The Ultimate Spirit of Wargaming, circa 2006

 

Ultimate Spirit

Ultimate Spirit Box

There’s a story behind this, but it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that, temporarily re-engaged with the Privateer Press community, I had to go and hunt out the first No Quarter that I ever bought, just to make sure I remembered “don’t quibble about millimetres in a game of inches”. Finding it gave me a few slaps in the face and reminded me what a sinner I am. I have kvetched about #3 and #4, I will be dead before I cam capable of #7 and I have indulged in #8 a few times, admittedly because I’m either dying of heatstroke or because someone’s due a bye anyway and I’ve had three miserable games. Finding it also vindicated me. See #1, #6, #9 and #10.

When I started playing (ten years ago this November, doesn’t time fly!), Playing Like You Had A Pair didn’t involve sticking the lip of your base right-next-to-but-not-within the woods so you could have the bonus without the penalty, or hanging one laser-calculated millimetre inside someone’s melee arc so you didn’t take a free strike. We accepted that blast templates are awkward, that one careless buttock passing by the table could send everyone whole inches out of place, and that these awkward tactile objects of ours mean we’ll never be perfectly precise in our measuring and placing, and we got on with the business at hand and gave a certain benefit of the doubt provided that intent was declared and mutually understood as acceptable. Nowadays it seems unreasonable to expect a quiet game of giant robot smackdown fun after work without precision-cut measuring widgets in a range of sizes, a grab-the-geometry scenario presented in layers of legalese, a laser line and a cry of GOTCHA! for when someone forgets exactly what one of the two hundred or so warlocks or warcasters in the game can do.

At some point in the last decade, the game I loved has been taken over by, and become engineered for, rules lawyers and pedants and bean-counters. I find the resulting culture toxic: it brings out the worst in people who are often perfectly pleasant away from the game. Back in the day the most hardcore competitors I knew were the most chill, at-the-end-of-the-day-it’s-just-toy-soldiers guys you could imagine, and I can’t imagine anyone from Komitatus revelling in the pedantry that characterises the modern game.
I don’t begrudge people their high-end BE! ALL! THAT! YOU! CAN! BE! HUT HUT HUT! playstyle, if that’s what gets them through the day, but for me to have my fun I need at least a few people to cool their tits and remember that wargames will earn no paycheques, save no lives, and herald nobody’s place in Valhalla.

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  • I think this is awesome. It’s a lot easier to say: “Do unto others” and be all pious but it’s quite difficult to put it into practice. Sometimes, if you can see your opponent groaning as he’s stretching with that tape measure, I have to ask myself: “If this were me, would I want to have this given to me…?”

    90% of the time it’s actually an assault charge-distance roll… Everything has a way of working out, and it’s much easier to play in general when there’s smiles on faces.

    Thanks Von!

    • Von

      Smiles on faces are a fine and worthy thing. I remember once running a demo game, when I first moved down to London, and looking up to see a deep and serious frown graven on the face of my first-timer. I’d left my millmeter-quibbling rules-lawyering tourney-pillock hat on, and it was costing me a new friend and a fresh face in the WM/H community. That is the moment to which I flash back frequently. NEVER AGAIN.

  • Captain Kellen

    At some point in the last decade, the game I loved has been taken over by, and become engineered for, rules lawyers and pedants and bean-counters. — I have found this true as well in certain circles.

    I find the resulting culture toxic: it brings out the worst in people who are often perfectly pleasant away from the game. — Amen. So endeth the lesson.

    … I can’t imagine anyone from Komitatus revelling in the pedantry that characterises the modern game. — I googled Komitiatus… interesting. I also googled pendant. I have to admit you are a wordsmith.

    …. and remember that wargames will earn no paycheques,– True.

    … save no lives, — True.

    … and herald nobody’s place in Valhalla. — Speak for yourself!

    I rate your article an Indiana Jones Fedora on the John Wayne Stetson toCaptain Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry) of F-Troop scale. You might have rated a full and plain ‘Fedora’ but there was a lack of hats and corners in the article. It’s a challenge that I know you are up to thought!

