Wargamers’ cheese

This post has been inspired by conversations I’ve had lately with my good friend Guy Hancock, who is in the process of opening a wargames shop in central Brighton. (At the moment, he’s trading online – see Wargames Heaven). This was also raised during my conversation with Neil Shuck in our View from the Veranda podcast and a recent comment on an online forum.

In short, we have all pondered the fact that presenting wargamers with lots of choice might be affecting the ability of companies to sell to them effectively.

The marketplace is like a kaleidoscope: wherever you look, it fragments into a thousand different periods, scales, rulesets.

It explains the dominance of big fantasy/sci-fi companies like GW: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If the player buys the products, they have also bought into The System. The downside is that this approach can produce a monoculture that brings the average, anarchistic historical gamer to a state of near hysteria!

Let’s face it, even when you think that a group of gamers has settled on a ruleset, whenever did you hear of them not tinkering with the rules to suit their own interpretations?

Dealing with wargamers is like herding cats. So what is a manufacturer in our hobby to do?

To use a smelly metaphor, it’s like cheese. There are hundreds of varieties of cheese from all around the world, and each of us has our favourites. There are even a huge number of different makers of, say, cheddar cheese, all competing for attention.

From time to time, I’ll buy a different cheese, just to see what it’s like. If I like it, I’ll buy it again.

I suppose that if I were to run a dairy making cheese, the best I can hope for is that my cheese is on the shelves alongside the others, and that I’ve done everything I possibly can to make sure that my cheese is attractive and well packaged, so as to get noticed by the customer. If I can get a famous cheese-lover to taste and review my cheese in a prominent publication like Fromage Monthly or Battlecheese, then that can help sway people’s opinion so that they might at least give it a try.

Now sometimes, I have to confess, I have bought cheese that I don’t really need, and it has gone smelly and had to be thrown out. I have also bought Gorgonzola for a dinner party, only to find that everybody else has moved on to Camembert without telling me, and I’ve been left with a mound of surplus cheese.

But I still like the cheese, and I carry on buying it, because I can’t help myself, even if the cheese isn’t good for me, is too expensive and makes me fat.

My name’s Henry and I’m a cheeseaholic.

Now, that’s enough cheese for the time being, but in my experience, most wargamers are, shall we say, prone to a certain amount of obsessive behaviour, and will quite happily keep buying figures (and books), whether there’s any likelihood of them finally being used in anger or not. Projects come and go, some blossom into memorable experiences and others fall by the wayside. The more conscientious types may organise the casualties and sell them off at Bring & Buy stands or on eBay, but many more suffer the creaking floorboards of accumulated failures stoically, its tiny metal and plastic casualties consigned to cardboard coffins on the shelves.

But that won’t stop me, ahem, I mean them, from buying even more. Heck, they may even order some figures, only to wrinkle their brow when they arrive and realise that, somewhere in a box under the stairs, they may already actually own some of these very figures…

I don’t know the answer, other than to note that one man’s rubbish heap is another man’s horde of treasure.

Or cheese.

As Monty Python said so memorably, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”

Amen to that.

Pass the pickle.

13 comments for “Wargamers’ cheese

  1. October 7, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Herding cats and cheese, I see where you are coming from, but it is a little bit of mixed metaphor. Cats chasing mice who use cheese to entice said mice OTOH is probably stretching the metaphor’s analogy too much.

    Market penetration, diversity and product quality are all driven by a combination of demand and taste, along with that indefinable je ne sais quoi?

    Anyway, what we like is driven by what we know, but perhaps wargamers are more open to trying to find new stimuli? Perhaps not so much cheese, as crack cocaine?

  2. Bill Haggart
    September 26, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Just to follow-up. Dan wrote:
    “As to why there should be such fragmentation you’ve only got to look to the cheese metaphor, if the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill then it the cows milk and therefore the cheese is always better over the hill. Every gamer secretly believes that just over the hill the next set of rules will be THE SET”

    That may be why there are lots of cheese types, but for the hobby, we aren’t all that good at identifying which side of the hill we’re on, let alone the greener side… That’s why the cheese industry has an every increasing variety of cheeses, fermentation if you will, while the hobby has fragmentation instead.

    Tell me, which games are brigade level: General de Brigade, Age of Eagles, Grande Armee, Snappy Nappys, Empire V and/or Field of Battle? Everyone has their own answer to that, but no agreement.

    Bill H.
    Bill H.

  3. Bill Haggart
    September 26, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    The cheese metaphor reveals the real problem being discussed with the Wargaming hobby. The comparison with the Cheese industry demonstrates how backward our wargaming ‘industry’ remains.

    When you go out and look for a new cheese, they are already categorized by taste and production. They have ‘types’ that mean something to the buyer. I know that when I buy a Jarlsburg cheese, it is going to taste much like Swiss, but not Goda or Brie. Only someone completely ignorant of cheese types would have to taste every cheese to find out which ones they like best.

    Or take another hobby. Radio Controlled Models. There are free flight, scale, and true scale planes, each with their own unique characteristics, both in structure and flight. If a model kit falls ‘inbetween’ those two, we still have a good idea of what we are buying with little effort or explanation.

    Not so with wargames, particularly miniature rules. Oh, we have skirmish, brigade, battalion, division, operational, tactical, etc. etc. games, but that doesn’t tell you the game mechanics at all, let alone scale most of the time. To know what a game does and how it does it, you have to buy it or have an individual description–often very involved because there are few common descriptors for miniatures rules.

