Theory and Practice
In theory, wargaming needs the following articles: An 8' by 5'gaming board, miniatures of armies, terrain and equipment, dice of various types, rulers and templates. In practice however, wargames are played using Styrofoam sheets, graph paper sheets, scissors, office pins, sketch pens, and lots and lots of printed paper!! Mystified? Surprised? Read on.
The short and sweet answer is that the visual effects part of a wargame are simply unavailable in India. The reason is that miniatures and ruleset are not even heard of in India, not to mention commercially availability. But as in the rest of the world, wargamers here are resourceful and have tackled the problem in interesting ways. Thus evolved the method of playing wargames using graph paper sheets of A3 size pasted together to create terrain. Nicely done pictures of units are printed out and pasted on thick paper strips of appropriate base size to simulate miniatures. Paper is kept in place on the 'terrain' by keeping a layer of Styrofoam underneath and using office pins to keep them in place. We compensate for the lack of 3D effects by renewed enthusiasm in play and writing very descriptive battle reports.
Wargame rule sets are not commercially available in India to this date. This has been so for as long as we remember, but at least we have the Internet now. This was not the case when we started some six years back. Internet was just heard of in India, and wargame rules were hard to procure. With bits and pieces gleaned off some books and the rest added on by imagination, our first 'rule set' was ready. Many a battle was played using such home made rules, with the game master creating or amending the rules using common sense as the games progressed. Somewhere down the lane, one of our pioneer players gained a reasonably fast access to the Internet. We finally had access to a few proper rulesets, and play started again in earnest. Concepts of terrain boards was alien to us and we would use drawing sheets to get a graphical 2D (conventional map like) view of the terrain. X and Y co-ordinates were used to represent the positions and odds and bits were used for units. Most commonly used were flags, which were nothing but a piece of coloured paper pasted onto a half an inch office pin(saying 'aargh?' Well this is how it is sometimes...:-)
We did not understand bases, and this mistake persisted until we read DBM (thank you, PB and RBS!) and had a discussion on the matter. As a result, we started using rectangular paper pieces of appropriate sizes to suit our scale. We would then write the troop type and other details on top. This changed when Abey used Adobe Photoshop to draw some really nice pictures for various DBM troop types and took a print out of exact sizes. These sheets were then photocopied to get entire armies. We had moved into the age of visual representation.
You can see the pictures of the DBM troop types which we used below. They are almost the same size on the playing board. Unfortunately we don't have any photos of people actually playing using these, or else we would have included them as well. In these pictures we have distinguished only between the base troop types, not their quality like superior, inferior etc. The nationalities were also discarded for reuse and use across armies. As a result, in our games Roman Legions looked just like Chinese axe men, knights always looked alike irrespective of whether they mounted a horse or rode a chariot etc. Some of the troop types like Pikes, Camelry, War Wagons, etc. did not find use with our armies and so have not been included. We were not unaware of these issues, but we had to make do and for us, getting a game going was far more important than the aesthetic effects. We will look into this part as and when we aquire the necessary resources.
A 'large scale' problem
Most rule sets are written under the assumption that a standard wargames table(8' by 5' or thereabouts) is used. For us, this created a problem with the scale as we did not have a standard table. So we decided to 'scale down the scales' to suit our needs. Our wargaming board was made by pasting two A3 size graph sheets together, and measured 96 by 60 cm(3.2' by 2') which gave us about a fourth of the standard playing area. Accordingly our unit bases had to be down sized and movement distances recalculated. All this was done (for DBM) and we embarked on a series of games using 25 by 20mm paper strips for infantry, 25 by 30 mm for cavalry etc. The rules were read several times around, but each game would produce a point which we had missed so far. Lengthy discussions would ensue and the rule would be interpreted using common sense more than anything else. All was going on fine till last week when we planned a game of DBM and happened to re read the game rules regarding scale.
At this point Ravi had a doubt, and on further reading and discussion, it dawned upon us that the base scale used was wrong all along. We recalculated a new scale and decided to proceed with drastic changes. Alas, things would not end there. Another set of calculations proved that we 'almost' correct the first time around. AARGH! 'Enough!', we said, and decided that we had had our fill with down sizing. No more reduced tables and scales. We would some how procure an 8' by 5' table and play the standard way henceforth. That decided, we investigated ways to make a table. We are planning a simple solution, the prototype of which is due in two weeks(by the end of August 2000) and the actual soon there after. Let us see how it works out.
A 'distributed' playing system
The known regular wargamers in India number around 6. These started together as students of the same college (The College of Engineering, Trivandrum) and residents of the same town (Trivandrum, in the state of Kerala). As time went past, these people emerged from college and went their different ways for work, studies and the like. This added another entry to our already long list of problems to be tackled. This was by far the worst as what ultimately makes a wargame worth all the effort are the players and their spirit of playing. We had some solace in that we all had access to the Internet. Naturally, we turned our sights to PBEM. For this, we had to have a computer game, and thus West Front was bought. As of now, three of us have bought the game and are practicing the game with a view on starting a game by e-mail soon. This doesn't solve all our problems as many of our favourirte rule sets are not available, and above all, nothing beats a conventional miniature wargame in realism, fun and the discussion afterwards.
The future of wargaming
We believe that quality is always better than quantity when it comes to adding new players to the game. Unlike in popular gaming spots world around , many changes are needed in India before we start talking about the future. For one, the game has to become popular enough for commercial vendors to manufacture and/or sell wargaming related products in India. The nearest we have to a hobby shop is found only in 4 or five cities, and sells only aeromodels and the like. (Hell, we can't buy even a decent set of dice here!) Another important aspect is the growth of the Internet. In a multi cultural, multilingual (there are no less than 30 major languages and a 1000 odd dialects in India) place such as India, the Internet could act as a bridge more than in any other place. We do hope that things change for the better soon enough.