Sunday 8 March 2015

Is the Wargaming Convention Dying?

                                 [ A blast from the past, my re enactment of the Battle of Aspern Essling ]

So is the Wargaming Convention dying? as discussed by Gary Mitchell in  Wargames Soldiers and Strategy 77.
 On first reading of the article, I thought I would be annoyed, remembering the ire that Paddy Griffiths article Against Toy Soldiers caused me. However I think with age you tend to take a step back and attempt to be more mature in your response, that is if you can be actually bothered to make a response.
 On re reading the article Gary had some good points in the brief. We all accept that the hobby is graying rapidly, we all accept that younger would be wargamers are quite thin on the ground and we all understand that we need to attract younger wargamers if we would like the hobby to continue after our collective demise.
 The wargames convention is one area where there is a need for a rethink as it is probably the best way to reach the younger public, short of going into schools.
 The ideas put forward by Gary were all pretty much commonsense, some should be a given, other ideas are merely experimental.
 I think we have all griped and banged on about shows and what makes them good and what makes others frankly crap, but for me wargames shows have always been something to look forward to, but then I think I have a very childish gene.
   When reading the article what surprised me was my reaction to what Gary suggested about doing away with the 'demonstration game', instead of anger I actually started to agree with what he was saying, but in a more qualified way.
   Now I have been putting on demonstration games since John and I took our first game to a show at Whitley Bay in the early 1980's. It even got a mention in the Miniature Wargames magazine of that year, fame indeed and I have always thought we were attempting to put something back into the hobby from that early start. But to be honest were we deluding ourselves.
   As the shows continued our ambitions grew until John and I were bringing mega games to the shows, ie a one to one unit representation [ in 6mm] of the Battle of Blenheim, the Battle of Austerlitz, Waterloo etc. All took a considerable amount of effort, a great deal of research, [this was before the internet] and time and money [ both of which were in short supply]
 Were there new would be wargamers banging on the doors of the show to see these games? I dont think so.
 However as I have got older, and hopefully wiser, what I did find when we were putting on games was that wargamers and sometimes their children would be regular attenders at our table and we would talk about the game and the hobby, and the table and basically anything to do with the hobby. So much so that in the last few years we rarely get to actually play the damn game.
  So for me demonstration games have to be at Wargames shows, purely because if they are done well, they inspire, and encourage wargamers to excel in their painting and modelling skills and also gain information.

                            [ A blast from the past, my re enactment of the Battle of Aspern Essling ]

For me I think Gary got this suggestion a tad wrong. I know what he was actually alluding to, it was the unfriendly backs to the public, as the public stand next to the table hoping to find someone who will actually speak to them but are usually ignored.
 So what Gary should have actually suggested was that any wargamer who was making the effort to put on a demonstration game should also make the effort to talk in a friendly and non condescending way to the public, basically like 'the nutter on the bus'.
  Of course this is very difficult for some people, who lets be frank have trouble engaging in conversation with their mother who they probably still live with, but if one is prepared to put on a game, for God sake talk while you're stood there.
  As I write this post, an idea has been forming in my head as to how to get the younger element interested in wargaming, and the theme that keeps coming back is, what was I interested in when I was a teenager? and the answer was girls. So the solution to me is easy, each table, trader, etc hire one very pretty girl to stand next to their exhibit, looking bemused, handing out freebies, God we would be fighting off the teenagers then, and probably a lot of older wargamers to.
 Anyway to get back to reality, how can we, the current wargamers make certain that this hobby continues in its current recognisable form.
 A toughie this, given the trend that is modern day youth.
  I think we just have to be relaxed about it to a certain extent, plenty of children seem to be sharing a basic wargaming experience with their parents and from this will come some sort of continuation.
 I think the trend to allow children and partners to get into shows for free should continue, anything that is free has got to be good. The current trend for short, easy to play games is probably a good thing in that it allows younger people to engage in a form of wargaming, however I think they should have a very strong historical bias which would encourage the players to want to read and research their game and actually make it more relevant.
 Wargames clubs have a responsibility, and need to encourage teens to attend their clubs even if its just to play Warhammer etc. It is still a start. However once they do attend, older club members need to talk to them, otherwise the club is just small groups of people who never mix. I think this happens now and needs to be addressed [ mind this is coming from a wargamer who has never joined a club]
 I think the idea Gary put forward about craft stalls etc, is a non starter, and unless there is a martial slant to it, is frankly ridiculous. I know of a least one show that attempted to get model train enthusiasts to put on a table etc at a show, but it didnt really work.
 Lets be right, anything that is not of a wargaming nature at least has to have some relevance to the wargamer and the potential new recruit.
  One should also consider what exactly young people do with their time and how they think. Now thats a difficult one for me as I avoid young people like the plague, merely because we have nothing in common, but there are lots of wargaming parents, and wargamers that actually converse with these groups, so please say what exactly floats their boats and use this knowledge.
 [ It cant be just texts, sextexts and ennui]
 One thing that I always thought would make a good participation game and would be impactive to the younger would be wargamer was the Harry Potter series of books. There must be a decent participation game in that series, and everyone knows of the books and films.Perhaps a Quiditch game similar to Blood Bowl. [Just a thought]
 Talking of which television and new films are always areas where young people have an interest, so perhaps this is an area again where we could make inroads into catching their attention. That terrible film Fury is a case in point, also the Transformers series.
                              [ A blast from the past, my re enactment of the Battle of Aspern Essling ]

