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Beginning in War Games

On the off chance that you have an enthusiasm for military history, or dream, or sci-fi and are searching for an amusement that joins these interests yet goes a long ways past chess or checkers, then try war gaming out.

War games place the players in command of military forces in a particular era. As a player, you can try to beat Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo, or raise an army of elves and humans to do battle with the Orcs in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, or fight back an alien invasion on far-flung planets. You can also play numerous what-if scenarios which might change the course of history–what if Germany launched a seaborne invasion of England in 1940, or what if the Spanish Armada had defeated the English fleet in the English Channel? War games allow players to take command and play with history in ways that classic games like Chess will never allow.

Because there is a focus on having the player in command, rather than playing a single character in the conflict, role-playing games and first-person shooters, while also a lot of fun, would not be considered war games in the purest sense. Abstract strategy games, such as Settlers of Cataan, Checkers, or Chess, can also be tremendous fun but do not put players in command of military forces, and so would not be considered true war games either.

By asking the player to take command of a military force, war games challenge the player’s knowledge of the era and the forces at his command, as well as testing his ability to develop strategies and tactics that will enable him to maneuver his forces to achieve his military objectives and win the game. The challenge is both complex and exciting, and opens the door for players to learn more about the era and setting they play, as well as history and science. Miniatures gamers also are able to develop the craftsmanship, modeling, and painting skills needed to field well-painted and visually stunning armies.

As a hobby, war games have been around a long time and their modern form can be traced back to two sources: Kriegspiel, a Prussian military staff exercise that was used by officers for planning and training from 1812 onwards, and Little Wars (published 1913), a book by science-fiction author H.G. Wells who publicized a formal set of rules for young boys to refight battles with toy soldiers. What had been an activity limited to military training had been introduced to the public where it has had enthusiastic hobbyists for years.

In the present day, the hobby has expanded to include commercially available board war games, miniatures games, and computer games. Board games use preprinted game boards with either cardboard or plastic counters. Miniatures games combine metal or plastic miniature soldiers and vehicles and tabletops that are converted into spectacular representations of battlefields by the addition of miniature trees, terrain, and buildings. Finally, computer games and console games place players into command of virtual armies in a series of battles either against computer or human opponents.

Getting started in the hobby involves choosing either board, miniature, or computer games, and choosing a particular historic (or fantasy or science-fiction) era. War games have been published for every era in human history, from Ancient Egypt to modern-day conflicts, as well as fantasy and science-fiction settings, so a new hobbyist will rarely be limited for choice.

Then, it becomes a matter of connecting with the war games community.

A new gamer can find miniature and board game rules online, or at a local gaming shop. In addition, games clubs exist in many cities, and have members who would be happy to introduce new players into the hobby. Even the smallest city will have a fantasy or science-fiction gaming club that plays the popular Warhammer and Warhammer 40K games published by Games Workshop.

Larger cities also have shows and conventions, where club members host games where the public can try out different games and settings, as well as patronize the vendor’s areas and the “bring and buys” – informal flea markets set up at shows where hobbyists can buy and sell pre-owned games and armies.

War gamers also have several online forums where players can swap advice on tactics, modeling and painting miniatures, mods for computer games, and reviews of and suggestions for games and game rules. The online community can provide invaluable advice to new gamers who are interested in joining the hobby.

War games are a fascinating hobby that gives enjoyment for a lifetime. Getting started in the hobby is as simple as choosing an era and making connections with other war gamers in your area.