Monday, 8 May 2017

Looking at alternatives

In my recent blog entry about the latest issue of MINIATURE WARGAMES I wrote about the possibility of me cancelling my current subscription and looking at the two alternatives, WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED ...


... and WARGAMES, SOLDIERS & STRATEGY.


I therefore bought copies of the latest issues of those two magazines to see it either of them might be a viable alternative for me to subscribe to.

Both magazines have monthly themes, but it was very apparent that they approached this concept in rather different ways. WAGAMES ILLUSTRATED's theme for its May 2017 issue was Samurai ... something that does not particularly interest me. Reading the magazine I was struck by the fact that it is very image-heavy, and some of the actual articles seemed a bit lightweight. That said, the article about TRAVEL BATTLE was interesting, and besides explaining its origins, it hinted at things to come ... in particular, the possibility of a World War II and Colonial Sudan versions. I had hopes that the article about wargaming the Indian Mutiny/Great Rebellion would interest me as well, but other than a short historical outline and lots of colour photographs, it seemed to be devoted to where to buy the figures and scenery you needed, and what rules to use. My overall impression of this issue of WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED was that the whole thing was very glossy, very commercial, and aimed very much at a different segment of the hobby than the one I inhabit.

WARGAMES, SOLDIERS & STRATEGY's theme for May/June 2017 was technical innovation during World War I, but it was interesting to note that only seven of the twenty two articles/sections of the magazine were devoted to the theme as opposed to five from fifteen in WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED.

My first impression of WARGAMES, SOLDIERS & STRATEGY was that there was far more text and fewer colour photographs than there were in WARGAMES ILLUSTRATED. My second impression was that there was far more in this issue that grabbed my interest ... and that was not exclusively due to the theme being more to my liking. Both Richard Clarke and Henry Hyde had written articles that I really enjoyed reading, and I found that Adrian McWalter's scenario about defending a position against overwhelming odds gave me ideas about staging such an action at some time in the not too distant future. Likewise Mark Backhouse's description of what was – in effect – a mini-campaign about the English Civil War siege of Portsmouth gave me food for thought, and I could envisage adapting it for a later period, such as a French invasion in the early to mid nineteenth century.

On the basis of these two issues I can see myself switching my allegiance – and subscription – to WARGAMES, SOLDIERS & STRATEGY if things don't improve on the MINIATURE WARGAMES front. Even if I don't switch, I can envisage buying WARGAMES, SOLDIERS & STRATEGY on a fairly regular basis from now on, especially if a particular theme appeals to me.

40 comments:

  1. Bob,
    Of the tewo, I enjoy Wargames Soldiers and Strategy the best. Since its inception I have enjoyed the fact that there was more text which wasnt just a filler. That said I have just re subscribed to the Illustrated. I think that had more to do with the offer than anything. My biggest problem is I dont want to see any wargames publication cease production so I try to support them all.

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    1. Robbie Rodiss,

      Like you, I also don't want to see the demise of any wargame magazines, but until they start to offer more articles that I feel are relevant to what I want to read, I am going to be much less likely to buy them regularly. WSS seems to be closer to what I want than the other two, but I live in hope that MW might just improve enough for me to justify my resubscription.

      All the best,

      Bob

      PS. I do subscribe to other wargame and military history periodicals, including THE NUGGET, THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, SOLDIERS OF THE QUEEN, and ALL GUNS BLAZING! I have also edited THE NUGGETS twice during its 37 year history, and I know that editors can only publish the articles that people submit ... but as an editor I also know that you set the tone and direction of your publication, and people will only send in articles they think will get published.

      Delete
  2. I've allowed my sub to MW to lapse. I will probably still buy the odd issue (assuming I can find it in the shops), much like I do with WI.
    I have no intention (for now) of allowing my WS&S subscription to lapse as I have always found it the most enjoyable read of the three. If only it was monthly...

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    1. TamsinP,

      I suspect that I will be following your example in the not too distant future. I just wish that I didn't feel the need to.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Like Tamsin I've allowed my sub to MW to lapse this month as well - have taken out a year subscription to WS&S..

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    1. Steve-the-Wargamer,

      As I wrote in my reply to Tamsin, I suspect that I will soon be doing likewise.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. I do not buy many magazines now. Of the three I buy WS&S occasionally, I my opinion it's the best read and content.

