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"Reasons NOT to refight historical battles" Topic

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ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 1:25 a.m. PST

I love gaming historical battle scenarios, for various reasons. This is my preferred game format.

However, most of my fellow wargamers seem happy to fight non-historical match-ups or generic or invented situations with their historical armies, or to go entirely non-historical and play fantasy, science fiction, alternate history etc. I can enjoy these games too.

I've penned some musings on the good reasons for preferring NON-historical games here:
If such games are your preference, I'd be interested to know your reasons for this as well.

OSCS7412 Oct 2021 2:12 a.m. PST

Good read! Nothing to add.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 2:45 a.m. PST

Not a preference, but I can give you another reason: surprise. Often a historical battle only played out as it did because one or both commanders were mistaken about something--usually terrain analysis of OOB. They didn't know about the dead ground, didn't realize tanks could pass through the trees, or were sure IV Corps wasn't up. We can't take knowledge of that away from the wargamer. "Disguised" scenarios have their own problems, and making the historical facts only possibilities on a die roll makes the game unhistorical anyway.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART12 Oct 2021 4:38 a.m. PST

A good read.

Personal logo aegiscg47 Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 5:12 a.m. PST

There are two other problems with fighting historical battles that our group has encountered over the years. First, trying to get the terrain right is very tough and even by pooling resources most clubs would be hard pressed to recreate many historical battlefields (outside of ancient battles which were pretty sparse). The second is the depth of the battlefield and how many forces are packed into small spaces. Gamers like their battles spread out, with plenty of maneuvering room, but it's quite the shock to see the set ups for Dresden, Borodino, etc., where troops are piled on top of troops.

Jcfrog12 Oct 2021 5:45 a.m. PST

Excellent article.
Hard to do the terrain. Ost often if not right then it becomes just fantasy.
People know too much.
Often very unbalanced but as for previous sentence, they did not know it. Can be somewhat overturned by secret missions, cards, events, random reinforcements ( couple perhaps with change of victory conditions). All not easy to do, way beyond the 2 players 3 hours 120x180 cm all too common game.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 5:45 a.m. PST

Not that I've encountered this, but it happens here all the time:

Arguments. History and historical research are rife with opinions, and the history of battles (and warfare in general) are no exception. The further back you go in time, the more open to interpretation battle accounts become, and someone at some point is going to argue against your placement of this or that detail, or your restriction of movement in this or that area, or the advantage/disadvantage you assign to this or that body of troops/commander/technology, etc., etc..
But a non-historical battle strips the grounds for much argument away (not all, but much). It becomes much more difficult to argue that this or that commander would not have made the choice the player makes if there is no historical reality to point to in the situation.

I grant the above is potentially a feeble argument, as good friends are less likely to enter heated debate over a historical battle treated as a game. But even a friendly debate and discussion will slow things down, and may bring a game to a screeching halt (especially for other participants who don't give a rip what Subotai would have done, etc., etc.).

And for that matter, we see debate about the location and presence of forces in battles that only exist in fantasy/SF novels and films… wargamers can be an argumentative lot. laugh

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 5:55 a.m. PST

Well said – part of the issue for me is that it is much more work to do a historical battle, especially one where knowledge of the battle impacts on outcome (Antietam springs to mind)

Sgt Slag12 Oct 2021 8:22 a.m. PST

My take, as a non-historical, fantasy gamer, who played historical games for a number of years, back in the 1990's…

My gamer friends would play out a historical battle, and then do a post-mortem on the game. They would decry the outcome as being different than the real battle outcome. This was a recurring theme, game after game. I wondered, "What the hell is the point of playing the game if you will be unhappy if the 'game' differs from the historical battle? What is the point of gaming it, at all?!?!?!?!"

In reality, there is randomness in every battle, every shot fired. The variables are countless. If you were God, and you reset the battle, and let it play out with normal Chaos Theory randomness, each outcome would differ, at least slightly.

