Monday, 25 January 2010

Wargaming Magazines

Best laid plans and all that...after all it is Burns Night. I was intending to write up Friday night's ECW game, together with a few of the pictures that came out quite well.

However, as I indicated above and in my general description of this blog I'm easily distracted. As we were packing up on Friday evening one of our regulars handed me December's "Miniature Wargames" ("At the grassroots of the hobby" as it proudly boasts).

I used to buy all of the hobby mags, - Military Modelling, Wargames Illustrated, Miniature Wargames - but they just took up loads of space and it sort of became expensive and we needed to make a few cuts so I stopped taking them. Probably about 1985. I fully intended to subscribe again, but here we are 25 years on, and I never did.

If December's MiniWargs is a prime example of where the hobby mag has got to, then I can't say I'm sorry I didn't remember to start subscribing again.

The early MiniWargs / Wargills, whilst featuring coloured pics, were long on ideas. Many members of WD published articles and there was still a sort of DIY feel about them. I wrote several articles myself and, when I could track Duncan Macfarlane down, they paid for my figures.

Alas the current mags seem to have become overwhelmed by the 28mm mafia. One article goes as far as to say that Hard Plastic multipose figures are the best thing to happen to the hobby since H G Wells and Prussian Kriegspiel.

Well, that told you Phil Barker & Tony Bath. Forget anything about game design and setting up the Society of Ancients. What the hobby has been waiting for has been 28mm plastic figures. Peter Gilder & Minifigs move over. Before them the hobby was an empty shell.

This view is reinforced by every page of Miniwargs. Pages of 28mm monsters, except where 40mm Perry figures pop up*. The magazine also featured the results of a competition for subscribers to submit their own games. Dominated by heavily over-painted, over sized figures. Where mentioned rules used are mainly, if not exclusively, commercially available. This represents the "grassroots" of the hobby, and is supposedly a measure of the vibrancy of the hobby. In fact it's just identikit games all conforming to the same idea of a perfect standard. Originality is absent. We must all buy lots of big toys and paint them all the same way.

The centre piece article is a 10 page "advert" for Warlord Games' new "Black Powder" rules, which cover 1700 - 1900 (????). Another £30 glossy rule book with factor heavy mechanisms, illustrated by more pictures of 28mm figures. In this case the article featured a Crimean Wargame, fought between the authors and figure designers who make up Warlord.

This approach leads, in my mind, to the impoverishment of our wargame shows which now have massive areas of floor space full of tables groaning under masses of painted metal and plastic, standing placidly on resin-sculptured terrain, with hardly a person to explain to the punters what is going on. If you're lucky they may actually play the game, but explanations are few, and the chances to participate negligible. The message is that wargaming is all about painting figures and very little else.

*Although I did note in one article that the airfix Bamboo House had sneaked in, together with a Quad, Limber & Gun. Hooray!


  1. I wonder how much longer the hobby can sustain more than one 'glossy' title. Miniwargs may be 'independent' but it does seem to be dominated by certain 'trends'; WI is fast becoming the house mag of a certain manufacturer (which is no great surprise!); and WSS is - to say the least - a little odd at times due to some unusual translations from Spanish to English!

    Mind you, I still buy them most months just to keep in touch with what the manufacturers are producing and what the next 'trend' is likely to be.

    All the best,


  2. I stopped taking the glossies in the early 1990s. A few years later I cut mt magazines up and kept only articles which i felt I may want to refer to in the future. It was interesting that as the mags got newer there was less I wanted to keep...

  3. I now only pick up magazines with articles of interest in them. Geek mode on. The picture on the cover of MiniWarg is so bad, because the figures are in some hybrid US MOD uniform that is neither Army nor Marine. Even I, a well known SF aficionado, knew this and while I'm not a get everything correct down to the last detail right kind of girl, first impressions do count. Geek mode off.

    I think that the magazines are not aimed at us BOFs, or OSR, Grognards, or whatever you want to call yourself? To some extent, without commercial rule sets you don't have a unifying force that gets people together to play. On the other hand with commercial rule sets you have a rigidity from conformance.

