Thursday, March 9, 2017

Video Games and Miniature Wargaming?

Can the hobby of  miniature wargaming thrive with the plethora of video games available today? Some gamers today feel that the two hobbies cannot be appreciated equally; their view is that video gaming will eventually drown out miniature wargaming. Nonsense, I say. Personally, I enjoy both types of gaming for different reasons. Life is too short to be a dreaded "hobby snob."

I consider myself to primarily be a miniature wargamer.......I enjoy the artistic side of building armies and terrain and seeing a story unfold on the wargaming table in 3D. I enjoy the research that it takes to understand what uniforms and weapons were utilized throughout different eras of history. Building entire units of historical armies is a great outlet for me to escape the stresses of everyday life. Also, the hobby of miniature wargaming is a social hobby; a great time had by a group of gentlemanly gaming friends with cold beer flowing.

I also see a younger (and old geezers too) generation that is totally infatuated with video games. Let's face it, the technology of today gives gamers a fully immersive experience into another world without the effort of painting, building, and setting up terrain onto a table. My son is a great example of a video gamer. He dabbles every now and then in my miniature realm, but ultimately returns to a myriad of video games from every conceivable era of history and fantasy.  The effort involved is downloading the game onto a hard drive and then mastering the game itself with a click of a mouse, understanding the game mechanics, and a knowledge of hotkeys.  I get games offer quick and relatively easy methods to escape reality as opposed to the time and effort that it takes in our hobby. Of course, I would argue that the invested time and effort is all worth it. There are some worries that our hobby is dying out and that video gaming will hasten the death of miniature wargaming. I see more and more young people at the conventions, so that view is debatable. 

But I, as a self-proclaimed miniature wargamer, love video games as well. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Exposure to different eras of history. Let's face it, miniature armies cost a lot of money and much thought needs to go into the decision to dive into a new era of history. Over the past year or so, after many years of solely "horse and musket" gaming, I decided to jump into ancients/medieval and WW2 gaming. History is packed with so many incredible wars and civilizations of years would be a shame to not experience these eras just because "there's no money left in the gaming budget this month."

Playing Rome: Total War years ago got me thinking about diving into the ancients "black hole" of miniature gaming. The Total War series covers a wide number of eras, including typical "horse and musket" eras, Asian warfare, medieval wars, and even the fantasy realm with Total War: Warhammer.

Recently, I downloaded Sengoku Jidai from Slitherine Games. I have always been interested in Asian warfare, but was relatively clueless about the period. Sengoku Jidai allowed me to actually see a "miniatures" game in 2D and it also offered several different campaigns. Through playing it solitaire as well as competitively with another online wargaming buddy, I learned a tremendous amount of information about this particular era. I am now open to building some samurai forces in the future.

A miniatures-style game based on the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese Wars throughout the 16th and 17th centuries

I was so impressed with Sengoku Jidai that I downloaded its sister game from Slitherine, Pike and Shot. In this game, historical battles from the English Civil War, the Thirty Years War, and the Italian Wars were also portrayed on a 2D screen.  It allowed me to especially learn about and focus on the Thirty Years War, which has been a possible era of interest for miniature wargaming in our local gaming group for years.

Another miniatures-style game that portrays the Italian Wars, the Thirty Years War, and the English Civil War

Do you know what the interesting part for both of the above games is?  They were based on actual miniatures rules and adapted for the computer.

2. Strategic games that cannot be portrayed easily on the tabletop. As with boardgames, there are many video games that give the player the strategic feel of the period. A miniatures game just can't be applied to this full strategic level.

Gary Grigsby's War In The East is an example of a game that I recently downloaded that offers the entire Eastern Front campaign of World War 2 (as well as smaller scenarios) in immense detail. Concepts such as supply, partisans, fatigue, morale, command and control, are all taken into account by the computer.  Like nothing else, it has motivated me to start putting my Eastern Front miniatures onto the table.

Gary Grigsby's War In The East is an incredibly accurate game that is featured in painstaking detail

Screen sample of War In The East

Another game set in World War Two is Company of Heroes 2. It is a tactical game with incredible graphics that really makes me feel like I'm on the field of battle. Along with War In The East, Company of Heroes 2 has inspired me to start moving on my Chain Of Command miniature project (hopefully this weekend).

3. Video games can inspire scenarios for the tabletop.  Sometimes, when I am in the rut of coming up with yet another scenario for a miniatures battle, playing a video game from the same historical era can stimulate the brain and offer new and unique scenario ideas that I haven't thought of before.

4. Video games offer seemingly endless possibilities for Fantasy / Sci-Fi gaming.  Typically, I stick to historical gaming, but for the gamer who wants to delve into the realms of fantasy and science fiction there are so many more choices than currently offered for miniature wargaming. (Although this area continues to grow more and more as evidenced by the number of games at the major conventions). Examples include not only games like StarCraft 2, but an incredible number of role playing or "hack and slash" games like Diablo 3 (2 is my personal fave though), Dark Souls, or Torchlight.  Warhammer started as a miniatures game and is now available as one of the Total War series.

Screenshot from a StarCraft 2 match

Warhammer Total War screenshot

In summary, it is entirely possible for the hobbies of miniature wargaming and video gaming to coexist peacefully.  Actually, I personally recommend embracing both........for the reasons cited above. More than ever, both hobbies are contributing ideas to each other. For example, there are several games now that are actually miniature games in 2D. Some video games are prompting miniature manufacturers to come up with figure lines.  I was so pleased that Matrix Games decided to attend as a vendor at Historicon a couple of years ago. (War In The East is a Matrix game, by the way). I was equally saddened to see that they gave it only 2 years before deciding to abandon the convention due to weak sales. All of us enjoy military history, so why not enjoy the gaming experience in every aspect possible?

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