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  • Keith

Expanding The Borders of Wargaming

As we begin 2019, I am challenging the wargaming community to take up arms to fight for the expansion of our hobby. It takes very little effort, hardly any at all, to make this happen. The first inroads have been made into this virgin territory. Yet, there are some who still stand in the way in the shadows of anonymity. There remain those who don’t understand that expansion and equity are not a zero sum game. Everyone benefits from the expansion of our borders.

Frankly, everyone benefits from the demolishing of any borders to wargaming. These are games after all and everyone should be welcome! 

What borders do I mean?

I am talking about rolling out the red hex overlay carpet of wargaming goodness to anyone who has a passing interest.

This call is not new. It’s not original. It’s not even a big ask beyond what’s already underway. It is, however, an overt recognition of the importance of ensuring that people don’t face a brick wall of case-based rule books and retreat or rout away from a fulfilling hobby. It is extending a friendly hand, an offer of assistance, or generating how-to content that demystifies and extends a helping hand rather than chasing away potential gaming partner.

There are many ways in which this is already happening

  1. There are more vocal and visible under-represented minorities within the online community.

  2. The topics of wargaming have broadened and shifted, which is something I’ve previously covered on this blog.

  3. Many new games are shorter in length, or balance longer scenarios with shorter ones, and aren’t so rules intensive.

  4. The graphic design and component selection are already more attractive and accessible.

What can be done?

Yet, much remains undone. So, with what minor influence I have, I would ask that we look at the following ways of supporting our hobby. You might not need to take up more than one, but please do consider…

  1. Share your story of how YOU got into wargaming.

  2. Play a game that might be a “gateway” game to wargaming with someone.

  3. Play at a game store and talk to folks who spectate.

  4. Don’t circle the wagons and fire inward.

  5. Give people the benefit of the doubt about their experiences.

Sharing is Caring

I have never heard a story about how someone found their way to wargaming that wasn’t interesting. Not only that, but the stories often reveal a lot about the types of games and topics people enjoy. Share your story. Getting just one person who can identify with your story will make it easier for them to come to the hobby.  As a result, the hobby grows. Another great result is that everyone benefits from your story and experiences.

Play “Gateway Games”

I’m not as big a fan as I used to be of Commands and Colors, Memoir ’44, or Risk. Yet, I will happily play these games with people who want to try out wargaming. The rules overhead is low and that means people have an easier time accessing the strategy. Another great tactic is playing games with topic that resonates with someone else primarily. YOU might not be into the American Civil War, but if your friend is into it, why not try out Battle Cry? Overall, these simple games create positive interactions with our hobby. As a result, people seek out more opportunities to game.

These Are Just Games!

Sometimes I am guilty of bad public behavior. Period. Also, sometimes I can get so wrapped up in a game at my FLGS that I fail to adequately recognize onlookers. Many gamers just aren’t that aware of wargames, or haven’t seen them being played. As a result, when they show curiosity it should be more common to take a quick break and say hello. This is the kind of thing I suspect happens more frequently at conventions (still hoping to get to one!). In our FLGS’ though, WE are the wargamers people encounter. As a result, it’s more than just a little important to be a positive face. Answer questions, take a break, and above all remember that these are still just games!

Circling the Wagons

I see people, too frequently, circle the wagons and start firing inward. We are still a small niche within a niche hobby. When we circle the wagons around identity, some form of fandom, or personal baggage it shows how little regard hobbyists show for each other. At their root, hobbies are a community and the willingness of others to join that community has a lot to do with how it is perceived. The salty grognard honorific that was aspirational when I joined the hobby 30 years ago hasn’t aged well. In fact, I’d say that this is a bright spot in the hobby where we can laugh of the image of the “grognard.” A few things will go a long way here:

  1. Have the courage to accept well-meaning criticism.

  2. Acknowledge that there are many perspectives on our hobby within our hobby!

  3. Encourage thoughtful dialog over pithy put-downs in debate.

  4. …check out my next recommendation…

Give people the benefit of the doubt!

It’s that simple. Give folks the benefit of the doubt before taking a shot. When a publisher says they’re working on fixing a situation, give them a chance to do so. If they prove that they are not, point it out. On the flip side of that coin, don’t assume that a critique is a personal attack or coming from a place of vitriolic emotion. Instead, consider that people have different experiences and expectations.

These are, largely, arguments that serve ANY community well. I see a lot more of these actions on ConSimWorld and Twitter than I do on other sites though there are pockets of great folks everywhere. If we can expand the hobby by just 1% every year that has the potential to be (pun intended) game changing for publishers, the community, designers, and our hobby as a whole.

It can’t happen without each other though. We need to come together and identify the opportunities together and celebrate the hobby publicly without cutting down the newest voices and this is especially so for the voices of our under-represented minorities in the hobby. When the hobby expands –  we all win.

A Few Interesting Points…

A very interesting poll was recently published on

Boardgamegeek poll results

The results gave me incredible hope! At first blush, the poll looks like 67% of all wargamers were born in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. That’s true. However, when you look a little closer you see that 25% of all wargamers only got into wargaming since the 2000’s!

That means we bear the obligation to the next generation at all times. Whether someone is young (rare) or older, when they’re ready to come to wargaming…we need to be ready with a solid community that supports them.

A recent post on Twitter from Ben Maddox of 5G4D (@5games4doomsday) revealed an ugly truth about the hobby.

5g4d tweet about gatekeepers

Everyone is an ambassador whether we realize it or not. Ben’s post is indicative of the attitude that some wargamers feel. The review was of Lincoln from PSC Games,

The game is a Martin Wallace designed deck-destruction mechanic game. While it’s not strictly speaking a wargame, that misses the point of the review. By attacking the reviewer’s categorization of the game, the hobby revealed an uglier truth…that there’s no central definition around which everyone gathers.

Wargaming is a big-tent hobby, to the chagrin of some, and its continued viability depends on encouraging participation in its various forms. This is especially true of anything that might be considered a gateway game. Just because someone only likes a game like Memoir ’44 or Axis & Allies now doesn’t meant they won’t ever square off against one of us in the future over a game of For the People or Holland’44!

Parting Thought…

Every gamer that opens their mind to wargaming is a potential recruit. We love this genre of games for MANY reasons. A shared love of history is only one aspect. Deep strategic thinking and gameplay is yet another. To end on a positive note…throw your reason for wargaming into the comments below!

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