's no question that some of what I've witnessed in Battlefield Games, CoD, MoH and any myriad of others has at times been in very bad taste and actually poorly dealt with the subject matter. Although that is my personal opinion. I've always been happier with games like Halo, Crysis, Killzone et al.

      The 'token and dice' point you've made though also rankles me. I didn't want to touch on that with this Sunday Sermon because it wasn't part of what I saw as the recent fall out issues I've seen on other Blogs and message boards. It is though something I find deeply unnerving. I know the swastika wasn't always a symbol of hatred and evil, but it has become so synonymous with that hateful, foul and despicable regime, that it should offend the eyes of any right minded person.

      The fact that some seem to want to be associated with it in our hobby I personally find deeply disturbing. That they then want to proudly display this association does me to worry deeply about the 'health' of certain sectors of our community.

      I have no problems with the vast majority of historical wargaming, and most historical wargamers I've met have been sound people. In many respects much nicer people than those I used to find frequenting WFB and 40K tournies on the whole. I just get hinky over certain subjects, and actually have to say I feel brass button counters have a point about respecting the subject matter.

  4. A degree of distance can help when it comes to playing a game. I've been having a lot of fun lately playing ACTA: Star Fleet, and the closest that comes to realism is me imagining Shatner shouting at people on a comical set. But distance doesn't just have to be about that absence of reality. I suspect a lot of us have played the Total War games on the PC, and an option there, when capturing a city, is to massacre the inhabitants. In real life, nobody sane would do that, but in the game, it's a valid tactic, not merely because it gets results, but mostly because all that dies are a few bytes of information.

    I'm not particularly comfortable with WWII gaming because it involves the Nazis, who are embedded in my mind as the epitome of villainy (arguably inaccurately when one considers the Belgian Congo, periods of the Raj, Genghis Khan, &c, &c, but feelings are not necessarily logical). A friend of mine is quite happy playing WWII, but can't stand the thought of hypothetical Cold War games in the '80s, as his step-dad was over in Germany at the time. In both cases we lack the distance (in different ways) that lets one enjoy the game. Simply knowing something about the period doesn't mean that this has to spoil one's enjoyment of it: I don't feel horrible when I see children playing ring-a-ring-a-roses.

    As for historical accuracy in wargaming, I like to be accurate, but always bear in mind that wargaming is not one thing, but two. It is not just a game but also a simulation, with the element of each differing according to the wargamer. Arguing for one above the other isn't my bag. I tend to prefer the gaming side of it (well, the modelling side, really), but I don't think the folk who itemise the working parts of a Lee-Enfield are perforce wrong - just different. After all, you could ask me for the details of the main armament of the Iron Duke dreadnoughts of WWI and I could answer you in a flash, but I'd be a sight tardier when it comes to the Royal Artillery in the Napoleonic Wars!

    Folks who play GW systems can be every bit as persnickety as historical gamers, I've sometimes noticed: "Those aren't the colours of Middenheim!" "You can't have female Space Marines!" Like any relationship, wargaming is about finding folk you enjoy doing things with: I have friends I like playing against, and others I wouldn't even consider 'gaming with as they wouldn't enjoy it. Their disinterest would quite put me off, and we'd both have a bad time. In that case, pop on a film or head down the pub - or, in one unusual instance, we ended up discussing our favourite pieces of poetry and reading them to one another! :-D

    1. I agree to an extent about people deciding what is important to them and what isn't, and indeed how they want to play their own games. I've never been one to say 'your doing t wrong'. This sermon was more about me acknowledging that I finally understand the brass button counters and where they are coming from. It was also about me saying that personally I now have to say I agree with them about showing the subject matter the subject matter the respect it deserves. I'm allowed to tell people I think there's a right way of doing things... even if there isn't a wrong way if you catch my drift.

    2. Female Space Marines is a whole different kettle of fish. For many reasons it's better if the subject is just avoided.

  5. TableTopper Harley15 October 2012 at 17:00

    Just recently, there was a similar discussion on the German hobby blog ( It started from a different premise (the author was asked how he could make a hobby out of playing out violent conflicts) but the comments turned into a similar discussion about what and how it was appropriate to re-enact "recent" real-world conflicts in miniature gaming (obviously with a focus on WW2). Someone gave the example of a WH40K player who painted his Imperial Army in SS-colours, with German Reich flags (WW1) and swastika armbands. Now, you could say that he wanted to make a point about similarities between WH40K Empire background and German militarism and Nazism, and that they all deserve to be eaten by the chaos gods. But more likely that guy was just showing a lack of good taste, intelligence and historical awareness. After all, one tends to play armies that you can in some way relate to/identify with/that you find cool. (Especially if you go all the way to paint and convert them.)