    If this seems to be stretching the point, Take Snappy Nappy, Grande Armee, Age of Eagles, Volley and Bayonet, and Piquet’s Grognard and describe in any way that might offer a coherent comparison of play. Even if you could, it would be your own personal view and not at all meaningful for hobby, and not all gamers. Sort of like each cheese maker making up their own name and categories for cheeses. You have to trust your friend or reviewer to tell you accurately what they each taste like…

    There is the old joke about someone finding Velveeta Cheese in the Import Section of their super market. The joke for the wargaming hobby is that such things happen all the time and no one knows the difference…

    Bill H.

  4. September 26, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Ha Ha!! Excellent post, and so very apt. You may find yourself running “Wargamers Anonymous” meetings with posts like that. Keep it up, all enjoyed.
    Regards, Peeler

  5. Dan Johnson
    August 5, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Hi,

    I thoroughly enjoyed the “Cheese Blog” and found the analogy both witty and very apt; I particularly liked the metaphor of the kaleidoscope which seems to sum up the hobby.

    As to why there should be such fragmentation you’ve only got to look to the cheese metaphor, if the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill then it the cows milk and therefore the cheese is always better over the hill. Every gamer secretly believes that just over the hill the next set of rules will be THE SET. The perfect wargames rules; historically accurate, fast play, easy to understand, written in the common tongue and compatible with all existing basing formats.

    One the other hand it could just be Kraft Cheese Slices.

    Dan

  6. July 18, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Well done Henry. One of the wittiest bits of wargames writing I’ve read in a long time.

    I don’t really think we have to worry about the fragmentation of our hobby market. I’m very pleased that at the current time I can choose the right rule set and the right figures and the right terrain to suit my tastes, rather than feeling obliged (for example) to use rules I don’t like because everyone else uses them. It always raises a smile when I see the words ‘official’ used on a website or forum in regard to a ruling or army list. ‘Official’? So what? Who cares! I will wargame how I want. Army lists? Who needs ’em.

    Those manufacturers with good products, good customer service and good marketing skills will do well, others may falter. But the hobby seems pretty healthy at the moment. As you say, there is no way to reduce the ‘problem’ of excessive choice anyway, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts. It is part of the hobby at the present time and should be seen as such. In fact, I have a feeling it will be a continuing part of the hobby and choice may well continue to expand into the foreseeable future. Lovely!

    Best wishes, Keith.

    • Bill Haggart
      July 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm

      I don’t think Henry was complaining about excessive choices, but rather the difficulty of making sense of the numbers and ‘types’:

      “he marketplace is like a kaleidoscope: wherever you look, it fragments into a thousand different periods, scales, rulesets.”

      He then makes an anology to buying cheese that I think indirectly identifies the issue in our hobby:

      From time to time, I’ll buy a different cheese, just to see what it’s like. If I like it, I’ll buy it again.

      “I suppose that if I were to run a dairy making cheese, the best I can hope for is that my cheese is on the shelves alongside the others, and that I’ve done everything I possibly can to make sure that my cheese is attractive and well packaged, so as to get noticed by the customer.”

      See, when making cheese there are names for types and categories of cheese, so that the maker can target his audience as well as the needed ingredients. The buyer, when they like a type of cheese can easily identify similar cheeses and know when they are trying a radically different cheese.

      We can’t do that in our hobby. You might buy a skirmish game, or a ‘beer-and-pretzel’ game or a squad-level game and get the same rules, or all three could be entirely different in scale, content and play. The only way to know is to play all three. When there are so many ‘cheeses’ out there, a person can get fat simply finding the ‘right one.’

      I have to point out that most hobbies deal with this issue early on. Ours seems to insist on going without as though any categories of wargames is some sort of conspiracy bent on telling wargamers what they have to play… As for ‘official’, I would imagine in a hobby where rules never stay the same once purchased, adding to the kaleidoscope of choices, the original designer might want to keep some clariety with his rules and the changes. I mean how many variations of Fire & Fury are there? Hausenhuer’s version is called BOFF simply to identify it as the ‘basic’ rules.

      Nothing wrong with the variety, it’s just a real effort to make sense of it. Half the time is is pure dumb luck and a whole lot of effort to find a new set of rules I really like, knowing from that experience that I haven’t seen all the possible rules in that period available and still not sure if I could find rules with similar concepts even if I tried. It isn’t surprising that so many gamers create their own rules. It’s just easier. We all have just so much time.

      Best Regards,
      Bill H.

  7. Tim
    June 18, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I’m seriously allergic to cheese so where does that leave me?

    I can only suggest its why I have what must be the smallest lead pile known to the wargaming world…

  8. Marinergrim
    June 16, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Personally I like a good crumbly stilton but fellow club members prefer Wensleydale. Sometimes, we do manage to agree to a particularly good local goats cheese but these only come in small rounds and so don’t go very far!

  9. June 13, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    As Monty Python said so memorably, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”

    But they were, in fact, referring to all manufacturers of dairy products…

  10. June 13, 2009 at 9:42 am

    …you should see the size of my cheese mountain….

    PS. *Good* news about a wargame shop in Brighton – many happy memories visiting Mike’s Models on Cheapside in the “old days” (TM)… for some reason I always associate those figures with a fine cup of coffee… must have been the coffee roasting outside the other shop further down the next street!!

  11. June 13, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Henry, you might want to read the book “Who moved my Cheese” it’s by one of the management gurus Ken Blanchard and is written as a bit of a parable covering the need to embrace change. Basically if you stick with the old cheese (a) it goes off and (b) sooner or later it will run out and you’ll need to look for new cheese. Seems like wargamers are always looking for the new cheese and perhaps not spending enough time enjoying the old cheese such as 6th edition LOL.

    Will

  12. Jeff Hudelson
    June 12, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Gee, Henry, have you been looking in my boxes of unpainted lead under the stairs AND my recent figure orders?

    I suspect so . . . for your comments certainly do resemble me.

    — Jeff

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