The Ballbusch Experience: We’re all in this Together!

It’s no secret that things have been quiet around the reinforced bunker complex and surrounding defensive perimeter affectionately know as the House of Paincakes.  But, really the whole wide world of wargaming has become rather quiet of late.  Why is rather an open question.  However, the fact remains that the great-internet-wargaming-fever of A.D. 2009-2014 has broken and left us all  with the sort of foggy hangover you get after a 36 hour bender with a Russian Naval Lieutenant and a couple of British Midshipmen.

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We must never forget the importance of presenting a strong, united front

Personally I blame Games Workshop.  Granted, that’s rather my first stop for any wargaming related trouble, but I have some (limited) basis for this beyond habit.  The news from GW reads like the dispatches of the Hapsburgs in the 19th Century or the Romans in the 4th.  The line holds, and the Empire continues its decline.

Now I know nothing about the demographics of the HoP readership, but based on what I know about the authors, coupled with my own sweeping arrogance, I feel perfectly qualified to make some generalizations.  Most of the current wargaming generation got their start playing GW games, and/or spend/t a good amount of time playing them.  Even for those who didn’t play GW tend to define themselves in the negative, as ‘not-GW gamers’ or ‘serious historical types who don’t mess around with Warhammer’.  For 25ish years GW provided a sun around which the rest of the wargaming world rotated.

Obviously, the light from GW is much dimmer, but far from dead.  However, Warhammer Fantasy Battle is dead.  Yes, it was long ago eclipsed by sexier, edgier, younger sister Warhammer 40,000,but that did not rip it from it’s position atop the GW pantheon.   Even for those who didn’t play it the passing of a Grand Dame of the wargaming world has a psychological effect.

For one thing, fantasy gamers, already a contentious lot, have been scattered to the winds and forced to find new games.  The long decline of WHFB started this process, but AoS has finished it.  Where there was once ‘The Game’ no one game can claim near-universal popularity.  Thus, fantasy gamers are in much the same boat as historical wargamers: divvied into dozens of at-times mutually hostile subgroups, each with their own argot.

This isn’t a problem, per se; however, it means that wargamers as a group are in the process of losing their lingua franca.  As it disappear things like open internet discussion and megablogs will get more difficult to maintain.  By way of example, as much as I enjoy the Infinity-talk around HoP I have almost no clue what’s being said.  The unit terms and mechanics are too specific for the layman to divine any meaning from ‘shop talk.’

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It’s possible to become fatigued by over exposure, even to things we enjoy.

On the subject of historical games, a similar event occurred nearly a generation ago.  throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s Wargames Research Group produced ‘the rules’ and historical games, by and large, accepted the standard.  When WRG’s grip loosened, the result as the perfusion of rules we see today.  Once that sense of consensus was lost it never returned.  I see no reason to assume fantasy gamers will coalesce around another set of rules.

In all likelihood, 40k is doomed to fade in to the same irrelevance as WHFB.  Yes, someone will buy the IP, but wargaming is a niche business.  Warhammer 40,000: the universe will probably survive the death of Warhammer 40,000: the tabletop miniatures game.  And again, that makes for less common ground.  I can say ‘Julio-Claudian Legionaries are the MEQs of ancient gaming’ and people actually understand what I mean.

I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the wargaming industry, but informal reports from retailers don’t indicate any shape decline in sales of late.  So, the recent silence seems to be limited to social media rather than some sudden collapse of wargaming in general.  People are just not talkative.

If there is no common point of reference it become much harder to talk about the hobby with anyone outside your immediate circle.  Part of the charm of a hobby is that it offers you a change to interact with people who have nothing else in common with.  Because we don’t much in common besides toy soldiers it is very easy, too easy, for wargamers to become insular.  HoP alone hosts authors from across the civilized world and Canada.  As a general trend, people are far less likely to associate with those of other socioeconomic backgrounds than they were a generation ago.  Wargaming and wargame blogging in particular provides us an increasingly rare chancee to engage with those who are and yet aren’t of our tribe.

Without going off in to a complete tangent about theories of social capital, as peoples’ social circles become ever more limited to “people you know from school” and “people you know from work,”  hobbies are more important than ever.  If wargaming slips back to being expressed on a largely regional or local level something important will be lost.