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    1. Simon Jones,

      I stopped buying any of the main wargame magazines a few years back, but I liked Henry Hyde's BATTLEGAMES and moved to MW when he took over as editor.

      It seems as if WSS is going to end up being my magazine of choice.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Replies
    1. Anibal Invictus,

      It seems to be emerging as my preferred choice as well.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I have to concur. I now subscribe to WSS because it's articles are 'meatier'.

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    1. Stephen Briddon,

      I must agree that the articles in the edition I bought were much more substantial than I had expected, and this was especially noticeable after I had read WI.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I gave up on WI because of the pretty pictures. I used to paint models for pin money in college, and so the standard was high because magazines like WI raised that expectation. Now I am in man's estate (no time, arthritis and failing eyesight) I have learned the aesthetic value of the traditional toy soldier look. It is liberating to be able to throw the toys about rather than treat them like fine china!

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    3. Stephen Briddon,

      I have never quite seen the point of painting the figures one is going to use for wargaming to the standard featured on the pages of WI. Nice to look at and photograph, but I'd always be worried that they were going to get damaged if I used them.

      My painting technique can best be summed up as being 'keep it simple', relying on block colour painting followed by a wash of Nut Brown ink to add shadows and to cover up the worst of the painting errors.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. I can't speak to WI but there's a copy of WSS in the reading basket in the lav, which is my usual marker for quality. Very re-readable.

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    1. Pat G,

      That sounds like a ringing endorsement!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. I am currently subscribed to WSS and MW. I too switched from the old Battlegames to MW, and I liked MW when Henry was at the helm. I currently like it somewhat less, but my subscription is still running for some time.

    Bob, I think that what wargamers like you and me are looking for is a magazine that focuses on wargames design, i.e. how to translate historical battles into good scenarios, into clever mechanics, etc. In other words, how to make your own game. Magaines such as WI focus much more on how to play the commercial products. It is a magaine for wargames consumers rather than wargames tinkerers. I think magazines have undergone this shift over the years, because the hobby has shifted as well. It used to be that every wargamer wrote his own rules and designed his own scenarios, and the magazines reflected that. Now, the majority of wargamers are mostly interested in buying and consuming the ready-to-play consumer products, and magazines reflect that as well. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that "tinkerers" have become a niche within the hobby at large, and hence, it is difficult for a magazine to address that niche.

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    1. Phil Dutré,

      I think that you have summed up the situation extremely well. Luckily we have WARGAMER'S NOTES to fill part of the void.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  9. W.r.t. pretty pictures: Recently, one of my articles I had submitted to one of the glossies was rejected, not because of content, but because the miniatures in the photographs were 1) not painted well enough and 2) made by a big-name manufacturer and the editor didn't want the risk of running into trouble with them.
    So the question came whether I wanted to provide photographs with different miniatures. ;-)
    To be fair, I understood the editor's position. But for me, this little anecdote shows that wargaming magazines have shifted from text to pictures as the main mode of presentation.

    The article appeared recently in the 2nd issue of Wargamer's Notes ;-)

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    1. Phil Dutré,

      I can sympathise with the editor's position ... but if the images that illustrate an article comes higher up the agenda set by the publisher than the content, then perhaps the editor needs to discuss the situation with them.

      As I wrote in my reply to your earlier comment, we are lucky to have WARGAMER'S NOTES available to fill the void.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  10. I moved over to WSS some time ago, losing the other two 'glossies' - WSS has more to read, far better value. much less ';n your face'.

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    1. Stuart Asquith,

      I suspect that I will be following your example in the near future.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  11. I'm clearly out of step (as usual?) because I much prefer the "new" incarnation of Miniature Wargames as it is at least once again trying to look like a professional hobby magazine. I've never shared Henry Hyde's approach and "his" magazines and books have generally left me cold (Legatus recently described him as "wargaming's own Gwyneth Paltrow"). I have no problem with magazines that focus on commercial products - either in the articles or the advertising - as it brings manufacturers and products to my attention that I might otherwise have missed. One of my favourite elements of WSS is the coverage of new figures and figure ranges related to the month's theme. As for WI - of course it's "wargames porn" but why can't we just look and enjoy? Am I not supposed to watch Premier League football just because my playing standard wouldn't even make a public park kickabout? Presumably the same mindset applies to the demonstration games at the likes of Salute?

