Saturday, 4 March 2017

A blast from the past

My grandmother is having a clear out of the spare room and happened to find some magazine binders from the 1970's. Whilst I have not yet plunged into the seven years worth of Airfix magazines my late grandfather had purchased, I have been given three binders of Military Modelling (one issue from '73, one from '76 and the remainder from '77 to '79) as well as a half dozen issues of Battle magazine from 1977.

I remember reading these in my early teens, and they were of an age back then, but having a quick perusal brought back some very fond memories and also got me thinking (yep, thinking!).

35p! Ah, those must have been the days...
There have been a fair few articles in various blogs about the current state of the wargaming magazine market and more than a few posts on TMP, yet looking through the admittedly small number of issues of Battle, I feel that the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.
By that, I mean that whilst today's publications are certainly less wordy and more picturesque, the topics haven't changed much. Indeed, the letters page of one issue is filled with the discussion (conducted by post, no less - POST, having to write or type a letter and have the Royal Mail deliver it. If you don't know what that is, Google it...) of the merits of rulesets and their accuracy towards the reality of battles, and whether "Britain's most popular indoor activity" (honestly, that's what two of the participants called wargaming!), can be classed as gaming first or historical re-enactment. 
The letters page from November 1977 has a corker of a topic: Fantasy gaming.
The debate, it seems, continues...
Apologies for the poor photography, the paper is rather shiny and artificial light is a necessity this time of year, but anyway, there is a divide here that still exists to this day. This is helped along by an introduction to fantasy by a little known gentleman, Mr S Jackson:

Whatever happened to him or GW???
I know that comparing these issues to modern day publications is like comparing apples to oranges, with an added difference of forty years, but I was struck with how much content you got in these. These are not the biggest publications and most of the pictures are black and white (with colour seemingly reserved for the cover pages and the odd plate), yet as you can see, they pack the writing in. Compare that to a modern mag where there a swathes of white space on most article pages and, depending on the magazine, a disturbing low word to picture ratio. No, these are not clean, glossy magazines as most youngsters would recognise but, by gad, they aren't half useful. And not just for the contemporary news (the Briefing section for military enthusiasts is a goldmine of late '70's news, projects and skullduggery!), but also for the adverts. There are loads of them, from Hinchcliffe to Skytrex to Heroics and Ros, all a little time capsule to an age long gone. 
I shall be keeping these in a safe place and will be having a read through the MilMod binders in due course. 


  1. I probably have most of the Mil- mod issues you mention- except for those that I lent out and never got back- Articles on ECW flags are what I am missing.
    Obviously I have also noticed the difference but I possibly have a small advantage as "I know cos I was there !".
    I suspect the issues will always remain the same but the discussion will die out as we snuff it. The next generation simply won't care about anything other than the dice rolling since that is the core of the current crop of mags and that is what they are told is important "mechanics" and "gaming experience" and quite possibly having the intellectual capacity of a backward haddock.
    These mags of yours expected a different dynamic it was called "intelligence"and possibly more importantly "intellectual curiosity". Now these two are not dead yet by a long chalk but neither are they flourishing.

    1. I agree, and though there is a place for the likes of say, Team Yankee, that doesn't stop me from wanting to tinker with the rules, make them more akin to what should actually happen.
      There is a lovely letter comparing board games to war games and it's stuff you'd not hear these days for fear of offending.

    2. Somehow nobody had invented the whining industry in 1977. You were allowed differing opinions and even more allowedto express them. The loss of debate is one of the more valuble casualties of the 21st century .

  2. Very true. A cynic would call it Liberal Censorship.

  3. I don't think it is enough to simply look at the content and measure it to todays publications - but rather to assess what they were doing for you as a wargamer and question whether todays magazines do that.

    In the first instance, the magazines were the fabric or the glue of the gaming community, especially those not involved with a club. They were the beginning of people by example showing others how to do things in a better way. They did give a strong sense that they were written by wargamers for wargamers.

    I picked up two old Practical Wargames mags recently and as well as being a nostalgic joy, they are a reminder that the hobby was actually already pretty sophisticated back then and in that regard, those magazines can still have a modern feel re their content.

    Compared to today, the job that old wargame magazines did is now shared between the magazines and the internet. Blog content is pretty amazing and instead of waiting for a monthly magazine fix, you can sit all evening every night (if you have that sort of time available) and browse blogs and YouTube and even interact with them and so in that regard, modern magazines have lost some of their reason of being.

    With that being so, the magazines manage mostly to be a vibrant and creative place, though interestingly, the 3 magazines that we have on the shelves in the UK do have quite different identities and if any of us were told we could only read two out of the three, we could probably isolate the one we cared for less (says he who buys all three).

    One thing I know for sure - in the (hot) summer of '76, I sat in the back garden and read and re-read and re-read my copy of BATTLE (June or July issue I think). It had a WWII scenario based around a Monte casino type scenario and included two Elephant self propelled gun - the article fired up my young imagination and gave me a WWII tactical passion that has been life long. So I suppose for me, the question is against the current background of wargamers having massive access to online content as well as magazine content, is it still possible with todays magazines that a single article could fire up a lifelong passion and still be fondly remembered over 40 years later?

    So while similarities between older and newer mags abound, I can't help feeling that the differences are in fact substantial, because we are simply different people living a different style of life. I no longer hang on to every word in a magazine and quite often, my reading experience can be over on initial browsing (and I say that as someone who has contributed three times over the past couple of years to mags).

    By the way, one of the Practical Wargamers I bought was issue Sept / Oct 1990 because it had an article by Clive Lane about using figures on a hexed table ... another moment that sent my wargaming life in a given direction.