There is also the matter of our subculture as a whole.  While very much its own thing, wargaming is part of a continuum that includes comic books, horror movies, anime, RPGs, and heavy metal.  While many of us are relatively function members of society (or can fake it  for eightish hours a day), we share interests that mainstream society (depending on your nation and creed) will interpret as something ranging from eccentric to deviant.

For the moment the larger culture is flirting with a sort of nerd chic, but this is very limited and should not be taken as broad cultural acceptance.  Things that make a lot of money are now cool, but chic doesn’t extend much beyond that.  A similar shift has already happened with video games.  Not so long ago the entire pass time was perceived as the exclusive domain of nerds and shut-ins.  Then it got more popular and started making more money, which lead to greater popularity.  However, this did not translate into universal acceptance, playing things outside of popular franchises (CoD, GTA, etc.), particularly fantasy games, will still earn you sideways glances even from other video gamers.

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Heck, I’m not sure if I understand the Fascist Anime Babes Folder.

At the same time–and more seriously–we are entering a period of increasing moral hysteria.  Cultural confidence is at a low ebb, which tends to lead to greater dogmatism, and of course, looking for someone ans something to blame.  No lesser a figure than Sinsynn has already touched on some aspects of this, so I won’t belabor the details.  The unscientific polls I have seen show wargamers to be a politically and socially deserve group.  So, I common sense on any issue is unlikely.  However, we are a fringe group.  As such, we are low hanging fruit.

While under no immediate threat, we do push around toy soldiers for fun.  That is a little strange.  Further, wargaming can easily be seen to glorify attitudes and behaviors that are a touch out of step with modern sensitivities.  Add to that the simple fact that many of the warlords of history had questionable politics, and the potential issues are very obvious.  As with everyone who has unusual interests, we should keep in mind that it is much better to hang together than to hang separately.

On the other hand, there is also the matter of fatigue.  The last few years have seen kickstaters and related drama.  The bloody heights of 40k as a tournament game.  The fiery crash of 40k as a tournament game.  BF completely breaking Late War.  Some sort of Infinity camo mess that I don’t understand.  I’m sure something happened in the world of waramhordes, but literally the only person I know of who plays that is Von; as such, I missed it.

After such tumult it comes as not surprise that wargaming talking heads are a little, well, tired.  Doubly so as all the drama seems to have come to little result.  No grand conclusions were reached, and if anything wargamers are more balkanized now then they were is the old days pre-2008.

What now is there to say really?  People continue with their personal projects.  New models and games are being released, but market overload appears to have been reached, and the new major Kickstarter every other week has stopped.  Big things really aren’t happening.  What’s more there is little evidence that we’re on the cusp of the ‘next big thing’.

Much like second edition AD&D before it, Warhammer (both flavors) 1994-2008 was something of an anomaly in RPG-Wargame continuum.  For a moment everyone was playing the same game the same way.  What we see now is a return to normalcy.  there will be numerous games played and roughly as many interpretations of the rules of those games as there are players.  This is not necessary a bad thing, but it begets a smaller audience for all related media.

More needs to be done to encourage the notion of hobbyists as wargamers first and foremost and then devotees of a specific game or genera a distant second.  Again, I rather tend to blame Games Workshop for creating the Devil’s Own Notion of the “Games Workshop Hobbyist”(tm) rather than the polymath wargamer.

Back during the crazy days of the great wargaming blog boom, which, of course, coincided with the height of 5th edition, there was a sense that wargaming might turn into something more.  The fan-held tournaments came close pulling the dead hand of GW management off of beating heart of Warhammer.  Obviously this did not come to pass, but the high water mark where wargamers nearly, almost became a self-governing body remains.  It is easy to become disheartened, or lose interest in throwing your opinions into the void.  However, the dialogue needs to remain open.  Maintaining an active on-line community (I know, the word is over-and-mis-used) benefits everyone.

  • Thanks for this inspirational post Cedric. I think it’s just what we need to hear. I’ll have to come back to comment properly because Mrs. Ronin is playing Sims 4 on my laptop and I don’t want to write on my phone. I was going to tell her Sims is not a real game, but then I realised that’s not in the spirit of your post.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      Yes. I know the hardship of having one’s better half occupying the computer/Playstation/etc too well.