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    1. Jeremy Ramsey,

      Nothing wrong with being out of step with any of the comments expressed here; the hobby is big enough to encompass all of us.

      WI has been referred to as 'wargamer's porn' elsewhere, and I agree that they can be very pleasant to look at ... but I do have concerns that it might put some people off because they cannot emulate the same standard of finish.

      I have not problem at all with magazines having product reviews ... in truth I welcome them because they are often far more informative than the adverts. What I do have concerns about is when the magazine seems to be 'pushing' the products of a particular manufacturer or manufacturers.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  12. I've regularly read MW since issue 1 and am a current subscriber (there was a good deal on at the time) and I'll probably stick with it. I quite enjoy the SF pages in the middle but i must admit i' m now very tired of yet another 'How to build some trees ' terrain building article. I have WI as an online subscription (again,it was cheap) but I'm increasingly unsure about this as the articles are very 'thin'. The best of the 3 is definitely WSS but unfortunately it's the one I find hardest to track down.

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    1. Alastair,

      The comments that have been made above would seem to indicate that WSS is the preferred option for most of those who have made comments.

      The hobby is exceedingly lucky to have three printed magazine for wargamers to choose from, and it seems to me that WSS Is more aligned with my particular interests than the other two.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  13. I certainly enjoy WS&S more than the other two and read just about the whole issue when it arrives, skipping very little. I actually miss Miniature Wargames from before Henry Hyde took over, with its good articles and photos of figures that many gamers would actually have in their collection, rather than swathes of professionally painted figures with lite articles.

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    1. Natholeon,

      I still have some of the very early issues of MW and WI; In fact I wrote articles that were published in some of them!

      I must admit to enjoying reading well-written, informative articles that are illustrated by photographs that feature figures that I could have painted myself.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  14. I presently have a Wargames Illustrated sub, but it was a gift rather than chosen. In any case, I buy all here mags of the shelves at Smiths every month, but of late am questioning my own loyalty to them.

    If choosing a sub, I would go for WSS, it just seems very wargamery to me, with plenty of scenarios,ncluding on line content or themed stuff, so that the themed stuff does not totally dominate the actual magazine, which I think is quite clever. It is a cover to cover read for me, though I am not keen on the columns, they seemed to have lost their way a bit.

    For wargames Illustrated, for me there are too many articles that start off with quite a bit of history. There are plenty of places I can go to for that, I really want to see wargame stuff in a wargame magazine. It is picture heavy. It is the one that I read least.

    Miniature Wargames seems to have good and not so good issues, but it is monthly and I imagine that John at any one time is not overrun by a bank of spare articles, so must work with what he has. The magazine does speak to the wargamer and is dynamic in its range of articles, which also include rules, though they can run to too many pages. I can't stand the ongoing waste of pages of the club directory published at the rear of the magazine every month since John took over, this permanent list should by now have been transferred to the website. It makes me feel like my magazine read has end several pages before it should.

    All three magazines largely fail the smaller scales and to varying degrees fail the typical kitchen table gamer who is suck with a 4' x 3' gaming space.

    I was surprised to learn recently how low circulation figures are, so we should certainly not take the magazines for granted, they may not be sustainable. I buy all three, but think that all three could make improvements, though it must be hard, I have just spent an hour on-line and read around 10 of my favourite blogs, I can do that 30 days a month, that is a tough one for magazines to live up to - but whether it is habit, I love magazine day, a coffee and some self indulgent time ..... its just that the mags don't always fill that time for me, and filler sticks out a mile, so please don't do it (excessive show events, club interviews, columns which are just personal rambles on topics that are getting harder to dream up and 4 page artiles stretched out to 7 pages).

    But life is good, we have 3 wargame mags on the high street, we should see them as a precious thing, we don't and it will ultimately be to our loss I think.

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    1. Norm,

      What a balanced and well presented summary of the situation and your reasons for buying all three of the magazines that are on sale!

      Your point about the way in which blogs have made things harder for the printed magazines is particularly well made. I had not thought of it in that way, but you have put your finger on a very vital point. When MW and WI were first published, there were no blogs and they were the hobby's main channel of communications of ideas, products, and information. Perhaps people like me have forgotten that, and are judging them by the wrong set of criteria. It is certainly something for me to think about.