    Also, back in the day, I use to have the choice of two wargame clubs I could go to. Now I live in West London, but getting across town to go to SELWG or SLWL is too time consuming, and my local club is pretty much Warhammer and D&D, unless I choose to run something different.

    My only hope is that glossy magazines means that there is a healthy wargaming hobby, which will lead to fresh people joining the hobby. I suspect that this is a bit of a forlorn hope, but I'm doing my part to introduce friends kids to wargaming.

  4. Hi Graham

    I actually get most of the glossies - WSS, WI and BG on subscription and MW in WH Smiths. The latest MW has (I think) 15mm Zama on the cover, though I could be wrong. It has some spectacularly ugly miniatures inside, notably in the Fantasy section.

    I generally find something to read in all of the above, but don't come away feeling any of them were money well spent. What I'm generally looking for are some interesting background (which in these cases mean history) articles, some interesting games articles, useful hobby (e.g. painting) articles and some interesting and independent news and reviews. Maybe some reflective/bloggy stuff as well. What I generally come away with is a surfeit of shallow history stuff, nothing remotely interesting on the games side and reviews that aren't interesting to read and sometimes just reproductions of vendor press releases, or even sponsored articles. Battlegames does the bloggy stuff very well, because of the quality of some of the featured writers; and the new WI is I think decent on the hobby side (possibly because the production values allow for that kind of article). Generally though it's the luck of the draw for most of the articles. What surprises me is that, since they pay for and can presumably commission articles, they don't manage to achieve a better balance than they do in terms of both variety and quality.

    28mm vs 15mm - I can see, from experience, why people use figure pictures to illustrate articles; in the wargaming hobby it's cheaper and easier to get pictures of well painted figures than it is to get well executed illustrations. And it's more difficult to get usable photos of 15mm - you generally want close-ups and for various reasons the ones of 28mm tend to be better (not always, and it also depends on the photo - the cover of Slingshot 266 wasn't what I'd have liked, and Dave, the model painter, is a prize winning figure painter, but insisted on taking long shots which didn't work when blown up for the cover). If you look at the FoG rules, there are 15mm figures in there and they don't look great. I'd actually like to feature some good 15mm photos in Slingshot but rarely get sent any of the kind that work (and I do have some decent 15mm figures myself - well painted, because I didn't paint them - but they're all for biblical/chariot periods and I don't get many gaming articles for that period); I'm trying to get some into a picture library I can use, at this point by talking to the manufacturers.

    Plastic figures - I think they're important because the business model - boxes of plastics supplemented by metal characters - is so similar to Warhammer/40k that it may attract those players (who are all used to 28mm) to historicals. I don't think the price point is so much cheaper that it makes a massive difference (I think that most people who have played for even a short while would realise the main investment is your own time in putting them together and painting them) and they don't enable massive games to be suddenly played at 28mm, because most people don't have the room to play the games. I've actually heard very good things about the Black Powder rules, but ironically most of the people I know who have played it or who are planning to do so are focusing on scales of 15mm or less, because of the table space the rules require.


  5. My! That blog seems to have touched a nerve. I understand Mark W's problems sourcing pictures for magazines, - the thing with 15mm figures is you have to photograph them as a unit ir the effect is lost. However, that's still a long way from saying, and indeed promoting, 28mm multipart plastics as the best thing that has ever happened to the hobby.

    I suppose I have some guilt over the glossies. I haven't submitted a piece in years so I can hardly complain about content.

    Maybe I'll hold fire on slagging off "Black Powder" and try to get into a demo game at a show.

    That just leaves me with the "I buy them to keep up" reason. I suppose that's fair comment. I do subscribe to several period specific mags, - Slingshot, Arquebusier & Hobilar, - and pick up a lot from them but there's still a large amount of stuff going on I'm not aware of.

    At the end of the day each glossy costs about £50 a year. I think I'd rather buy a book.