Monday, 17 October 2011

SELWG ... and why I didn't go

Yesterday was the day that SELWG (the annual wargames show organised by the South East London Wargames Group) took place ... and for the first time in some years, I did not go.

So why not?

After giving the matter some considerable thought I have come to the conclusion that the larger wargames shows have just got too large to for me enjoy.

I enjoy meeting my many wargaming friends and acquaintances at shows, but over recent years it has seemed to become almost impossible to have a conversation when we have met at the larger shows. The general level of background noise seems to have risen to such an extent that it has almost become necessary to shout to make oneself heard ... which everyone else is doing, thus increasing the sound levels, which in turn makes having a conversation more difficult ... and so on.

I also enjoy seeing what new items have come onto the market ... but again the bigger shows seem to have made this more difficult rather than easier. Traders are charged by the length of their display, and the bigger the display, the more they are charged. Therefore a trader will – for example – have a six foot-long setup which they take to wargames shows, regardless of the size of the show. It therefore follows that the more people you have at a show, the less you will be able to see on an individual trader's stand. Add to that the fact that increasing numbers of wargamers seem unable to go to a show without a backpack the size of a small car strapped to their back, and the problem of crowding – and the risk of injury as someone next to you at a stand turns through 180° and thumps you with their backpack – becomes even worse.

Then there are the 'games' that are on show. It has become increasingly noticeable over the past few years that more and more wargames clubs are putting on display games at wargames shows that are merely moving (and sometimes immobile!) dioramas. There are some very notable exceptions to this – for example, Peter Pig always has a demonstration/participation game running near to their stand – but the norm now seems to be beautiful terrain, exhibition-standard painted figures and vehicles ... and little going on in the way of a game. Sometimes a few figures might be moved and some dice thrown (usually after a very long time spent reading the very long rule book), but games never seem to get to anything like a conclusion.

I have run wargames at shows, but the games I have put on have been designed so that people can sit down, take part for an hour at most, and then do something else. They were not designed to exclude anyone who was not part of our 'group'; they were designed so that participants could fight a battle from start to finish in the sort of time most of us now have to spend actually fighting wargames in the modern world. I was once told that our games - however innovative, attractive, or enjoyable they might be - would never win a prize at a wargames show because 'They are the sort of game that people can play in their own club or home.' The person who said that had exactly missed the point; what we were demonstrating was something that anyone could put on without having to commit huge amounts of time, effort, and space to it. After all not everyone has the time to paint the necessary figures or make the terrain, the financial resources to buy everything required for a 2,000 figure per side wargame, or the space for a permanent 18' x 6' table to wargame on!

Finally – and probably the most telling reason why I did not go to SELWG yesterday – is that wargaming is my hobby and not my life. It is an important part of my life, but at the moment I have a host of other things that I could – and should – be doing ... so I did them instead.

18 comments:

  1. Hear hear! I agree with just about everything you wrote, Bob.


    -- Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bob,
    Well said indeed! The sad fact is that demonstration, and - worse still - participation, wargames at shows are largely judged by their visual appearance.
    To be fair, the judges don't have time to participate, but in that case would it not be better/fairer to scrap such competitions altogether?
    I expect you remember how Paddy Griffith one year managed to dummy Salute into letting him run a WW2 desert action using a variant of the Fighting fantasy gamebook paragraph system. His game was quick to play and had far, far more satisfied participants than any other that day - but, because it was presented on a series of black and white A4 printed sheets laid along a table, it was regarded as heretical and he was never allowed to present a game again...
    Personally, I find the over elaborate, diorama-standard games quite depressing and wonder whether they are actually counter-productive in putting people - who realise they will never achieve such standards of painting/modelling - off the hobby altogether.

    Arthur

    ReplyDelete
  3. Bluebear Jeff,

    It is reassuring to hear that I am not the only person who thinks this way!

    all the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very sound reasons for not going Bob. I don't mind if people who like building dioramic games want to display their work at a wargame show but it does nettle me when they are accompanied with an air of superiority that dismisses all other games that don't meet their self appointed modelling criteria. I like to put games on that have people walking away say "Boy that was fun", "How did you do this or that" "Where can I get a copy of those rules?".

    ReplyDelete
  5. Arthur1815,

    I once acted as a judge of the wargames put on at the annual Victorian Military Society show. I marked each on a scale of 1 to 5 in several categories: Appearance, Information for spectators, and what I termed 'Wow Factor'. The maximum score any game could get was 15 and the minimum was 3.

    I gave each group putting on a wargame my feedback so that they knew how I had reached my final decision ... and everyone agreed with it because they could see how it had been arrived at. If my memory serves me correctly the winners got 15 points and the group that came last got 10 points … which is not a bad spread of marks.

    I well remember Paddy Griffith’s MONKEY ORANGE game. Over fifty people played during the course of the day … and Wargame Developments was unofficially ‘banned’ from presenting games at SALUTE for some years afterwards! It was a triumph of appearance over substance … a trend that is still alive and kicking quite strongly today.

