The Do’s and Don’ts of Historical Board Gaming (or Wargaming, You Decide)

When it comes to playing wargames, I’m a big proponent of writing your own script, blazing your own trail and doing your own thing.  There is no one size fits all approach to enjoying this hobby but I thought I would share a few tips to (hopefully) allow you to get the most out of this hobby.

Don’t Sweat Minor Details

Is it a wargame? Who cares.  It is probably true of many hobbies but wargamers sure love to bicker amongst themselves over arbitrary details like, “what is and what isn’t a wargame” or “should we even call historical games wargames”. Sure, there may be some value to be gained by debating simulation vs. game under the right circumstance but I assure you that debate will have no impact on your play of Blitzkrieg.

Twilight Struggle. A wargame?

So, someone online just lambasted your new acquisition as not a ‘war game’. Guess what? The game still works. Your enjoyment is unimpaired. You have lost no credibility and your copy of Imperial Struggle will not magically transform into a copy of Castles of Burgundy.

Don’t get bogged down quibbling over semantics. Don’t sweat the small, irrelevant stuff. Just sit back, clip a few counters, or not, and enjoy your games.

Do Follow the Sequence of Play         

Next War Advanced Sequence of Play

The sequence of play should never be ignored.  At the very least, a good sequence of play will serve as checklist of the various game phases to make sure you don’t miss anything.  A great sequence of play will be a step-by-step guide that allows players to work through the game in a very procedural manner.  A shining example of this is the Next War series.  There is no overt complexity to the advanced rules of Next War. If you stick to the sequence of play and become an expert at following every step, you will not feel lost in the sea of Next War rules crashing down on you.

Apply this approach to every war game that provides a sequence of play. Treat a good sequence of play as your guide and lifeline to tackling heavy wargames. It should become second nature to carry out actions and bounce right back to the sequence of play before moving on to the next part of the game.  

Don’t Feel Like You Have to Follow a Script

There is no set path to finding enjoyment in wargaming. You do not have to cross games A and B off your play list before you dive into games O, C, and S. I am guilty of, from time to time, labeling games we discuss as great intro games or beginner games. While valid statements on those games, I think that unintentionally creates an implication that other wargames can’t be your introduction into the hobby. I just don’t think that’s true. Any game can serve as an introduction to the hobby.

North Africa from Multi-Man Publishing

Yes, I think it’ll be much easier for someone new to the hobby to learn to play a game from the Standard Combat Series than the Operational Combat SeriesFlashpoint: South China Sea is a very basic game that can serve as a great introduction to the Card Driven mechanic. But they are not prerequisites to finding joy in this hobby. Don’t feel like you must be shoehorned into playing a bunch of games that don’t interest before you tackle the game that really catches your eye. Just know that some games require more work and more preparation than others.  Speaking of…

Do Read Rules Before Hand

There seems to be an unwritten expectation in wargaming that both opponents approach the table with an understanding of the game, unless explicitly stated.  So here I am, writing it down.

As someone who came to the wargame world from the Ameritrash/Euro/card game side of the hobby it was commonplace to just show up to game night with no rules preparation and a good chance that someone was going to do a full rules teach. For many historical board games, this just doesn’t fly.

When I first started playing wargames, we tried the one person read the rules and teach the other approach. Sure, that may work for wargames with smaller rule sets, but it stopped working when one player was bashing their head against The U.S. Civil War or Fast Action Battle rulebook. As I played more wargames and met new opponents, I found that a lot of wargamers will show up prepared and ready to play with some kind of rules preparation under their belts. Sure, everyone’s circumstances, free time and availability are different but the burden of heavy wargame rules should not rest on one player.  You will find your games more enjoyable, more approachable and maybe even find your play more strategic if you don’t show up to a new game completely cold on the rules.  In the year 2022 there is a wealth of resources out there ranging from custom player-aids, rules summaries, to full video teaches. If you can, come prepared.

Don’t Get Bogged Down

Advanced Squad Leader

Obviously playing a game correctly and executing rules properly, is all very important. But sometimes you don’t have to spend 15 minutes diving into a rule book to find an obscure die modifier.  Let’s say you’re playing Advanced Squad Leader, and you’re progressing through a juicy ‘to-hit’ calculation and a question comes up. Sometimes, you may want to consider chucking the dice first instead of immediately turning to the rule book to find the exact ruling on some obscure circumstance.  Roll ‘em up.  If you roll boxcars, does it even matter if you have +2 or a +3 modifier? No.

Don’t let this be a forever excuse for not understanding rules. It is however an effective approach to not getting buried in the rulebook all game day. Technically speaking, you should also pass your bog checks in ASL.

Do Enjoy What You Enjoy

This pains me but The U.S. Civil War does not have to be your favorite game of all time. You don’t even have to like the game. And whatever your tastes are, you don’t have to defend your interests at all. There are wargamers that will never play anything other than a Commands & Colors title and they will be perfectly content. There are plenty of Advanced Squad Leader players, and far fewer Advance Tobruk System players, who will never touch another wargame. More power to them.

Play what you want to play. Enjoy what you enjoy. Our hobby time is limited and should be spent doing what we like. So, you do you. There is no application checklist to being a war gamer, there are no pre-requisite courses, and, despite this list, the best way to play wargames is how you like to play wargames.

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