If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary.
When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food, when the men do not hang their cooking-pots over the campfires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determined to fight to the death.
The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in subdued tone points to disaffection amongst the rank and file.
Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of his resources; too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of Wargaming, Chapter IX: The Army on the March, [33-36].
Maneuvering the social niceties among wargamers can be more treacherous than mastering the tactics and strategies of the tabletop.
As mentioned near the start of this series, wargamers are like the Feudal Princes of Eld. They bicker among themselves. They form loose alliances based on friendships, favorite sets of rules, and even political outlooks. They can bear grudges which can go back decades.
A newbie wargamer often has no clue as to the complexities of these relationships. And veteran wargamers may not grasp the subtle entanglements of The Social Beast until it’s too late.
To become president of a wargaming club means little.
You might be deceived into thinking you have more authority. Yet unless you have the right, social capital and experience, you’ll end up like a weak feudal king with a bunch of squabbling nobles. If you’re too assertive, members will simply run their own games without you. If you’re too passive, some might complain you’re not doing enough to keep the club together.
Wargamers do speak their dissatisfaction subdued tones in small groups. They do shift about if under a weak leader. Some will abandoned all tactics, strategy, and reason take a cocky wargamer down a peg or two.
I speak from personal experience.
Running a wargaming club aside, it takes a certain amount of street smarts to be a part of a group of wargamers. To become good at wargaming, you have to play wargame, but if you start winning too much, people might shy away from you. If you win too little, you might not garner respect.
Some groups are friendly toward newbies. Others view them as punching bags (and then wonder why the new blood doesn’t stick around).
Some aspire to the “friendly game” culture. Others are a no-holds barred, “tournament culture.”
So how does one navigate this labyrinthine network for Feudal Wargamers? Here’s a few suggestions:
- Play What the Group is Playing
When in Rome, do as the Romans. To become part of a group you have play what they’re playing. Later you can introduce them to other games once you’ve earned their trust.
- Finish painting your army.
Few wargamers will tolerate a newbie who hasn’t pained their own figures.
- Discover who’s the “alpha” wargamer.
There’s always somebody who carries more influence than others. Often, but not always, they’re the ones who organize the local wargaming scene. Be friend them if you can.
- Bite your lip.
Don’t criticize your fellow wargamers tactics. Give them the benefit of the doubt. You may, however, occasionally utter curses at your dice rolls. Everybody does that.
Only give advice if asked.
- Know When to Walk Away.
Some groups of wargamers are toxic. Sometimes it only takes a single session to send you to greener pastures. Others can conceal their abuses for a while.
How you can tell depends on how you feel after a game. As a general rule of thumb, if you have three or more games where you come back feeling upset or angry, maybe it’s time to ditch your group of feudal wargamers and move to another kingdom…
Next on The Art of Wargaming:
How to Protest a Rigged Scenario.