RogerBW's Blog

Time to declare a new wargaming period 25 March 2014

For convenience, wargamers tend to split history into periods with broadly similar weapons and tactics.

The Miniatures Page, for example, has:

  • Ancient (up to 500 AD)
  • Medieval (500-1400)
  • Renaissance (1400-1700)
  • 18th Century
  • Napoleonic
  • American Civil War
  • 19th Century
  • World War One
  • World War Two
  • Modern

Obviously there's room for argument (there's an awful lot of variation among the conflicts of the 19th Century that are neither Napoleonic or ACW), but I suspect most people would accept this broad categorisation.

I think it's not quite right any more.

More specifically, I think that the modern battlefield isn't a lot like the battlefield of the 1950s or even the 1980s. Specifically: every soldier, or at least every section, now has GPS, and usually access to a working radio. Bowman may still leave the bloke on the sharp end Better Off With Map And Nokia, but at least he has the Nokia. Chances are that the section or the platoon commander can talk directly to artillery or air support in the area. It's a communications revolution that's meant the most important cargo for logistics is no longer bullets but batteries.

The styles of conflict have changed, too. They're less likely now to be inter-state with the possibility of great-power backing for one or both sides: much more usually, it's a state versus an independence-seeking group within that state, or a state versus some other non-governmental actor in its own territory or elsewhere.

Other equipment is different too. Chances are, before the end of the Cold War, one side was using American or British kit, while the other was using Soviet. Now they might both have hardware from the same side, or even a mixture: the Luftwaffe may have dumped most of the Soviet aircraft it inherited on reunification, but it kept its MiG-29s until 2003.

And then there's the matter of drones, not just the UAVs that are in the headlines but ground- and water-borne and even underwater unmanned craft. I don't think I've even seen a wargame system that covers these yet.

So my modest proposal is to split the current "Modern" period into "Modern" and "Cold War", with a boundary somewhere around 1990. Let's not be like the art world, where "Modern" became so tied to a specific style that it became outdated and was superseded by "Post-modern".

Though the idea of post-modern wargaming does have a certain appeal.


  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 01:32pm on 25 March 2014

    I can see the teeshirt now:

    POST MODERN WARGAMERS DO IT IRONICALLY

    Problem is with creating a new period is that wargaming is better at historical recreation than with speculation. The professional, staff college stuff may be better than this but amateur wargamers have to rely on systems that reflect well understood modes of fighting in the real world. And what we have for the current period is still in the realm of anecdote rather than data.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:43pm on 25 March 2014

    On the t-shirt, that text overlays a mushroom cloud.

    I see your point, but if you take Cold War rules and try to run a modern game in them it'll break down because it doesn't cope with things like GPS, drones, IEDs, and so on. So it's worth tagging a rule set with its period even if we don't yet have a good set for what's happening now.

  3. Posted by John Dallman at 07:16pm on 25 March 2014

    1990 seems about right. It seems clear that the two sides in Desert Storm were fighting across the boundary, since that was the demonstration of what ubiquitous GPS could do.

    It was also war made by UN rules, which died in 2003.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 09:47pm on 25 March 2014

    I hadn't thought about conflicts across period boundaries, because like conflicts across tech boundaries (which in some ways they are) they're unlikely to be interesting to game out. I think that Desert Storm probably counts there.

    I don't know whether GPS will cause tactical manuals to be rewritten as much as the machine gun did, but I suspect it'll be the same order of magnitude. Maybe higher.

  5. Posted by Ashley at 09:25am on 26 March 2014

    Isn't this what we call SF? As in Speculative Fiction.

    At Mike, reads better as:

    POST MODERN WARGAMERS DO IT WITH IRONY

    ;-)

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 09:35am on 26 March 2014

    Ashley, I don't agree: a modern, i.e. contemporary, wargame can be intensively researched in terms of real organisational tables, real gear available in the field, and so on. I may not be able to get perfect data right now, but the data do at least exist. The game I write today about the fight that happened yesterday is either correct or incorrect in its research, and there's someone who could tell me which (though he's probably not allowed to).

    Step one day forward from today and it probably looks much the same. Five years, and there's enough speculation that one has to call it SF. (To which I have no objection, of course.) Will some derivative of BigDog get deployed by then? Will drones have become the predominant technology? To write a game you have to answer these questions, and however good your research by definition you're going to end up making a decision about that which may not be consistent with what actually happens. And nobody will know which until we get there.

    (That t-shirt is probably going to make it into the webcomic.)

  7. Posted by Ashley at 12:36pm on 27 March 2014

    Roger,calm down, my comment was tongue in cheek, and as the saying goes; this is only an advert.

  8. Posted by RogerBW at 12:38pm on 27 March 2014

    Remember that it's just a game, I should really just relax.

    (Or I should read a book John has lent me about RN warship design.)

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