Despite being only part way through the year, I think it's time to review the gaming aspect of my hobby. Why now, I hear you ask? Firstly, the pattern for the year is well established. Next, I don't see much happening in the remaining months to change things. Finally, you've got to admit it's unusual doing a review so early.
2013 has been, and will continue to be, a year of transition from mainly medieval to exclusively renaissance wargaming. This has been governed by three major trends.
2012 was a year of medieval wargaming using Field of Glory (FOG AM) rules with the odd DBR game for variety. I played doubles in four of five rounds of the 2012 Northern League and was pleased with the results but events conspired against a repeat performance in 2013. Chief amongst these was the botched launch of FOG AM v2 in late 2012.
Initially, Slitherine released the new rules as software and then only for the iPad. A print version only became available much later after considerable consumer pressure. At first, I was put off buying a print copy because of the high price: both for the rules and for shipping. Later on I was deterred by on line reports that the early copies had quality issues and the packaging used was inadequate to protect the book in transit.
This meant that 2013 was the year I learnt to play FOG Renaissance (FOG R) and it has provided most of the high points of the year. For a few months I toyed with the idea of playing both FOG AM v1 and FOG R. However, any chance of playing the former competitively evaporated when the Northern League voted to switch to v2 after the first round in late February; most national competitions having switched when the print version was announced.
I mothballed my medieval armies and dusted off my renaissance armies. I have missed using my medieval armies. Some can be "morphed" into early renaissance variants but it's not the same. Plus, 800 point FOG R armies tend to be bigger than DBR armies and I've nearly always ended up fielding what I have painted rather than a balanced, or designed, army. If I wanted to change this I'd have a multitude of small units to paint.
Style & Fun
The next major factor was the dual realisation that scoring in the Northern League heavily favours those who play in all five rounds and that I would never play in all five rounds for a combination of social and logistical reasons. The latter combination was, and still is, the most important.
I enjoy competing in the Northern League but I don't really like the very early starts that are the norm, and some of the venues are cramped and in less than ideal locations for me. I know many regularly drive long distances for an 08:30 Sunday morning start and have done so for many years. However, this has never really been my idea of fun especially if the venue's 60-90 minutes drive away.
As this year progressed I came to realise that competing in such circumstances had lost its gloss. In 2013 I've limited my attendance to competitions with reasonable start times and within 45-60 minutes drive. I've played less but enjoyed more relaxed days out at Stoke Challenge and the 1st round of the Northern League.
I had hoped to compete in a broader range of events. Despite the cost, I was prepared to travel and stay overnight for the right event(s) but haven't been organised enough. I missed a few early competitions because I didn't feel I knew the rules well enough; in fact I'm still not 100% comfortable. Overall I've found that FOG R competitions are less frequent than FOG AM events and can be limited by theme and location.
The final important trend is one of fragmentation. Once there was only DBM and everybody played. Prior to this year, FOG AM was by far the most popular rules in both the Northern League and the Manchester Area Wargames Society (MAWS). You could say it had a "critical mass" with a wide choice of competitions and local opponents.
Whilst other MAWS players have switched to FOG R, there's insufficient to create a viable pool of players for club games. Graham & I can only play on Sundays and we are frequently the only ones using the club. As a result my club gaming has been almost exclusively against Graham. To improve we need to play against as many different players & armies as possible.
I conclusion I feel my gaming world has shrunk significantly in 2013; partly by my choices and partly by circumstance. Looking forward I'm not really sure if this is going to change. Ideally I'd like to feel like I did when I was learning FOG AM at MAWS with a wide choice of opponents and when the thrill of competing in the Northern League outweighed the early starts and cramped venues.
I suspect that next year I'll have to be much more organised and commit to events well in advance if I want to broaden my gaming world. Events like Games Expo (Birmingham) and the Glasgow round of the Scottish League look possibilities for 2014.
On the positive side I'm still having more than my share of beginners' luck in competitions and I have more time for painting and modelling: I may yet finish enough figures to field an Islamic Persian army. Here's hoping.