The biggest problem that wargaming in general has [ at least for me] is the lack of a governing body. Now before everyone starts demanding my burning, what I actually mean is that to have a uniform approach, there would be a need for a body to make certain that all shows and clubs were singing from the same song sheet. This is never going to happen, and I must admit it is only in respect of a corporate response to the greying hobby that I would welcome a governing body.
 I suppose a second best response would be for some club to stage a new type of show, aimed at attracting new wargamers which became a huge success.
 Success would invariably be copied and the hobby could then grow. So wargaming is in a bit of a quandry, how do we survive in sufficient numbers and in a form that would be recognisable.
All answers on a postcard please, to the Central Wargaming Governing Body.





  1. Wow, pretty much an article in its own right there Robbie. Lots to chew on, first I have to agree with you re. Demo games a good demo game always inspires me - I may not rush off and buy an army any more but I enjoy the chat as you say on, figures, terrain etc. and like you say a good demo game includes having people happy to engage with the public.
    Engagement of youth - games have to look good, be quick and be fun.
    The Martian front game I put on at Newark was never short of young gamers. But on the historical side games such as this classics - 55 minutes in Peking, 633 squadron, I think would go down well. I remember years ago when my son was little he played a Foreign Legion game sun by Shaun Bryant - he kept going back for more. The kids were engaged, had characters and troops simple rules and daft prizes for heroic actions etc.
    bringing it up to date Pirates will always go down well, Game of Thrones, Vikings and I think Muket and Tomahawk type games with Indians for us Northern shows what about a ixth legion participation game - players taking the part of the Romans trying to get off the board with their eagle. Think we have to accept the full on battles and depth of history and research we do and did will not come to the kids in the modern age until they are older, so in the mean time it's getting them engaged in excitement of history and great scenarios, fast playing wit has I said some identifiable characters.
    To me shows are dying in part not because of the greying of the gamers but because there is less need to go for the trade and therefore we can be more selective in where we go for our fix!

    1. Afternoon Graham,
      Youre right about the length of the post. To tell you the truth Ive been tempted to try and make the posts read more like a small article, a bit like an electronic version of the old Stuart Asquith, Observation Post page.
      I would hate to see the demise of the wargames show, purely from a selfish point of view, as I am like a kid in sweet shop when Im getting ready to go. But this year, there seems to be an age between York and the next one for me, Salute.
      Youre right about traders, the internet has killed the need for the more established traders to attend that many. Perhaps that is another thing that needs to be considered, cut price tables for traders.
      It might help a bit.

