Friday, 16 November 2018

Wargaming for bad backs

Two of the initial drivers that most influenced me at the start of this blogging malarky, was lack of storage / gaming space and having a persistent bad back that prevented leaning or stretching into bigger tables. For the most part, this has led to content that gives a focus to small footprint gaming, perhaps better described as ‘kitchen table’ gaming and so I hope over the years, posts have been particularly useful to space strapped gamers and those with some mobility restrictions.


As it happens, this week, I have hurt my back again. For those that have similar, you will know that several uncomfortable days follow as you shuffle from one chair to another just to get a different seating position or have a leg stretch, but an active mind still wants to do things. So what of wargaming?


Depending on the degree limitation will decide how much of your typical gaming you can do, but this post assumes a position that for one reason or another, movement is quite difficult and so concentrates on small footprint games that can sit right under your nose and not involve much setting up or carrying, whether it is on the table or on a small board across the arms of a chair or one of those hospital meal tables that sit over the bed. I suppose we are also defining the perfect vacation game.

The important thing is that the system should not have additional displays or charts that also need table space and that the systems should be friendly to solo gaming.

Due to fairly persistent back ache, over the years I have adopted playing on grids (hexes) with figures as way of not leaning into a table with both arms outstretched to measure and move things is a significant relief to the lower back. Grids, without the need to measure, allow a one handed placement of troops and a slight turn of the body instead of leaning forwards, gets you to the middle of the table.

But today, I am assuming that even carrying and setting up terrain and reaching any distance at all is a problem and so this post will look at those games that I have that just use a small 11" x 17" map, that can sit right under your nose and that allow for some easy gaming.


The following (in no particular order) are just a few of the ‘keepers’ I have that are just perfect for this sort of thing and it really is worth having such a game or two in the arsenal for these occasions. The included jigsaw idea gives a therapeutic value.


Mini Folio Series from Decision Games. Germantown, Saratoga and Salem Church.

This is a series of horse and musket games that are the cheapest games that I am aware of, with each game being around £10. They are sold in a small ziplock bag, no bigger than a typical paperback book and only using around 40 counters. These are the baby cousin of the larger folio games, which I felt had rules that were awkward and play was slow, but the Mini series uses a cut-down version of the rules to give a simpler game.

The three games that I have, offer interesting situations, but there is errata in both the rules and combat table, which require the gamer to download and print off the updated versions. Annoyingly, the downloaded rules are formatted to 11 pages, when the originals are in fact formatted to a more convenient 4 pages, same content, just different formatting. There is a bit of a learning curve to them, but the games are ideal for our purposes.


Napoleonic 20 Series from Victory Point Games Danube 1809 and Jena.

I have just two titles from their large range of games in this series (I also have GMT's quad - Fading Glory, but this gives bigger maps and has two mounted boards, so the box is heavy). Low counter density is your friend here, with counters each typically representing a corps. There is a small card deck, but nothing that really impacts on game space. These are fun games with a decent amount of replayability.


Invasion 1066 games from Revolution Games.
Hastings and Stamford Bridge

These are two of my own designs that are in print. I know the system well (obviously) which makes it an easy choice for me to throw down a game. They use 140 half inch counters, with half of them being markers. They share the same game engine, but each have very different situations.


Battle for Moscow
Originally GDW, republished in GMT’s C3i magazine and also by Victory Point Games

This game was originally published as a free game by GDW with the intention of teaching new players the typical and common game mechanics to boardgames. It remains a great game for self teach and is also a good solid game for grognard players to have a go at. With 40 counters it is a low counter density game, but punches above its weight. I really like this one.

Figures.
Years ago, I made up an 18” x 18” board and did the Battle of Quatre Bras with 2mm figure blocks, as sold by Irregular Miniatures. Played with home grown rules, formations got orders that took time to change and the system gave the roots to my favour of having a game clock running within a game, giving results like ‘retreat for 30 minutes’, this small space gave a fascinating game (to me at least) and is something that I need to think about putting together again, if only to give a figures element to the ‘bad back list’. I am working on something similar for a pinboard, so maybe the thinking for this post will give me some direction on that.

My smallest board that I currently do figures with hexes on is roughly a 3' x 2' (a large pinboard) with a hex grid of 8 x 6 and this is a great compact set-up, but for our purposes is still too big and there is too much carrying around and set-up needed.


Computer Tablet.
There are various wargame Apps for the screen that are successful to various degrees, but as a gentle and relaxing pursuit instead, there are a few Apps that allow you to do a jigsaw on screen. Better still, they allow you to pull in a photograph from your own collection and ‘’jigsaw it’ (above is a 1/72 SU 152 from my collection). So perhaps some nice art from a box cover would be fun or a picture of a memorable wargame battle scene ..... or someone else's posh figures :-)


Anyway, there we are, a bit of game dabbling to pass an hour or two, with a game that is small enough that it can be set aside and completed over several very small sessions if need be, that maintains a connection with ‘real’ gaming and will work for anyone who has any difficulty stretching out across something bigger.


