July 25, 2016 by crew
“We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.”
We Shall Keep the Faith, Moina Michael, November 1918
This extract from We Shall Keep the Faith highlights the eternal gratitude of the poet Moina Michael and is exponentially reverberated by the descendants of those that fought in World War I and subsequent wars. The blood of heroes NEVER dies.
Every November we remember those that chose to take the line of selflessness and camaraderie and fight for a greater purpose; to defend and protect those that they love.
It was Moina Michael who came up with the idea to use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
For me, this feeling ripples through into the different echelons of historical war gaming, whether it is creating a scenario between friends and pitting units of miniature soldiers against each other or taking famous battles from the pages of history and recreating it on the tabletop, to see how it could play out differently if each player was a commander-in-chief.
July the 1st 2016 was the one-hundred year anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, an incalculable behemoth and arguably the first thing people think when the words “World War I” is used.
With the factors of historical reconstruction and the anniversary of one of the most famous military operations in recent history, why hasn’t there been a World War I/Battle of the Somme box released by a gaming company?
I want to preface my thoughts on this issue with the caveat that I am in no way an expert on military history and I will be using the events of history in the framework of our culture and the passion for our hobby of tabletop gaming.
A War From One Bullet
In the simplest of terms, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo was the first toppling domino to spark a chain of movement from countries all across Europe.
Between the assassination and the declaration of war from Austria-Hungary to Serbia (the homeland of the assassin Gavrilo Princip), there was one month of government ordered mobilisation, ministers deciding on action against other states, and representatives from European countries attempting to stem the tide of war with international conferences and negotiations.
With the knowledge that the act of an assassin, belonging to a secret society within the Serbian army, was a leading reason for starting the First World War, does this translate to gamers within our community to want to game in World War I scenarios?
The events conspiring to the repeat of a second World War only two decades later, took years to unfold. Heads of states changing and decisions being made, several identifiable key moments all stacking on top of each other, all acts in those intervening years contributing towards an absolute weight of factors, an absolute mass of reasons as to why the second World War started.
It is therefore, a stark, somewhat mournful and crystallising moment to witness the violent actions of one person to another. To be able to point and say “this person fired the first shot” and to be able to put a face to the instigator could be an off putting factor.
An Incalculable Mess For The Tabletop?
As I have stated, when one person says “World War I” to others, images of trench warfare, the battle of the Somme and military lines of demarcation are the first thing conjured in peoples minds; it certainly is for me anyway.
Is trench warfare, some of the more notable and mass-identifiable moments from World War I, from the perspective of the tabletop game, too boring?
Would it be much like the entire series of Blackadder Goes Forth? A large proportion of time dedicated to being hunkered down in your own trench and taking pot shots, your opponent(s) in theirs acting similarly, until one of you decides to go over the top and is gunned down in a hailstorm of rifle fire. Shake hands. Pack models away.
Trench warfare doesn’t make for an aesthetically engaging tabletop either – create two lines, add copious amounts of mud and wire. World War II battling has a dynamism to it due to the nature of the War itself, there is an engagement and an ability to create some great looking tables to play on.
Could this be a reason that has averted gamers to not creating World War I games? Are the images of the methods in which World War I was carried out a reason not to try and recreate battles of World War I?
The Wider Populous
Our gaming community as a whole borrows from popular media and has done ever more so in recent years; Dark Souls , The Terminator , Mars Attacks! Alien Vs Predator miniatures game, The Ghostbusters – there is an ever growing list.
World War II has received a lot more coverage in the production of high budget film making than World War I.
Saving Private Ryan. The Dam Busters. Letters From Iwo Jima. Downfall. The Great Escape. We even have a World War II football film where Pele and Bobby Moore are POW’s that is lined up every Christmas with The Great Escape.
Turn your attention to films made about World War I. War Horse is certainly the most notable and well received films set during the period. Gallipoli is also one of the more famous films in this catalogue. Films like The Red Baron and Flyboys received a mixed response, and while a film about Ernest Hemingway’s experiences in the war sounds like a great premise the focus is mainly a romantic film with the War as a backdrop.
There is also a British made film simply called The Trench. No, I hadn’t heard of it either.
To be able to pick up, for example, a US starter box from Warlord Miniatures, build, paint and play a game and imagine you are commanding a unit comprised of The Band of Brothers TV show for example; Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Neal McDonough, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, is particularly exciting in my opinion.
Recreating that with the cast of The Trench and you have Paul Nicholls of Eastenders fame, James D’Arcy from Cloud Atlas, Cillian Murphy and Daniel Craig before his days of Bond. You’d also get Danny Dyer. He’d be the first figure to go over the top for me…every time.
The two just don’t stack against each other evenly in the culture of gaming borrowing from popular media. Perhaps if World War I had received as much attention, it would be a more interesting comparison, but the breadth of World War II material we have just dwarfs World War I.
An Overshadowed War
Ultimately is World War I, simply put, overshadowed by its more recent counterpart?
With all of the preceding factors I have discussed, as well as developments in military technology and developments in being able to document global events, does tabletop gaming in the period of World War II lend towards a more exciting experience?
How To Change That
For my personal taste when getting involved in historical war gaming, regardless of whether it is a stripped down version or an incredibly detailed retelling of actual events, there has to be a large separation of time between the present and the period of history that I am attempting to recreate on the tabletop.
Furthermore, because of the weight of popular media that retells events of World War II, I feel no desire to recreate it on the tabletop. It is why I have a World War I army to use with Bolt Action rules. My imagination is uninformed, no external media sources. It is unshackled.
I would wholeheartedly recommend looking into the avenues of how you at home or at your FLGS can recreate World War I events. The 100th year anniversary of the Somme runs from the 1st of July until the 18th November.
Below are a few links to and names of World War I Miniatures games, if you know of some yourselves, leave them in the comments section below…
- Unofficial Modifications for World War I Bolt Action Games
- Skirmish Wargaming by Donald Featherstone (contains WW1 Scenarios)
- Poor Bloody Infantry: Somme Minden Games – Designed to be solo gamed, but could be all-against-one
- Flames of War Great War: World War One Battles – 15mm World War I version of Flames of War
- Challenge and Reply! – Rules for WWI Naval Combat
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"...why hasn’t there been a World War I/Battle of the Somme box released by a gaming company?"
"Ultimately is World War I, simply put, overshadowed by its more recent counterpart?"