  2. I think shows are dying (are they ?) because we can buy things quickly and easily off the internet - I used to buy things at shows when you had to send off a postal order and wait weeks for the manufacturer to send you them ( if MiniFigs there was always the odd figure missing !) , now a couple of clicks and your figures arrive within the week . On a personal level am I really bothered if the hobby dies after I do ? , nowadays my hobby is a very private thing - I find I take little notice of new developments (I do buy the mags ) and use mainly rules I've been using for years .Tony

    1. Afternoon Tony,
      I know what you are saying about wargaming and privacy, but I think it would be a real shame if wargaming just gradually disappeared and became the domain of the rich collector. A bit like how it started really, where the BMSS and its European equivalents were mainly made up of retired judges and military officers, until Sachs,Young, Grant and Featherstone moved the hobby into the arena of the common man.
      Thanks Robbie.

  3. The shows will end when traders no longer see them as profitable. Without trade stands there is no show. Traders may want to get an immediate return on their costs by selling items in sufficient quantity to at least cover their costs for the day(s). Others may have a longer game plan in mind in that are at the show to present a new range and encourage future purchases. Either way when they stop going the show will also cease.
    On the other hand the melee that was Vapnartak is not encouraging either. Shows where it is difficult move around are not welcoming. Shows where games are hidden by the sheer volume of people are not helpful.
    Unfortunately, despite years of the same drum being banged, many games still lack walkers and talkers. Too many gams are played rather than demonstrated. Change that and we may get an improvement. I spent ALL my time at Triples in 2011 talking to the public, and that included the very young where I would get down on my knees to their eyelevel so I could see what they saw and talk about it. The young can be engaged but it takes time and effort - something that many demo games don't do for any age group.
    More participation games are welcomed but they are not the only answer. All games have something to offer if only the fellows running it make the effort of doing so.
    The idea of attractive ladies at each game is terrific although I think that my aim of more talk would be scuppered by their presence.

    1. Afternoon Paul,
      You want to be careful going down on your knees, it can be difficult to get back up again.
      Having given some thought to the trend for much smaller games at shows, I can now see their point and actual need. Between them and games that young people can identify with then we may be able to get a new group of recruits to mold.
      The idea of the women was actually wishful thinking, and the games would be probably overpowered by the strong smell of aftershaves emanating from us older Lothario's.

  4. Speaking as a trader I've cut the number of shows I do over the years from a hight of 26- including 2 in Europe to 9 this year- with no European gigs .
    Many shows just are not worth the effort- nobody turns up nobody spends any cash . The number of shows I've been to ovwer the years where the trade and the gamers outnumber the paying punters has been legion- now by chance I've made a few quid at some of thses but I've also lost my shirt at a few- mercifully few. There are also loads of shows I've never been to as the travelling and the cost massively outwqeigh the probable return.
    The idea that "intrested non- wargamers" come to shows is and has always been twaddle even more so now in the age of instant gratification.
    The reason some of you became wargamers was it seems a shortage of girls - yes I had that shortage too but didn't go to a wargamwes hsow until I was 16- just before I moved up to the NE.
    Why can't some of us simply accept that the hobby ischangeing - Sci-fant is now BIG BROTHER- Childrens games are now the norm
    Instant KWICK-KRAP is the order of the day.
    Or is it?
    Yes for some but don't agonise over a shortage of teenagers- who cares - let them grow up a bit . The number of ex GW drones that come over to the side of Light while not huge is not inconsiderable either.
    That there should be quick good looking "fun" games at show should be a given but what these games achieve in the long term is not clear- Tarquin just goes away in a sulk because Daddy won't buy it for him NOW when he finds out you have to actually make things with your own hands -or in extreme cases the little bugger nicks your stuff
    That some kids do get engaged is also true- devil a doubt- but how many make the jump from engaged to - Daddy buy me soldiers ... no don't want Space marines...
    Lets face it unless you like toy soldiers and history its unlikely you will becom3e a modeller still less a wargamer- you might become a workshop drone
    On walkers and Talker- agreed- I've done enough Demos in my time and I've alway been the talker - usually becasue I umpire rather than play and frankly would rather talk to chaps than get into the endless tedium of the dice rolling --- again and again .
    I remebr talking to a bloke some years ago- nothing to do with wargaming- but publishing he was having a rant about the vast number of "self- help" books about - you know the sort of Tripe- BE ASSERTIVE in 69easy steps " (£12.99)
    He reckoned he was going to write one
    "Just F*****G get on with it"
    You know I see his point.
    I really do sometimes think that the biggest problem with wargaming is wargamers .....
    Do I care if the hobby dies after I've snuffed it ... why should I I'll de decomposing somwhere nobody will give a toss

