Tracer Rounds – New Wargamers Needed: Apply Within!

frontier wars 728x90 KS

Evangelizing the hobby ~

Who was the last convert you brought into the (Dis)United Church of World Wide Wargaming?  Seriously, when was the last time you talked with someone about wargaming (or heck, even more broadly – strategy gaming) and they displayed enough interest to actually take a plunge and try a wargame, and then stuck with it, at least for a while?

Pacific Theatre in Axis & Allies 1942 2nd EditionIt’s an odd hobby we have, right?  There’s a certain barrier to entry just based on the level of detail in most of these games.  Put another way: there’s an amusing “how to choose the perfect board game” flowchart that’s focused on Eurogames, and to get to Axis & Allies you have to answer “yes” to the question “hardest rules ever?”.  And most of us consider A&A to be an entry-level wargame, right?

So we’re already starting off from a position of disadvantage.  Or are we?  In most cases, the level of detail in the rules is there for a reason.  These are complex phenomena that we are trying to quantify and get a handle on.  “Elegance” in wargame design is one of the highest forms of praise in that it indicates an ability to capture challenging and amorphous concepts in such a way that one can easily understand their effects on the battlefield of the game.  Morale, leadership, training, esprit de corps, and basic task competence on the battlefield are all difficult to assess, and ever hard to quantify, and games that can do so in a plausible mechanism are ones that tend to garner high praise.  So how do we explain that to a new player?

Let’s start with this premise: not everyone is going to love wargames.  Hell, very few people are likely to tolerate wargames.  But if it’s true that many of our friends share similar interests, then odds are you’ve got at least one friend who could be wargaming that isn’t.  Who’s interested in history, military history, current military affairs, etc?  You’ve got these friends; you just need to figure out who is willing to push some counters around to recreate, or change, history.  But here’s the thing – you don’t need to get them all the way up to Case Blue levels of wargaming insanity.  Just get them to Lock’n’Load Tactical or Great Battles of the American Civil War or a GMT COIN game.

There’s all sorts of discussions (some of it in our own forums) about “gateway games” that help introduce new wargamers to the hobby.  What are some of the simpler, smaller, more-digestible wargames that can give someone a taste of the hobby without full immersing themselves in great depths of complexity?  Here’s the kicker – it doesn’t matter.  Not that you need to start someone with DAK2.  But you don’t have to start them with A&A or Tank or Tank or Hold The Line because those are the “entry level games™.”  Find something your friend is interested in!  Start with something that’s going to maintain attention, rather than something that’s ‘easy’.  Better to spend an extra 30 minutes on greater complexity for an aerial wargame for your friend who loves building bi-plane models than forcing them into an ‘easier to learn’ game that might not suit his interests.  Spend some time showing off a few different options and let them guide you based on what looks appealing.

Take a page out of the US Soccer Federation’s discussion of coaching soccer for young kids – focus on the fun.  The USSF notes that at the young ages – 5-12 or so – it’s not about winning and losing, perfect positional play, or learning the history and traditions of the games.  It’s about fun – period.  Make it fun.  Set it up so that the first choice activity of youngsters is soccer because it’s what they think of when they think about things that are fun for them to do.  This is imperative for new wargamers – it has to be fun.  Absent the fun, what’s the point?  It’s got to be fun first.  But then it’s got to be fun second, third, and fourth, too.  This is a hobby, and how likely are you going to stick with a hobby if you don’t enjoy it.

GHLogoTextNow here’s the tough part when dealing with new players: be encouraging.  Not just over the table where you’re playing, but when you meet new wargamers who talk about how they like Memoir ’44 and Axis & Allies, and want to know what other games they should look into.  Don’t come back with the sarcasm that says “I thought you said you liked wargames, not ‘those’ games…”  It’s discouraging to a new player and off-putting to the very converts we want in our hobby.  While longtime grogs might make those selfsame snarky comments among each other, it’s not unlike someone discovering a subgenre of music for the first time and asking for suggestions on other bands to listen to, and the elitist arbiters of taste throwing up the shields to show off how cool they are, and in no way being supportive of newbies.  It’s detrimental to something we love, and it is, quite frankly, stupid.  Judd Vance even decried this behavior in one of the most-supported threads I ever saw over at BGG.

So here’s my charge to you, all 7 of the regular readers of Tracer Rounds: convert one new player to the hobby this year.  Don’t be obnoxious about it.  Don’t turn into a Groghova’s Witness going door-to-door to proclaim the Gospel of Hex to your neighbors.  But find yourself a friend who enjoys history and military affairs and show them how wargames can broaden their knowledge by letting the play around in a sandbox with the stories they’ve read and explore some “what if?” possibilities.  Find a gamer friend who never tried a wargame because they think all those wargames look like NATO Division Commander and take 6 months to play, and show them what a good bite-sized wargame looks like.  Just get someone else into the hobby.  Once they enjoy playing, buy them a game for Christmas this year, and take some satisfaction in helping ensure the continued availability of opponents for wargamers as a community, and a widening of the potential commercial audience to help keep our beloved wargaming companies afloat.

Make this your good deed for the year, and you’re actually accomplishing about 3 good deeds with a single act.  Charge!


This week’s soundtrack:
I may, or may not, have performed this on-stage live at least once. Sober.


Game that caught my eye:

Flying Pig’s Night of Man is finally at the warehouse and about to start shipping.  w00t!


What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:

Loading up a truckload of fabulous content from our writers.  We’ve got reviews, previews, and first impressions of games from 7 Wonders to ONUS to Order of Battle Morning Sun to Tom Clancy’s The Division, plus continuing AARs like Smoky Skies, and our other regular columns.  And right now, we’re actually a little ahead of schedule in getting them all ready to roll.


Wouldn’t it be cool if…

We had some folks who could handle some simple coding for a few cool new features we want on GrogHeads?  Some basic drag-and-drop graphics and some simple Google Maps hacks?  Drop me a line!


This week’s quote:

Back in 2011, Michael Hastings (of hit-piece-on-McChrystal infamy) had this to say on a TV talk show, when asked about Afghanistan.

“Victory and loss [is] identical. In 10 years’ time Afghanistan is still going to have a corrupt government, there’s still going to be various terrorists running around on the border, and the Afghan Army is still going to suck, right? And that’s if we win. If we lose, y’know, there’s still going to be a corrupt government, the Afghan Army is still going to suck, and there’s still going to be terrorists running around the border.”

His earlier articles were actually pretty insightful, before his later ones got ever more partisan and strident and he abandoned journalism for advocacy.  His last few articles were a giant pile of odiferous twaddle.  But you can’t say he was wrong about Afghanistan.


Give us your evangelism success stories at the link below.   Bayonet 06 – out!

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3 Responses to Tracer Rounds – New Wargamers Needed: Apply Within!

  1. […] steadier business if we set up a wargaming day once a month,” and now you’ve got new opponents, and potential new converts, checking out your hobby, and now you’re on your way to expanding the pool of grogs out there.  […]

  2. […] I’ve enjoyed reading the stories behind some of the design choices made by creators like Tiller and Herman, and the thought-provoking insights of gamers like JR Tracy.  Michael Peck’s chapter on selling wargames is much more conceptual approach than a retail one, but still a necessary discussion for a hobby and profession that’s been consistently described as “graying” and concerned with bringing in new blood. […]

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