Friday 29 July 2022

Too much stuff!

Perhaps an embarrassing statement, but not one intended to offend when set against the current cost of living crisis and the general belt tightening that many of us are having to embrace.

But by ‘too much’ I’m not so much reflecting on overfilled shelves, but rather of an overfilled mind that is too frequently distracted by the excessive wargame related tasking that gets in the way of gaming, not least, knowing multiple rule sets.

The point is, I would like to spend more time gaming and less time prepping for it or thinking about it etc. Two games a week would be nice, with the main course at the weekend and importantly a lighter snack for the more illusive mid-week game.

As you may have already gathered, this is going to be a rather a self indulgent post, but I am guessing that it simply highlights an aspect of hobby that touches many of us. If inclined to read on, please use the ‘read more’ tab.

In an ideal world, I might be the sort of person who as a figure gamer, collects one period, in one scale and has one set of rules. As a boardgamer, I might just have half a dozen to a dozen games or systems that can be played so often, that there comes an intimacy with the knowledge and control of those rules and situations.

After all, chess fanatics are satisfied with the same board, playing pieces and one set of rules providing lifelong play and challenges from what is arguably the greatest game in the world.

However, my gaming interests are wide, they also span the two worlds of figures and boardgames and while I consider my collections to be fairly modest, the content is still widely scattered across many systems and rule sets.

There are things that get in the way of getting a game to the table, such as the time spent cutting and trimming counters, painting figures, building terrain and chopping and changing between favoured projects, but it strikes me that the biggest obstacle to play is the number of different rule sets and systems that one has to read, learn and fight with to bring something to the table.

I have for a while thought that perhaps as an age thing, my gaming tastes had evolved into much preferring the lower complexity type game or rule set, as it is clearly something that allows a game to get to the table more easily and can conclude in a single short session.

However, I am increasingly sensing that this is not true, my own drive to lower complexity has most likely been driven not by my own desire, but rather by need, because I have so many competing systems and it is not possible to know them all well enough for the deeper game, so I end up seeking out the more superficial level of play via simple rules. 

In truth I like some of the deeper, richer games and my reasoning is that if I had fewer systems, I would actually have better quality game time.

Deeper / richer games don’t necessarily have to be ‘big’ and for the space / time strapped gamer, more involved games do exist amongst the smaller formats. So for boardgames, ignoring 2 mappers and even increasingly embracing half mappers may result in more games that are easier to be left set up or even at the end of a session, to have unit positions recorded to allow the game to be re-setup and continued at a later stage. 

For figures, my Pocket Armies (10 infantry, 2 guns, 2 cavalry units) type games covering a slice of a bigger action or even doing several scenarios looking at various aspects of a single larger battlefield, might bring more involvement with the subject, in a campaign sort of way. I particularly enjoy moving interesting situations created in a boardgame across to the figures table.


Anyway, the point is, the embrace of low complexity play might be the evolved solution to a problem that we have created through over collecting and despite my recent clear-out and scaling back, I obviously did not go far enough. There was an impasse where things I liked, but in truth would not get much use and just get in the way, stayed in the collection, I should have been more ruthless.

My favourite artwork on a Napoleonic set

Daft things like having 12 different Napoleonic rule sets and associated support material burdening the shelves and my clear-out only got rid of one set, when in reality it would be ideal to get down to owning just one or two sets that I come to appreciate fully and know intimately and equally important STOP continually browsing the other sets. 

On boardgames, there remain single titles that I like the look of, but which have never hit the table in 5 years or more and to play requires a full investment in reading the rules from scratch, taking notes and then the first game always carries rule mistakes anyway, in most cases reducing game satisfaction and making putting it back up for a second playing less compelling, so it goes back on the shelf - repeat. Surely it is better to be a regular returner to fewer titles or systems. 

We used to live in a small flat, where lack of space was an unforgiving master and we ran an essential ‘one in means one out’ policy! It worked on every aspect of life including buying clothing etc! But it only works when it becomes a strictly adhered to principle. Having moved to somewhere bigger, my gaming has just grown into the new space and once again has hit the interface between the sustainable and the not - so it is time once again for a return to a managed regime.

I have sometimes wondered what my gaming world would be like if boardgaming had not commercially taken off and I was left holding just a core of say around 10 games that would cover what were termed as ‘The Classics’ from Avalon Hill, such as Waterloo, Bulge and Anzio, plus a couple of iconic games such as the old 1977 basic Squad Leader by John Hill and a nostalgic favourite such as SPI Cobra.

A new 3rd edition of the first boardgame I ever played.

It is an interesting point to debate, though I’m sure given a choice most of us would prefer the diversity of also having ‘other favourites’ that we currently hold - could you settle for just 10 games / systems? There are Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) players that have that system as their sole game of choice - though in truth, ASL keeps their shelves full and scenario options many.

Having said that, I seem recently to have come naturally to a point in life of being less excited by future releases. For boardgames, as I look ahead to the schedule of releases planned over the next 18 months, my enthusiasm for some of those titles has surprisingly diminished even since last year. I seem to have moved from ‘Ooh that looks interesting’ to ‘will I really want to play that enough to want to learn the rules and get it onto the table’? Does it earn a space on my shelf?

With the above said, rather counter-intuitively you may feel, I have just bought into two boardgame series. Jours de Gloire by the Vae Victis people (a napoleonic system) and Panzer by GMT (a WWII tactical system), growing the very collection that I want to reduce!

This will be hitting the table soon.

But these two systems are fairly heavy hitters in terms of the number of play sessions that they can generate with the same rules and they do give decent games, so I will get a LOT out of them, while allowing me to lose other game titles that cover the same subjects, but across more rule sets.