    1. Afternoon Andy,
      As ever straight to the point. Now I know you do care about the hobby, otherwise you wouldnt have given your adult life your it.
      I can see why you are very selective with the shows because I wouldnt like to hump all that metal about for very little reward.
      Would it make much of a difference if the space you booked was actually for a token amount?
      Shows without traders would be very difficult to sell to the wargaming public. There would have to be a very good reason to attend otherwise.
      You and I are very similar, as we both love eye candy games with wonderful looking soldiers on the table.Its what got us interested and what really keeps us going. Never mind the turn of an ankle on a women, give me a decent casting with loads of character.

    2. Robbie having a bity of machine trouble here- damn thing printed my relpy in the wrong place- but I also missed a bit. Yes we are quite alike in our overall tastes and we are far from alone. The cynic in me says that the reason for all this urge to change is simply so that the changers can make a few quid. Let the hobby change- as always I'll use the bits I like and ignore those I don't. Old Glory has changed over the years- starting as mostly a 30mm disply and diorama figs company - it the went 15mm in a big way. 10 or a dozen years ago we sold off much of the 15mm Now we are largely again -a 15mm outfit but also 10mm 28mm (25mm when we made 'em) and 40mm together with a fair number of ships and sircraft models
      When I started in 1992 we had about 100 different products- last count I had over 4000- and its still growing- we keep changing so why shouldn't the hobby as a whole

  5. ..have to agree with the above really... I refuse to get worried or agitated about the greying of the hobby, when I'm gone I'm gone, people can find their own hobbies... I've always found the slightly evangelical nature of some wargamers slightly .. errr.... weird... :o)

    1. Afternoon Steve,
      Thanks for the reply.
      Wargaming has always had its fair share of very strange folk, most seem to drift on to other things, like joining the Green Party or the like. The ones that remain are usually fairly well grounded.
      Thanks Robbie.

  6. As a member of The Naval Wargames Society we try to put on a participation game at Salute every year. The NWS goes to a few shows depending on the stalwart members being free. We get little credit for all the ffort that it takes to design and put on a viable show with the big games always getting the picture spreads in the glossy's. I havent bought a glossy for years now as I find them increasingly irrelevant to my gaming interests and more like house magazines show casing their owners or advertisers products. The reviews tend to be bland, they never bite the hand that feeds them with a bad review of a poor product or publication. If you are interested in naval gaming come and have a look at our home page.

    1. Evening Drew,
      I havent seen a bad review since the Wargamers Newsletter and Stuart Asquith stopped writing. Donald Featherstone was always prepared to call a spade a spade, but obviously now in the environment where no one dare say what they think, its changed. I have actually seen your exhibits before, but although I tried naval wargaming many years ago, I think it played more like a land battle with wind, if you know what I mean.When it comes to naval conflicts Im a bit like Napoleon who never understood the problems.But thanks for the post.

    2. Robbie We decided quite early that going to a show without a respectable amount of stock was pointless- the first thing that happens is that the customers automatically ask you for the stuff you didn't bring. Even in the internet age this is still true to a certain extent.
      I still get asked for ranges that we have not taken to shows for over a decade- usually by the sdame blokes as asked me the previous year at that show..
      Show without traders as the focus are rare- but they do happen- most often in the Role-playing and fantasy worlds. The punters just aren't interested in spending but in playing to the exclusion of all else. I went to a couple- they bored the arse off me .

