Time Machine: What Makes a Wargamer Tick?

Michael O. Varhola

Following is a piece from the December 1968/No. 81 issue of the U.K. Publication Wargamer's Newsletter by "W.T. Thurber of Cambridge" titled "What Makes a Wargamer Tick?" 

(This is the first of a series of extracts from letters written by wargamers. It is intended to show how a wargamer's mind works, the ingenuity and freshness with which he approaches the hobby.) 

"I have been interested in the correspondence about Wargaming. It seems to me that it has a number of facets, which appeal to different people according to their interests. 

Ignoring the 'professional' games, played in the Pentagon and the Services from full scale games to sand table exercises (see ), we may perhaps divide wargaming into the following classes: First there is the table wargaming we all know, following on the H.G. Wells-R.L.S. games. These are primarily tactical. Then there is the strategical game, calling for maps and symbols, rather than models. Thirdly there are the board games — from the straight wargames of Avalon Hill to the more special games such as Chess and Go. Fourthly there is the purely theoretical approach — considering rules and setting problems — a mathematical or logical approach. 

But, of course, wargaming has many 'fringe benefits.' The study of both general and military history; the making or conversion of models; the study of weaponcraft, and of the history and archaeology of arms and armor. 

I hope you won't feel too despondent about the future of wargaming. So far we have only scratched the surface of an absorbing study — which can be just a game or become almost a branch of mathematics as each player chooses. I am sure there is a great future before it. When I was a very young chess player, nearly fifty years ago, I remember Capablanca prophesying that chess as we knew it was almost played out  — and he was one of many who suggested variants. But chess is still being played, and only a limited number of people are interested in the 'variants,' the so called 'Fairy Chess.' 

From some angles we have come a long way from H.G. Wells and F.T. Jane, and there is very much more interest in wargaming now. Or is it merely that more is known about the interest now? 

A very great deal of the credit for the present wide interest in wargaming belongs to you, and it must be a great source of pleasure to you to see how the hobby is spreading. 

I think in the future there will be many people led to wargaming by your books, who will not belong to Clubs or even subscribe to the Newsletter. But they will play the games. Just as very many more people play chess than belong to Clubs or the B.C.F. or even read Chess magazines. But you have certainly done a great missionary work and given pleasure to very many people. 

Incidentally, did you know that in one of the very early editions of his book on Scouting games Baden Powell devised a table game for scouts, played with flags on a map [called] "Scout Chess." In fifty