The Ballbusch Experience: I See What You Got

What You See Is What You Get (here after the highly annoying
WYSIWYG) is one of those things that just makes sense.  A guy has a knife, so that model representing
that guy also has a knife.  So long as
you can tell a riboflavin-enhanced blast cannon from a high protein ion gun at
three feet WYSIWYG cuts down on confusion, and saves you the bother of actually
asking what something is (always embarrassing).  This is simplicity
itself, so simple, so obvious that probably wonder why anyone is his right mind
would even bring it up.  Well, like most
things, WYSIWYG is more complex than it initially appears.  It requires gamers to make certain
assumptions about the game and their playing pieces that bleeds through into
all aspects of the wargame. 
What you see is almost never what you get…

Much like True Line of Sight, WYSIWYG is part of a
literalistic interpretation of wargaming. 
The soldier represented by that figure is literally standing by that
tree in that posture, holding that specific gun.  By necessity this also tends to force the
game towards a 1:1 scale (that is, one figure equal one man) because anything
large demands ever greater levels of abstraction.  Now I’m not saying that this is necessarily
good or bad, but once you start to assume that ever dude the rules say has a
plasmagun ought to be represented on the table by a figure holding a plasmagun
who’ve actually taken a lot of steps intellectually.           
Now, speaking just for myself, I like my games to tend
towards abstraction.  So many things in wargames are already ‘fudged’ (groundscale, movement rates, weapon ranges)
that just treating the figures like pretty counters makes more sense to
me.  However, this is one of those rare cases where I don’t think that there is anything wrong with looking at it the other
way.  Particularly if you like the sense
of ‘being there’ and want a more action-adventure type experience I can see why
you’d want to think of your pieces as actually truely representative of the action.
So, WYIWYG is part of a way of looking at and playing
wargames.  Cool enough.  But, it’s also one of those things that can
go too far very easily.  Some people
write up an army list, buy the figures for said army list, and then play that
list unchanged for years on end.  These
people are sick and deserve our pity, not our scorn.  Those of us who do not need to be subjected
to shock therapy like to adjust our lists, try new things, move wargear
around, and the like.  WYSIWYG, taken
literally, makes that very difficult. 
Want to swap out a meltagun dude for a flamer dude?  Hope you’ve got a spare figure lying around.  Otherwise you certainly won’t be ‘tournament
legal’ and even ruleslawyery casual players might take issue with it.       
Remember when you could take any number of assault weapons?  Good times.
Old timers, like me, might remember the distilled horror
that was 2nd Edition 40k Assault Squads.  Back then you could by any assault weapon (swords, axes, pistols, etc) you
wanted for each guy in the squad.  Ten
guys with potentially ten different weapons, and if you model each figure with
the load out he’s supposed to have, your squad’s equipment is written in
stone.  If somewhere down the line you
want to change things around you have to buy more figures or start breaking off
arms.  These days, most squads in 40k
have a lot fewer options, so you only have to worry about a handful of special
or heavy weapons.  Of course, you can’t
buy loose GW bits anymore, so you still have to cowboy up and buy fifty Devastators
if you want every possible heavy weapon option (and yes, that is the reason GW
put an end to third party bits sellers), but  I digress. 
What I find really funny about this is that wargamers take
to the internet to complain about anything remotely capitalistic a wargames company
does (particularly GW), yet the financial implications of WYSIWYG largely go
unnoticed, or uncommented on.  Maybe that’s
because WYSIWYG seems so reasonable, or intuitive.  But look, you’re being asked to buy the same
thing multiple times for purely cosmetic reasons.  I think a lot of things companies get crap for,
like asking that people only use first party figures in company sponsored tournaments,
seem less money grubby than saying “hey, if you want flexibility down the road
you’d better buy 3-5 special weapon guys per squad.”  Not that I think every game that promotes
WYSIWYG is trying to suck money out of you, but it is something to consider. 
Then there’s the next WYSIWYG problem: paint jobs.  Blue Marines use a different book from Red
Marines, who are distinct from Dark Green Marines; not to mention the
difference between Matt-Grey Marines and Metallic-Grey Marines.  Before I’m accused of picking on GW (I am), I’ll
go pick on someone else.  Battlefront are
really sneaky bastards about this.  If I
put a 2mm decal of a black bull on my M4A4 Sherman I have to use a totally
different army list than if I use a similarly-sized decal of a kangaroo rat, which is itself in
a different list than the tanks with the tiny maple leaf decals.  I can almost smoke the Kool-Aid on the
different colored space marines thing; I mean, 40k is all about Space Marines, so they have to inject variety somewhere.  But, the 7th Armored Division and
the 11th Armored Division are different armies?  Really? 
Hell, if I paint little shoulder patches on my 15mm figures (no, I’m not
going to) I can restrict them to one list too! 
       

Dynasty Warriors 8 came out this week, and that justifies this picture.
In FoW I get around this problem by just leaving any identifying
markings off my figures.  I’ll even use a
rifle team as an MG team because generally all the infantry in a list are one
or the other, so it’s unlikely to cause confusion.  The same goes for AA MGs on my Commonwealth
Shermans, sometimes I include them, sometimes I don’t (usually I don’t because I
tend to use Stuart swarms for mobile MG goodness.  Man, those little things can murder infantry
like nobody’s business).  When I want to
include them I just tell me opponent ‘hey, this platoon has AA MGs’.  Easy. 
I’m not going to go out and buy and paint a whole new platoon of tanks
over a 5 point option.  Yeah, you could
take this too far, but as long as you don’t go around claiming the Soviets are Germans or Orks are Space Marines a fudge here or there is fine.
But, then again, FoW is pretty option light, what of games with a lot of
random gear like 40k?  Well, you know
what?  I’m a big believer in tokens.  That’s right, tokens.  Just give the figure a generic special weapon
and then drop a token next to him that says ‘flamer’.  Change tokens as you change your lists
around.  In fact, that’s even more
WYSIWYG than actually modeling it.  Half
the time I can’t even tell the difference between various special weapons
(particular if we have adult beverages on hand for the game) and for a lot of armies, like
Tau, I don’t even know the difference. 
Perhaps not the most elegant solution, but one that works.
There is a lot to how we think about our toy soldiers.  I care deeply about mine, and it bothers me
when games treat them merely as wound counters. 
At the same time, I see them as an abstraction in part of a larger
simulation of combat.  I’m not real big
on WYSIWYG for the same reason I’m not big on TLoS.  Games are abstract.  I do believe that I have an obligation (call
it a social contract if you must) to insure that my opponent knows what I have
in my army (though that is very unrealistic, fog of war is the true way), but there are a lot of ways to do
what without magnetizing my figures.

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