    3. Drew- as a sometime Naval gamer I see your point. I've done one Naval display game at a local show- which was very well recieved- 1/600th Russo- Japanese War and have some 1/1200 WW2 in my collection .
      Naval articles in the glossies are few and far between- though I've provided photos for one or two over the years- though not recently ..
      I also went to a 1/1200 scale ship event near Lincoln a few years ago- and though fun it was like stepping back to the early 70s- a tiny event with more traders than punters- fortunately I was not ther as a trader but a punter.
      Nevertheless I still play naval game- last one was last month

  7. Robbie, I'm afraid my views area a bit like Andy's. Traders at shows never made much out of me as I went mainly for the B & B and the "rummage in the cheap box" you couldn't really get elsewhere. But I haven't been to a show for a couple of years now as it is hard to find the spectacle that used to be so stimulating, the cost in time and petrol is not worthwhile to see lots of small Sci-Fi type games, and I can get what i want from Ebay or directly from websites. I'm loving my hobby more than ever thanks to bloggers, and enjoying being one. I don't need shows and I don't really care about changing wargaming to suit the younger generation. If they want to find about about "my" hobby I'll happily show them (i enjoyed Rapid Fire! on Sunday with two 14 year olds, and 4 other blokes aged 24, 40, 55, and 61 ) . And the advent of the Military Gentleman Forum is there as a private retreat for us old and grey gamers when we need it!
    Thanks to everyone for making me think about this though

  8. Hello all,

    Great piece Robbie and as a '2nd generation wargamer' I would like to add a few points here if I may.

    - Context: I'm currently 23 and female. I have been attending wargaming shows with my Dad forever and was present at Newark's Hammerhead last weekend on behalf of my day job, the Royal Armouries in Leeds, where I have bullied them into putting on a big Waterloo event in June for the 200th anniversary. (On another note Robbie, your 6mm Waterloo game, I'm interested! Get in touch with the RA on Facebook)

    - Demo games are definitely the way to go. At Newark I dragged along my boyfriend, who is you very typical 90's kid video gamer across both Playstation & PC. As I was chatting with potential clubs he went off to look at games, but completely honestly he felt too intimidated to join in because he it was his first time at an event like this. Later on we both went for a wander and joined the RAF's spectacular 'Get to the choppa' game (which I did I might add). He absolutely love it and got, naturally, completely involved and has now started 'selling' these events to friends and family. = Success story. If we want new people to get involved with wargaming it has to be inclusive. We need guys putting on games who want to bring new people in. Give a new lost person a smile and make them feel welcome! (We all know sometimes that isn't the case!) My Dad always jokes we need ‘engagement ambassadors’ at events for new people, perhaps we could work this into the ‘Central Wargaming Governing Body’ Robbie…

    - Following that - gamers. What we all need to recognise here, IF getting new younger people in wargaming is the aim of the game (which I know isn't for all) is that the people playing video games, particularly strategy PC games such as DOTA 2 (look it up, it is basically digital wargaming - no really) are the same audience. My Dad jokes now that is he was in my generation he would be a video gamer. So, what can we do with this information? Robbie you joked about putting on Harry Potter games? May I suggest Call of Duty, Battlefield, BioShock, Portal (I have more) any of these games would EASILY fall into a table platform, if we got the figures made...
    Naturally if we wanted to make this a 'big thing' that not everyone would like then we just create additional events just for this! There must be a lot of guys and gals out there who are also wanting to get the younger generations involved. Let's perhaps put on special events with local clubs at Universities/colleges so they take notice?
    - The internet may affect sellers but remember so many fantastic blogs are now pumping out wargaming on a completely free platform. 'Key' wargaming community figures are now often on Twitter/Facebook sharing their thoughts and promoting upcoming events. This is great for capturing new audience’s, especially younger ones, and good for the current audience too. Let’s make anyone on Twitter/Facebook jealous they weren't at the event, and keen to come along to the next one. Let's get QR codes involved with games perhaps? Again this should not affect the games that have been put on by guys who have always loved the hobby, but that doesn't mean we can't do a bit of exploration?

    If we want wargaming to bring in new younger people we need to invite them and make them feel welcome, and the best way to do that is by building bridges via games they already love/familiar with, through technology/online to both get them there (as many won’t be in a club or get a newsletter so may not know when an event is on near them), and to enhance their experience when they are there. It is a balance though, as many will not really care about getting in new people frankly as this is their hobby to enjoy, and they don’t HAVE to do anything to keep it going. However, those who want to DO have various ways it can be done, and I’d be very happy to help!