    Generally, I think, you can simulate, re-enact, or just play any conflict you like. The thing is, the more recent and relevant that conflict is for today's society, the more difficult it will become to not look like a revisionist, a relativisionist (is that a proper English word?) or just an insensitive idiot.

    As such, you might be right that those sensitive historical topics might better be left to the historical simulation nerds - although I am not convinced that these people necessarily have a higher sense of responsibility just because they are avid brass button counters... High technical skills and knowledge do not necessarily go hand in hand with human skills (as we probably all know).

    I myself tend to see this hobby as an essentially escapist & aesthethic entertainment, and as such I have difficulties understanding the fascination in historical simulation - especially when directly connected to real-world issues.

    1. Thanks TTH for posting this up. I'm not sure I'm right, I never am, and I always accept that I'm more than likely wrong half the time... or possibly 70% of the time. :p

      But you've helped clarify some of the things I feel and think, so cheers for that. Like you I tend to view my hobby as an escapist pursuit. That doesn't mean everyone else has to, but it does go someway to explaining how I feel about this topic.

  6. Thanks, I really enjoyed that article.

    I have pretty strong tastes when it comes to this issue. Like you, I come from a military background: my great grandad was a British officer in the trenches too, and I had two great uncles, one killed by the Germans and one killed by the Japanese in WWII. My grandad is a survivor of the Pacific war, and my dad is a serving soldier. I also worked for five years in the archives of the Australian War Memorial (the equivalent of your Imperial War Museum), and walking through the galleries every was actually very depressing. I shudder when I think about Fromelles.

    So I guess you could say I've pretty much seen it all when it comes to vets, soldiers, historians and war kooks! I have a lot of stories I could tell...

    What this has all led to is that I don't play historical games that are set in the 20th century or later. Actually I don't play any, but I reckon I'd feel OK about Alexander versus Xerxes, or the Wars of the Roses or something. But I can't judge people who do play those games. I have a very specific set of experiences that have led me to this, and others normally don't share them.

    I also never play video games like CoD or MW. To be honest it really freaks me out that they are so popular, but I feel powerless about it. I think pretty much the only thing that would put the kibosh on this fantasizing would be if large numbers of us were conscripted into a war, and that's unlikely (and undesirable).

    To be honest I don't have a problem with Hollywood history. People who lived and fought in those wars made movies about them during and afterwards, dramas and comedies. so who are we to judge making light of it? Unless we're not allowed for some reason because we weren't there, but that opens a few cans of worms itself.

    1. I'd never tell somebody they couldn't do something, but I will tell them when I think what they're doing is in bad taste. Freedom of Speech and ideas cuts both ways. I'm free to personally dislike something and avoid it, I wouldn't be a douche about it and tell they shouldn't do something. I will though tell them why I think what they're doing might be considered offensive.

      For instance I was shocked to have to explain to a young kid that the 'Nazi's' weren't just a faction in a game, and that it wasn't cool that Japanese officers walked around with katana's on them. I don't blame the kids for thinking this stuff and thinking in this way, but I do find it distressing that the UK's education system seems to be failing to bring home the gravity of the horror of WWII and WWI.

      lest we forget indeed!!!

      Maybe distance is important to some people (i.e. time difference) but I guess I just don't see it that way. Perhaps it's because I grew up in a house full of military history books and I know why Hungarians still have a saying "more was lost at Mohacs". Just makes me slightly uncomfortable no matter how long ago the conflict was.

      It freaks me out a little that CoD etc. are as popular as they are. I have played them, mainly because it's impossible to avoid playing them if you like playing online. However, I really don't like them.Like you I feel uncomfortable at how popular they are. I have no problem blowing Chimera apart in R:FoM, or various Covenant in Halo... but shooting a depiction of a combatant in an actual conflict that's still going on... o_0 ... yes it causes me some cognitive dissonance, and discomfort.

    2. Hmmm. The thing with the time distance I think is that I think it gives me an arbitrary point at which to stop empathizing. If I really think about what it was like for some ancient goatherd to line up with his sons in a phalanx and have his hands cut off by a bronze sword, then I couldn't play a game of DBA any more either. In fact I couldn't play any wargame. I've recently been reading a history of the English Civil War and now after reading the accounts of atrocities back then I could never naively play a wargame set in that conflict.

      I've never thought about it deeply, but I suppose I find it distasteful to refuse to empathize with the participants in recent conflicts, but practical to refuse to empathize to with people who lived in an entirely different world from mine. So yes, 16th century Hungarians were as human as my great uncle in Malaya, but if I'm going to allow myself to feel pity and regret for them then why I am a wargamer at all? I don't feel like I could enjoy any wargame if I had those feelings for every human being who'd ever fought a battle.

