Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group


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Has anyone else noticed how ‘conversations’ at CLWG appear to be, well, fading away in the same manner as old soldiers? I mean, on those rare occasions we get posts not based on HR manuals, there is little in the way of either discussion, challenge, revision or extension – surely some of the founding principles of wargaming, CLWG-style?

I make this highly subjective claim based on an analysis of the articles posted to the site, and then using the WordPress tools (plus a few from my Day Job) to do a distribution of replies, comments etc. Or lack thereof… Now, it’s true that some posts elicit email follow-ups (usually as extensive as a dreaded ‘tweet’). I’ve not really listed those, although even a quick glance at my dedicated ‘in’ email box tells a similar sorry tale when looking at timestamps. But I’m intrigued as to the possible Reasons Why, the effect and how they might be addressed.

Reasons Why

  • Well, obviously COVID lockdown(s) are #1. Wargaming is a social activity (for the most part), and the chance of follow-up conversation is greatly enhanced by face-to-face meetings, the enthusiasm for which events often (used too) spill-over into articles, reports et al. There is also the still to be assessed impact on general mental health of the population during the isolation period; very few conditions got ‘better’….
  • ‘Veteran’ syndrome makes for a good #2. Waning enthusiasm over the years gets to us all – to some degree or another – be it the ‘seen it, done it’, ‘too ill/tired’, or the demands of non-wargaming co-habitants (sometimes called family).
  • And of course, Social Mediocrity. In an age of instant (truncated) replies and the dominance of the ‘Like’ click, why bother to actually type something in English? This is especially true if the CLWG alerts appear on our telephones – too easy to click and park it for ‘later’ (among all the other instant dross which appears by then).
  • Irrelevence. Perhaps most of us get our toy soldier ‘fixes’ elsewhere now, perhaps via other links, other circles etc.

Effects of Silence

  • Increased feelings of isolation. I imagine we’ve all been through some tough times in the last 3-4 years; some tougher than others. Whilst I have always hated those flinging off-hand duck-billed platitudes such as ‘Just Take That Hill…’ or ‘It’s Good To Talk’, it doesn’t hide the fact that it may be necessary – however uncomfortable (or deadly) the cost. And no, I’m definitely not a good example.
  • Damping-down the critical mass of ideas. I know only too well how, as historical colleagues melted away, ideas and then critical developments become harder to justify spending ones diminishing time upon. Ironic really – in a religious context – that other resources (toys, experience etc) become more abundant (thanks God).
  • Is there an echo in here…….? As responses fade, so too will the desire to pen articles. My own flurry of odds-and-ends in 2020 was in part an experiment to see what levels of engagement still existed in the club. Indeed, this is not new to anyone unfortunate enough to have edited any form of group journal, and my ‘Gestetnered’ copies of MilMud from the late 1970s-80s abound with sly digs (or outright insults) directed at the membership during my tenure. My own favourite is a long-ish letter which PaddyG sent in response to my naming ‘You lot’. He didn’t produce any articles, mind…..
  • Constitutional matters…..I seem to recall that it was one of the few membership rules that, to enjoy said membership, one had to run a game and submit an article. As the membership dispersed from London, this became ‘and/or’. So, ‘guidelines’ rather than rules, now….?

What to do about it? Well, two things come to mind:

  • Disband the club. The main effect I can see if not now but in a very near future is to save some money on hall hire and a web-site. Or….
  • Write some responses (other than ‘wow, right’ etc) to articles. Deborah’s recent posts on disability really pushed the envelope and should have started a debate (let alone my responses – the only ones I’ve seen).

We’ve always been a creative, generous, opinionated bunch; it’s why CLWG was created, and – presumably – why each of us joined?! Now prove it.

  1. Spike Robinson


    (Just kidding. I consider myself shamed, if not named.)

    Perhaps when we do something a lot, and enjoy it, that inspires us to write about it, if only to continue our various trains of thought that are triggered by the doing of it. But perhaps when we are not doing it, for years, merely talking about it no longer holds as much attraction, and perhaps even rings hollow, because there is no mental fervent arising from the actual doing of it, and writing about it (or even commenting on someone else writing about it) may serve just to remind us of its absence?

    • Simon Robinson

      I for one have not been doing anything that could be called wargaming since COVID. My last contact with “CLWG Borders” (as an estate agent might call it) was Jim Wallman’s excellent space pirates RPG and around the same time the Colony 51 game + RPG set in the Universe. Both entirely virtual. I don’t know if it’s out of bounds to review either in this hallowed organ? In a few lines: the space pirates game I found to be delightful, darkly comic in a sort of 2000AD being, and loads of fun. Everyone seemed to be able to joke at their character’s own expense, which is a high water mark of roleplaying in my opinion. And Jim was of course superb, as ever. For me Colony 51 devolved into Gnomic (sp?), as the players maneuvred to alter the (nonexistent) Constitution for personal advantage, and mostly seemed to be “playing to win” from a fairly narrow range of perspectives of the definition of “win”. (Maybe a game of Gnomic that starts with no initial constitution is an interesting variation on standard Gnomic, but I found it not so much circular as a like a collapsing spiral). Stalwart efforts by all to run aspects of the game mechanics and take some of ghe load off Jim. In that sense it was an experiment – successful I would say – in democratised game control, as well as in virtualized play. But as a game it felt a bit mechanical to me. I wonder if Jim was (like me) frustrated that our various interlocking-but-competing resource management committees ended up obstructing the progress toward the cool roleplay stuff Jim had waiting in store in the twisty tunnels and desolated settlements.

