The Next Generation of Bearded Men
Judging from the visual composition of the wargamers
present at Origins, a wargaming convention, the average
wargamer is a middle aged white male, pushing some
pudge. Kids today, they're reknown for their short
attention spans and addiction to video games. I noticed
a few kids arranging miniature tanks and troops on
tables with measuring tapes and dice. How does the
kid of today get into miniatures wargaming?
Morgan is sixteen years old and he lives near Houston
Texas. He first started playing unplugged games when
he saw some folks playing Magic:
The Gathering. Since then, his stepfather exposed
him to Star Fleet Battles, a
board game based in the Star Trek Universe where playing.
"You know Starfleet Command for
the PC? That's from Star Fleet Battles."
He was attending Origins with his friend Karl. Karl
is wearing an orange hat. They heard about Origins
for years but never had the chance to come until a
overbooked flight afforded a travel voucher. Morgan
says, "I'm like a kid in a candy store." Near them,
hobby shops sell only booster packs for Magic and
Pokemon, but not miniatures games or specific valuable
magic cards. They've heard that two hours a way there's
an awesome hobby shop, and when they've got their
driving chops they'll be regular visitors. Having
never been to a decent hobby shop, a dealer's
room at a gaming convention could put the zap
on their brains.
Accordingly, when they came to Origins, mostly for
Magic cards, they discovered these miniatures games
that they'd never seen before. So they spent the conference
playing different miniatures games, experimenting
with different games. By the time I'd reached them,
they were just about ready to spend their saved up
money on a miniatures game to take back with them
to Texas. They were trying to decide between two fantasy
titles, Mordheim (which I played at DragonCon)
or Death in the Dark.
Stephen and Sean were playing through a Warhammer
game, each with an army cobbled together from unpainted
miniatures, painted pennies, and jars of paint. The
terrain for the battle consisted of a pile of books
for a plateau, and a single paperback for a hill.
Compared to the incredible environmental detail and
unit decoration of their adjacent elders, these kids
seemed positively punk rock.
While we were talking, I heard the 14 year old Sean
ask "if you move a six inch [diameter] circle four
inches, is the original center of the circle still
touched by the circle in its new location?" It didn't
take long to figure out the answer, but it seemed
like an important thing to mention in my article since
the game was affording these kids a practical opportunity
to apply geometry. I asked Stepehen what he thought
he learned by playing the game, "Math" was the first
thing to come out of his mouth, between his tossing
out massive handfuls of dice. Didn't they think they
were learning tactics too? Their answer was surprisingly
subtle - "you only learn tactics if you play against
good people. If you're playing against bad players,
you're learning bad tactics."
sat watching them, I got a chance to talk to him without
totally distracting the other two from their game.
They all hail from near Cincinatti Ohio. Brian picked
up Warhammer when his cousin signed up for the National
Guard, the cousin ditched his miniatures with Brian.
Brian was wearing a t-shirt for ACME
Games, a hobby shop near them. They unilaterally
raved about the place, and the store would come up
frequently in conversation as a place where they had
been exposed to games, and where they'd done much
of their gaming.
So though this second group of guys was younger
than the two from Texas, they were further along in
their miniatures gaming. This seems almost entirely
due to the nearby hobby store that afforded them a
convenient cool place to get into these kinds of games.
If the boys from Texas were able to have access to
a supply of miniatures, and a place to watch experienced
players using them, they would have been deep wargamers
already. They were on their way, but they were struggling
out in the styx.
I was thinking maybe the internet could liberate
these kids, they could just order miniatures online
from online miniatures vendors. They could have access
to anything they needed! But they don't have credit
I ran into Morgan again on the last day of the convention.
He was carrying a fresh copy of Mordheim he's just
bought. I asked him one last question - why play unplugged
games when you have a computer and a nintendo? His
first answer surprised me - "strategy," the unplugged
games were deeper, and more satisfying. Plus, they're
more social, you can play with four or five friends.
What about games like Goldeneye, a Nintendo bestseller
that allows for four simultaineous players? "That