    I will be in some shady corner if you need me, thank you again for the article…

    CK

    • Von

      I try not to talk about corners; they remind me of what an old acquaintance from the boards calls “weaponised geometry”, the abstract land-grabbing that goes on in those ghastly Steamroller scenarios. I do need more hats though. I might do a feature on Hats of the Skorne Empire if we’re ever really stuck for content – what do you say, boss-ma’am?

      You must have had to do a lot of digging to find the actual Komitatus group/website. They were deeply politically incorrect and naturally I wag my finger sternly in hindsight but damn me down dead if I don’t miss those guys a bit.

      Sometimes it pleases me to know that Creative Writing degree wasn’t a complete waste. Ta muchly.

  • Page 5 gave a ton of liberties at the beginning. It allowed people to WANT to win, instead of being embarrassed about it. It also waved a middle finger at certain English company, with a specific attitude and intent. Page 5 also allowed for a GAME to be played.instead of a dice match.

    • Von

      Indeed, and the first Page 5 was a breath of fresh air for exactly those reasons. I note, however, that as the years went on, the Page 5 copy became more and more of an exaggerated embarrassment. If this is really a game of no-holds-barred aggression, why does standing behind a wall make your caster SO much safer?

      More to the point, I always felt that playing like you have a pair means playing like a grown-up and part of that is sorting your priorities out and recognising that some things are serious business and some things are not. There’s something about the habits and behaviours of nerds and the chest-beating BE! ALL! THAT! YOU! CAN! BE! HUT HUT HUT! style to which Privateer pretends which makes for an unhelpfully intense atmosphere.

      Look at it like this: there’s a guy on the Privateer forums who, in all apparent seriousness, proclaims that in a perfect world all players would and should spend an hour a day studying the rules of Warmachordes. I can’t help but feel that ten years ago it would have been suggested (with varying degrees of politeness) that he needed to find himself a girlfriend. Or a job that needed all of which his fine brain was capable. Or something.

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  • Cedric Ballbusch

    I have only the most limited knowledge of Warmahordes and the nuances of it’s particular sub-culture are lost on me. Thus, my comments are general.

    There are two interrelated but distinct phenomena at work. The first is the decline of the wargame as simulation, or the decline of wargame as RPG, or perhaps the decline of the RPG as a simulation. Second is the rise of computers in everyday life and the effect of electronic gaming on classical gaming.

    Wargames are abstractions, but they are meant to replicate on some level a battle taking place on some theoretical plane. Even for those among us who have no interest in how much ammunition a solider is carrying and cringes at any minutia there was still the connection to the role-playing game.

    The overlap between role-players and wargamers was (at least in California) nearly total. Even if you don’t see you table top battle games as a military simulation you are used to empathizing with your D&D characters, and those same feelings transfer to your miniatures, so there is still the sense in the game that something is happening to someone.

    That makes game playing like ‘this guy is both in the woods and not’ far more difficult because someone couldn’t be in both states at once. That logic controls and informs the rules was part of the common sense (in the Thomas Paine sense of the term) of wargaming.

    Computer games contribute in a similar way. The rules of computer games are absolute, they cannot be modified or debated. People carry that through to wargames because they’ve become used to following directives in their games that require-and-allow for no imagination or input on their part.

    • Von

      “That makes game playing like ‘this guy is both in the woods and not’ far
      more difficult because someone couldn’t be in both states at once.
      That logic controls and informs the rules was part of the common sense
      (in the Thomas Paine sense of the term) of wargaming.”

      Yes. And, now that I think about it, Privateer Press made a concerted effort to establish that (in the words of former community manager Kevin) “fluff ain’t rules”, to engineer a different culture of thinking.

      I am also vaguely reminded of the assertion (I forget who made it) that D&D3.0 is the way it is because Cook, Tweet et al wanted it to insulate players from the vagaries of bad DMs.