      • Von

        I need to sort Hark out with a new laptop. With only one Minecraft-capable machine on the premises, conflicts of interest emerge…

  • The Warlock

    I blame GW too. “We will not squat another army” *squats Tomb kings* Uh we meant we will never make another Squat army…yeah.

    5th Ed 40k was a high for the game, almost every blog covered it and everything was thriving. 7th WHFB was fine up until towards the end where the power creep was real. Spampire counts were evil against Dwarfs, who didn’t have a new book despite being a goddamned starter army (I’m not bitter. I am NOT bitter about routine grudge-writing and trying to make an anti-vampire dwarf lord)

    WHFB’s death as tragic as it was has pushed people into uncertain waters- where do we go? What do we play? My group died, my group exploded, help I accidentally built a shelf.
    AoS hate is dying down but there’s still a lot of animosity, especially at the fluff (some random gold fucker stole Ghal Maraz- THE Warhammer, probs might pick up Karl Franz just to have Ghal in plastic- would be one helluva Relic Hammer conversion for Malifaux)
    It’ll be interesting to see a 2nd edition of AoS, as I’m sure it’ll find its feet after a few revisions. WHFB probably didn’t start out a tight competitive game, etc. Toyed with the idea of getting a lern 2 paint sigmarine thingas seeing them in NMM gold shits all over metallic gold but it means giving GW money…which is something I’m a bit loathe to do.

    On a more personal note:

    Lined up a game of Malifaux @ Pubhammer this coming Sunday. Not sure if I want to keep using Ramos (spider construct summoner) or go with a different master for a change of pace. Haven’t blogged much of late due to work shifts leaving me with about 6hrs of time before getting ready for work again (the glory of 6:30pm to close shifts) in addition to not ‘feeling it’.

    Probably will finish my draft post on Monday, no promises. No clue what my opponent will bring but last game I was out-summoned by Kirai- a Japanese chick who’s out for vengeance. Still, 2 swarms of 3 and 5 individual spiders is a new record for Ramos.

    Would love to get some X-wing on but time only allows for one wargame 🙁 plus most of that hawt sexy action takes place on a Thurs night, which work is a thing. Tossing up trying to get a boardgame night happening for Catan/SDE/Munchkin/other stuffs.

    Literally is a time factor- Before I had no job so there was plenty of time, but no gaming. Now I’ve got a job so there’s plenty of gaming but no time.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      I think GW’s treatment of 40K does not bode well for the future of AoS. Putting aside the fact that they killed WHFB for no particularly good reason, let’s look at the downfall of 5th Edition 40k.

      By complete accident, GW managed to have something like a balanced game–not that 5th was anything like a balanced, fair game, but it was by GW standards. Their response with 6th was to kill any semblance of balance stone dead. As with AoS GW seems personally offended by the merest idea that their games could require or reward any type of skill.

      It’s hard for me to see a way for GW to pull out of it’s decline when they’re seemingly hostile to the idea of the games that drive their business.

  • MerryVulture

    I think you may have buttoned the head right on the hammer here.

    It does seem that over all wargaming is silent without being dead. Some of the regulars round my parts are really branching out, picking up every new thing looking for their new game. Others are pulling in, holding fast to 40K and not trying new things any more. Me, I just try to find time to play any of the games I have spent way too much on.

    My main FLGS just pulled all his FoW, since no one has played any since aorund 40k 6th come out, and it kind of pains me, as I like FoW, but I wasn’t playing either. Nor was I trying to play, just too many other new shinies. As it happens, there is a shop not to far away that has little but FoW being played. Are we as gamers beginning to get cliquish again, and is it a bad thing? (yes and Yes, but I am not sure why I feel that way.)

    We, as wargamers, need some Heroic Gamester to rally around. I’d volunteer, but I have this… waning enthusiasm problem.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      FoW is a (sort of) sad case. I honestly thing that if better managed it could have been a contender. However, balance issues and way, way too many books conspired to drive off new and potential players. Thus, it becomes a clique game because you really need someone to explain what books to use and why.

      Easy entry is what made GW games what they were. Any game that requires guidance is almost certain to lead to more insular groups. The internet helps with this, but that underlines the need for ‘all games welcome’ clearinghouses of information.

