What I mean to say is, what happened to the glory days of gaming? Where freshmen in college dorms broke out some polyhedral dice, some graph paper, and poorly sculpted little knights to wage battle against their own imagination. The hay-day of table-top gaming, and the VERY thing that inspired some of the most notable game companies to start the 1980s trend of wargaming, has ended but it is still within our grasp. I will not go into war re-creationists, Napoleonic wargaming or models trains because, well, they aren't the damn subject!
A brief history of roleplaying and wargaming:
A long time ago, a guy with a funny name read a trilogy of books that inspired the next 40 years of recreation. Video games, modern movies, board games, even your little cell-phone apps are all thanks to one man's dream: a world where your imagination was celebrated; a land where you could be a knight in shining armour even if you had a curved spine and bad acne; a land of hope, happiness and naked elf chicks.
That guy was Ernest Gary Gygax. In the 1960s he created several noted wargaming clubs that played medieval wargames based on house rules, play dough sculpted miniatures and a healthy appreciation of the imagination. By the 1970s he had established GenCon, a gaming convention that still runs today, as well as Chainmail and it's derivative, the famous Dungeons & Dragons.
So, where does D&D come into play with miniature wargaming? Glad you asked! In steps Jon Peake, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, co-founders of a company that made wooden boards for backgammon, chess and GO! They were approached by Gygax and friends to puplish D&D miniatures in England, and distributed them through out Europe. The three lads jumped on board (hehe) and created a company.
Their company? Games Workshop. A company who would, through out the 1980s, turn a nerdy pass-time into a multi-billion dollar industry with sub-branches, pro-tournaments and more little metal toy soldiers than China has real soldiers.
GW almost single handily paved the way for miniature companies such as Privateer Press, Battlefront Miniatures, Clix and Reaper.
What went wrong:
The 1980s showed a huge boom in wargaming. Citadel Miniatures, a subsidiary creation of GW, produced Space Marine, Warhammer: The Game of Fantasy Battles, Man o' War, Battlefleet Gothic, Aeronautica Imperialis, Warhammer 40,000, Talisman, Space Hulk and many other lesser games that have long since drifted to the wayside. As the company flourished in the rich economy of the 1980s they soon realized that unless they upped the ante, their customers would begin to stop purchasing new models and books, drying up their cash flow and shutting them down. In came what we now know as new editions. Instead of adding errata, or leaflets, GW realized that entire new books would generate more revenue, as would new lead figurines. Not only that, but now they could expand on their back story, giving the races character, something that lasts up through today, but sorely over-looked by the common player.
As they released new editions, they also gave players a reason to play: Tournaments. Enter 1995, a world where the constant fear of war has ended. Clinton is in the White House and Grunge rock was finally starting to die out. Games Workshop holds it's first, official, world wide campaign: The Battle of Ichar IV. This set the bar for wargaming tournaments. Players were awarded serious prizes for their participation and tactics. The campaign story was lacking, although flushed out later, and awarded players for their army list building skills rather than their creativity in their armies. Min/Maxing was transferred over to Warhammer games and the next thing we knew it was 2007. The game has devolved into a game of MSUs, min-maxing and rule nazi-ism that kills the rich history and story of the game. It's no longer a game, it has become an abomination of competition, where if your opponent pulls out a certain list, you groan and wish you weren't playing against him. The game is no longer fun, it's a chore that you sometimes enjoy.
Where roleplaying steps back in:
Now we are in 2010, video game companies such as BioWare and Bethseda have re-invented the roleplaying atmosphere, and Wizards of the Coast has released the 4th edition rules for Dungeons and Dragons, removing some of the math, but adding character interaction back into the game. Games are finally rewarding players for thinking things through and actually developing relationships with NPCs, instead of just massacring them (aka Grand Theft Auto). But the wargaming scene is still rather one-dimensional. The game isn't about the figures you play with, it's about winning. Few people have fully painted armies, and even fewer have created character biographies of their favourite models. People crawl from codex to codex, army book to army book, just to get that winning edge. Players complain about the rules, ignoring the fact that they have rules. Players complain about price of models, avoiding the fact that they could practice and make their own.
But how do you revitalize something that feels so dead? The answer is quite simple! Breath the life of creativity and ingenuity back into your game. You got a Space Marine army? Write something cool about your HQ choices. Make a back story about how they met and happened to get into the situation they are currently in. Throw away that tournament list and write a new one around what you think is cool in the army. You really like Skyclaws? Make a Space Wolf initiate force, full of crazed young wolves ready to prove their worth in battle. Have it lead by their teacher, some badass wolf lord on a cyber wolf with a wolf claw and thunder hammer, just because it looks bad ass. Oh, and LOLWOLF!
If you play Warmachine/Hordes, simply re-name your character. Tweak their background, give them a special look. You want to make your army unique to everyone else? Trying a new colour scheme. Your Circle of Orobos wolds could be crafted from birch trees and sand-stone, or red-wood and black marble. Maybe your Trollbloods are, in fact, Blood Trolls (woooo Paul). Paint them red, play them aggressively.
Once you have the first steps down, start crafting something unique. Maybe attempt scratch building a center piece for your force, or maybe some terrain to use when you are playing with them. Give each game a story! Maybe your Skaven are possessed by a Wood Elf Spellweaver causing them to never stray far from a specific tree that feeds off their life force, slowly converting them into compost. What about a Menoth list made up of Heretics that have forsaken Menoth? The possibilities are there, you just have to think outside the box. If you haven't touched an army in a while, spend some time figuring out why. What about that army no longer excites you, and how could you find it exciting again? Toy soldiers are MEANT to be played with. Don't let them collect dust, effectively wasting money. Pull those squads out, dust them off, give them a story and a fresh coat of paint and play a game again.