May 21, 2024

Battle Lab ~ What’s In Your Collection?

Rapid fire thoughts about your game acquisitions ~

Brant, 27 April 2020

Plenty of us have a stack of wargames that we haven’t played yet. And quite frankly, there’s a not-insignificant portion of that stack that is, in all honesty, unlikely to ever get played. Occasionally, we’re just holding onto something in unpunched condition (ie, “investing”). Sometimes we got it, read thru it a bit, and decided we weren’t going to play it after all. But how many of us bought something with the express purpose of studying the game more than playing it?

What do you buy? What do you read or study? And what do you actually play?

That brings up a very interesting three-part question: What do you buy? What do you read or study? And what do you actually play?

In my case, I buy a lot of games from designers and companies I like to support (that said, I’m a bad comparison for “what do you buy?” because as a regular reviewer of games and convention event organizer, I don’t spend nearly as much on games as it might appear). But the games that I study and the games that I play do tend to diverge quite a bit.

Anyone who has heard our podcast, or hung out in our forums for more than 10 minutes knows that I vacuum up post-Vietnam Cold-War-goes-hot-in-Europe ground combat games like an offensive tackle at Golden Corral. SPI flat-packs, VG boxes, magazines galore, and all sorts of folios. I’ve got LNLP’s World at War series, and S&T’s Fifth Corps series.

I’ve got at least a half-dozen games with “NATO” in the title, and let’s face it, we’re not even remotely done publishing them, even as we try to convince ourselves that a war that never happened 35 years ago is somehow still “modern”. One of my favorite past-times with these games is studying and comparing the maps, and task I greatly enjoy at least in part because I’ve traveled a lot of the terrain on inumerable road-trips around West Germany between ’83-’88 when we lived over there. It’s always fun to see your old neighborhoods represented on the map and imagine leading the Red Horde charging down Hauptstraße.

But as much as I’ve read the rules and the designer’s notes, studied the orders of battle (that always seem to leave out 56th FA Command and the 59th Ordnance Brigade, two hugely important units in EUCOM) and compared the maps to each other and to reality, I’ve played maybe 3/4 of them, and the vast majority of what I’ve played, I’ve only played once. Now, that’s due in no small part to the fact that I tend to lack opponents willing to tackle those games with me, and the enjoyment I get from revisiting my favorites over and over, but for a subject that I darn near lived multiple times, I get a great amount of enjoyment from the study of the material – at least as much as I get out of playing the games.

What do I play? That’s a mixed bag, but there’s a decent amount of WWII in there – both LNLP’s Tank on Tank and the LNLT system figure prominently. There’s also no small amount of Age of Gunpowder games, ranging from Pax Baltica to Empires in America to Soldier Kings to Hold the Line. I tend to avoid Civil War games, as they often leave me flat (the sociocultural impacts are always muted, but also never far from the mind here in the South). I also don’t enjoy many WWI games, but I’m always willing to give another one a try. The games I enjoy playing the most are those that pose interesting tactical challenges that I haven’t otherwise studied, and US military doctrine, as well as the most common threat doctrines, from AirLand Battle forward, I’ve got some pretty intimate knowledge of (I was not just a Armor officer, but also served in the OPFOR and deputized as an Intel guy in 2 different units).

I’m also a sucker for period art that draws you into the game and gives you a good feel for that historical era. Tim Allen’s work on The Lamps Are Going Out has put that one on my “want to buy” list, as have several games from Legion Wargames.

The other interesting comparison in this is how your game-playing comparisons line up with your personal library of military history books, too. Plenty of us have shelves full of books we’ve bought but not read. Some are references for future study (or design) and some are there simply to offer comparisons to the research that we study with our game collections. Some we’ve read voraciously – and possibly multiple times (Perret’s “A Country Made By War” for me). At least a few books in my history collection are there because I like the authors and enjoy reading whatever they write (John Toland, yes!; Len Deighton, not so much).

So I put it to you, dear readers:

  • What do you buy?
  • What do you read?
  • What do you play?

And why do things end up in those different buckets?


Note that this is an updated reprint of an older column by Brant from several years ago

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Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

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