      In both cases the rules save you from relying on the presence of common sense (which cannot be taken for granted) by superceding it, telling you in explicit and prescriptive terms What Happens, regardless of What You Think Should Happen. This is fine if you are a ‘pure game’ type like the Frontline Gamer of yore, but if there is a hint of the simulator or narrator in you, situations like “toeing the forest” are bloody stupid.

      “Computer games contribute in a similar way. The rules of computer games
      are absolute, they cannot be modified or debated. People carry that
      through to wargames because they’ve become used to following directives
      in their games that require-and-allow for no imagination or input on
      their part.”

      Things that interest me: the vocabulary of these relative newcomers, who joined the game after the Field Test (so you’re looking at 2012-now), is very much shaped by e-sports. I am learning about ‘scooping’ and ‘S-tiers’ and all this new jargon which invariably seems to have trickled down from some computer background or other. I also wonder – there is, I believe, more at stake in competitive computer gaming than competitive wargaming, and so you might expect a certain commitment and seriousness of attitude in a venue where there is more than beer money riding on the outcome.

      • Thuloid

        Must be a generational thing. I simply cannot force myself to watch any kind of e-sports, to learn the jargon, to care in the least. I tend to view interest in that stuff as almost a character defect.

        • I can get into watching EVO Street Fighter championships, because I’ve been playing various versions of that game since I was about twelve. And it’s exciting. But no way would I sit there and watch someone play Starcraft.

          I have a friend who is in his early twenties. He wanted to know about 40k. So he watched a bunch of people playing full games of it on YouTube, and didn’t get bored. I found this both strange and impressive.

          • Thuloid

            Yeah, I can barely sit through 4 minute video tutorials on games I actually enjoy. But then, I mostly can’t listen to podcasts, either. Text lets me go at my own pace.

          • Tell me about it. I think we might have had this discussion before, but how annoying is it that everything has a video now? I want to read the damn article, not watch it on TV. And tutorial videos are much less helpful than written instructions to me.

            Although, I can’t listen to lectures or public speakers either. I learn mainly by reading and doing. If someone stands in front of me and tries to explain something to me I can’t help it, I just tune out.

          • Von

            Live demonstrations from people I know are a lot better than video tutorials from people I don’t, putting it bluntly. I’m learning to accept podcasts and video battle reports, slowly, but I must admit that I don’t take an awful lot of it in unless, again, I recognise one or more of the voices involved.

          • Thuloid

            Hmm. I don’t really care about familiarity. Most people’s videos, however, make me want to scream “Talk faster and get to the point!”

            Also I can’t Ctrl-F a video to find the part I want.

          • Thuloid

            I don’t remember if we’ve talked about it or not. But yes, I hate it when I expect an article and get a video. I will occasionally watch painting videos, but even with those I skip ahead constantly.

            I can listen to a lecture only if I’m there in person, and even then it has to be a fairly good lecturer.

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        You’ve hit on a fundamental shift in design philosophy. Until recently ‘fluff’ informed rules. Indeed, the point of the games was to play the ‘fluff’. Whether you’re writing an RPG to play plup fantasy novels, or wargame rules to replay the Battle of Austerlitz. The goal was still to recreate, or reenact events from the source material.

        Again, I think this shift might owe something to the video game influence. An electronic game does not require you to know or understand the fluff. The machine does the work, you never need to reason out the ‘correct’ result. Indeed worrying about the strange whys and hows of a video game are a waste of time.

        We can debate Vancian magic, but the supernatural ‘rules’ of D&D to AD&D 2nd follow a certain internal logic. Stating with 3rd and more so in 4th, my characters gain all manner of powers and abilities, which were nothing more than game mechanics. Within the character’s reality it was oft unclear what these abilities looked like, or felt like, or what it meant to only be able to do something ‘once per encounter’.

        It seems to me some measure of imagination, or at least independent, inquisitive imagination has been lost. But, that could be said of civilization as a whole. Perhaps we’re merely noticing a microcosm in the macrocosm

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