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Do skirmish/warband level games actually reflect history?

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  limburger 1 month ago.

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  • #1883567

    phaidknott
    7021xp
    Cult of Games Member

    Was chundering on about this to a fellow wargamer, and we couldn’t come up with a firm yes or no.

     

    My personal feelings is a lot of them do not. At the end of the day you’ve got a model armed with a stick or a rock trying to brain the other. Go forwards in history and they might have a sword or a musket, but the game mechanics largely remain the same (just the ranges and ammo might differ). It’s only as you scale up in the game where the command and control comes into effect (and things like radios, artillery, aircraft etc) and the technology broadens out to effect the gameplay of the history we’re trying to recreate that we begin to see differences in the gameplay between the different eras.

     

    So to me most skirmish games could be played in just about any era, just pick your favourite set and houserule the equipment and the game is perfectly playable (so no idea why we see so many different sets of rules out there as this is probably THE most popular style of wargame out there at the moment). Alas rank and file games, and upper level games (like Corp Commander by B R Taylor) have fallen off in popularity (as have most scales of figures below 28mm). Large armies  are seen as being too burdensome to paint in favour of painting around a dozen figures a side (although we do seem to buy multiple sets of skirmish rules and then paint up multiple warbands/squads for each set, so that we’re probably painting the same number of figures). Yet for all the variety of figures in our collections, for all the eras of history we’ve bought the rules for….do the games actually play differently and (perhaps more importantly) do they reflect the history of the period we’re trying to game?

     

    Lots of skirmish games do try to have different mechanics to try and differentiate themselves from other rule sets. But are the mechanics there to try and reflect the history, or are they there for the mechanics sake alone?

     

    My buddy did manage to counter my grumbles by bringing up examples of individual rule sets that DO try to reflect the history but these were all rather smaller publishers and a bit more niche compared to the more popular sets of skirmish level wargames. So should we all start looking back at the smaller scale figures (I note Warlord seem to be doing great guns with their “Epic” ranges”) ALONG with also looking at moving away from the glut of skirmish/warband level games towards larger scale/scope wargames where the “history” starts to write the rules more than we currently see?

    #1883573

    pagan8th
    Participant
    9858xp

    You can use any set of rules of play in any genre. I’m currently using Dragonbane RPG for a modern world setting. I see no reason why it doesn’t apply to skirmish.

    Many years ago I was reading an issue of Knights of the Dinner Table in which someone asked where a GM got his adventures for Cattlepunk (wild west setting) from as there was little support for the system. His response was (something like) “I just use a fantasy adventure… replace the goblins with bandits and replace the kidnapped princess with the daughter of the town mayor.”

    It made perfect sense to me and now I look at adventures, rules and campaigns as inspiration for whatever I’m running, no matter when, or where the original is set.

    #1883574

    torros
    23805xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I would say pre 20th century skirmishes were probably a lot less deadly than is portrayed on the tabletop with morale playing a lot more important part in real life

    #1883639

    piers
    Participant
    25466xp

    Historically… no not really I dont think, though I’m sure small little fights took place.

    They are really a nice way of dipping your toe into a period, but really I’m not sure how realistic an ‘army’ of 12 blokes is, casually bumping into another similar sized force. Of course you could visualise.it as part.of a battle.

    They have become popular as people don’t always want to paint ‘big’ armies. When I started wargaming, skirmish games weren’t a ‘thing’ really. Those big army painters are still out there though, just the rules don’t make as much of a splash… they tend to stick around though, while skirmish games sometimes seem to vanish without trace after a while.

    An English Civil War ‘skirmish’ would be a few hundred men in reality. I did an ECW skirmish game in 1990 that just used Warhammer and it was great fun with about 60 figures.

    I’ve yet to find any skirmish rules that really reflect a historical period, perhaps at that level its irrelevant to a degree. A man with a sling differs little if he is Greek, Cretan or a Roman.

    #1883644

    torros
    23805xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I think it was King Alfred who stated that any group of armed men that numbered more than 12 was considered an army?

    @piers I think Clash of Spears does a pretty good job of representing  skirmishes in the ancient period

    • This reply was modified 1 month ago by  torros.
    #1883664

    limburger
    21589xp
    Cult of Games Member

    What about the wild west ?
    It’s a very short period in history … and would have skirmish level fights. It’s close enough to ‘modern’ that we may have more chance of finding these things.

    otoh … maybe these small encounters rarely get recorded, so we may not have evidence for a definite yes or no.

    Also don’t forget the level of secrecy involved in modern engagements.
    Spec Ops and SWAT teams would be perfect for representation on the tabletop at the skirmish level, but how many authors are really going to dig in there and give us rules & scenarios of actual engagements ?

    Counter argument : do they have to ?

    Not every restaurant has to be a 5 star rated experience.
    Not every [insert country/food style] is an accurate representation of the food either.

    Small skirmish games give us a taste of what a period was like, without having to do all of it.
    Some eras/settings do allow for a more realistic representation of things that (could) have happened, while others can never be done.

    Pike&shot era ? You may get a game that gets the muskets on the field, but pikes won’t work at all at the skirmish level.
    Clash of Spears recognised that limitation for ancient period, so maybe there is a way to get the period done at that scale ?

    All I can say is that games and players tend to be in two broad groups : those that want history and those that want a game.

    You can see this in the cosplay/re-enactment hobby too. Some folk strive for perfect accuracy. Others are happy with a representation using modern tech for comfort.

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