Accessible Gaming

Having been under the weather for a few days I found myself today listening to a podcast by Sam Mustafa regarding his new Naploeonic rules “Blucher”. Now while I have no intention of purchasing the rules, being very happy with Volley & Bayonet, his podcast touched on what I thought was a very interesting point.

Specifically, he noted that in recent years there has been a significant increase in smaller games, often skirmish games, requiring both less time to build armies as well as less time to play. Effectively, these provide a lower cost of entry. It is an interesting observation and one I had noticed myself. I had considered this trend towards skirmish games would pass, but Mr Mustafa suggested that it was more a result of a wealthier but time poor society. He made note of the considerable undertaking required to both paint and assemble armies before they can be deployed and the impact the obstacle this creates for new gamers. An interesting thought and on reflection, one I can understand.

When I visit local wargames clubs or conventions I can not but notice the decreasing numbers of young players playing large historical game systems, especially those playing Ancient or Napoleonic systems. Instead I see an increasingly ageing player base playing ever fewer large games. Interestingly many of these older “traditional” players are so caught up in their rules system they only speak of the excellence of their rules, their large armies, or the one true scale and take little interest in anything else. As an example I heard the story of one player who recently moved towns and while having his own small 15mm Ancients collection was told that at this club “We only play rules XYZ and in 28mm”.

I suppose that is one of the reasons I do hope that the latest version of De Bellis Antiquitatis with its revised, expanded and more accessible format, is successful.


DBA has a low cost entry point, especially in the area of time required to paint an army. It should therefore have much appeal to the new players. Combined with a reduced learning and game length it has the ability to open ancient wargaming to a greater number of new players. Certainly I’ve seen this myself in a number of new players that I have introduced to DBA in the past.

I’m not suggesting that DBA is the final point in Ancient wargaming. However, I do think it has, and will in the future, open Ancient & Medieval Wargaming to a new generation. That must be a good thing, or is that just me?


13 thoughts on “Accessible Gaming

  1. Keith

    I can’t help but agree with your observations… and I ope we see a resurgence of larger ancients games with BBDBA as well… even though it’s the same rules,. players get quite different games, as I’ve found with BBHotT.
    Wishing you a speedy recovery

    1. Good point Robin. DBA offers a realistic way for players to access larger games if that is their wish.

      Indeed, we both apply the same approach to games using Volley & Bayonet where smaller games can be very achievable and satisfying such as Brienne. Yet we also know the merits of the larger games such as Gettysburg. In both V&B games however we are simulating battles, rather than skirmishes.

  2. A club that says “we only do X in scale Y” isn’t a club with a future. But it may be that the gamers are happy with that precisely because they have no stake in a future they won’t be part of.

    The part about being a time-poor society feels spot on to me. Of course, I’m middle-aged, and that’s notoriously the most time-deprived part of one’s life, so that may be my personal circumstances showing. Certainly I had plenty of gaming time available as a student; are today’s students similarly positioned? but it does make me look forward to retirement…

  3. I think that there are 2 kinds of miniaturists in the world: the modeler & the gamer. One can play V&B within a few days using steel sabots that actually look pretty good (for the minimal effort expended) if the SPs/regiments are represented by blue & grey magnetic blocks. (And book-keeping eliminated.)

    In the latter case, one can replace the blocks over time with 3mm or 6mm troops but continue playing regardless.

    The former must enjoy his modelling enough to continue that or enlist a wide variety of others in the painting effort and thus perhaps comes in the “we only play X in Y scale” which I think is a very reasonable shortcut to playing a game. One must have faith that the ruleset is worth that effort. (I think V&B is.)

    1. Bill, the gamer with the “only x in y” comment was not playing V&B but rather Ancients, in another scale. However, in your example there is at least a path for the new recruit. You also highlight the valid point of existing player investment, as does Luke.

      It is time to admit I am frustrated by gamers who will only play large games. Ancients is a case in point where I have been on the receiving end. I recall enquiring about a FOG game locally when the rules first came out. My own DBM armies were not large enough for FOG unless reinforced. Rather than play a smaller game, allowing me to review the rules using around 650 points as I suggested, I was advised “We only play 800 points” at which point the very active FOG player walked off. My copy of the FOG rules have long since been sold, unused…

  4. Here in the States we have been recognizing this shift in game size and aging gamers for over 20 years and have been warning against it as a direct threat to the longevity of this hobby. Everything we have done at imagineimage dot org is aimed at one thing: getting younger people interested in this hobby. The results of our rules and efforts came at a time of Games Workshop and other skirmish mega gaming insanity, and all the young people spending their money on non-educational history. It is our estimation that without software to produce automatic historical scenarios that actually works on mobile devices and computers (NOT APPLE PRODUCTS), this hobby will find itself in deep trouble for historical gaming. And by trouble I mean pointless as there will be no players you can find.

    1. Interesting perspectives. Here where I live (Uruguay, a small Latin American country of 3 million) I have exposed 4 older guys (like me) with no wargaming experience to miniatures (Graf Spee) and they had a great time. This weekend I am running a game for younger (20’s and 30’s) in a nearby town and then going into the big city for another 2-4 guys. I approached a Game club on Facebook here that had about 600 members and got 7 guys interested enough to try a historical miniatures. Perhaps software is not the only requirement and better not be because I only use Mac/ios. Since I knew of only 2 other wargamers in the whole country, the supply of historical miniature gamers may increase by double digit percentages every month or so for awhile.

