Wargaming Survey Part I: Understanding Your Local Grognard
Welcome wargamer. If you can spare 20 minutes of your time, I’d like to request your help in learning more about our collective community using a few simple tools in this article. Specifically, I want to know more about the thought processes behind your passion for wargaming. What created them? What sustains them? What makes them unique? Can the mindset driving the "typical" wargamer be used to extrapolate something about the wargaming genre as a whole, along with some of its quirks? We live in a time where wargame developers are striving to unlock the perfect marketing solution for their fan base, while wargamers themselves are paradoxically seeing fewer and fewer board and PC wargames in mainstream outlets. Perhaps as a result, some of us wonder whether wargaming as a hobby is waxing or waning…and few will agree on the exact dates or definition or existence of wargaming’s "Golden Age." Some won’t even agree on what constitutes a "war" game! Yet, surely we can all agree wargaming remains a niche industry (ever see a wargame advertised during the Super Bowl?). What exactly is it about us and our hobby which keeps it locked in this relative obscurity?
Wargames are becoming scarce in many retail chains.
The purpose of this grand survey is to analyze the people who play wargames, and try to discover if there is anything inherently "unique" about the personality types of those most drawn to them (both digital and paper). Is there such thing as an "archetypical" wargamer, and if so, are there many more of them out there waiting to be "brought in" to the gaming world? Or, can we safely say that wargaming will always be a tiny subset of the larger genre of table-top gaming (cards, poker, euro-games, family games, etc.) and "war-themed" PC games, because there are so few people who are predisposed to the art of pushing counters across a map?
This origin of this inquiry came about as I thought back to my own introduction to the wargaming hobby 20 years ago. Part of my personal "gateway" into gaming was through military model building, mostly ships and tanks at the time. After many trips to the hobby store to buy paints, tools, and more models, I finally noticed they had a large selection of boxed wargames, and after some evaluation I decided to buy Avalon Hill’s Panzer Leader because it had a German Panther tank pictured on the back (yes, it was that simple!). As a long-time Dungeons and Dragons player, I wasn’t intimidated in the least by the rule book or the mass of counters I punched out. As a young veteran of Risk, I was familiar with some of the concepts of warfare that were so important in enjoying my first hex-based purchase. I can’t explain the exact process I underwent with that first wargame, but looking back it just felt natural to be sitting there, pouring all over the rules and maps. But was there more to it?
A simple formula for generating new wargamers? Probably not.
Can a wargamer be created out of thin air, simply by increasing his/her exposure to the hobby through graduating levels of casual gaming (despite the similarities in terms, we are NOT really talking about drugs here!)? Can a person start off playing Risk, move on to Axis and Allies (possibly the PC version), and finally make the leap to "Grognard" (wargamer slang for "serious") wargames? Surely lots of kids grow up playing those casual games, but only a fraction endure the final transition to the real, classic "wargames." My theory, based on anecdotal experience, is that it takes a certain type of person to make that final leap – and because of the characteristics of this "archetypical" wargamer, almost no amount of advertising or gateway gaming will bring any greater percentage of the population into the hobby than we have typically seen over the years.
I propose that wargaming in general has several functional requirements that will be difficult, if not impossible to overcome when seeking to expand the base number of wargamers. These factors help determine what kind of person ends up playing a wargame…and may help explain our demographic in a more concise manner. This is not intended to be exhaustive list!
Wargaming requires at least a basic interest in history, and almost always includes an interest in military history. It would be hard to envision anyone sitting down to push German counters towards Moscow hour after hour, day after day, without having some interest in the history behind Operation Barbarossa (German invasion of the USSR in World War II). Whether learned in the classroom or through extra-curricular reading or television, an interest in history is probably mandatory.
Wargaming is mostly an intellectual exercise. There are no pots to be won like in poker, you normally can’t sit and watch others play a full game like other spectator sports (how many wives have wondered why the playing surface appears exactly the same after weeks sitting on her dining room table?). Simply put, these games can appear downright boring to most folk. Even winning and losing is often an esoteric exercise more concerned with dissection of strategy and tactics on both sides rather than a goal-line dance with in-your-face smack talking (although it DOES occasionally happen!).
