Many years ago I organised a larger gaming convention and was asked by a reporter what wargaming actually is. My answer was the following:
“It is a bit like chess, just with about 10 times more models, 3D landscape, dice and no squares.”
I still regret that I ever said that . . .
Wargaming is one of the oldest intellectual games in human history, though it didn’t start as a game at all. Basic wargaming systems were in use in the ancient greek and roman military training institutes. During this time wargaming was usually restricted to tactical simulations of conflicts without particularly deep rules (if any). Commanders would often only indicate their desired action for a unit and an umpire would subsequently decide the outcome. The first rule systems for wargames emerged in the 17th and 18th century when military strategy became a science. Friedrich the Great and other militaristic leaders commissioned highly complex simulation rules and the so-call Kriegspiel (German for “wargame”) was born.
Wargaming rules for entertainment only emerged towards the end of th 19th century and reached significant popularity by the 1960s and 70s. Today, wargaming has branched into a multitude of game systems, time periods and styles. At the same time, professional wargaming systems are now used during the training of higher grade officers by just about any army on the planet.
But then, what IS Wargaming? First of all, “wargaming” has nothing whatsoever to do with any form of para-military training, outdoor combat simulations, or anything in that category. Wargamer are on average people with an interest in history and fine arts rather than physical combat (and many of them have nowhere near the physical capability needed to replicate the martial adventures of their miniatures in real life…).
This being said, wargaming is best described in steps. First, there is a big board (usually 4′ by 6′ or larger) which to the innocent observer looks like a model railway setup where somebody forgot the rails and trains. The board is covered with a three dimensional landscape complete with hills, woods, rivers, villages and so forth. The scale of these features depends on the scale of the gaming system used.
On this table each player deploys his ‘army’ – a large numbers of painted plastic or pewter miniatures. Each miniature is painted and often extensively converted (modified with other parts or hand-sculpted pieces). The visual appeal of wargaming is a major part of the hobby and wargamer often spent hours over hours trying to achieve perfect painting results. Common sizes for the miniatures are 28mm, 25mm, 15mm, 10mm and 6mm. Such scales refer to the height from feet to eyes of a normal human in the scale. Below are some examples that make the size of the miniatures obvious (from the right: 28mm human mercenary from the Warhammer game, 10mm High Elf spearmen unit from the Warmaster game, and 6mm Chaos infantry from the EPIC Armageddon game. The comparison photograph is from Games Workshop and used without permission).
So far we have a big pseudo rail road table and lots of painted figures one it. Each player now tries to win a ‘battle’ against his opponent. A usually complex rule system governs allowed actions for each miniature such as moving, shooting and combat. Game effects are generally determined with dice rolls against specific characteristics of (e.g. Strength, Endurance, Weapon Skill, etc.). Movement and shooting ranges are measured in actual distance on the table and models are generally able to go in any direction and any place (with modifiers for some terrain). Models usually also use actual line of sight over terrain to identify visible targets. The aspects turn the table top into a realistic environment rather than the abstract surface used in conventional board games.
Given all this complexity, it is no wonder that these games are not something for people who have trouble concentrating on an activity for a long time. The game rules for a very basic system will often cover dozens of pages while more common systems are veritable tomes of knowledge (e.g. the Warhammer Fantasy Battle rule book comes in at over 500 A4 pages). Wargaming is a hobby, not a ‘once in a while’ activity. It takes hundreds of hours to paint up even a single ‘army’ and each game lasts from several hours to full days.