Tuesday, 24 March 2020

That Recommendation Thing

One of the staple questions on most forums/chat groups for wargaming (it may be for other subjects too) starts “What do you recommend…?”. In our case this normally devolves into asking for figure recommendations followed closely by rules sets. It rarely touches the “what really detailed books on this subject can you recommend so that I can make up my own mind on things”.

The figure one, for someone who mostly doesn’t do 28mm can be rather tiresome. If a scale isn’t mentioned then the immediate assumption is that you’ll want 28mm figures. Even if you’ve asked about 15mm the assumption is that you meant to ask about 28mm, or that you intended to start a thread where fans of 28mm figures can discuss their personal favourites.

I find that often I’m lacking context in the discussion, as is often the person asking the question. I spent big chunks of my career analysing products or suppliers in order to recommend a purchase / contract decision. The first thing you needed you know was what people actually wanted. Often, the person asking for the thing didn’t know, and didn’t even realise they didn’t know. So you went into a process of thrashing that all out, then you could have a look at products and make a selection. If you made any assumptions on someone’s behalf you really made sure that they knew you’d done so.

Also, as I moved from place to place it was important to make sure that you didn’t just recommend the decision you made last time as it might not fit (I went from start-ups to multi nationals and back again: one size does not fit all).

So before you recommend you need to know some stuff that the possible newbie doesn’t know they need to know. Are they going to wargame with people locally who are also in the hobby? If so, many of the decisions are made for them, - unless they want to do something different and don’t mind painting both sides.

Budget is also an issue, - what is an affordable army in 20mm plastic isn’t as affordable in 28mm resin or metal. 15mm might possible beat both of them, as may 10mm or 6mm. Then there’s storage. If you have unlimited space, then go for it in as big a size as you want. For me, I find that even going from 28mm to 20mm saves a massive amount of shelf space as I can use shallower boxes. In effect
I can get 3 boxes in a shelf space where previous only 2 went, increasing capacity by 50%. The light weight plastic also means I can use less chunky, more light weight boxes, which is good for my shelves and storing at above eye level.

The other issue then comes down to what type of game you want and your playing surface size. Even with the Shedquarters table size I can’t accommodate some of the games I want to play with the bigger figures. On the other hand if I want to do a skirmish game, then the larger figures win out as they’re easier to see and handle.

And the other thing with figures is the aesthetic of it all. What someone thinks as a great sculpt is either too skinny/too indistinct/too chunky/just plain ugly and so on.

And don't start me on "accuracy"...

Asking for rules recommendations is even worse. Rules for what? Usually a period is the starting point, but generally that's it. "Can you recommend a set of WW2 Rules?" What sort of question is that? I've got PBI, Crossfire and Battle! on my book shelf, and I've played several others, including NQM and Blitzkrieg Commander. None of them really overlap in terms of level of resolution, although PBI/Crossfire sort of overlap, as do NQM/BC. To be fair, most modern wargamers get that there are different levels of resolution and that maybe one size does not fit all at all.

The Ancients & Medieval periods are a real problem for me. Whilst operational wargaming is probably out in that period, battles vary enormously in size and scope from a few hundred, probably, in Dark Age warfare, up to the 10s of thousands in the Classical Period. I've got and use several sets of ancient rules, not even including my own "To Ur is Human". I've got AMW. Armati, Basic Impetus and Hail Caesar as well as Strategos/Lost Battles and I've used all of them by choice in the last 5 to 10 years (and played FOG & ADLG as well, asnd Baccus' SPQR). Each of them scratches a different itch and work for different levels of conflict and periods. I like BI for the medieval period and I like AMW for big refights with lots of players. Armati is good for an evening game, and TUIH is great for Sumerians. The others don't really offer anything else, so I can't see why I'd go to the trouble of really learning them properly. Hail Caesar is way to much of a tool kit to use on a regular basis as well, and although Phil has liked the results we are getting for the Edgcote game I'm less convinced. We get believable results almost in spite of the rules, and they're working because Phil has done a lot of surgery and grafted on character rules that could almost be used anywhere.

So when asking for a recommendation you sort of need to tighten up your act, guys. And when making one, you really need to say why and give your reasons and what you're trying to do.

At least, that's what I think.


  1. On the other side of the coin, is that somehow you have to acquire enough knowledge to know what questions to ask!

    But maybe 'What do you recommend?' IS the right question to ask. It says, 'I haven't a clue where to start, guide me. Ask me questions...'
    And than begins the narrowing down to preferred periods, rule sets, availability of space, scales, size of battles, etc - with and extra side order of etc. Even how much money one is willing to spend can be a consideration.

    1. Yes, but the usual response is "My favourite set of rules/figures" with no questions or context. As you seem to agree, space, and budget are key considerations.Hopefully anyone who reads this will think a bit further and then try to be a bit more helpful, instead of just typing "Another vote for xyz".

  2. Replies
    1. Just an overload of people not even reading the question before recommending without thinking. We need more quality in responses, not knee jerk reactions.

  3. Interesting post. I suppose many people ask for "recommendations" as things have changed so much and there are now so many rulesets, figures and periods since Donald Featherstone's War Games in 1962, being one of the few / first starter books. Nostalgia wave: When all you needed to get going were a couple of boxes of Airfix figures to play or convert and some pine cones painted green for trees.
    Quickly the creative rules tinkering began. Apparently Featherstone's own rules had changed even before War Games was printed, and to be fair there was a range of scales or styles (flats etc) to choose from even then.
    Not my thing but I can fully understand why some people stay within the security and community of Games Workshop type sealed systems, figures, rules, books etc.

    1. You could be right. I just think it helps if there's context to both question and answer.

      And you are right on your other point. Featherstone's rules changed constantly, as did Tony Bath's. The ancient rules in Wargmaes as printed are different to the rules as played in the sample game.