Almost without exception, wargames demand a certain pedantic, detail-oriented, predisposition. It takes talent and patience to manage 100′s or 1000′s of tiny counters (even digital ones), read tomes of game rules, and have the endurance to see a wargame through to the end. In general, you can’t just breeze through the rules, and expect to play a wargame. Wargaming demands constant attention to minutia such as the true interpretation of sometimes ambiguous rules, disagreements over gamey tactics, effects of terrain, dissertations on chance, discussion on the realism of simulated portrayals of historical events, and a thousand other details in these games. Few can just be glossed over or successfully ignored by an impatient person.
How can this be boring?
These points may seem self-evident to anyone who proudly claims the title of Grognard, but I believe listing them will help with the final analysis when interpreting the results of this experiment. Given the traits necessary for serious wargaming, exactly what type of person can we expect to naturally "pick up" this pastime? Are wargamers naturally drawn to certain hobbies and environments which will "gateway" them into wargaming? Is there a pool of wargamers out there who have yet to be "found" and brought into the fold? I hope to uncover some of these answers when comparing the personality types of a sampling of current wargamers. If we find trends, it might help give insight into the current makeup of players in our hobby, as well as provide a frame of reference when looking outside our community for new blood. With the right information about who we are, it might also be possible to extrapolate where we might expect wargaming to be in the next 20 years. At least, that is the hope of this pedantic, detail-oriented, military historian and wargamer!
The goals of this survey are not to provide a comprehensive description of the wargamer. This has been attempted elsewhere (see learn more below). Additionally, because I am not a scientist (I’m a Geographer by education!), I don’t want to bother everyone with a pages-long survey only to be told it lacks any scientific integrity. Instead, this is a short survey designed to illustrate a few simple points using a broad stroke of the brush;
Learn about the personality types of wargamers, looking for trends.
Learn about the age of introduction and length time people have been playing their wargames.
Learn about how wargamers have interacted with non-wargamers and other gamers.
Learn about the connection between education and knowledge of military history.
Learn about our background, hobbies, and personal accounts of our introduction to the hobby.
To participate in this experiment, you simply need to take a short personality test (step 1 below) and then answer a few questions (step 2 below). It should take about 15 minutes or so to complete the whole routine. It can all done anonymously, so you don’t have to worry about privacy. We will summarize the results in a month or two, once we have a significant number of responses. Your answers will help us create a picture of the "average" wargamer – that is to say, someone just like us!
1. Use this simple and quick Personality Test to arrive at a pre-defined personality type. Make sure you save your result percentages!
2. The main wargamer-specific survey is here. You MUST have your personality type from step 1 so you can start the survey. Please don’t randomly pick one.
Definition of a wargame: For the purpose of this study, we are talking about two facets of wargaming. The classic "boardgame," which typically consists of a map covered with a hex grid, and uses a series of cardboard counters (or sometimes miniatures) to represent historical fighting units of various scales. These could be the old Avalon Hill/SPI era bookcase games or any number from current manufacturers. The classic "PC wargame" shares a similar heritage, although the computer allows many variations of the board beyond the hex grid system. Despite the fact hexes are no longer an absolute requirement, they often remain in contemporary PC wargames. Almost all of them use historically accurate Orders of Battle (OOB) and Tables of Organization and Equipment (TOE) as well as historical scenarios. In this survey, we are NOT including Real Time Strategy or First Person Shooter games in the category of "wargame."
Every wargamer’s dream! (Hint: Join a local club)
To learn more: Web-Grognards (grognard.com) has a nice primer on how to tell if you are a Grognard, as well as a few links to additional surveys and articles regarding the past and future of wargaming. The Wargamer (wargamer.com) often has articles exploring these themes, mostly as they relate to the PC side of wargaming. You can also discuss the above article in more depth at the Armchair General forums. Also on those forums, you will find many relevant topics being discussed about the future of wargaming and problems with the genre today.
Brian "Siberian H.E.A.T." King is the CO of Armchair General Magazine’s website, armchairgeneral.com. When that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he can sometimes be convinced to actually sit down and write articles on military history and wargaming. His wife also politely tolerates map boards on the dining room table!
Wargaming Survey Part II: Grognards Revealed (full results and analysis)