      Your description of ‘magazine day’ reminds me of the way I used to feel when I would go into WHSmiths at the end of a working day to buy the latest copy of MW or WI or when the latest copy of WARGAMER’S NEWSLETTER would arrive in the post. I used to follow a sort of ritual every time. I’d not look at the magazine until I had got home (or in the case of WN, had got up and got dressed!) and had time to indulge myself in the experience. I would clear everything else I had to do away, and then sit down in my armchair with a drink next to me ... and then I’d read the magazine from cover to cover. Just remembering that makes me feel good!

      You are right; we are very lucky to have three wargame magazines on sale in our High Street newsagents, and by subscription. Whether or not the size of the hobby justifies it or can sustain it, who knows ... but you are right again when you comment that if we don’t support them, they will go.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Well summed up, Norm! By the way, what are the circulation numbers for these magazines?

      In "The Old Days" I subscribed to a number of wargaming magazines including MW, WI, MWAN, etc.. Now, my only subscription is to Slingshot with an occasional purchase of WSS when the theme strikes a cord. Even then, the WSS issue is usually purchased in digital format. Where I live, buying a wargaming magazine off-the-shelf, on impulse is not an option.

      The print wargaming magazine I would most likely to subscribe to if resurrected would be Hal Thinglum's MWAN. What a terrifically enjoyable and friendly magazine that was!

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    3. Did you see our 2mm article last issue Norm?

      I do try to cover all scales. I'll be the first to admit it is harder to find good pictures of smaller scales (please contact me if you know of any).

      Also thanks for the input and the kind comments. That's useful feedback.

      Guy

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    4. Jonathan Freitag,

      I suspect that the circulation figures for the three main UK-based wargames magazines are a lot lower than many people would suspect.

      As I mentioned in a previous comment, we are very lucky in the UK to have easy access to the printed versions of these magazines. I suspect that if one of them every stops publishing, the lamentations will be heard far and wide in the hobby ... and most will come from those who don't regularly subscribe or buy one or more of them.

      I also miss MWAN and THE COURIER; they were my sort of wargames magazine!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    5. Guy,

      I assume that you are referring to WSS and the excellent article about the Siege of Portsmouth, which I enjoyed because it gave me ideas to work on. I like a magazine that has some wargaming 'eye candy', but I prefer one that makes me think.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  15. Sorry for all the spelling mistakes above, I have just read it and cringed. Bloody keyboard and predictive text :-)

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    1. Norm,

      No need for the apology. It is a situation that we all know and experience too often ourselves!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  16. My Miniature Wargames sub expires in a months time. I don't think I will be renewing. I don't envy John Treadway his job one bit, but I did prefer Henry Hyde's style. I like reading and watching "military" sci-fi but not in gaming it, so that part of MW has no appeal. I'm a member of the Society of 20th Century Wargames - I'll certainly stick with that, so with the money I save I'm thinking of joining Wargame Developments!

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    1. David Bradley,

      John Treadaway has brought a somewhat different style to the pages of MW, but he has at least kept some of the regular columns that I enjoy reading. As to Sci-Fi ... well I enjoy reading it but not gaming it.

      I used to be a member of the Society of 20th Century Wargamers, but I was a bit unlucky and my subscription was taken out at a time when publication dates were an aspiration rather than an actuality and I got fed up waiting for months on end for something that never seemed to arrive.

      In WD we try to have (and keep to) a regular publication schedule, with nine issues each year. The subscription year runs from the end of August to the beginning of July, with a gap during the summer when no magazine is published. The magazine is A5-size, usually 24 pages long, has no adverts or glossy photographs, and on average each issue will contain at least one (and sometimes more) sets of rules.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  17. Being in Japan (and before that, New Zealand), you don't see wargames magazines on shelves, so I've never really given much thought to subscribing to the glossies. I do keep up my membership of the Society of Ancients though, and although I'll rarely read every article in an edition of 'Slingshot', there's always something worth looking over. It's also nice to be able to contribute the odd article of one's own when the mood strikes.

    Anyway, best of luck with your decision about which magazine(s) to support!

    Best wishes,
    Aaron

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    1. Prufrock (Aaron),

      When forgets that outside the UK getting hold of a wargame magazine is by no means an easy thing to do.

      SLINGSHOT has a loyal readership, and in recent years the Society of Ancients seems to have upped their game with regard to the production values of its magazine. I only wish that THE NUGGET had a similar number of subscribers.

      All the best,

      Bob

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