    1. I understand where you are coming from with regards to the single article question. Modern day magazines sometimes have good opinion pieces that fire up the brain cells but feature wise, I can't recall anything over the past couple of years that has inspired me to look at a period. Inspiration for that has mostly come off the back of conversations with my fellow TWATS.

      I do recall one article in Wargames Illustrated a year or two back about modern naval and the Falklands War (I think), which piqued my interest but by the author's own admission on TMP, had been edited before publication to the point of almost nonsense, so that it felt like half of it was missing.

  4. I recall buying the odd battle Magazine back in '77 or '78, and it became a regular thing, especially with C.S. Grant's Table-Top Teasers, Tony Bath's Hyboria series, and Terry Wise's 'Observation Post' as a hook. Unfortunately, for some months Battle wasn't turning up in the bookshops (I never took out a subscription) so I missed some of the Hyboria articles.

    New Zealand had its own War Games magazine, to which I took out a sub which lasted the 6 issues of one year. The occasional very good article could not balance the publication of some sort of games results, which no doubt was fascinating to the people named, but meant nothing to anyone else I dare say; some of the most vitriolic correspondence I have ever encountered in any written newspaper or journal; and some extraordinarily slipshod editing. I was not inclined to resume my subscription.
    I have found that although I have several issues of Battle, Model Soldier, Military modelling and Practical Wargamer cluttering up the place, I have barely looked at them in years. No idea why. Too many distractions?

    1. Distractions are a pain, and to be honest, I had forgotten these magazines existed until I was asked if I wanted to keep them. They have been a fun, nostalgic read and they'll occupy a space in a bookcase for a good long while to come. That, however, is not something I could say about any of today's magazines. As Norm points out above, there are many more ways to get your wargaming fix these days, and I do think that, compared to their 1970's ancestors, today's publications lack a certain je ne suis quas.

  5. Of course it all depends upon what an individual requires. The old mages were usually stuffed with actual information with reviews etc being- for me at least a secondary thing. The articles assumed you could read long words without using your fingers and the whole tone was far less juvenile than at least one regularly and all occaisonally of today's crop of glossies.
    As for the internet- yes you can get your fix there but reading from a screen is simply not as satisfying somehow- even if it is a hand held reader. Equally the problem with the internet is the actual browsing. You have to know what you want before you can look for it, otherwise you can wander aimlessly for hours which can be fun but is more often deeply frustrating as there is limitless guff and twaddle out there.
    I still have a good few older mags and do sometimes refer to them. These days I often toss or give away most of the new crop withing a week or two of reading them simply because the articles lack any depth or are pretty repetitive though of couse some of that is because I have the older mags......

  6. Magazines, either old or new, print what they think they can sell. They can only print articles that they have received. As such I wonder how many wargamers actually contribute to the magazines in order to help improve what they are ultimately purchasing. Of course we have seen changes in recent years to the market place with the format changes and demise of magazines. However, the market is a very different place to that thirty or forty years ago. The whole dynamics of the gaming hobby have changed as well and I wonder whether the fact that we have so much more choice today actually helps or hinders.

    1. A very good point, and perhaps you could add editorial pressures as well.
      As for the matter of choice, both Andy and yourself make a valid observation - that the sheer volume of choice and sources can be a detrimental factor. As was put to me in my early school days by a much admired teacher, "The answer might be the end point, but it's the right question that gets you there."

    2. Paul- your point about "the whole dynamic of the gaming hobby" is well put- even in the choice of words. There is no longer a hobby called "wargaming" for many but they see themselves as "gamers" of possibly "tabletop gamers" and any attempt at "seriousness" is to be ridiculed cos "its only a game innit"
      The mags pander to this- one especially but you are right in averring that the mages can only print the articles they receive. However as a sometime contributor I can say that the editorial pen can change the tone of a piece somewhat so the "tone" of a mag is in the editors- and also the publishers hands.
      The 3 mags we now have are all subtly different in tone.
      There is the loud juvenile WI
      The steady mostly reliable WSS
      MW still finding its feet after the change but having the makings of a magazine that actual adults can read.

  7. That was the first wargaming magazine I ever bought and I still lovingly care for it, along with my other Battles from the summers of 77 and 78. Wonder if the current crop of magazines will generate the same affection?

    1. Bearing the rose tint through which i viewed these magazines in mind, I honestly can't see how they could. They are, and this is my view only, too lightweight, with only WSS coming close these days. Then again, the tint of rose in thirty years time could be of a very different nature...

  8. Oh, my spectacles have had a rosy hue for many years, and I have to take into account my youthful excitement over their discovery. That will obviously wane over the years and as I topple over the 50 mark there is a jaded element creeping in. But I can't help feeling that magazines have taken the same route as TV and dumbed down; a bit like comparing Michael Wood's In Search Of... series with the stuff Dan Snow churns out. Although seeing how many people seem to drool over glossy rules and their never ending stream of supporting glossy books, I'm obviously in the minority. Anyway, thanks for blogging that edition of Battle - shows mine is not the only survivor!

  9. You're welcome! And you're certainly not alone in that belief, that I can tell you.

  10. Dumb ..Dumber...Dumbest would seem to be the current order of the day- or tripe like Lion Rampant etc would not exist. The mainstream change from Featherstone's "intellectual pursuit" to "da gamin' innit" whilst far from complete, even in the mainstream is still now the dominant force. I ascribe this to the influence- sometimes unintended- of sci-fant and more especially of "game designers" - see my post "In the Age of the Game Designer" on Glorious Little Soldiers.
    As for magazine contributions- well I do my best !

    1. I heartily agree with you! Add to that the fixation on quick games (30 minutes to an hour) and "fun", whatever that means.

      Yes, you do, and please keep doing so!