  9. Evening Kirsty,
    Thanks for your post. I knew there were young people out and about the wargaming world, but being an old fart I dont meet them too often.
    What you are suggesting as regards Twitter, Facebook etc is actually the way to go, as our politicians are now realising.
    I must admit that although I havent actually played Call of Duty, even I realised it is very popular with young people [ ie under 30 years]
    Now surely it is not above the wit of man to base a game on this. Ideally 54mm would be perfect, perhaps with quality plastic figures and tanks.
    Couple this to some natty advertising I am certain that it could drag in a few new potential wargamers.There are so many other areas which relate to the world of young people that offer a cross over into the world of wargaming.
    Re my Waterloo game. Its funny that you mention this as I was talking to John about resurrecting this game and the terrain for a show this year. I will get in touch when I can figure out how to use my Facebook account. Great post and thanks for getting in touch.

    1. Robbie- From a traders perspective I'd agree with most of Kirsty's comment. - Call of Duty is basically a modern skirmish game- I've also seen WW2 versions Putting an FPS on the table may have its difficulties but it is by no mean hard- especially as most of the models etc are already out there in numerous scales- I sell some of 'em !
      Part of the problem perhaps is that games players only want to game- even at shows- this leads to blank faces when you ask then questions so as I've said "walkers nad Talkers are a must at whatever level.
      As for feeling intimidated- well I sort of see it- especially if you have never been there before. I know I've been put off by the attitude of some chaps at shows who are -again more intrested in playing- than "doing the show"- many Demo gamers simply don't demonstates or explain.
      Come to any Demo I'm running and I'll usually talk your ears off - same if you come to my trade stand and need to know things- its - at least to me - part of the Job description.

  10. Loved Andy and Kirsty's comments and views and both are so right, the hobby is changing. The Hammerhead type show I think in part is the way forward for engagement of the younger generation. But equally almost a return to the early days of the old club shows with some good demo games and a select number of local! Traders who you know club members support.
    There may even be room for period specific events again with a few traders who you know members/participants at the very least will support. The times they're are a changing and maybe we need to think outside box. For Robbie's nice big demo games I think these eventually may become specials or private events who knows what the future holds. I just know I enjoy what I'm doing and long may it last

  11. Roddy,
    As regards shows I think two important considerations need to be taken into account-
    1/ You can advertise to nth degree a show but what is the hook that gets Joe Public to turn up? Getting a show that had a version of Waterloo 200 would be useful as Joe Public can relate to this on a cultural basic. Next year you have Somme 100 - It is no surprise to me that we have Salute using the theme of Azincourt 600. Once you get you Joe Public in give them something to get involved in. Usually this is a pp and I would suggest that something that takes less than one hour is good. Peter Pig does really good "taster" sessions of their rules.
    2/ Historically (there must be a pun in there) gamers had an interest in the Bring and Buy or Flea market. The organising club there fore could budget to make a small amount of money over the door and from traders. On top of that you could make reasonable money out of a well organised B&B. With the growth of the internet this has dried up so I wonder if some shows fold as this avenue dries up and "greedy" organisers try to milk the traders who give up. I'm sure Big Andy would have a few observations of his own on this subject.

    Personally I think the second factor has a lot to do with organisers causing the death of the hobby show. The first factor is what tends to stop the growth of the hobby. I have been to a number of mini events which had minimal cost, no public and were one day competitions. However they were pretty easy to organise and met their requirements. i.e. play 4 games of DBMM, DBR whatever. They did not grow the hobby but were not meant to.

    So perhaps show organisers need to think about what they are trying to achieve before they set out to organise a show. And also what the likely result is.

    Anyway to finish with a wee challenge. Why don't you commit to putting on a 6mm Waterloo in Leeds in say mid June and make Kirsty happy. I'll turn up and help despite being South of Londonshire.


My 6mm Napoleonic set up.

My 6mm Napoleonic set up.
Austria 1809.

Austrian Hussars

Austrian Hussars
Hinchliffe figures

Austrian Grenzer

Austrian Grenzer
Austrian Grenzer

Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2013
Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2012

Smoggycon 2012
Smoggycon 2012

Smoogycon 2009

Smoogycon 2009
My French getting another beating