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The Rise and Fall of Wargaming

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 10, 2010

by Alan Emrich

PRO HFC-discussion on this article CONTRA

[Author’s note: I wrote this article a couple of years ago and just spruced it up a bit for this magazine (i.e. Fire and Movement 67, 1990). I am happy to say that some trends are improving. On the up side, games like GDW’s Blue May and 2nd Edition A House Divided are back in print again. 3W has produced Modern Naval Battles Card Game and, hopefully, will produce other card games. TSR has also produced some introductory wargames, and S&T is starting to move in a smaller, less complex direction with their games. All of these are good signs. Just to be fair though, on the down side, the prices of all these “introductory” products has continued to rise: GDW’s A House Divided is arount $22, Modern Naval Battles is around $20, an iusse of S&T is now $12.50… Well you get the idea. Even with their increased availability, the pricing is still pretty high for a Jr. High School Student, isn’t it?]

We’ve really managed to do it to ourselves since 1972. We walked down the primrose path of wargaming consumerism willingly enough, nominally “looking forward” while losing our peripheral vision. By doing what was best for us as individual wargamers, buying games with more complexity and sophisticated graphics to meet our maturing tastes in historical simulations, we’ve neglected to remember what is best for wargaming as a whole; for our hobby and the future generations of armchair generals who might come after us.

We’ve forgotten about wargaming’s roots; its very history. And about our personal roots and our personal history in wargaming! It’s a shame that, as a group, and of all people, we should be negligent of the lessons of our own hobby’s history! Because we’ve lost our perspective, because we’ve chosen to ignore or done nothing in reaction to the warning signs, much harm will come to our beloved hobby of wargaming. As if some great conspiracy were afoot, there are none by guilty parties involved. No one is innocent in this, the case of


Let’s establish the Historical Foundation. Think back ten, fifteen or twenty years ago when you began in this hobby (as the readership polls indicated that’s when you got started in wargaming). In those “good old” days of yesteryear, wargames were often new, exciting and different. Additionally, they were, if not always good, at least interesting games. They were made by designers for whom that wargamer was a labor of love to design and develop (of course, we complained back then, as we do now, that games never seemed to be developed enough). ‘Mere were a few real diamonds in the rough out there, and most were at bargain basement prices, packaged in envelopes or zip lock bags.

One thing you could count on fifteen years ago was a diversity of subject matter in your wargames. In those days, with a 500 copy print run, companies could (and did) sell out of even the most esoteric games imaginable! Wargame collectors know about all of these wargames from the countless smaller and “one shot” companies. Games like Jerusalem 70 AD, Ancient Conquest, A Mighty Fortress, and most of the “Avalon Hill Classics” would never see the light of day if published in 1987. (In case you haven’t noticed, Avalon Hill has cut back tremendously on the availability of their less popular era and older titles, most of which have gone “out of print”).

In those days, virtually every wargame designer was an “amateur” designer and virtually every wargame company was an “amateur” game company operated out of someone’s garage. We were much closer to the hobby then. Closer to being designers, closer to being writers, closer to the dream of starting up our own small wargame company in our copious spare time.

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