Monday, 16 August 2010

Historical Gaming

Too Much Lead highlighted a very interesting interview that Henry Hyde, of Battlegames magazine, did with Rick Priestley and John Stallard.

In case you are thinking John Who?

John Stallard was one of the driving forces behind the world wide expansion of GW, and is now running Warlord Games. I'll assume you know who Rick Priestly is.

The interview is interesting for any number of reasons, not the least of which how far wargaming - and gaming in general - since all three of these gentleman became involved back in the 1970's.

Oh and maybe point this out to people who complain about the prices and how it is all nonsense about the necessity for GW price rises, that at one point the company was using lead of an equivilent weight to a British Armoured Division. I realise they have moved over to plastics, but the principle of bulk buying still applies.

To me the most interesting aspect out of the interview was the admission that Warhammer grew out of WRG Ancients... or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it was heavily influenced by... even going so far as to have an implicit figure scale of 1-20. Unlike other systems the scale in Warhammer is never specified, which in turn leads people to believe that it is a 1-1 scale, and in turn leads to gripes that Warhammer is not a massed battle game at all. This doesn't affect the gameplay, but it does offer a different perspective to think of that block of 20 Orcs is actually representing 400 Orcs, which multiplied across an army does reflect the fluff and the supporting artwork.

The interview is also interesting when considering the the RAW arguements, and tournaments. (Gav Thorpe has an interesting piece concerning this on his blog)

I have lost count of the number of times GW has said the rules are not designed for tournaments, and tournament types have countered that they should be, because they are the heart of the hobby.

Yet when you see that actually the rules were written to give people somethng to do with the figures they were buying, in an age when tournaments were largely non-existent, for a hobby that was more about collecting and painting, suddenly Jervis Johnson's Standard Bearer articles fall into place. Not to mention that were the company to radically change the ruleset to make it 'tournament friendly' there would be a bigger outcry.

The historical aspects of the interview is also very informative about the structure of GW, and the philosophy behind the company. It would not be unfair to compare GW with Ben and Jerry's, in that they were just a bunch of hippies doing what they wanted and felt passionate about, and as if by magic they have became a 'hated' corporation simply because they are operating in an age of anti-capitalist rhetoric that is cynical of advertising and branding.

Perhaps the most startling revelation is that the companies biggest seller Space Marines almost never happened. Which looking through this end of the telescope is amazing, but there is logic in the thesis that because Warhammer grew out of the WRG Ancients culture that perhaps a company seeking legitimacy would push the fantasy game because a game set in space was just too out there. And perhaps this also reflects the literate tradition of wargaming in that it is somehow proper and acceptable to play a game based on a book such as Lord of the Rings, but not to embrace films such as Star Wars and Aliens (yeah I was amazed when I noticed the other day that Aliens is 30 years old).

Which reminds me of the first time I was exposed to Warhammer. At the time I was playing 15mm French-Indian wars using WRG rules. And a guy at school heard me talking with my playing partner about the intricacies of one of the rules -we were using WRG 1685-1845 - and this guy came over and tried to join in the conversation. We knew he played D&D - which back then was like saying you are a transvestite today (btw does anyone remember that made for TV movie about the boy playing D&D who lost his mind?) - and we listened as he tried to explain why Warhammer was great (bare in mind that Warhammer then was seen as an add on to D&D, and was something that your mother warned you about). I remember he used the line, 'but wouldn't you rather fight battles with dwarves and goblins?' Heresy! In fact we laughed about that at the wargames club for months.

So perhaps one can understand the caution with regard to Space Marines. Let's not forget this was pre-internet, and everything mail order was largely done via magazine advertising - and historical wargaming wouldn't carry articles about fantasy, and were loath to carry advertising. Which in part explains why White Dwarf was born.

Indeed it is rather odd that Henry Hyde did this interview at all, since he is of this old school wargaming approach - and before people say, there is nothing wrong with that.

Still the article is a good read and well worth condsidering when reflecting on the state of the current GW games and wargaming in general.

Oh and before I forget, the Waaaghcast is 2 years old, and celebrated with a very entertaining eprisode including their wives. Curiously they covered some similar issues of geekdom and legitimacy. Well done to Joe and Chuck for sticking with it, and they can be proud of the great show they put together.


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