In the 1930's, at a wargame college in the USA, officers, staff, and students, played out a naval battle in the Pacific:
Japanese against the USA. They replayed the same campaign 450 times… They saw an overall pattern emerge wherein the USA defeated Japan. Each battle was unique, but the overall outcome, on average, was that the USA won. When the campaign played out in the Pacific Ocean, from 1941-1945, it followed the 'average' outcome of their 450 games.

Complaining about a single deviant outcome, exasperated me. They never replayed a scenario -- never. They always moved onto another, different scenario. I never understood them. I abandoned historical games as this attitude really turned me away from the games. I play for fun. I don't care that the teams are lopsided/imbalanced. Give me a chance to see what *I* can do with it. I played a Russian force in a massive game against the German invaders. My Russian force was ordered to protect the flank from a German advance. My troops were ground into hamburger, but I stopped the German crack engineers' advance. The rest of Team Russia was so self-absorbed, they ignored my incredible achievement, lamenting their failure to make a significant advance with their massive units. One German player pointed out my stellar achievements during the post-mortem; I got barely a comment, as they were wallowing in their miasma of failure -- they should have steam-rolled over the German core advancing (I should have been completely removed from the table, with the Germans rolling up my hill and into the main Russian column's flank!).

I've seen too much obsession over game results compared to historical results, as if the game-play should always result in the identical historical result. What is the point of that? Never mind. I do not care enough to know. Cheers!

UshCha12 Oct 2021 8:24 a.m. PST

I think there is a missed point. There are not enough real battles in any period to just do them. I play about 40 to 60 games a year. With one basic army, I'm not going paint another; painting time excessively intrudes into playing time. My battles I think of as exercises like the real military, often aimed at a exploring a particular aspect. As a simple example an action where the roads are sufficiently poor that heavy vehicles cannot operate, limiting the vehicle types that can be deployed.

John the OFM12 Oct 2021 9:05 a.m. PST

I would rather choose a historical battle that the gamers are not too familiar with.

Some movies that featured wargaming seemed determined to replicate the battle. A moving diorama is not a Wargame.
I can recreate the OOB and the map. If it's a battle that's in any way interesting, there are crucial points, starting from the on table setup, where player choices can vary. Otherwise, why bother? What's the point?

Martin Rapier12 Oct 2021 10:36 a.m. PST

I like playing historical battles, it is why I started wargaming in the first place. 'Bringing history to life' as AHGC put it. Maybe it is just me.

WarWizard12 Oct 2021 10:46 a.m. PST

I prefer Historical miniature battles too. But that being said, none of mine are a simulation or something even close most likely. I simply say "based on a historical event", with lots of poetic license thrown in.

Dragon Gunner12 Oct 2021 11:35 a.m. PST

Historical is ok as long as it is not scripted and the referee does not have a bias to make the historical outcome happen stripping the players of all choice and ability to change the outcome.


1. This is your starting set up as it was on that day, no you cannot change anything.

2. Johnson's corp arrives exactly at 2pm on the Northwestern road historically this will occur on turn 4.

3. General Buttwaller on turn six will retire from the battlefield with a musket shot to his leg no commands can be issued to his corp during this crucial time.

I wonder why the referee even needs players with examples like the ones I listed.

Gallocelt12 Oct 2021 2:27 p.m. PST

Clearly you've given the topic plenty of thought. I happen to agree with you and plan to war game mostly campaigns. Well written too.



Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 4:16 p.m. PST

My group lays both historical battles and "what if" games and enjoy them both. Our post-game discussions might touch on different outcomes but do not dwell on them.

Old Contemptible12 Oct 2021 7:35 p.m. PST

Reason to play historical scenarios.

Historical Wargaming provides another avenue to study a period of history. By recreating historical or historically plausible battles, one gains insight into a conflict that you cannot always get from books, they complement each another. You get a feel for the state of technology by the weapons they used and the types of formations and strategies in response to that technology.

It doesn't always have to be an actual battle to be historical. A hypothetical scenario or even a pickup game, you are still using the same period formations, same maneuvers using similar strategy and tactics.