  5. Not sure I agree Keith. The popularity of the 28mm big battle weekends for Naoplenics and ACW in CHCH and Wellington in the past few years has shown that big games can be put on but require rulesets that are fast and engaging for big groups of players and as a spectacle/encouragement for new players there is nothing better. Payers round the country have been buying and coordinating forces to take part in these megagames, and they don’t require a huge amount of figures from any one player

    Locally, here in Timaru the guys have been building up sizeable 28mm ACW forces for Black Powder and they look great on table, but things need to be done in manageable chunks not to drive off new players, and we always have troops avaialble for newbies to use (that is often another key to getting new blood involved- loan them stuff and let them play!)

    They are also playing a wider range of games than ever before- Dystopian Wars, Bolt Action, Impetvs, Volley & Byonet to name a few of the more common regulars such as DBA and Rapid Fire II.

    As for getting new players into games, couldn’t agree more that dropping points to accommodate people getting lists together is the way it must be done and failure to do so is at the detriment of the hobby as a whole and probably to the growth of the club(s) involved.

    I don’t see myself as time poor, I dedicate several evenings a week to my wargaming hobby, but I do only have limited gaming time (one night per week usually) to actually play so gone are the days where I can get to grips with a new ruleset over several weeks/months so am trying to stick to 3-4 rulesets I enjoy these days.

    i hope DBA 3 is a success, one of our local guys is keen to get some BBDBA 3 going soon and when they do I’ll give it a crack. My main ancients opponent has never liked the rules though so don’t see them grabbing him and don’t see it as becoming my stable for ancients these days.

    For me the recent renaissance in skirmish rules such Saga is probably more of a paradigm shift away from process/rules heavy rulesets to lighter, less dense, ore accessible to new players ones. As an example i enjoy Bolt Action but it has some serious flaws but it is the first time in quite a few years we’ve had a WWII ruleset down here getting more players into WWII gaming and even some of our die hard, never give historics a go sci-fi gamers have tried it and enjoyed it- so for me that is where the future of our hobby lies, easily accessible and fun rulesets that encourage new players to give it a go. Hopefully a few of them will move onto “heavier” rulesets later on.



    1. Craig, thanks for your excellent comment. Large multiplayer games can indeed be visual spectacles and are an advertisement for wargaming. I don’t however think they need to be in 28mm, which your post implies.

      In recent years wargamers in Wellington have run large multiplayer World War II and Cold War games using Spearhead and Modern Spearhead which I have been involved in. Each had a large number of players and provided great entertainment and a great visual spectacle. Likewise, and closer to home, Robin has run a very large Great War Spearhead games. All these were played using 6mm. An example of such a game is in an earlier post and is an excellent visual advertisement for wargaming, in my view, just as your example of Napoleonic games are.

      Smaller, more manageable multiplayer games can also be played also with great visual results. These tend to be my preferred multiplayer games as I find they achieve a balance between player involvement and visual spectacle. I prefer around six players. This, I feel removes the risk of players standing around unengaged for long periods of time, a potential risk with very large games.

      However, these games are not the normal games I see at clubs, possibly where evening or afternoon time slots restrict game time. It is these where larger games seem to have reduced in number. Instead we see more skirmish games or games that represent small parts of actions. Perfectly acceptable of course, but different.

  6. Having just exposed another contingent of 3 who had absolutely no background in historical miniatures (albeit in Dystopian Wars this time), I have more new players “itching” for another game. I have two more such new-player demo games planned and I grandiosely project that the numbers of wargamers will have increased from 2 to 12 in a matter of a month or two. Admittedly, they may not all be available simultaneously.

    If we think that wargaming is dying off, is it because our approach is too narrow? Or because we don’t even try to invite neophytes?

    While I have tended to take on the role of Judge, I am now about to try a Dystopian War even though it doesn’t really interest me (being a bizarre alternate universe). I figure that if I want people to play my games I ought to help fill out the ranks in their games AND I might gain a bit of the perspective of a new person being exposed to a very foreign concept! They may do somethings very well and where they don’t (since it’s hard to do everything right as I have proven) I may learn about what I could do better in exposing new player recruits. I might even have some fun and meet some new people.

    1. Here in the U.S., historical gaming is at a leveled plateau and is not increasing the number of gamers because no one is coming up from high school or grade school (in the 70’s we started gaming in grade school) interested regardless of the efforts of the game judges to get people interested. The reason they are NOT interested is there are no remaining hobby stores that carry models for prospective gamers to see, or they dont even stock easy-build models, and those remaining hobby stores are not interested in helping any genre of the stuff they sell by having demonstrations. Also, back in the day we took pride in building models; kids these days care about as much as they like Brussels Sprouts. The only big thing that continues to keep hobby stores alive is the radio control market. In the Chicago region, in 10 years I have personally met two people who have not gamed before and are now gaming historical miniatures. My solution to this is media production: create more videos and when running a game integrate technology as much as possible.

  7. I was just reading another person’s take on how he got started in wargaming: “I started wargaming aged 11 at a school camp. One of the teachers had arranged for three gentlemen from the local club to come in one evening and do a talk. They brought some of their kit with them, including converted Panzer III’s from the Airfix Panzer IV and StuG III kits. That was it, I was hooked.” Right now I’m specializing in the age 25-65 age band!

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