Tuesday, 30 July 2019

How do people keep up?

One of the recurring questions on many wargaming forums is whether there is too much on offer these days. Too much rules, too many figures, too many of everything? Invariably, people then refer to the golden age (the "golden age" is always personal to the individual, of course), in which everything was much simpler, we only had two different figure manufacturers, we had to carve our own dice from a piece of wood, and the only rules available fitted on the back of a postcard.

That last nostalgic sentiment is pure nonsense, of course. I think the wargaming community is blessed to have such a rich offering of different figure ranges, rulesets, etc. available these days. What does happen though is that trends come and go, and what was once seen as mainstream wargaming (e.g. big battalions on a large table using Grant rules), might no longer be a dominant mode. Often this is what long-time wargamers lament. The preferences of their youth - the personal golden age - have somehow been superceded by another style of play.

Nevertheless, it seems we have become part of a maelstrom that is constantly gaining speed. When I take a look at the announcements of new products in the wargaming magazines, it seems rulesets are already out of fashion again before they had a chance to solidify. New ranges and rules are hailed as "the next big thing", but are already forgotten 6 months later when there's another "next big thing". I wonder where the wargamers are who do have the time and energy to follow up on all these new products? Or is it because as a 52-year old I am no longer part the target audience?

The latter may be part of the answer. When I was much younger, I was involved quite heavily in roleplaying games. I bought many different systems, many different source books, ... all with the plan of starting up grandiose campaigns. Of course many of these plans never materialized - although many of the books were read for inspiration, but never used for actual games. I guess the same is true for wargaming these days. I cannot imagine people actually play all these different releases, although wargamers might read them and look in them for inspiration.

I do of course realize this is partly - if not mostly - all driven by commercial factors. If you want to sell lots of rules in a limited niche market, you either need to relaunch that set of rules in newer editions, or feed the beast by publishing supplements. And the same goes for figures. I understand that dynamic, but it makes me feel "wanting to catch up" sometimes.

Just to give one example (but I could give more ...): I bought the Frostgrave basic rulebook when it was first published (2016). Since then, there have been a number of supplements, even some spin-off games. That's all good, and the system looks interesting, but I still have to play my first Frostgrave game. This is of course completely my own fault. My gaming frequency has decreased over the years, due to professional activities (which only have increased), and personal life (which goes in up and downs :-)). So perhaps I should simply play more. But even then, it seems one does not have the time to really "get into" a system such that it becomes second nature. Judging by the number of products that are being released, fed by the cycle of forums, blogs and podcasts, the thoughtful wargamer ever seems to be in a mode of trying to catch up ...

One of the more curious trends I have seen is the search for more obscure and weird settings and periods. One that I noticed recently is "Wild West Exodus", that I have seen through various advertisements in the magazines. At first I thought it was a new Wild West game with a twist, but every new advert makes it look weirder and weirder ... It looks like a convoluted invented world without much coherency (I have no opinion about the rules, which might be good or bad, since I didn't read them). Who buys this stuff? Apparantly some people must do so, otherwise the product wouldn't exist ... But again, I'm probably not part of the target audience (anymore) :-)

One of the "solutions" I was contemplating is restricting myself to fewer wargaming interests. Play only a few chosen periods, stick to proven (self-written) rulesets, and only scout the market when you really, really, really, need something new. The maelstrom of the market will not slow down, but at least my wargaming mind will find some more rest. Perhaps, one day :-)

20 comments:

  1. You leave yourself with a HUGE loophole with your “really, really, really need something new” criterion. I could classify (and justify) almost any purchase within that category...

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    1. Very true :-) There is of course the cult of the shiny, but still, how much more wargaming junk can one buy? Sometimes it seems to me as if 80% of the wargaming products sold never get used in an actual game. The wargaming industry is built upon hopes of splendid campaigns that never materialize. ANd once the wargamer realizes that, he sells off the never-used-product 2nd hand ...

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    2. Well,that has a ring of truth too!