  • Drathmere

    I think the fatigue may stem from a slow but gradual growth of vitriol online. I avoid several 40k sites now, which I previously enjoyed, because the tenor of conversation has gotten so bad. I think it is pretty dangerous being a game company right now. It has never been good, but right now the angry screams of childish thugs threaten to drown virtually anything. It must be an unpleasant tight rope to walk for most game companies. I know it isn’t pleasant to read about.

    Hobby articles, gameplay articles, and game design articles work. I think if we focus on that we can rebuild our community.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      There is certainly creeping hostility on the internet. For many years it was limited mostly to 40k tournament drama and could be ignore by the average gamer-at-large. Now it is starting to have a larger negative effect.

      How to maintain decent manners in an on-line forum while not stifling open discourse is a question that as yet has no answer.

      • nurglitch

        Active moderation is the answer. Nobody is particularly inclined to do it though.

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          Indeed. But even then it’s so easy to conflate “I don’t like his opinion” with “he’s a troll”. Then you get sites where anyone who opposes the hive mind is purged.

  • Kelly

    Wait… was that a dig at Canada??? 😉

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      I’ve seen Trailer Park Boys, Hobo with a Shotgun, and The Final Sacrifice. Canada isn’t fooling me with the whole polite and low-key act. No sir.

      • Kelly

        One of the reasons why everyone seems to have the idea that we’re so polite and low-key is that anyone who realizes the truth seems to meet with a mysterious and grisly end involving maple syrup.

        You have been warned…

        • The Warlock

          So that’s why the waffles with maple syrup are so crunchy. Huh, you learn something new every day.

  • Von

    ” I’m sure something happened in the world of waramhordes, but literally the only person I know of who plays that is Von; as such, I missed it.”

    Warmahordes exists on a fairly steady, errata-induced cycle of perceived power creep/complaint/doomsaying/errata/lamenting. The churn continues much as it has this past age. The last two big ones were changes to Trollblood units (which defanged the three theme forces Trollbloods were using to tear up the tournament circuit for the first time ever) and significant nerfs to two powerful control casters (Epic Haley and Epic Deneghra).

    I suppose the release delays are causing some salt (one of these years, Cryx players will get that Inflictor/Seether dual kit, and maybe I’ll get my Desert Hydra too…) and I expect some wailing and gnashing of teeth over further errata to Theme Forces (but things like “a free heavy warbeast” or “multiples of something that’s FA:1 for a reason” do need addressing and have done for some time.)

    Warmahordes players are used to the tides of drama and butthurt, though. These things will pass. The only underlying dread, which has surfaced in the last few years to worry at the minds of many, is the “how much more stuff can Privateer Press put in this game before it’s officially too big to handle?” question.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      It’s well that Warmahordes has found a sort of equilibrium. Certainly FoW and I would say WHFB and 40k came to grief from too many additions to the game. The nature of the wargames business seems to feed it’s own undoing. The demand for more puts ever more strain on the system until the wheels fall off.

      I’m not a fan of new editions, but with the business model the way it is I understand the need pull everything back into line every few years.

      • Kelly

        Wait… so WarmaHordes has power creep too? How is it that THEIR players don’t whine and complain as vehemently with hate and malice as the Warhammer and 40K players about it??

        I remember the days of 2nd edition 40K, where the top ten placings in just about every tournament was either with a Space Wolves army, or an Eldar one. Somehow we all sort of ignored that and kept on having fun.

        • Von

          a) the Privateer Press forums act as a drag-net for the angrier elements of the discourse, since they’re large and active and several PPS_Dudes are active users. If you’re not on the Big Board you probably have a much brighter picture of the WM/H community.

          If I’m using the forums a lot and not playing much I hate the community, if I’m playing a lot and staying off the forums I remember that we’re not all like that.

          b) WM/H players are way more likely to flip their shit over ‘sloppy play’ or the prevalence of tournament gaming. “I LIKE the Steamrollers and the measuring widgets! It’s TOTALLY FINE when games are decided by being less than a millimetre out of range or an alarm clock going off! Why won’t you CASUALS let me have my fun?”

          c) Page 5 has its good side.

          “If you’ve ever whined the words ‘that’s too powerful’, put the rulebook down and walk away.”

          WM/H players do complain about power issues, but mostly in a “how the fuck do I beat this?” way or an “is this good for the tournament scene? every Circle player and their dog seems to run Bradigus in his theme list, can PP do something to make other Circle builds viable?” kind of way.

      • Von

        Indeed. The party line from PP is that they’re happy with the state of the core game rules, but they realise that errata on individual models and theme forces has gotten out of control and that some of the theme forces are distortingly good in competitive play. Steps are apparently being taken to address this WITHOUT moving to Mark III.

        As for the undoing of wargames, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Wargames demonstrate the fallacy of late capitalism very well: infinite growth is not possible in a closed system. Eventually, you either run out of resources (consumer goodwill) or you run out of space (design space where new pieces are distinct).

        The idea that a game is ‘dead’ and thus ‘unplayable’ if it isn’t receiving new releases from its proprietors is painfully stupid, and yet ubiquitous. Even Blood Bowl is, I feel, propped up by the number of third parties manufacturing new teams for it, keeping those ‘new releases’ coming.

  • nurglitch

    Personally I’ve found that the less I spend on wargaming forums and blogs and whatnot arguing with people that hate Warhammer the more I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate playing Warhammer 40k. I feel, somehow or other, that people who enjoy it are realizing that the Internet isn’t terribly useful for helping them enjoy it.

    Why am I posting? I get bored at work too.

    Having quit WHFB at the beginning of 6th edition I’m simply surprised it lasted as long as it did. It was never a particularly good game, and it should have been dropped long ago in favour of something fun and playable (your mileage may vary.)

    • “Personally I’ve found that the less I spend on wargaming forums and
      blogs and whatnot arguing with people that hate Warhammer the more I’ve
      come to enjoy and appreciate playing Warhammer 40k. I feel, somehow or
      other, that people who enjoy it are realizing that the Internet isn’t
      terribly useful for helping them enjoy it.”

      I can’t agree enough with this statement. I visit the blogs of like-minded people, but that’s as far as it goes. I gave up forums a long time ago. I gave up visiting BoLS a while ago as well. Instead, I surround myself with people who enjoy the game, and the result is we all have a great time playing 40K.

      • Von

        Oh deary me yes. When things fall apart and the center cannot hold, the falcons realise that they don’t have to be tethered in the same mews, getting on each others’ nerves and squabbling over who gets to eat the one mouse that shows up all night long.

        In returning to the Privateer boards, and also the WoW realm forums before that, I’ve found it helps to develop a sense of perspective. None of this shit matters. It’s words about toys and every second you spend spewing them is a second you’re not making toys or playing with toys. This isn’t to say the conversation can’t be fun and useful, but it’s not a crusade, it’s not a job, and it’s not worth frothing over.

        (I still take a certain savage delight in reducing alleged adults to fury with a single sentence, but that’s less to do with toys and more to do with the circle of trolling.)

        • Exactly. Why do I care that someone hates something I enjoy? It’s not my job to “enlighten” them as to why they are wrong for disliking it. Well, unless you feel like trolling 😉

          • Von

            As ever: I couldn’t care less about what people like and dislike, enjoy and don’t enjoy. These things are subjectives and I have no business exerting my non-existent authority over them. I have no real interest in whether or not you, me and the cat like the same things or not, either. That conversation doesn’t go anywhere.

            I do care about what is and isn’t good, and I think technical quality (for example) is objective and discrete from the matter of ‘liking’ things or not. I like things which aren’t good and there are things which are good that I don’t like. How good things are and how they could be improved – that’s a conversation worth having.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      Strangely enough WHFB also more or less lost me at the start of 6th. I won’t claim that the prior editions are without serious flaws, but the game lost much of its character after 5th.

      But, yes. Avoiding meaningless negative does help.

      • Kelly

        Warhammer Fantasy hit it’s peak golden years with the Tuomas Pirinnen(sp?) days. Here was a guy who literally wrote a book on all the loopholes that a player could exploit in the previous editions, and ended up with a job in the Design Studio for it. He then went on to help design the best sets of rules and army books ever for the game, and also put Mordheim together. He also happened to be a HUGE geek for the Warhammer Fantasy universe, and created some of the most memorable and iconic special characters for it (Archaon anyone?).