I do of course also have games that use the 17” x 22” map format, or what is commonly called a half mapper, which can also serve well, but today I wanted this post to concentrate on those games that can sit right in front of the gamer and even be viable on a tray while sitting in a chair and not having any off board clutter, hence the absence of some of my tactical games that can use a single board, which though small, generally need quite a bit of off map space as well for charts and markers.

I think most of the games mentioned above already have posts covering them here, which can be accessed from the list of labels in the right margin of this blog if readers want more information on those systems.

Resource Section.
COMMANDERS is my sister site that is a bit more snippet based than here and is magaziney enough for anyone resting to have a gentle mooch around.
https://commanders.simdif.com/



33 comments:

  1. First, I hope your back improves quickly.
    Secondly, you provide an interesting small game assessment. I need to ponder which of the small games I enjoy playing fit within your constraints.

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    1. Thanks Jonathan, your 1812 would come in close, though the game as a block game loses a bit of fog of war for solitaire play, your recent campaign for Peter suggests that it is still quite do-able.

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    2. Hi Norm. My memory must be causing me trouble just as your back. Block games and 1812 do not register in my fleeting memories but, thankfully, Peter's campaign game still does.

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  2. As a fellow sufferer, my bad back was one of the reasons why I developed my Portable Wargame concept. My first game was fought on a standard chessboard and the latest - a Napoleonic battle - was fought on a 32" square of green felt.

    All the best,

    Bob

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    1. Like yourself, I do a bit of Hexon Tile gaming on a large pinboard and my Tigers at Minsk WWII rules were built around that footprint. Not needing to lean into a table to measure distances (using the hex grid instead) greatly reduces strain on a painful back.

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  3. Hi,

    Boardgamegeek has several lists of games with a small footprint; quite a few are free, and get high marks. A boxed game that I like is Manoeuvre, that has a small board, a small number of pieces, and few if any "side items."

    Have a good Thanksgiv--whoops, I don't think you folks do that one; have a good weekend!

    Chris Johnson

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    1. Thanks Chris, I will check that out, at the back of my mind I seem to remember owning such a title by GMT.

      We don't do a Thanks-giving, which I think is our loss. We do have a Harvest Festival, but it is a Church related festival rather than a national one and as such no longer appears to be in the public memory.

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  4. A useful list of small footprint games covering many periods.

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  5. Thanks Peter, I think it's worth having one ready in the the 'back pocket' on a 'just in case' basis.

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  6. Bad backs are a right pain.....literally! I've a dodgy back, so I know what you're talking about.
    To be honest small footprint games isn't something I've really thought about too much, the Rejects are all spoilt rotten with Posties massive shed.

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    1. Hi Ray, I think Posties table is at a good height, reducing the impact of leaning forwards. I have a table that I can put up that has extendable legs and even under that, I put a pair of skids to raise it higher.

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  7. Donald Featherstone has a quirky little skirmish / swordplay / jousting chapter called "wargaming in bed" (using one of those tables over the bed / chair) in his book Solo Wargames. Hope your back is better soon.

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    1. Thanks, I can hobble further today, so things are on the up :-) Interesting re Don's book and showing nothing is new, what a great nod to making wargames inclusive, the man was always ahead of his time in many respects.

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  8. Hope that back improves soon Norm. I always find your posts on 'kitchen table' games very thought provoking. I'm away for a few days but my mind is still actively spinning over this big table v small space game issue. I'm thinking now that 40mm figures are simply far too big to wargame with, although they make lovely display figures, so I'm back to considering expanding the 15mm's to create small units for a small table, 3 x 4 would be perfect for me.

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    1. Thanks Lee, I think 3' x 4' is such a sweet spot for so many people and is more likely to ensure that there is space to move round the table on all sides (another aspect of stopping over-stretching).

      It's interesting that your recent dabble with 15mm has given you a renewed interest with that scale. If only one scale could ever exist, I feel 15mm would probably win that beauty contest!

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  9. I'm not normally much a of a board wargamer but have fond memories of playing some GDW Series 120 games in the early 80's.

    For miniatures, when not in 'fine fettle' a small gridded board with a minimum of fiddly pieces and markers is my preference.

    Hope you're better soon.

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  10. Thanks Ross, grids and a total absence of the need to measure is just win - win when it comes to back pain. I can get an 8 x 6 four inch hex grid onto a pinboard sized area and it is surprising how much tactical nuance you can get out of that space.

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  11. Good read as always Norm.
    I always slip a small game into my bag as I travel quite a bit. I do like Germantown. Having little space at present, hopefully changing very soon, I have been playing One Hour Wargames and DBA. Both solo unfortunately but it does scratch the itch. Given costs and space challenges I don’t understand why people frown on small table games. They can be just as engaging.
    Best
    Dave

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    1. Hi Dave, I'm not so sure that small games are frowned upon, rather I wonder whether it a case that we are fed a diet of images of very big tables, whether that be through the wargame mags or successful blogs that win on eye candy and grandeur. So we don't really get to hear the voice of the 'small board' gamer.

