Monday, 28 August 2017

Given as I am to mulling things over, I was in that state betwixt sleep and wakefulness as the memsahib drove us home from one of our excursions - I doze more, now that I am old - and I reflected on the friends I have lost and then went down a rabbit hole of reveries on how my hobby has changed in the 38 years I've been a part of it.

What struck me was how the hobby appears from my ivory tower to have dumbed down to the lowest common denominators; money and the modern trend for instant gratification. Now I know there are exceptions to every rule, but I am going to have a rant along the lines of that sense of dumbing down.

When I got into the hobby there seemed to be a profusion of Eloi, whereas today the Morlocks seem to be in the ascendancy, a point I find very troubling.

Let me explain...

Back in the day, we had what we termed 'Gentleman Wargamers'. These were well educated, knowledgeable chaps, who took their hobby seriously. Peter Gilder, Terry Wise, Don Featherstone, Charles Grant, Stuart Asquith, Peter Young, Tony Bath, Phil Barker, Duncan Macfarlane et al... These were the Olympians of the hobby. They researched every aspect of the troops and battles of the chosen era and we, the Young Turks, in our attempts to get a few notches in our proverbial sabres emulated them. We read, questioned and strove to make our armies and games as authentic as we could. We could name every regiment, tell you the correct sash colours, argue the most authentic unit size based on paper and field strengths. In short we were fanatical about accuracy.

In Sheffield we were lucky to have such luminaries as Dave Lister, Roy Gunson, David Harrison, Lloyd Powell, Bob Cooper and the incomparable John Armatys - in the opinion of my contemporaries and I the epitome of the Gentleman Wargamer and to be accorded the utmost respect - and so we had a serious knowledge cache to draw upon. Yes, we also learned the drinking and carousing for which SWS was famous, but it was tempered by the notion of 'doing things properly'. And so, that has been our modus operandi down the decades, no matter where life has taken us, and we are proud of it.

We had unillustrated books of lists, we had similar rulebooks and we had a few Osprey books on hand. The rest was down to graft and study.

But OH! What has happened these days?

We are awash with glossy rulebooks which entice the unwary - and often ignorant - with promises of instant fixes and cloned armies which are the wargaming equivalent of the Big Mac. They look great but are in the long run, unsatisfying in the extreme.

Army lists are almost all - supposedly - competitive, and often encourage and promote forces which have absolutely no resemblance to their historical counterparts - what we called 'Mickey Mouse' armies and which would bring ridicule when encountered 'back in the day - and therefore are arguably not 'historical' armies. They are imaginary.

One particular gripe of mine is pike and shot period armies which are constructed with seeming ignorance of how the core units of the period were formed. Massed shot lined up across the board in units of 30 and 40 models with no pike even on the table, supposedly 'accurate' ECW armies? I think not... And then the inclusion of one or two 'guard units' which never historically deployed in such a penny packet way.

The manufacturers of these off the peg products know that they are sinning, but in the never ending pursuit of shekels are happy to re-write history, 'sex up' their army lists and generally take the stance that their 300 page glossy book of tat is meticulously researched when in fact it is the wargaming equivalent of a desperate hooker with a crack habit.

And so, we see the time of the Morlocks approaching, a time where standards are slipping and a new Dark Age threatens to descend upon the hobby.

Don't get me wrong, some of those early books had their faults, but the research behind them was formidable. Errors were corrected, modifications made, but rarely did you see the expense of a total revision of your rules library or the need for new models produced by a specific company at a premium price.

I am pleased to say that whilst many of those early luminaries have fought their last campaigns, we still have a small Imperial Guard made up of the likes of John Armatys, Duncan Macfarlane, Tim Gow, Alan & Michael Perry etc who care deeply about the research and aesthetics of this hobby and who, may be our last bastion when the Vandals of Ignorance storm the gates.

Easy access is not always a good thing. The act of research, the almost occult nature of creating an army is to me one of the great joys of the hobby, emerging into the light with a new army and taking a pride in what you have done is something special. Don't let it become a thing of the past.


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