Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Slartibarfast Defence

"In this replacement Earth we're building they've given me Africa to do and of course I'm doing it with all fjords again because I happen to like them, and I'm old fashioned enough to think that they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me it's not equatorial enough. What does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day."

(Slartibartfast to Arthur Dent, H2G2)

I was pondering this recently when thinking about how we, as wargamers, construct our games.

I visit discussion boards from time to time. TMP, for example and that new one started in the UK: The Wargames Website. It's handy to keep up with what's going on in the hobby and they're a good way of getting in contact with other wargamers and sharing what you're doing as well. Sometimes you even have a discussion that's interesting.

I've played both historical and fantasy sf games during my 40+ years of wargaming and I'm pretty open minded. I'd say I prefer historical games, but my earliest non-Airfix armies were Minifigs Middle Earth so I'll try most things, given a chance. The one thing that I think is important to any game, however, is that the context and parameters of it are consistent. What happens in the world you are recreating, whether from the past or the imagination all the bits should sit together coherently. So in the Middle Earth example above for games set in the War of the Ring there shouldn't be any dragons, - that's the point of the expedition in The Hobbit - unless you postulate the failure of Bilbo and Thorin to have Smaug killed. That's been something common to my wargaming for my entire life. If you pick up any book written by an Old Schooler you'll find that marrying what the toy soldiers do up to how they performed in real life under pins everything. The performance of the table top model has to be consistent with the world it is modelling.

For historical games it should be fairly straight forward, - no LMGs in the ACW and so on. The big, obvious bits are very rarely a problem. It's getting the detail right that often is. And it doesn't tend to be an issue with the actual figures themselves, - it's usually with the rules, scenario or similar.

So a discussion will start on a message board, - often it's a request for help (often it's actually a desire for validation of a decision already taken), or a request to have a look at some pictures of figures or a game.

The discussion will develop and someone will make a comment like: "Nice to see your figures for that Wars of the Roses battle refight, but you have them fighting across enclosed land and that area wasn't enclosed until the 18th century, so the flank should be much more open".

This type of discussion can go one of two ways. The original poster can say thank you for pointing that out, I can get that right next time. Or he can say something like, "I prefer it that way because it gave a better game".

If the second path is chosen the discussion will deteriorate rapidly, until the original poster will type something like "I don't care I'm a GAMER first". Always with GAMER in capitals in case the rest of use have problems reading small type. Whenever I read that my heart sinks as I realise any form of rational discussion has just flown out of the window.

Well, I'm a gamer too. I play wargames, card games and board games, so being a gamer doesn't make you special. In fact, if you want to play games that make no sense because you enjoy them, then go right ahead. Why not? The issue I have is don't get into an argument about how you play historical games and then when it emerges that actually you don't, suddenly shout "I don't care I'm a GAMER". The time to make that point is before you start talking about your game as historical. It sounds awfully like you're a sore loser if you pull the "I'd rather be happy than right" banner out of your bag after you have been found out.

After all, Slartibarfast got there first. Millions of years ago.

And the thing is, it is usually just as easy to get it right (or in alternatively, make it consistent) as it is to get it wrong. And it is usually just as much fun.


  1. Some good points in there but I bet you really meant "any" rather than "zany" although "zany" kinda fits too!

    I'll add a couple of points:
    1. It never hurts to have theory (or in this case history) on your side
    2. When a game is distilled to its essence, are not even historical gamers participating in a fantasy game?

    1. Thanks for spotting the typo.

      Having history on your side is always good. As for your second point....I think that when doing historical games you should try to get the model of the past as credible as possible. I was using "fantasy" in this context in a specific way to describe a genre of games that have a non-real world framework for their construction.

    2. Since I game, in part, to gain some historical insight, getting the model right (or close or believable) is paramount.

    3. Very succinctly put. I would say we are on the same page.

  2. Beware the pan dimensional mice trying to dice your brains

  3. Jonathan and Trebbian- almost exactly my own view. except for Jonathans point2 which if you get right Should be like a well researed historical novel.
    I've bee shouted at by GAMERS more time than enough both by Keyboard and in actuality at shows.

    1. "Well researched historical novel" - good description. Phil often talks about a game having a narrative that gives it credibility, so I think I know exactly what you're getting at.

  4. I actually think that life is too short to worry about detail too much. The current view of past events, topography etc is fluid. Facts change.
    So no LMGs in an ACW game, but I would not worry about field systems in a medieval game. After all I m a gamer!

    1. I also think that there are as many (probably more) armchair experts trying to convince the rest of us that their knowledge is superior to the rest of us as there are GAMERS out there..
      I try and avoid both types on forums.

    2. David,

      In most of the discussions I get involved in where the Slartibartfast Defence is pulled out right at the end it's a case of discussing a subject rather than trying to prove that one person's knowledge is superior to an others.

      The point about medieval fields systems may seem obscure but if you're doing a refight it's as relevant as getting the orbat right. Looking at Naseby the terrain is absolutely essential to the outcome. The NMA is on a hill and the Royalists have to fight up it to get at them. Many refights have it as a flat table.

      Extremes of both types are to be avoided as you say. However it would help at the beginning of a discussion if the GAMER would say "I just chucked some stuff on a table without really caring if it was historical or not. Look at some nice pictures" then those of us who do care about getting things as right as we can (within playable limits) can happily leave them alone.