    I agree with you that the ‘moving diorama’ games are very off-putting to those of us who are not exhibition-standard painters and terrain builders. Likewise the solemn faces I see so often around these games at shows do not indicate that the participants are enjoying themselves.

    Not so long ago the people running the Wargame Developments participation game at SALUTE (myself included) were asked to keep the noise down because the sound of people enjoying our game was annoying a nearby group who were running a ‘serious’ demonstration (i.e. ‘moving diorama’) wargame.

    I understand that some of the wargames shows run in the Midlands and North of England do expect attendees to have more fun and take themselves less seriously that some of the shows in and around London.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ross Mac,

    A resounding round of applause for you from me for your comments. You have hit the nail well and truly on the head. Wargaming as a hobby should be fun … not about how much better one person is than another when it comes to painting and modelling.

    I was once asked at a show what rules I used. When I gave the enquirer a copy of my rules (home grown, as usual) they looked aghast. ‘Don’t you use published rules … from a book … or something?’ When I replied that I did not, they asked ‘How do you know you have got things right then? Surely you need something like a Codex to know what is right and what is wrong?’.

    The innocence (and gullibility) of youth!

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  7. I heartily agree with all comment so far! As a perpetrator of several er, less conventional participation games at shows over the years I can confirm that negative reactions are not unknown but the games have been generally well received. Interestingly a significant minority of our players have always been non-gamers. Maybe they're just more open minded? And we've even won awards at shows in Sheffield and Edinburgh!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Tim Gow,

    What is interesting is the fact that many of the games you have put on have been WAR games and not BATTLE games like so many of the games seen at shows.

    I also think that show organisers in the Midlands and North of England are somewhat more broadminded and less hidebound that those in the South of England when it comes to what constitutes a 'good' wargame.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Bob (and everybody else as well!),

    I have not been to one of the 'major' UK shows for some years now for all the reasons mentioned here. I actually find much of the games on display to be demotivating as being far above anything I could attain. The expression 'less is more' would be a good way to describe an ideal show game - SEEMS have always put on games that are at the high end of club games being realistic looking and with suitable terrain and figures that whilst glorious to look at are REAL wargames. In fact many of them have been played on a club night which testifies to the inherent soundness of the subject matter.

    Smaller shows suit me far better for all the reasons mentioned and with the added bonus (for me anyway) that the games on display are at least possibly attainable.

    All the best,

    DC

    ReplyDelete
  10. David Crook,

    I totally agree with you, especially about the demonstration/participation games that SEEMS put on at shows.

    Over recent years I have noticed that I have spent far more money at smaller shows than I have at shows like SALUTE and SELWG ... which is a very telling piece of information.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  11. I can see the merits of both games, but I dislike the idea of the less accessible one becoming the more commonly seen. Personally I love getting a chance to actually make a few significant decisions that alter the course of the game in some minor way.

    Obviously the diorama game favours the large company over the small club, which is probably why I've noticed what I refer as the "Shed Effect" in the more hardcore wargamers.

    Formally stated: "as the wargamer ages the probability of said wargamer refusing to play any game produced in a setting larger than someone's shed approaches 1".

    ReplyDelete
  12. Bob, You remind me of the 2nd year that I ran 54mm War of 1812 games at Cold Wars. One chap came up and said that he loved the bigger figures but didn't know that you were ALLOWED (?!!) to use them. (He later got into homecasting 40mm)

    I think it says alot for HMGS that the criteria for giving awards includes not only things like appearance and innovation but also an assessment of how much fun the participants appear to be having.(makes winning one all the sweeter)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Arquinsiel,

    I am definitely very 'shedist' (although my 'shed' is actually a room in the body of the house) and I dislike people going in there unless I am with them.

    The size of my room determines the size of my table ... and I design wargames that will fit on my table!

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ross Mac,

    Conformity is defined as being 'the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours to what individuals perceive is normal of their society or social group'. We all like to conform, and within wargaming 'enforced' conformity (i.e. the use of one scale of figure as opposed to another or one set of rules because it comes with a ‘compulsory’ range of figures and accessories) is quite prevalent ... and yet it is often the 'non-conformists' who push the boundaries of our hobby and give it the diversity that makes it so interesting.

    If HMGS uses the amount of fun the participants appear to be having as one of its award criteria it is certainly one up on what I have seen at most UK shows.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Bob

    When I lived in the UK I always sought out the WD stand at shows and enjoyed the games, its a wonderfull day and the birds are singing, a kriegspiel and I think a Jim Waliman tank special. all very interesing and rewarding games...

    ReplyDelete
  16. Gunnery Sargent Rock,

    I am glad that enjoyed WD's games and actually made a point of seeking them out.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  17. I stopped going to Salute for similar reasons. Now I only go to SELWG and Cavalier (Feb) as the timings are convenient. SELWG does at least have the advantage of being a lot less claustrophobic than some venues. This year we had an enjoyable go at Peter Pig's new ACW ironclads. Managed to restrict my shopping to the few odds and ends on the list.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Nigel,

    Perhaps I was unlucky last year, but I found SELWG almost as crowded as SALUTE ... and the humid atmosphere from the swimming pool next door did little to improve matters in the main hall.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete