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"Wargamer’s Readings of History" Topic

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625 hits since 16 Mar 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0116 Mar 2017 9:10 p.m. PST

"I have noted before that wargamers have, in all likelihood, a particular view of history, and a particular use for the texts thereof. Wander around the book stalls of your local wargaming show and, I suspect, two things will become clear to you. Firstly, wargamers are, even in these days of the Internet, a fairly book-ish tribe. Secondly, they are interested in politics, campaigns, battles and military dress, and very little more.

History, of course, encompasses much more than this list of what, I think, historians would conceive of as fairly minor sorts of interests. I once read that professional historians were little interested in the battle of Agincourt and its outcome, but much more interested in the Treaty of Troyes and what it tells us about medieval kingship. This always struck me as slightly odd, partly because I had just read an article by Austin Woolrych bemoaning this attitude among historians, and secondly because Troyes would not have happened if Henry V had gone down under the weight for the French attack in 1415.

Woolrych observed that, when he started being a historian, it struck him that some idea of how things turned out, of who won the battles, for example, was quite important. Professional historians, he discovered, did not really agree, which he found very strange. For myself, I do find that historiography's focus on thematic analysis is only of any use when you have a firm understanding of the chronology of the period in question. Otherwise it just gets confusing. That chronology is often not present in academic historiography, and thus it seems, at least, to split itself off from events. Sometimes, it seems, history can spend its time examining the lichen on the bark of a tree, and forget that the wood exists…"
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jah1956 Inactive Member17 Mar 2017 5:02 p.m. PST

Short comment No ego proving you would of been better power your army to control that can beat all others.

Legion 417 Mar 2017 5:09 p.m. PST

For gamers or anyone who wants to understand what and how it happened. And how that affects things today, etc. But generally IMO war gamers should have a general broad base of knowledge of military history and the military. For a number of reasons …

Personal logo Great War Ace Supporting Member of TMP17 Mar 2017 6:07 p.m. PST

@jah: that reads like gibberish. Sorry.

Short version: wargamers are interested in the mechanics of battle. The only important thing is that there is a battle in the first place. The causes of it are actually immaterial to the casus belli of the wargamer: which is to fight battles. Historical battles are only a small fraction of the games played by the wargaming "community"………..

vtsaogames18 Mar 2017 6:08 a.m. PST

Say what, jah?

Henry Martini18 Mar 2017 6:50 a.m. PST

Without chemical assistance how can mere mortals be expected to understand the words of the almighty Jah?

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 8:17 a.m. PST

That chronology is often not present in academic historiography, and thus it seems, at least, to split itself off from events.

Systems for solving partial differential equations are often not present in academic (or practical) signal processing, so … it's not important? … it's ignored? … or maybe it is just a fundamental underpinning, so it is assumed the audience already starts with it.


All we're seeing here is bullying by the majority. If the large majority of people who call themselves "professional historians" don't care about specific parts of history, that doesn't make those parts of history any more or less legitimate for study. It just makes them less popular in that group.

Neither does popularity affect the caliber of the research in those areas. Popular things can be given cursory treatment. Less popular ones can be given well-formed and rigorous treatment. In fact, in some cases popularity creates an intellectual momentum in the community and a penchant for lesser treatment solely for the purpose of going along with (or purposely going against) conventional thought.

For me, casus belli and political fall (whether the milieu is historical or fictional) out are important to craft good victory conditions.

Ottoathome18 Mar 2017 1:42 p.m. PST

Most general histories written are in the social/cultural/economic field. Few write military histories any more from within the academic community (sure way to career death). To the Soc/cult/eco and also the postmodernist / deconstructionist field war and military science is a no-no.

Wargamers I have found are only interested in history to the degree that it pads their myth for their "killer army." They are as uninterested in the soc/cult/eeco field as the soc/cuit/eco historians are in theirs.

jah1956 Inactive Member18 Mar 2017 2:58 p.m. PST

Sorry some of people play because they are competitive and to inflate their egos. You prove you are better than the Historical leader. ie Napoleon wins at Waterloo. A sense of power and pride in your army of figures And the last one as Ottoathome put it having a killer army that beats all others.
Must not post when not well

Personal logo Great War Ace Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2017 12:21 p.m. PST

Very good, jah, I understood every word. And I agree. That might even by typical of wargamers. I, on the other hand, have moved on and now play (almost) entirely just for fun, for the storytelling aspects………….

Ottoathome19 Mar 2017 1:52 p.m. PST

Dear Great War Ace

It's a phase we eventually wind up with. A pleasant satisfaction from the game and the romance, and especially "the lore" of the game itself which far surpasses the earlier more passionate sentiments of competitiveness, winning, or having every last unit of whatever army you wish. More than that you gain a balance in viewpoint in understanding that the old dead issues of the past will be as old and dead as they always were and that the game does not reflect your own ability or worthiness as a general, just a pleasant way to spend the time.

(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member22 Mar 2017 2:15 a.m. PST

Most wargamers are not really interested in history. They are interested in the minutiae of military armies of the past (weapons, technology, OOBs, …), which is quite a different thing. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but to claim that wargaming is about understanding history is a bit of a false claim. I would say many (not all) wargamers are interested in heroic tales inspired by military history – not history itself. The fact that we see discussions here on TMP with the subject (I paraphrase) "Do you like playing the baddies?" or "Who's your favourite general?" reinforces this notion.

In a sense, it doesn't matter that much whether the British fought in 2 ranks or 3, or whether the Germans had better doctrine during WW2. Such factors might determine the outcome of individual battles, but it doesn't determine the outcome of a war, which is much more dependent on politics and economy.

And a war is only a moment in time. What's more important are the causes for war, and the societal impact afterwards. To understand the Napoleonic period you have to know the causes for the French revolution, the politics, societal changes caused by the spread of the Napoleonic wars. How Napoleon won in Austerlitz is a blip, a detail. How regiment such-and-so was equipped utterly irrelevant.
Same for WW2: it's much more insightful to know why Germany went to war, why it was defeated, and what the implications were. Whether the Allies landed in Normandy or somewhere else doesn't really matter for those discussions. Such things are merely implementation details.

Which doesn't mean studying military history is not worthwhile or cannot be fun. It is fun. But the course of history is not shaped by the things wargamers usually worry about.

arthur181522 Mar 2017 5:18 a.m. PST

Phil Dutre, you wrote:"But the course of history is not shaped by the things wargamers usually worry about."

Never? What about a decisive battle like Hastings? The different organisation and tactics of the opposing armies surely determined the outcome. Even if you think that Harold may have been killed by pure chance – an arrow in the eye – that was only possible because the Normans chose to employ archers.

"How Napoleon won in Austerlitz is a blip, a detail."

Only if you don't think it mattered that he won! Did not his enemies try to analyse his methods and tactics so they could figure out how to defeat him?

In general, though, I must agree with you and Great War Ace that wargamers are primarily interested in battles, not the reasons for wars or the effects of them afterwards.

These days, I tend to play battles between Imaginations, rather than historical opponents, as tactical challenges without any historical/political/economic context.

(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member22 Mar 2017 6:33 a.m. PST

What about a decisive battle like Hastings? The different organisation and tactics of the opposing armies surely determined the outcome.

I even agree! Most wargamers know how the battle was won. But do most wargamers know why the battle was fought in the 1st place? Or what the consequences were for the structure of feudal Europe afterwards? And if William did lose, what would have been the alternate course of history? Or would he have tried again in 1067 or 1068?

I am not saying the technicalities of warfare (the stuff that interests wargamers the most) is totally irrelevant. But we also should not think that Napoleon lost the Napoleonic wars because the British had better muskets and wore red uniforms.

(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member22 Mar 2017 6:39 a.m. PST

"How Napoleon won in Austerlitz is a blip, a detail."

Only if you don't think it mattered that he won!

Well, it mattered that he won. But *how* he won doesn't matter that much for the course of history. And it also didn't matter whether he won there and then, or one month sooner or later in another field 100kms away.
Of course, the specific conditions of the time all converged on Austerlitz at the beginning of December. And it takes great generals to make a plan and execute it in such a way that victory is achieved.
But the more important for the course of history is how the results of the battle were exploited politically, not how it was won on the battlefield.

Ottoathome22 Mar 2017 8:03 a.m. PST

Phil is completely correct. The methodology of battle is irrelevant to the historical consequences of a victory one way or the other. War gamers for the most part also couldn't care a whit about history, except as it makes a stirring tale where they can drop out the historical character and substitute themselves in their minds eye. A battle won or lost MAY have consequences for who rules or has his will imposed as a consequence of the victory but the methodology of the victory is irrelevant to the historian. War gamers are immersed in the minutia of battle because they are involved in make-believe and playing historic characters.

This is quite clear if one looks at ALL copies of war game rules and notes that in NOT ONE CASE is there ever a section on "What are the effects of winning the battle on the subsequent course of history."

More damning, is in my experience the complete ignorance on the part of gamers in most cases of any but the most narrow military dimensions. Ask 18th century Gamers, my favorite period, who Marlborough, Montcalm, or Frederick was, and they can vomit out huge amounts of trivia. Ask them who Kant, Racine, D'Alambert, Jeannie Poisson or Christian Wolf were and they will look back at you with blank faces.

Most war gamers are only interested in history if it will give them a +1 on the table top.

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