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  2. I have already come to the conclusion that I need to streamline my gaming into fewer systems and on the boardgame side of things, this means going for series games and on the figure side, being happy with single systems per period, sticking with them and getting to know them well. I need to improve the ratio of actual game time to prep and screen browsing etc.

    As the hobby has professionalised, it has increasingly needed to have new product to maintain cash flow. The flourishing of Kickstarter alone is an indicator of a hobby increasingly fuelled by new product, never resting and never allowing us to consolidate with what we already have.

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    1. Yes, I think you're making an accurate observation. The growing need to produce ever more product to maintain cash flow ... but who keeps up?

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  3. Like Norm, I have 'downsized' to a few core rulesets and periods, so that I can maintain focus. Also I just game in 10mm these days, unless with friends who may use other sizes. I have found this whole process very cathartic, but there is still the age old problem of finding time to play, given the myriad of other distractions in today's World.

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    1. The "other distractions" are a growing problem. It seems as if our society has evolved to so many "must-do-things" and "bucket lists", that people never take the time to become good at something they enjoy, without the need for ever newer things to do ...

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  4. Amazingly, I have managed to stick with the mid-18th century (and BIG battalions) for the last 13 years. There is something liberating about being able to maintain focus and actually get things finished.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. I haven't reached that stage yet ... perhaps I'm not yet worthy ;-)

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  5. Good post. The distractions of the new (and the multiple updates of the new, and the new supplements to the new...) mainly only hit me when I get pulled into something that my group is doing: latest example is SAGA. Otherwise, I stick to a few sets of rules and figure conventions that I find work well with the eras I play and I am old enough to now no longer feel that I must "keep up" with the trends.

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    1. I find it hard to sell off collections of figures I have painted, even though they haven't seen action for the past 10 or even 20 years. But perhaps I should indeed take that step as well and stick to 1 or 2 periods I like.

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  6. That was Brigadier Young's advice 50(?) years ago in Charge!, pick your period and stick to it.

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    1. Thanks for the quote, will look that up one of these days!

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    2. It is the last paragraph of Chapter 10 Tail Piece

      'If you are enormously rich and have plenty of room, you may be tempted to build up war game Armies of several periods. This is enticing, but it is madness! We would commend you to choose your period, stick to it, read up the subject and get the atmosphere of the age. This is the most rewarding approach to a pastime which, while not lacking excitement, is decidedly more agreeable to dropping atomic bombs on one another.'

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  7. I don't even try. I stick to periods and not games. I have an advantage here as I don't do fantasy so have no need to be influenced by the latest version of "Bloodsoaked Zombie massacre" or whatever it is called this week, IMHO Period parameters are the answer .... maye .... possibly

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    1. But you can seem the same trend in historical as well. Wargaming consumerism is taking over there as well ...

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  8. My response to ..hmm.."wargaming consumerism"? was essentially to drop out.

    I didn't have the money to keep up in the 70's but was younger and could dream, Around the turn of the century I reached the point of buying more than I could "consume" and still wasn't close to 'keeping up'. So I quit my job (ok ok took early retirement), stopped buying stuff or even looking at new stuff except in passing and put my time and effort into making use of what I already had or could make. Much better for me. Work took uo too much time and energy anyway......

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    1. I still have figures lying around I bought over 20 years ago that I need to paint. I still have every intention of painting them ;-)

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  9. Interesting and great post Phil.
    In some respects this golden age is a curse. Sadly it reflects the rest of modern life where anything and everything is available but we dont truly appreciate what is on offer. What is the solution? Personally it has taken me a lifetime to realise that Peter Young was on the money when he said to build armies in many periods [Im paraphrasing here] is madness.I think less periods but greater depth etc to what you collect is a possible answer.As for rules, I keep returning to sets that I discounted when they were first released and realise that actually they were pretty damned good, sadly they get discarded in the pursuit of the next best thing. Im minded to think of the Frasier [tv show] episode where he was dissatisfied with his gold membership and demanded to be made a platinum member only to discover it was the fire exit and was locked out.Thanks for the interesting post.

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    1. Found it :-)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CNmrUMS5FQ

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