My friend Sydney Webb (1) recently wrote this over on soc.history.what-if:
When I think of 'wargaming' I think of 16mm hexes, 1/2" counters, zones of control and odds-based CRTs. And rule books that did so much to prepare me for the intricacies of the Income Tax Assessment Act. Yet in 50 years time when I'm dead and Doug and Claudia are enjoying a well-earned retirement at a coastal spa I don't think *anybody* will be playing John Edward's _The Russian Campaign_. Is wargaming dying? Of course not! Traditional miniatures - Napoleonics and Ancients - are as popular as ever, at least in the UK. The younger generation have their Orcs and their Robots as well. 30 years later RPGs are still going strong, albeit more sophisticated that the D&D and EPT of the mid-70s. And gaming takes new forms - CCG and the German fluffy games that have an elegance that we could only dream of when we played _Monopoly_, _Squatter_ or _Careers_. In particular, there are the computer games. There must be a 100 times as many people playing _Call of Duty_ now as were playing _Sniper!_ a third of a century ago. So wargaming will live on. The channels of delivery, to use biz-speak, may change but the experience of "You are in command..." will live on.(1) Not an actual person. I wish this were so, but it isn't. Nerdy stuff follows.
I used to love wargames. Russian Campaign. Midway. Avalon Hill's Third Reich. Civilization -- the big boardgame with seven players, not the computer game. A House Divided. Kingmaker. Understand that these were all board games. The board was usually a map divided into lots of little regions. In your classic tabletop wargame, there'd be a hexagon pattern for movement and dozens or hundreds of little cardboard counters representing panzer divisions (or Roman legions, samurai, or Viet Cong). Some games involved just two players; others might have four, five, or more. They usually took a long time to play. Russian Campaign was an evening, three to six hours. Third Reich was several evenings, fifteen or twenty hours. Civilization was a Sunday game... you invited your buddies over after brunch and, if all went well, it would be finished in time for a late dinner. (I say "your buddies" because these games were a guy thing. Completely. Once in a great while some poor girlfriend might get dragooned into a game of Civilization, but over ten or fifteen years of wargaming I met hundreds of wargamers and there wasn't a single female among them. It was the guy-est thing imaginable.) So where are these games today? Gone, mostly. Tabletop wargaming is a dying hobby. Oh, there are still people around who collect and play these games. (If you want to find them, grognards.com is the place to start.) A few publishers are making new ones. There are even conventions where the faithful still gather. But it's dying. Go to a convention, and you'll see hardly anyone under thirty; the median age is more like fifty. The publishers are mostly garage-shop operations. One or two of the games have found a niche, are modestly popular, and will probably hang on for years... I'm thinking of "Axis and Allies" here, but there are a couple of others. Overall, though, the hobby is visibly circling the drain. Why? Well, various reasons... demographics, changing habits, some bad business decisions. But the big one is computer games. Computer games killed tabletop boardgames just as sure as TV killed old-time radio. If you like wargames, it's just so much easier to play them on your computer. The games can be far more complex. And you can play against one opponent, or five, or a thousand. Which is all well and good. I don't even miss tabletop wargames that much. Not that much. Oh, I wouldn't turn down a chance to play Kingmaker again, and a House Divided was just a terrific little beer-and-pretzels game, but I don't miss it the way I miss, for instance, role-playing games. (Which still exist, to be sure. Just not here in Armenia.) But I want to address Syd's point. Yes, the experience of "you are in command" lives on. But it's a very different experience. So much so that I have to consider computer wargames as a completely separate medium, as different as books and movies. Tabletop wargames were different. There was a nerdy physicality to them... all those counters to be sorted, the tables to be shoved together, the smell of the cardboard, the involuntary gasp whenever someone bumped the edge of the board. Even when the rules of a computer wargame are the same, the experience of playing it is just totally different. To give just one example, a multiplayer computer wargame involves guys staring at screens, facing away from each other; a tabletop wargame involved a bunch of guys sitting around a table, watching each other push counters around. This is probably why, with one exception, (2) attempts to directly transfer tabletop wargames to software have been dreadful failures. There were computer versions of Third Reich and Kingmaker, but they were awful. The message is the medium. The board is the game. (2) Diplomacy, which is actually better as play-by-e-mail than as a tabletop game. But Diplomacy was never exactly a wargame. So, while I enjoy computer wargaming well enough -- I just won my first Conquest victory on Civilization IV the other day -- it's not the same. I don't say that in a bad way. It's just... not the same. And that's all.