Wargame SITREP 230217 N7 Design: Gygax/Perren “Warriors” vs. “Gamers”

In C3i Magazine Nr. 36, James Buckley issues a call for the wargame community to change how we “express” wargames and to make them more “generalist-friendly.”

The games don’t need to change, just how we express them…I’m not saying the single act of toning down the scientification of our hobby will massively reduce the barriers to entry…but alongside other initiatives…and the more generalist-friendly work emerging from the likes of Cole Wehrle or David Thompson, it might help a bit.

“Wargames: simulation or stimulation?”, C3i Magazine Nr. 36, p. 63

In a response piece I wrote up for Armchair Dragoons I pointed out some of the issues I have with Mr. Buckley’s contentions. James (@CardboardEmp on Twitter) responded in a series of tweets that ended with:

Why do we need to pretend that what we do for fun is some kind of pseudo-empirical scientific endeavour? It’s something that puzzles me. It’s not a major issue. But I believe – and I could be totally wrong – it creates a potential barrier to entry to the hobby. That’s it.

@CardboardEmp on Twitter
Courtesy @CardboardEmp on Twitter

James is right; wargamers don’t need to pretend wargames are simulations or models—but is it not also possible that what one wargamer might see as a “potential barrier” might for another be a “potential gateway?” Why can’t they coexist?

I sense this discussion comes down to “wargamer motivations.” While many people have tried to categorize the various wargamer types (see my comments on Harold Buchanan’s attempts here) at the end of the day I think observations from Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren as described in The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity (MIT, 2020) written by Jon Peterson somewhat describes our current conundrum:

In 1970, Gary Gygax ascribed to his Chainmail coauthor Jeff Perren a distinction between the attitudes of two types of players he called “warriors” and “gamers,” where “warriors seek to duplicate actual conditions of battle” to emphasize realism and “gamers are willing to twist realism any which way if a fun game results.”

Petersen, pp. 28-29

I can understand how a potential “gamer” might see the language of simulation and model as ‘not fun’ but it is just as likely that a potential “warrior” might see those same words and be ‘stimulated’ to seek out more? Both should be welcomed…equally. Even Gary Gygax who arguably changed how wargames were expressed so dramatically it created an entirely new genre of gaming—roleplaying games—was wary of making distinctions: “For one type of player to place his own viewpoint as superior to another’s hobby enjoyment is simply being too egocentric” (Peterson, 29).

I’m going to go back to a quote from Riccardo Masini in C3i Magazine Nr. 36 which I cited before and will do so again because it’s too important to ignore:

“…in order to not simply survive but carry on its journey, historical simulation games should be at the forefront of all the attempts to get past the concept of a fragmented “game culture,” focusing instead on a healthier and more prolific relationship between “games” and “culture.”

Riccardo Masini, “Wargaming in the Land of the Eurogames”

Calls for “toning down the scientification” are not a way to get past a fragmented game culture. Neither is calling for one type of games over others helpful either. “Warriors” and “gamers” need not be in conflict; wargamers should proudly stand alongside generalist gamers by embracing our diversity instead of using it as a fault-line between ourselves.

Generalist Wargames

Although I am a self-identified Grognard, I like several of the wargames designed by Cole Wehrle and David Thompson. Root (Leder Games, 2018) by Cole is a master-class in bringing diverse game mechanisms together into a coherent, playable design. RockyMountainNavy T and myself have a winter War Chest (designer David Thompson, AEG, 2018) tournament going, enhanced in part by me being gifted War Chest: Siege (AEG, 2021) from him at Christmas. I like their designs. I hope they design more.

If designers Wehrle and Thompson are the example for others to follow, let’s look at the powerhouse publisher in the wargame industry—GMT Games—and see how they are coming up short. As the biggest wargame publisher they surely are THE SOURCE of simulation and model wargaming for “warriors” by “warriors.” Let’s look at the GMT Games Top 15 all-time bestsellers:

As of Feb 14, 2023

Hmm. I’m looking at all those “pseudo-empirical scientific endeavors” and trying to find those labeled “simulation” or “model” in the publisher’s blurb but I keep finding references to this thing called “game” instead. How disappointing…

I strongly believe that the wargaming community is not divided at the extremes Gary Gygax talked about. As I write this post, a new article from The Players Aid blog, “Best 3 Games with…Designer Hermann Luttmann!” dropped. In this article, Grant—a true warrior-monk warrior-gamer—uses the term “model” once (“…using a new system similar to his famous Blind Swords System to model combat…”) and “simulation” once (“…really keeps the game tense while providing some real simulation of the difficulty of command.”). His main point, however, focuses on the “playable element” of Mr. Luttmann’s games:

Many of his games are very good historical games but they also have a very playable element to them that attempts to replicate the various elements associated with combat including fog-of-war, fortunes-of-war and friction-of-war and does a great job of making these elements matter…I have enjoyed many of his games and it is hard to pick just 3 but here goes….

The Players Aid, Feb 16, 2023

Model. Simulation. Playable. These word don’t necessarily point to a “pseudo-empirical scientific endeavor” but, in this case, ‘playable’ wargames that express themselves in a manner that stimulated at least one wargamer.

And they are not designs by Wehrle or Thompson.

Feature image courtesy Firstversions.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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