      There were a few interesting comments on a Consimworld folder recently in which the company was re-doing a game in a deluxe style , which included growing the map over two sheets and having bigger counters, as nice as that would look, there were voices that said their own gaming environment could not stretch to two mapper games.

      Since moving, I have the potential of more space, but it is essentially temporary, in which I throw up pasting tables for a day or two and then allow the room to return to its 'normal' function. It is not ideal, but much less restrictive than what I had before.

      I think I will look at Germantown again.

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  12. I think you are right with the images. Actually my new situation will be the same as yours. Set up, play on a 6x4 then pack away.
    Interesting on Consim world, was that in the forum general stuff? I must look.
    Cheers
    Dave

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    1. I think it was in the Compass Games company folder, probably 2 - 3 weeks ago. Compass are re-vamping quite a few games to 'deluxe' standard, which includes bigger hexes. bigger counters and therefore bigger maps. I have their Bitter Woods (Bulge game) and can only say, after owning the original 1 mapper Avalon Hill copy, that that game really did need to go go bigger. I also have their North Africa Campaign and again appreciate the bigger map.

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  13. A thoughtful list indeed. I hope you’re not laid up for too long. Take care of yourself.

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    1. Thanks Stew, more movement and less pain killer, so improvements are happening :-)

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  14. Interesting summary of games,I think I'm more of a figure painter who occasionally games,or maybe that's because its a bit of an effort to organise a game with my nephews who all have equally busy lives and trying to get diaries to work is difficult,so I just paint! I'm unfortunately with you on the lower back pain front and while I'm planning on increasing the size of my table from 6'x4' to 6'x8' I'm going to set it up at a sensible height so that I'm not bending down!
    Best Iain

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  15. That's a lovely size increase for the table, though a toughie for the lower back. I reckon a table needs to be 40" or higher to reduce excessive forward tilt and even that would be on a 6 x 4. Perhaps the main functional benefits of hexes (to me at least) is that units in effect can be generally plonked down in the hex just with one hand, rather than measuring and moving, which often involves two hands stretched out and therefore a greater tilt on the old back!.

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  16. Interesting and compact games, Norm. Hexes save time and rule out measuring errors too.

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  17. Thanks Dean, the balance between the grid and the aesthetic does not favour beauty, but it can make life easier on both the body and the mind :-)

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  18. Thanks Steve, onwards and upwards :-)

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  19. Ouch, sorry to hear about your having tweaked your back again. I occasionally get a cricked neck that lasts a day or so, and that makes moving about freely a little difficult. I would hate to be having to deal with that sort of frustrating and painful inconvenience on a daily basis.

    Would a magnetised board on the wall or a whiteboard and magnetised counter sleds be of any help? It would mean you could keep straight rather than need to lean forward, and you could leave it set up without needing to worry about the affectionate attentions of pets or visitors.

    It does confine you to board type games rather than miniatures, but it might be an option for when the back is especially troublesome.

    ANyway, you've probably heard all that kind of stuff before. Hope you are back in better shape speedily.

    Best wishes,
    Aaron

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    1. Thanks Aaron, yes I think there is a place for wall mounted, though one would need to stand at that, as the sitting position and leaning forward would cause its own problems (for me at least).

      I have got some temporary aluminium tables that have extending legs, which I pull to maximum and then put the table on a pair of plastic skates. That raises the table height to around 40 inches, which is a good height for me to stand at and not have to lean into the table, though of course standing gets limited to 30 minute bursts and then you have to leave it and sit around to relax the back. So it becomes a solution of sorts, but the small game, under your nose at the dining table seems to work best for me when dealing with flare-ups.

      Mrs. wargamer wanted me to deal with a spider in a hard to reach corner of the bathroom last night ...... needless to say, that involved an over-stretch, an under my breath curse and an undoing of several days of progress! it does all become a rather familiar cycle after a while.

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  20. I was struck down with hellish sciatica last spring—slow road back (no pun intended) to a modified “normal.” I was unable to stoop at all, let alone reach for figures, so undestand your suffering. For awhile, I was thinking I’d have to drop the hobby. Good to see you still engage and hope you find some relief. Best, Ed M

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  21. Ed, 'modified normal' must be one of the most common conditions on the planet. Hobby impact is a serious issue. At one point I had to sell all of my DSLR and lens camera kit, as it was simply too heavy to carry, even daft things like needing a lighter laptop or not being able to open a heavy door at the local newsagent suddenly comes into sharp focus and a deep empathy comes into play when noticing how elderly people have to queue at banks etc or open that same door and the massive shortage of seating within our public spaces, including shops etc becomes quite evident. Those needing a 5 minute breather are very much over-looked by planners and managers.

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