Having been exposed to these Vae Victis games, I have been quite taken by their smaller folio style format, plus by inclination, they do seem to support the idea of series rules. 

If you take something like their Waterloo title, which has a 4 panel map and compare it to my (loved) Hexasim Waterloo game, which has two large maps equating to 16 panels, they actually encompass pretty much the same ground / topography, but it is the former that is much easier for me to get to the table and to keep it set up for the playing time needed, as neither are quick games.

As a consequence, I have recently pursued several Vae Victis titles (the newer ones that come with English rules included), bringing them into the collection while they are still in print. I can see these smaller games becoming an increasingly important part of the collection in terms of playability and more importantly - replayability.

As for figures, I am not so much wanting to cut back, but to curtail further growth for now until the back log of the lead / plastic mountain is brought under better control. Pocket Armies are definitely the way to go, with whatever needs doing above that, being done leisurely and for pleasure over time.

I already have the figures needed to round out the several projects part started, so getting all of that jacked up to chip away at the stockpile just needs to happen.

There is a vlogger called 7th Son (Martin on YouTube) who produces very interesting content that mostly has the larger scale figures deployed onto a kitchen table area and his scenario inventiveness results in some superb play with relatively small forces. He is worth checking out.

A not insignificant problem are the number of figure rule sets and their expansions / support material that sit on my shelves. They are all nice, but if a harsh benchmark of ‘will this ever get to the table’ was applied, there could be a drastic cutting back of that side of things. The real problem is that they compete with each other for my attention, which they do get and it just dilutes my commitment to any one of them. 

Is it possible just to have a few favoured sets that would service my 1066 to WWII interest and be permanent enough to learn thoroughly or is the reality that we are locked into looking for ‘the next thing’?

My current rules of choice for Wars of the Roses.

Having recently travelled the route of having ‘a big clear’ out, it obviously fell a little short of being ruthless enough, plus some things have flowed back into the collection that should really not have passed the ‘click to buy’ moment!

Either way, a slow drip feeding into e-bay should be a gentle enough way to avoid one of those drastic and often regrettable single day big clear outs. For the harder to move items, donation or refuse are both viable, with the ends justifying the means. Just close your eyes, hold your nose and jump in!

Of course all of this is somewhat contrary to my feeling that we need to underpin the fragile wargaming industry by spend, something absolutely essential if the show scene is to survive in the UK. My short term plans mean that this could become the elephant in the room, though I am certain that I will still see things that I want, but I will need to just be a bit more discerning. Balance in everything!

Crusader command stand

I would also like to transfer some spend over to ‘the posh’. For me, this means the luxury of buying some pre-painted figures from time to time. I recently did this for the first time, buying a Crusader command base from Colonel Bills. This was a treat that is rewarding because I enjoy the base so much (I also had some painted figures gifted to me by Phil a couple of years back to help start up a collection, for which I am eternally grateful and which bring much pleasure - thank you again).

On the boardgame side of things, the fact that I am buying into series games will likely mean continued purchase as those series will continue to grow and need to be owned by the completists (me). So for example, looking at the Panzer series, the next release is North Africa, which will be a biggie and is presently on the production cycle and may deliver next year.

Will there be an impact on the blog? Probably some, with less new stuff being explored, but it shouldn’t be too noticeable and hopefully with more situations being covered by familiar systems and more games on the table, then there should be enough interesting things to inspire the e-ink to keep flowing. 

I hope this post has not given a tone of ‘woe me’, my wargaming enthusiasm remains as strong as ever, it is simply a moment of reflection that I suspect some readers will identify with.

Currently getting clipped are counters for the 1st module of Panzer (GMT) and also for the Aspern-Essling battle 1809 (Vae Victis), both will be played soon. On painting sticks is a battalion of French Napoleonic Infantry, while the next scenario being drafted concerns the ongoing adventures in the imagined world of Piggy Longton between Lancastrian and Yorkist forces. Stephen the Fearless The Bishop of Dungborough is on top form! So there is plenty afoot, which is good.

Quatre Bras 1815 from Vae Victis has just been played three times and was very enjoyable. The Aspern-Essling game is from the same series, so should play out nicely with minimum rule prep and allow a full and easy exploration of the scenarios and variants. If only my French / Austrian 1809 forces were ready to allow some cross-over games from that boardgame, but all of that is in the future.

Anyway, to keep this first world problem in some kind of perspective, I am taking a gentle and slow approach to improving the balance between quality play and everything else that surrounds the gaming, but it is identified as a goal to achieve and so that deliberate journey begins. 

I don’t know whether it is an age thing, but I just don’t have the hunger to over collect any more - or rather, it has become a more noticeably adverse thing to me. A simpler path of getting old favourites to the table more often seems preferable. It has only taken me close to 50 years to reach this conclusion, not sure how the next 50 will evolve …… Oh Wait! :-)

As said, this has been a bit of a self indulgent post, but for many gamers with modest game space, budgets and spare time, some of this may strike a chord and at least get us looking a bit more critically at what we have / need / want / want / want / want / want :-).

I may have wandered off track a bit, but in essence, for those that do, are we seeking lower complexity in our games, simply because we have too many competing wargame demands and designs (too much stuff)? Would it be better to have some richer games, but fewer titles / rules / systems to better cope with what should otherwise be ….. ordinary complexity?

Is any of this relevant to your gaming world? What position are you in with regards to shrinking or growing your collections and do you feel you have enough liberated time to play all that you want to play or are you so spoiled by choice that good things come back around to the table all too rarely and lastly do you find it difficult to properly assimilate the wide range of rules immediately available to you, an interested friend wants to know. :-)

As always thanks for sticking with a meandering post.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.