      Luckily for me fantasy and sci-fi people never did and never will exist. So there might be an issue with lack of empathy, but it is diluted. It is lack of empathy for a fictional character. I'm not sure if that's any better than refusing to empathize with a real person, but at least no-one specific is disrespected or hurt.

    3. Come to think of it I read a Japanese study recently that discovered that people's level of empathy with fictional characters tended to match their levels of empathy with real people. Which is a bit worrying.

      In my case it's not that I can't feel for the ancient people. I choose not to.

    4. Then again maybe it's not about empathy at all for you, and it's something else?

    5. Firstly, I'm not sure it's an empathy issue. I can't empathise with soldiers in WWII anymore than I can empathise with Hungarian soldiers at the Battle of Mohacs. The issue for me is I know the loss of life was horrific and their lives were equally harsh and brutal, even for different reasons. So perhaps it's more the idea that I might inadvertently make light of their own struggles and sacrifices. Time and distance for me make little difference. Put it into a fantasy world or setting and I'm all good. Make it real and I get hinky. I'll never hopefully have to understand the sacrifice soldiers have to make in times of war, but I do respect that it's a topic that I personally find difficult to tackle.

      As to the Japanese study that does not surprise me. Not in the slightest. In modern life we rarely know anything about our neighbours and their lives. Our fellow commuters are just backdrops to our own lives. But the characters in TV shows, in books, graphic novels etc. we know everything about. We know them better than we perhaps even know ourselves.

  7. "Great paintjob on those marines, but why have you painted those blood angels as in the death guard scheme?"

    Historical gamers are known for the button counting, but it is not the majority of historical gamers that are like that. The above quote is manufactured, but on my meanderings through gaming blogs, you see a lot of 40K blogs with similar comments, so Fantasy gaming has its button counters too. I think it is a part of the geek mentality that it can get hung up on the details and miss the big picture. I for one have come across a lot of gamers who fall into this category, and I hang out more with fantasy gamers than historical ones.

    Just food for thought.

    1. I'm really not sure what your point is with regards to my article Derek. Sorry, just don't see it. I'm not saying brass button counting is a problem. sorry you've totally lost me.

    2. Oh, I wasn't arguing with you at all, and if I missed where you said it can be the case in the hobby as a whole, then my apologies. My point was I guess it's not restricted to historical gamers, although they get a rep for it.

      I know your article takes a different direction in terms of the ethical concerns of playing historical games, but I felt it was worth mentioning is all.

    3. That's OK, as long as I wasn't missing some deeply poignant comment. No you're right, except we tend to call them fluff bunnies. :P

    4. Which term is more insulting I wonder, button counter or fluff bunny?

    5. I honestly think neither. Many people claim the title for themselves, certainly many of the fluff bunnies I know are self confessed and seem proud of the fact. I too know brass button counters who seem equally proud of their impressive knowledge of military uniforms. I'm personally impressed by the levels of zeal and knowledge that people sometime show in their own hobby. Genuinely, I'm amazed at some of the knowledge gamers hold. I've certainly met historical wargamers who'd out nerd history prof's. lol.

  8. One of the worst things about the button counter mentality is what happened to you when you were a nipper and had your copper buttons criticised. There's no surer way to turn a kid off something than tell them that they're doing it wrong from the get-go. Audience-appropriate feedback etc.

    Personally I find I have zero problems playing wargames of any period. I'm enjoying the current mess in Afghanistan as a period to play in, for example, and I've tried to adapt Force on Force to do things more close to home a few times (and failed, being a terrorist right is hard to wargame it seems....).

    I can see the appeal of highly accurate games like the infamous "The Campaign for North Africa" and hollywood war like Flames of War for various moods. I'm working on a system for a hollywood version of the op to kill Bin laden based on 40k Kill Team right now, while simultaneously ordering multiple redundant miniatures so I have all weapons options available to a British platoon circa 2003....

    1. True, they complimented me on my painting technique, and I'm sure a few of them were still annoyed I was able to paint better than them as a child... but they were very 'keen' to see me paint the right colours and uniforms. I can see why now, and I understand it, but you are right, the message needs to be pitched right.

      I'm glad you have no problem playing games from any period, there's no real reason I guess why people shouldn't. I'm not against historical wargaming in any period. It's just personally for me it doesn't seem to gel with my personal beliefs and convictions. Just one of those things. Part of me would like to see what the historical side of wargaming had to offer.

    2. Try Tomorrow's War, and them pretend you're using modern forces instead of sci-fi stuff. It's the same ruleset as Force on Force, which is amazeballs.