        Those are the kinds of people any Games Design studio should be employing if they want a fun game that also happens to be watertight too.

        • Von

          So… sixth edition, then?

          I’m standing over here with him.

  • Dragons Claw

    I’ve never been happier gaming tabletop board and card I never know what I’m going to be playing when I walk into the flgs infinity Arkham Horror civilisation had an absolute blast playing ticket to ride the other week a game about train routes go figure 😕

    But I think this is the kicker the more time I spend playing the less time I spend internetting.

    I even saw a game of 40 k played which was a nice nostalgia moment lols

  • I think in my experience what people are saying here is right. There’s been a general shift away from the internet amongst those who actually want to play games and have realised that interacting online generally lessens their enjoyment. It’s not just gaming – for me the shine of the internet has worn off and its limitations have become painfully apparent. I find myself disengaging from it generally now that I’ve worked out what is useful and what is not.

    The House is an exception for me, and I hope others too, but it seems to me that many people find all the online interaction they need for their gaming in local facebook groups. They can talk about the same things people used to discuss on forums and big blogs, but because it’s the people they already know IRL and have to front up to every week, there’s a more respectful vibe and people act like, well, people. We’ve achieved that here with a bunch of strangers, and that’s great, but it’s hardly typical.

    Simply put, blogs and blog networks and such are an old and imperfect social technology, plagued with trolling and all the other problems that come with anonymity and a public space. Dedicated social networks have been designed from the ground up to facilitate interactions between people who know each other IRL, so it’s no wonder they’re better suited to gaming groups.

    For example, I just finished painting my forgeworld Macharius Omega, mentioned in my last post. I could write a blog post about it here, but I feel weird using a public platform just to show off – there’s nothing I really wanted to discuss, I just finished it that’s all. So I took a couple of photos and put them up on my local fb group. Bam, 15 likes, people saying hey that looks awesome, can’t wait to see it across the table, some banter, etc. Simple.

    It’s a pickle though. The blog network here is valuable, certainly. So is the community. There must be some good that can come from a ragtag group of international gamers, willing and able to discuss the gaming world from a variety of perspectives. If everyone is on facebook groups then as you implied, the wargaming world becomes even more fractured. The Astronomican has gone out 😀

    By the way, my first instinct was actually to put the photos of my tank up in the HoP facebook group, but that’s not how people are using it. So I didn’t.

    • Thuloid

      Do it anyway. If it annoys us, we’ll tell you to stop. But these things are whatever we do with them, so do things.

      • Ok so I’ve put it up. I only seem to able to see blog posts up there but maybe that’s because I’m still on my phone… damn it.

        • Thuloid

          It’s in a side tab as a “visitor post”, rather hard to see.

          I wonder if it’s worth giving regular contributors to the House admin rights on the Facebook page, so we can post little things there that don’t amount to a full-sized House post. If I understand FB correctly, we’d each be posting as “House of Paincakes”, so we’d need to identify ourselves, throw out a few sentences and maybe a picture. Worth suggesting to the Management?

          • Von

            That’s how Games Workshop branches do it if they’re lucky enough to have more than one employee.

            The alternative is that we DON’T sign the posts and leave people guessing…

          • Also I’ve just discovered/remembered it’s a public group, so now there are people I know from 20 years ago on the post commenting! I don’t mind, but just thought I’d warn others in case some people like to keep their gaming and regular worlds separate.

            I know Warlock’s not shy, I’m always getting his minis in my facebook feed 😀 That’s something I might write about actually, the rise of geek culture over my lifetime. *Croaky old man voice* when I was a boy I had to hide that I played D&D! Now these whippersnappers are braggin’ about it on the facetube!

    • MerryVulture

      Wait, there is a HoP facebook group? Why have I not been aware of this?
      Besides the obvious, of course, that I am oblivious, it can only mean the House is my social media.

    • Von

      “I feel weird using a public platform just to show off – there’s nothing I really wanted to discuss, I just finished it that’s all.”

      Amen to that. I don’t see the point in posting unless I want some sort of back and forth from it, some sort of conversation. There’s more of that to be had from a few sentences on Corehammer’s Facebook group than two thousand words on a blog.