Wednesday, 31 August 2011

That chess thing again

I had a conversation with a non-wargamer at the weekend. She was aware of wargaming through a mutual acquaintance but didn’t really understand it. She opened the conversation with the normal “What’s it all about” “what do you actually do” that you so often get in these situations. I went into the standard type of explanation expecting to get to the dice rolling bit and have the “so it’s all luck” conversation.

But it didn’t turn out like that.

In fact the next remark was “Isn’t that a bit boring compared to chess”? The key part of this thesis was that if you always refight historical battle then they’ll always turn out the same way, whereas every game of chess is different.

I have to say that nonplussed me a bit. Apparently the reason is that every time you play chess it has so many combinations and playing different people makes it different too. I was instantly reminded of one of the best jokes from the Edinburgh fringe this year:

“I was playing chess with my friend and he said, 'Let's make this interesting'. So we stopped playing chess.”

I retorted that with a wargame you change the opponents you play as well and that results and so on varied. I think at that point the discussion sort of petered out as drinks and food came round.

There is a point, to a certain extent, that in a refight by slavishly sticking to historical deployments may force games to run in a certain way. A few years ago I ran refights of The Trebia on the Society of Ancient stand (sometimes up to a dozen times a day, - hence the soubriquet “Trebian”) and after a lot of games you could tell which way the game might go. I was using 8 units a side (compared with 16 in a chess game) but the combat system was a bit more variable so it wasn’t completely repetitive. I always used historical deployments and painted the starting positions on the board to ensure that certain bits of the game ran identically in each playing.

Phil Sabin’s view is that one of a great commander’s most important skills is deployment. This means that in his set of rules for classical ancient battles (either “Strategos” or “Lost Battles”) the opening turns involve the opposing sides deploying. That’s one of the limiting factors in chess. I so much want to see someone do an offset deployment.

Any way, on a different note I’ve decided to indulge myself. Rather than research an army and a war in massive detail and labour over rules and so on I’ve decided just to buy an army for the sheer fun of painting it and owning it.

It’s one I’ve wanted since fresher year at university when I first came across the commander in one of my earliest lectures (Dr Moore, if I recall correctly). I have no intention of buying its opponents or any other bits and pieces. I know what rules I’ll use (if I ever play with it), and for the first time pretty much ever I’m going to buy it straight off an army list (not very WD at all) because all I want to do is paint it and own it. I don’t want to discover that the troop types I want to buy aren’t in the army after all. I just want them, with their cool sounding names. I’ve even decided to change my basing and painting style for this one as well.

No clues as to what it is, - except it is in 15mm and it’s from a manufacturer I’ve never used before. Guesses are welcome.


  1. I did something like that recently: one of my earliest pre-ACW pair of opponents were the Robin Hood and Sheriff of Nottingham sets from Airfix, a present from my Aunt when I was about 11. They had long since been sold to a friend, which I always regretted, so I finally bought a couple of boxes, painted them up and based them for Charlie Wesencraft's rules. I don't know if I will ever actually use them, and I doubt I will ever meet anyone else who has them--the guy at Plasticsoldierreview absolutely loathes the Nottingham guys--but I don't care. They were fun and easy to paint, and I doubt I will ever expand either army.

    Best regards,

    Chris Johnson

  2. Chris,

    Good for you. Get them out and play solo.