The golden age of wargaming is any age where you’ve got enough time to wargame. For those with overloaded by a combination of careers, kids, houses, church obligations, and unconscionable commutes, that golden age is certainly not in the present. While those priorities may make it impossible to get your wargame fix via a long afternoon hunched over a hexmap, with a little creativity you can at least get something of a contact high by wargaming vicariously through others.
There’s something about the universality of a popular title that makes swapping tales of strategies that worked wonderfully or failed spectacularly much more gratifying than, “let me show you my vacation slides.” If you’ve played through a few games of Axis & Allies, and you can explain how you secured Africa for the Russians, you’re not telling stories, you’re sharing strategy. The same holds true for any commonly shared title you care to name. Even if you’ve never played the same game as a fellow wargamer, you can compare and contrast games not played. “What’s the best WWI dogfight game you played?”
Of course, if you’ve got time to talk face-to-face with a fellow wargamer, you’ve got time to do that with a map and counters between you, so talking about wargaming doesn’t really solve the problem at hand – how to experience wargames on your own time.
At the risk of insulting your intelligence, you can get that fix by reading about the hobby. Books, magazines, and of course, blogs like this, can slake the thirst for background, orders of battle, and rules. Magazines provide a bit more immediacy by presenting the hobby from a top-down perspective. Blogs give you the immediacy and intimacy by presenting one man’s thoughts on current games and projects. The most immediate would be the message boards that seem to be slowing being subsumed by social media in general.
As somebody who doesn’t spend a lot of social media, I can’t tell you where to find some great places for wargames around the Twitterverse, Facebooksphere, and G-plus-ingtons. From a brief trawl through through the net, it looks like the wargame universe is fairly well scattered about amongst publisher websites, BoardGameGeek, and a few personalities who serve as ‘nodes’ for discussions.
As somebody who does spends a lot of time in the car, I can tell you where to find some great places for wargames around the podcasting universe. The bad news is that most of the wargame podcasts with decent production values and content no longer update regularly, if at all. Wargame rules don’t change much over time, so they can still be worth a listen. The results of the latest, now years gone by, convention tournament might be worth skipping, but you can still get some value from hearing reviews of rulesets or strategies to be used in games that you play. Here are a few of the better podcasts that are worth a listen from an archive standpoint.
The Historical Wargame Podcast is probably the best of the bunch, but hasn’t been updated in almost two years. The host is friendly, knows his games well, and provides sweet-spot reports of games he has played – enough detail to follow the action without detailed die roll by die roll tedium. The episode titles are also very descriptive, so you can scroll through to find discussions of rulesets that meet your particular interests.
All hope is not lost. There are two outstanding podcasts still going strong, one specific to the King of the Hill, and one general wargame podcast.
The granddaddy of them all has got to be Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). It’s been around for a long time, and even if you don’t play it, you probably know somebody that does. For you Advanced Squad Leader types, Two Half Squads is still updating regularly. They regularly bounce back and forth between rule discussions, game history, and expansion reviews. If you ever find yourself in a position where you can listen to something, but would rather be playing ASL, then these are the guys for you.
My own current favorite podcast is called Wargames To Go, by Mark Johnson. Mr. Johnson chooses a wargame topic and then plays and researches the heck out of that one topic. He reads a few books, watches a few movies, and plays a ton of games, all related to that topic. Early episodes dealt with Napoleon’s Wars, and the most recent features the Battle of Britain. Originally, he spent months doing his research and then dropped a several hour long podcast in one lump sum. Lately, he has been breaking up the topics into several shorter episodes. This gives him more time to get into each topic, makes for a more regular release schedule, and gives listeners more time for input.
As one guy yammering on for an hour or so, this is one of those podcasts that could be painful to listen to, but Mr. Johnson’s plain spoken personality is more than up to the task of holding your attention. He breaks the episode up into sections on games he has played – he tends to favor smaller, lighter fare that focusses on battles rather than grand strategy – the books he has read and how they influence his games, and movies set in or about his current topic. Recent episodes have been recorded on his back porch, and the overhead planes (very appropriate for the Battle of Britain) and chirping birds lend an ambiance that makes listening to this podcast almost feel like sitting and ruminating with an old friend.
That is three suggestions providing thousands of hours of wargame entertainment. You’ll note that none of them relate to the Games Workshop family of games which tend to dominate YouTube and messageboards. It’s just not a suite of games that your humble editor can discuss in any but the most shallow of ways. They seem to be numerous, but you’ll have to check the comments section of this article for direct first hand advice from somebody who plays Warhammer enough to speak with some authority.
Listening to podcasts is a poor substitute for pushing lead and cardboard, but thirsty men drink what’s available. There are in all likelihood dozens of smaller, newer podcasts that deserve a much bigger audience. Again, if you know of any, help them out by using the comment section here to spread the word. You’re not just helping those podcasters, you’re helping thirsty wargamers stay sane, and you’re helping to preserve this graying hobby by bringing us all a little closer together.
About the author: Warren Abox is the nom de jeu de guerre used by the man behind War In A Box: The Bloggening. The primary focus of his blog is miniature wargaming, but he suffers from the standard gamer affliction of ADD, so the blog is like a box of wargame chocolate – you never know what you’re going to get.