To be sure, I got into this hobby because of toy soldiers - plastic "army men" to be precise. I wanted to do something with them (they were just sitting on my desk at work). But back then (lo those 7 years ago) the game was just an excuse to use the toys, but since then, slowly, the game seems to be ascending to dominance for me. I study the history (whereas before I knew almost none of it), read fictional works, watch movies and documentaries, research uniforms, etc. I've changed how I think about wargaming in general, so why haven't I examined this particular aspect of the experience yet?
Certainly, I've played games with paper stand-up figures and had a great deal of fun, so metal or plastic soldiers aren't necessary. But what if there were no figures at all but top down counters? Blocks? Counters of the kind found in the more traditional hex-and-counter games? Isn't a toy soldier just a token of some real or imagined "thing in the world" just as these are?
I have been inspired, for some time now, by the block armies of David Cook at A Wargaming Odyssey. Most recently, JF's solo Warring States Campaign played out on his refrigerator over on Solo Nexus fired up my imagination. Neither relies on proper miniatures to fight interesting and engaging battles.
In fact, some of my most enjoyable games early on used homemade counters and torn construction paper for scenery to play Adventures in Jimland (I had no British, no Askari, no adventuring botanists, natives, porters, pygmies, etc. so I improvised) Somewhere along the way, I decided I couldn't play a game without having the miniatures on hand. That miniature wargaming was the only way I enjoyed wargaming.
But what if that wasn't the case?
Last night, I decided to try it for myself.
Rather than waiting until next month to squeeze in my next Helvetica game - both to allow for the time to play a G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. game and to assemble the artillery crews for Riesling - I opted instead use a mashup of Memoir of Battle and G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. and to use some diy counters printed with the standard wargame symbols (which I believe are more properly NATO symbols) on a grid printed on an 8.5" x 11" piece of cardstock.
|Two armies lay opposite and ready.|
The result was total immersion and fun - as much or more so than playing with figures. And for once, Major Heidegger didn't look suspiciously like Major Dietrich.
|A close up later in the game. Colonel Duchamp, 2e Compagnie and 3e Goum.|
The huge benefit I see is that I can quickly field any force of any size I want for a few minutes at the computer and then with a pair of scissors. For Riesling and Sauvignon-Blanc this means perhaps extending the campaign to the continent and maybe bringing in allies on both sides, native and imperial. With cavalry! (something I have not painted for any force in my possession.)
All of that on a very small playing surface might I add - making wargaming extremely portable.
Now, am I going to stop painting and appreciating miniatures? Hell no!
But I have demonstrated to myself that they are not a key to my enjoyment of the game.
So, while I enjoy researching uniforms and painting, and I can not wait to view my gaming table when it's covered in 200 colorful Russians and Swedes or the marines landing on Tarrawa, it's a reminder that I don't need to acquire every mini I see that looks interesting, or build huge, expensive, armies, to have an enjoyable outing on the game table.
I know this is obvious, but sometimes it doesn't sink in until you prove it for yourself.