A "what if" scenario explores plausible situations such as, if Ewell would have attacked Culp's Hill on July 1st near Gettysburg or if Hooker had stuck to his own battle plan at Chancellorsville or if the French had counterattacked at Gravelotte/Saint-Privat. Endless possibilities. Historical gaming is not a script that has to be followed like a reenactment. It is still a game.


I enjoy this almost as much as playing the game. Researching pulling together OBs and maps. Checking scenario books. Putting the terrain together. Setting out the troops. It is what makes our hobby multi-layered. Combining modeling, research and playing.

Terrain Challenges

Some people collect rules books. I collect scenario books. The maps in them make it easier to recreate the historical terrain. It doesn't have to be perfect. You can fudge as long as you get the important terrain that was the focus of the battle. I am fortunate to have several sets of Geo-Hex. That and the terrain items I have collected over years has allowed to almost recreate any battlefield. If you don't like the look of Geo-Hex, then cover it up, use fabric from local fabric stores. You would be surprise what you can find there.


Consider making your own terrain. I make hills, ridges, valleys etc. There are plenty of online videos that can get you started. Modelling is a fun part of the hobby.


I don't have the troops.

So what? No excuse there. Get your buddies to chip in on getting the troops together. Don't want to paint all those battalions, then go to brigade or even division level.

We're doomed. So what's the point?

Who cares? I don't. I am a big FPW player. I was doing FPW before it was cool. Yes the French lose a few battles (well, more than a few) but that doesn't mean they have to lose the game. Smart scenario writers well provide victory conditions so either side can win the game, if not the battle. Want to play the Alamo? Just set up the victory conditions so either side can win the game. If you want to do FPW and your hesitant because of German domination. Write your own scenarios. Use ACW scenarios with a European flair. Make the sides more even while preserving the flavor of the conflict. I did Plancenoit using 1870 French and Prussian Armies.

Everyone knows how the battle went.

Doesn't matter. It is not a script, it is not a reenactment. Anything can happen. You may have a better idea than that General had 250 years ago. I have seen very few historical scenarios come out the way it did originally. I never worry about this. You would be surprise at how many players show up to one of my games having not bothered to read anything about the battle. They may have a vague idea but generally they don't. If a player became pro-active and read up on the battle giving him an edge, more power to him. He should get rewarded for doing his homework.

That 1870 Plancenoit game. It was set up according to the General de Brigade scenario book. But we were using They Died For Glory. These were experienced Napoleonic players and they never figured it out. Once I told them the reaction was priceless. Generally, don't worry about it. It will work itself out.

But the super panzer regiment, I just bought, it's so awesome.

You can use rules sets such as Bolt Action that uses points. You can bring your mega tank thing to the party, if you pay the points and you're still historically gaming. Just be sure you paint it up first. I do draw the line in my games at having dragons, orcs, zombies and whatever, space monkeys on the battlefield. That is defiantly not historical gaming. But I usually furnish both sides. So I don't have to deal with that.

Historical gaming is not for everyone. That explains why there are so many other genres. You have to love history, if you don't then this isn't for you and that's okay.

DinOfBattle2 Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 8:00 p.m. PST

We almost NEVER play a historical battle. A good scenario is more important to us. We will loosely base a game on a historical situation, but not the actual battle. For instance, I'm doing a battle loosely based on the 1917 2nd Battle of the Aisne (Nivelle offensive) this week. The only battles I have ever tried to play out on my game table is the Battle of Puebla 1862 Mexico, Hohenfriedberg 1745, Battle of Bergen 1759, Battle of Krefeld 1758, Battle of Reichenberg 1756, and Battle of Belleau Woods 1918. That is it. This is running weekly games since 1991.

Old Contemptible12 Oct 2021 8:08 p.m. PST

But you are playing historical battles. At least my gaming definition of historical battles. Your using historical formations, historical figures, weapons, rules etc. It's not so much about recreating an actual battle as it is recreating a period correct battle. We need to move away from the idea that gaming historical battles are pre-ordained and scripted.

