by Gary Mengle, 8 October 2018
Around 1998 I declared wargaming as a hobby finished, washed my hands of it and sold off most of my games.
Yeah. That was dumb.
I mean, it seemed logical at the time. The wargame-as-simulation designs that the hobby was then still in the grip of could clearly be better accomplished on computers. Non-CCG tabletop gaming was getting crowded out of retail spaces and conventions. Gamers’ time was increasingly being devoured by computer games. And wargaming, by then a niche for the better part of two decades, was the first to vanish from the major convention scene.
Such was the narrative that led to me giving up — it looked as though the only part of the wargaming hobby that was even hanging on was ASL.
But behind the scenes a lot was actually happening. The P500 system had stabilized GMT and other publishers would adopt something similar. The Internet was still growing and sites through which gamers could connect were evolving. Social media as we know it was still years away. But most significantly we had an unplanned explosion in the popularity of boardgames.
This last is likely the key factor and deserves a lengthy piece of its own. But all of those factors have emerged and combined to give us a modest wargaming renaissance. Some are even calling it a Golden Age… and maybe they’re not wrong.
Personally my tastes are old-fashioned; I like hex-and-counter stuff and have a penchant for detailed rules. That’s most of what I play. But a new category has arisen, occupied by such things as Twilight Struggle, 13 Days, Academy’s Birth of American titles and the COIN games, that is serving as a bridge to gamers that wouldn’t dream of getting into old school hexes. We might (and do) argue about whether or not these crossover categories are “wargames,” but certainly they are gateways to wargaming, whether or not of the hex-and-counter variety.
The new generation of wargamers coming to the hobby via these gateway games brings with it new challenges. Renaissance or not, at the wargaming hobby’s core we’re still a bunch of aging white dudes, and we need to open up the hobby to new audiences if we want it to survive us. That means embracing games — and gamers — who may not fit our existing mental pictures of wargames and wargamers.
This does not of course mean edging out those aging white dudes — after all, I am one. It just means making a conscious effort to be decent and welcoming to new people and those who express interest. Maybe you can’t spare the mental change to be actively helpful. That’s okay. But be aware of the image of wargamers that you project.
Where do I see this going? Over the next decade or two, I see a continuing proliferation of wargaming-adjacent titles. I see the scope of publication of the old style of hex-and-counter simulations narrowing. Fewer titles, by fewer publishers… but not zero. If we the wargamers react to this appropriately, and see every Twilight Struggle player as a potential ASL or OCS player, given the right encouragement and led down the right path, then I think we’ll always have hexes.
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