Greetings Wargamers and hobbyists, and welcome to my little corner of the Creative Twilight community blog once more.
For this article I wanted to talk a little about what is still a new experience for me, and the way it is affecting my thinking about gaming. I am preparing to launch into playing a historically set wargame for the first time in my twenty-three year gaming career, and it has made me think about historical gaming in general, about the particular game I am getting involved with, and the differences between this and the kinds of games I have typically been playing until now.
The World at War
The game in question is Bolt Action, and it seems I am continuing a trend I set many years ago for picking up the majority of games I play just as they launch their 2nd Edition. This was the case for Warhammer 40K, Space Marine, Kings of War and now for Bolt Action too. I did start several other games from their 1st edition as well…
I have until now avoided historically based games, and I am not entirely sure why, as I am a huge fan of history, and particularly the period of World War II. Some people may think it is just that the shiny toys, bright uniforms and fantastical creatures of the science fiction and fantasy genres always seem to grab the fresh-faced young gamers, and it is not until they mature a little that they start to feel the pull of historicals, and perhaps they are correct.
For me it may be that I have always typically focused on the games played by my immediate group of gaming compatriots, and it was just never the case that anyone ever picked up any historical games. I was very much a Games Workshop-centric player, and this covered all the bases for my gaming tastes at the time.
I guess that if it had taken my fancy, I could have been the one to introduce historical gaming to the group, the desire just never presented itself. It’s only in the last few months that I have first started becoming involved in playing non-Games Workshop games, and now my first historical game, essentially because the guys at the club I play at these days are a varied bunch with different gaming interests, coupled with the fact that I have trouble saying no to a new game and new toys to play with.
Bolt Action is a game I have been hearing mentioned for a while now in various gaming circles and podcast discussions, and it did make my ears prick up on a couple of occasions, being very interested in the period, however there is something about playing games set in the Second World War that put me off. Even now with a nearly assembled late war German army and a bunch of British Paras awaiting my attention, I still can’t quite put my finger on what it is that feels strange about it, but I have a hunch that I can’t fully detach the emotion associated with the period from the gaming aspect.
I have long been interested in history, and World War II in particular, and over time have amassed a fair collection of reference books and biographies. My wife and I even enjoy attending 1940s events and reenactments when we can, dressed for the occasion. Added to this immersive experience, my own Grandfather, who was a great influence in my life while he was still here was the epitome of what I imagined an Old Soldier to be.
He joined up in 1932 aged 15, served right the way through the war, and then for a further seven years before leaving the army. He had tattoos up both arms and on his hands, there were unit photographs hanging on the wall, his Lancashire Fusiliers cap badge fixed to the dashboard of his car on a small wooden plaque, and old army field dressings in the drawers of the back room dresser. Furthermore, after my Grandmother passed away, he was fortunate enough to be invited to spend his remaining years as a resident of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, where he re-donned his Sergeant’s stripes and had a few more adventures before the end.
I was very lucky indeed to be able to visit Chelsea on numerous occasions, and to join the old boys for dinner and banter over a few pints. Our wedding photos include some very special pictures of my wife and I and my Granddad in the distinctive scarlet uniform of a Chelsea Pensioner. I even have a copy of my Granddad’s memoirs manuscript which I would one day love to edit and have bound and even published.
Thanks to that Old Soldier, it is fair to say I have a significant emotional attachment to the Second World War period, the men and women of what has been called the Greatest Generation, and to the whole concept of service to one’s country, and one’s family.
Playing the game
So why does this affect my desire to play a miniature wargame? I have played many miniatures games in the past, depicting the undead, mass exterminations, homicidal lunatics and bloodthirsty sadists. The difference is quite simple when I think about it. All of those other games are entirely fictional, and the setting is fantastical and utterly at the mercy of those who write the story.
This game however, and others like it, or at least what they try to be, are not fictional, they tell a story that is already written, and one in which a great many people lost everything, on all sides of the conflict. It is not something I feel comfortable re-creating in game form carelessly or without compassion. More than this, I didn’t like the idea of playing in a setting that my Grandfather and his fellows were engaged in, even though he survived the war. It might just be me, but it doesn’t sit right.
But, I do have a strong interest in the period, the battles, and the soldiers that fought in them, and I am a gamer. I do want to play the game. If I was to play, I needed to find an approach that I could wrap my head around.
I have always been a huge film fan, and indeed one of my all time favourites is “A Bridge Too Far”. I love the story of the heroism and tenacity of the soldiers involved, on both sides, and the cast list is in my view unrivaled in all of cinema. My passion for war films, and this one in particular are what have given me a way to organise my feelings about the war into a format that allows me to entertain the idea of playing a game in the setting. Collecting and playing with forces themed around Northern Europe late in the war, and Operation Market Garden especially, has given me a focus for the game which is about as far away from the North African and Middle Eastern theatres that my Granddad was involved in as I can get.
You never know, over time I may be able to separate the playing of the game from the emotion I connect with the period sufficiently to be able to expand my gaming into other theatres and periods of the war, and maybe not. As long as I deal with my own issues around it and don’t allow them to infringe on my enjoyment of the game or that of others I may be playing against, I am sure things will turn out just fine.
I apologise for what feels like something of a ramble, but I really wanted to commit my thoughts to paper, as in a few months they may have altered. Maybe the playing of wargames like Bolt Action will one day teach us how not to fight wars at 1:1 scale. After all, playing wargames in recent historical settings, re-creating real events within what is still living memory we can truly and honestly apply the old cliché, and say that it is more than just a game.
Thanks for reading.