So the gentlemen at Little Wars TV seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy with their provocatively-titled episode “Is Historical Wargaming Dying Out?”
In a word – “No.”
OK, it all depends. First one is your definition of a wargame. A later Little Wars TV episode narrows their definition to “historical minatures wargames.” Using that definition the “tabletop hobby boardgame wargame” sector of the hobby is excluded. For me, I am a tabletop hobby boardgame wargamer first with very few miniatures. Coming at the problem from that perspective, I can confidently say that in my little corner of the world, and especially in the RockyMountainNavy house, “wargaming” is far from dying.
For myself, I am a huge wargamer first, boardgamer second, and roleplaying game player third. I am fortunate to be able to pass my love of gaming to the RockyMountainNavy Boys who play games with me. For the future of the hobby I rest my hopes on the youngest RMN Gamer who this year has taken to evangelizing games to his friends. I am also fortunate that Mrs. RMN believes in the power of games (although she is more boardgamer than wargamer-focused).
Further, I support the hobby through the purse – I am a large consumer of wargames. So far in 2020 I have
purchased taken delivery of 53 hobby boardgaming related items, of which 23 are wargames and a further three (3) are wargame expansions. This compares to 2019 where I purchased 56 items, of which 21 were wargames, seven (7) were “waros” (hybrid wargames with strong Eurogame mechanics) and a further seven (7) expansions. I am doing my part to support the hobby by not only playing games, but by financing the industry.
(See my 2019 Wargame of the Year post here.)
The RockyMountainNavy Boys support the hobby through play. My middle boy, RockyMountainNavy T, is my usual 2-player wargame partner. The youngest RMN Gamer, now 16, started playing boardgames at age 4 and played his first “wargame” – Memoir ’44, around age 8. He actually has his own wargames – Wings of Glory (Ares Games, 2012) and Team Yankee: Hammerfall (Battlefront Miniatures, 2017).
Little Wars TV focused on historical miniature wargaming. As you can see from RMN Jr’s list, both are historical. According to BoardGameGeek I have 71 ‘miniatures’ games in my collection. Of those 71 games, 32 are historical or modern and 39 are science fiction/fantasy. Although there are more than a few good historical miniatures games, I will also say the science fiction/fantasy crowd is very good too. I see the schism in the miniatures wargames crowd between historical and sci-fi but feel it is unnecessary at best, and damaging to the hobby at worse.
To me, the two most important actions the hobby can take to keep it from ‘dying out’ is to 1) encourage ‘gateway’ or ‘foundation’ wargames and 2) control costs. Games like the Commands & Colors series, especially Memoir ’44 with a high ‘toy factor’ are both easy to learn and look good on the table yet are rich in decision space. As an added bonus, there are so many different Commands & Colors games that finding one that covers a period that appeals to potential gamers should be easy. In fact, there is even a space ship battles version!
The major drawback to wargaming is cost. Wargaming, and for that matter hobby boardgaming as a whole, are not inexpensive hobbies. Most of the wargames I bought (new) recently were in excess of $50 retail, and could reach into the low $100 range easily. That, of course, is for a single game – let’s not talk about buying expansions and the like. This cost can quickly make wargaming prohibitively expensive. For instance, RMN Jr. started out loving Wings of Glory and Team Yankee when he got their respective Starter Kits. He loved the potential – and bought a few more items. That was when he realized the price of the hobby. As a high school kid he does not have the financial wherewithal to afford the hobby. Sure, he often uses his ‘Amca’ (Short for Amma Card – or Mom’s card) and he is making his own money at work but still, miniatures wargaming takes lots of money.
Back to the original question: Is wargaming dying? No, but there are some structural challenges in the hobby that could make it difficult to remain strong into the future. On the plus side there are many potential ‘gateway’ games and, generally speaking, I think there are fewer barriers to entry as even the hardcore, SPI hex & counter grognards are more accepting of ‘alternative’ designs. That said, if the cost of the hobby continues the way it is going, then even if right games are published they may not be affordable to play. Indeed, if the cost of “pay to play” gets out of hand nothing else matters.
Feature image courtesy militarymortgagecenter.com