Personal logo Dye4minis Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2021 8:25 p.m. PST

My experience has been that almost nobody actually cared enough to do any research! Every attempt to do a historical battle ended up as as "The game of the week". (Where all the folks wanted to do is push lead and had less than 10% interest in the period let alone the battle being out on. It's was approached like a bowling game: the historical units were set up on the table in their historical positions but then the results were determined by the gamers themselves. Like in bowling, the pins are set, the playing field is there marked for your use and winner usually goes to the one who can keep their ball going where they want.

I guess that is why I don't game so much anymore. It's been hard finding like minded people to share the experience with. An optimistic that they remain out there, somewhere.

UshCha12 Oct 2021 8:31 p.m. PST

Old Contemptible +1

Old Contemptible12 Oct 2021 10:59 p.m. PST

"…results were determined by the gamers themselves."

So this is a problem, how?

wargamingUSA13 Oct 2021 11:46 a.m. PST

Old Contemptible hit the nail on the head… "period correct" scenarios-battles. Keep your Panthers out of the Pacific and CIB, and your Sherman Jumbos out of Finland and Greece and its all good.

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP15 Oct 2021 9:24 p.m. PST

ALl the stuff in the article are good reasons to fight ahistorical battles, but I see not a single good reason NOT to fight a historical battle.

The only necessities I see for the setup of a historical battle is that it should allow for the historical outcome (obviously) and that it should allow for a different outcome (however slight this may deviate). Without the latter its not a game but a simulation.

Apart from that, at some time any game will obviously deviate from history as some of the random events or decisions made by the armchair generals will differ. In the case of a campaign this already means that the actual battles given will be different, but it may still be a historcially correct gaming of a campaign (just a different level).

That said, I do love my ahistorical and fantasy battles as much, if not more, and these definitely take up less preparation time. ON the other hand I am looking forward to bring the research and terrain & army building of a specific battle to the table. Juno Beach incoming here :-)

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2021 12:37 p.m. PST

Thanks for all the great replies! I've responded in an update to the original blog post:

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2021 8:48 p.m. PST

I did want to give a vote to those who pointed out the greater tactical challenges of playing non-historical scenarios. Players don't have hind-sight to deal with or use. No detailed analysis of the terrain, troops and officers by dozens of historians. The situation and dynamics are all new with a non-historical scenario. The Principles of war can be applied without the limiting template of a historical event and result.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2021 10:21 p.m. PST

Bill, I take your point re "the greater tactical challenges of playing non-historical scenarios". In principle, yes, but in practice, mostly no.

For a start, most players are not that familiar with most battles, and not every battle is as exhaustively studied or as well-known as Waterloo or Gettysburg. How many wargamers (apart from you, of course) will even have heard of the fifteen Hungary 1848 battles I've been refighting this year?

And then there is the problem of inventing a sufficiently challenging and interesting non-historical scenario. Please, not another one-dimensional "take the bridge", with one wood, one village and one hill … I see the point of view that such simplicity distils a tactical problem to its essence, but my view is that history provides us with much richer, subtler and more varied scenarios than a scenario designer can invent (or than I can, at least).

UshCha19 Oct 2021 2:47 a.m. PST

ChrisBBB2 – google maps is your friend. Real terrain is far more complex and interesting than most sterile wargames placement systems. That gets a hypothetical battle off to a good start. You can use real orbats and temper them with fatigue, lack of stores etc. and you are well away. Mind you you do need enthusiasts who understand the period and tactics. that the hardest part.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP19 Oct 2021 3:32 a.m. PST

Hi UshCha,

I remember as a teenager marching a C19 Serbian army across an OS map of Shropshire and fighting the resulting battle around Nesscliff (which coincidentally is an army training area). We had divisions in proper 10-mile-long columns of march and everything, it was quite an illuminating exercise.

So I'm not saying it can't be done, nor that it isn't worth the effort. I'm saying that history is so rich with interesting situations that you don't need to invent scenarios to create interesting tactical challenges, and that you may get more interest for less effort that way.

Depends what you're trying to achieve, of course, and if you want fog of war/surprise to be a major element then invention may well be better.

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