I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere my curiosity spawned by the tremendous interest in 18th-Century pseudo-historical wargaming. There are literally dozens of blogs, each featuring their own “ImagiNation” around which a hobbyist develops a fictional European nation, its history, uniform, and politics. The notion of this sort of wargaming has deep roots going back to some of the earliest sourcebooks on the subject, but the internet (and especially the free blogosphere) has really allowed this field to bloom.
I’m the kind of person that will take interest in subjects that appear to have a strong following. This is sort of the “if someone else were to jump off a bridge, would you too?” To which my answer would be “if he came back grinning like a fool and saying how much fun it was, then I’d think about it.” But getting into SYW wargaming appears not that easy. For one thing, the historical wargaming community is notoriously insular and resistant to innovation. Don’t believe me? Take a gander over at the hub of the ImagiNations, Emperor vs. Elector. Going through the ranks of the bloggers, you find a common theme in the “about me” section: “20+ years wargaming,” “I’m an Old School Wargamer,” etc. Some are downright bellicose regarding “New Age Wargamers.”
I understand full well the tendency towards homostasis that infuses all aspects of our lives, but this kind of confrontational, unfriendly attitude regarding what is really supposed to be hobby seems powerfully counterproductive. Case in point: rules. Good luck discovering what ruleset people use to play these games. Some thoughtful people actually put a link on their website, but most don’t. The really difficult ones say things like “I’m playing a ruleset I made up myself consisting of a hybrid between Out of Print Ruleset and Ruleset You Can Only Get If You Belong to This Obscure Gaming Club in West Hambernobshire, England. But I’m not going to share it.” The message seems twofold. One: I don’t care about promoting the hobby beyond my own inner circle (despite having a website about it), or two: when you’ve gotten as invested as I have in all of this, you can get in.
I’m not trying to alienate the SYW wargaming community, just as an outsider wanting in pointing out how intentionally or unintentionally difficult they are making it for new people. Which, in my mind, is not only unhelpful but ultimately unproductive for the hobby, because eventually you might want to find someone else to game with, and pure attrition means you’ll need new stock from time to time. At present, the most positive thing I can say is that at least this community is not as bad as Napoleonics.
So, having been perhaps even more critical than I intended to, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give this hobby a spin, and see how it goes. I’m not an “Old School Wargamer,” I’ve been gaming for about eight years, starting with and continuing to play Games Workshop games. I’ve got limited historical knowledge on the subject. I can’t distinguish between a brigade, a battalion, and a company. But I’ll take the plunge, learn on the way, and share the experience for anyone else that has looked at all of this stuff and said, “looks like fun, but what do I do?”