Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The elitist wargamer

Ok, time to rant again…

And because this is my blog I will be harsh and ruthless against the village idiots calling them names. I have to say that I am becoming more and more frustrating with people slapping around with the contention that wargaming is just playing with toy soldiers and paper of cardboard.  Simply put they are snobbish idiots who do not even bother to do some research on what their hobby. It has been created as a training tool people forget. Plus they do not even bother to really understand what a simulation is. 

I have a couple of definitions for them, elitists or ignorant; but you can also group them in the large group of silly, obnoxious idiots, because in the end it is what they are.  

Elitist because they cannot conceive people play wargames  for a bit more than bantering. In the end they took so much pride in “playing with toy soldiers” to set them apart from the masses that they are unable and unwilling to accept that people can play wargames for reasons other than set them apart of the masses. And you dare to say you are playing for research, understanding and knowledge you are immediately ridiculed.  

Ignorant, ignorant because in the end it is what they are. They do not even know the story of their own purported hobby, they are unable to glean any knowledge and knowledge from their own pastime. They are stupid people in the end, and they are one of the two categories of people who is badmouthing  wargaming.

Of course not everyone who fails to understand the deeper implications of wargaming fit in that description but I have found a couple of places where people fitting in that description abound, namely The Miniature Page and Boardgame Geek,  there is also Mark Pitcavage on Consimworld, but he tends to represent just a nauseating single person minority on CSW with yells that are repetitive and groundless. The other two communities tend to have much more representative of what I call “the pseudo-wargamer” community. 

But what wargaming is and why I play them? Defining a wargame is quite difficult. I will go for the best definition I have found, Peter Perla’s one. By the way Peter is an acquaintance and one of the most interesting person I have ever meet. 

‘A Wargame is a warfare model or simulation whose operation does not involve the activites of actual military forces, and whose sequence of events affects and is, in turn, affected by the decisions made by players representing the opposing sides.’

Now it is a model, a simulation if you prefer. It is not a recreation. You will not shot at, you will not  fear death. But is this lack of the gritty reality of combat sufficient to invalid the model? I think not. A lot of combat decisions are taken by officers who are not directly under fire, in some instance they have not even previous combat experience.  Wargaming is thus a prime tool to explore decision making involved in combat and conflict situations.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

Put in another and better form , stealing from professor Sabin’s “Simulating War” book:

‘They attempt to simulate aspects of a real or imaginary conflict involving such military forces, and to do so with at least some concern for accuracy and “realism”. Finally they do this in the form of a game, which players  can win or lose by making decisions which need not to be the same  as those of the actual commanders.’

I will give you an example. There is a rather good series of games on WW2 and modern air combat called Fighting Wings series. They have been designed by a former US Navy and ANG pilot, Jim Webster.  They are complex (I can hear professor Phil screaming “they are too complex!” while I answer “no they have a good compromise”). One of these days I will post a more detailed review, but for today they will be used to give you some insights on wargaming. So grab your parachute and follow me. 

Fighting Wings

Fighting wings is a detailed model. For each aircraft modelled you have a counter to track it is position on the map,


 a sheet to record speed and altitude and optional aspect and a data card containing all relevant data from engine performance, turning radius at different altitudes,  gun armament and payload. 

It is extremely detailed. 

Details come to a price. Price is time. Time spent for a tour supposed to represent 4 seconds of real time. Now people will say that this factor alone will invalidate the simulation factor. Combat pilots are facing a time pressure, their decisions are taken in split seconds so how a game where 4 seconds of real time are taking several  minutes to be executed can purport to be a simulation? 

Boo Hiss… Jim you have failed… simluationist you have been proved wrong… this is just an overcomplex game claiming to be realists. If you want a simulation buy two fighters and do it for real. 

Yawn... same comments repeated ad nauseam. First problem, what are we simulating here? The pilot moving the stick or the dynamics of air to air combat? According to Jim Webster the games are not dogfight games, they are games about planes that are dogfighting. Being him both a professional and the designer I would say we have to at least consider his statement. I would also argue that his statement is correct, it also shown the multifaceted meaning of the term “simulation”. Fighting Wings  wonderfully models the dynamics of dogfighting; altitude, energy management, differences in pilot training and the difficulties in coordinating several planes. It is not putting you in the cockpit but its educational value is not diminished by that. Actually if you are interested in understanding the whys of air combat I feel it is much more effective than top of the line computer flight simulator with their purported realism and their real time approach. It allow you to understand the pro and cons of different manoeuvres, the dangers of ending up without energy and the trade off in engaging and disengaging.  

I will also add that while manoeuvres are performed in seconds during combat they are not conceived in seconds. They are studied, discussed, rehearsed outside actual combat and then used as SOP during combat itself.  

My conclusion is that Fighting Wing is indeed a simulation of air combat and a very good one even if does not put you into a cockpit sweating and fearing to die.  If you need these two elements to have a simulation of combat probably you have serious problem on your ability to read a dictionary.

I would conclude today early afternoon rant with a quote from a certain Baron von Muffling, a Prussian with something to say about combat, after having seen the father of all wargames Von Reisswitz’s Kregsspiel:

'This is not a game! This is training for war! I must recommend it to the whole army!'

And with that I would encourage the latest idiots encountered on TMP to just go to hell with their unpainted toy soldiers  having demonstrated that they does not even known the history behind my hobby.  

Note: all pictures from Boardgamegeek.com, due to the fact the bulk of my collection is at home and I am still without camera...

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