      Completely apart from CLWG my main gaming job is helping my offspring and a bunch of Year 8 friends run D&D 5th Edition. It’s nice to have some kind of skill to pass down to the next generation. In D&D terms I always feel I’m that character who rolled “no skill of measurable worth” when making his character sheet.

      I have been putting my toe in the water of a whole new class of software I had never heard of that help you run what the (video)game industry calls “tabletop” RPGs. These are called VTTs – Virtual Table Tops. This is a little odd for me since I have never used a table top to play RPGs (except when playing with Jim, or a hundred years ago at GenCon). You can get modules to play and the VTTs operate many well known rulesets. Each player has a client (vaguely like Blakewake I guess) and sees a map from their perspective, with hidden movement etc. We have certainly come a long way from dice, scrap paper and your imaginations.

      Apart from that my gaming has been entirely on the computer and entirely solitary. I buy and download games and abandon them almost immediately. I will note two games of interest only.

      Radio Commander Vietnam is game that puts you in the rear as a commander who only gives orders and receives intel by radio. The orders and reports formats are quite structured. On easy mode the map updates itself based on the reports but on hard mode you have to do it yourself. It is basically a self contained megagame “control” in a box – but sadly only single player at the moment. Nonetheless this is something that until very recently you needed humans to do. So this is “one to watch” and perhaps “shades of things to come”.

      The other game is Into The Breach. This game has such exquisitely designed mechanics that I would strongly encourage anyone interested in game design to get it and play it. Even though it is again, single player. It is also extremely challenging and will tax your brain until it explodes.

      Apart from a bunch of other fairly duff games that’s all I’ve been doing. Oh I did teach the kids how to play, and then cheat at, Risk, last Christmas. By “cheat” I mean do stupid counter intuitive things that would make no sense in the real world, like having paper-thin borders and 1 or 2 giant stacks sweeping all before them. And then the counter intuitive countertactics to those counter intuitive tactics. And so on. Like I did with poker the year before. Teaching kids and playing with kids is fun. Or the “cohabitants” as Peter describes them.

      Well then what have “you lot” been up to? And I am I wrong about Colony 51 (if we dare speak of it in This Place)? “Prove me wrong!”, as the Yoof say these days on Twiktwokagram.

      • Spike Robinson

        Oh and it might be of interest to note that the Year 8 D&D group is all girls. They have been playing since about Year 6. There used to be an older boy in the group but he got moody and mean so they reorganized without him, as an all-girl group. There are 4 of them with 3-4 more girls interested in joining.

      • Peter Merritt

        Now *that* was very interesting – a good response, plus lots of detail on some aspects of software, game playing etc of which I was unaware. My thanks.

      • Deborah Southwell

        Thank you Spike. Lots of great information. I would enjoy hearing more about many of them. I love the work you are doing with your offspring and others with D&D – how could CLWG support that sort of next generation activity and encourage them into expanding their game design skills as they develop their gaming skills? A game design competition with a Chestnut Award or two? Hosting a junior war games day? A visit by a CLWG game designer? ????

  2. Spike Robinson

    Oh apparently I have to know how to spell, as there is no Edit button on comments. So apart from obvious typos, Gnomic is spelt Nomic and when I said

    darkly comic in a sort of 2000AD being,

    I meant to say (but, autocorrect)

    darkly comic in a sort of 2000AD vein

  3. Brian Cameron

    My memory isn’t what it was but I don’t really recall lots of conversations about wargaming in what I assume were ‘the good old days’. And the reference to HR manuals has me puzzled but I’m not about to plough through lots of old emails to figure it out. I think COVID has been a problem but probably inspired me to write more about playing solo; you can read it in Lone Warrior, the journal of the Solo Wargamers Association, if anyone is interested. Perhaps wrongly I figure that the CLWG audience probably isn’t that interested in long articles on how to solo play toy soldier games and that the journal has a more appropriate audience.

    I don’t think I’ve seen any ‘wow!’ responses but I may be wrong. And whatever our views on what should or should not produce a response, they are going to be disappointed at times and aren’t reasons to bring an end to an organisation.

    But as to reasons why there may be a lack of input to Milmud:

    I did do a game last year and think I wrote something so I’ve probably fulfilled the membership conditions but I haven’t attended much. Gaming at home is often easier with no kit to shift. There may be a been-there-done-it factor after 55 years of wargaming but more of it is doubtless having had a couple of major episodes of depression this year. Fortunately, with the help of friends, things are improving.

    Social media – I may lose out but I don’t bother with it much. I have all the arsebook alerts switched off and although I belong to a couple of forums I just check them now and then and contribute as I feel I can usefully do so. Fortunately there’s very little of the useless “I haven’t even read it but I’ve heard that it’s good’ stuff. And, as per above, I get my fixes elsewhere these days. I probably ought to set more alerts on MilMud as I’ve only just realised that there are a number of comments I’ve not read.

    I also find that if I get a magazine electronically that I’ll likely sit down and read it within a few days (though not always, there can be a back-log). With a Milmud alert I’m unlikely to make time to read it there and then. I’ll think “I’ll catch up with that later”. And then another will arrive and I’ll think “I must have a look at that sometime” and “did I ever read the previous one”. Probably just me and I should probably make a note to check MilMud once a month or something.

    Isolation: not recommended however difficult it may be to do social events in the face of depression. There are other approaches – I volunteer on the reception at the local COVID clinic (well, COVID, flu and polio clinic now) which helps. I also provide patient input to relevant NHS research proposals and participate in a couple of NHS studies; they’re infrequent but every little bit helps. I’m also looking at U3A. And, yes, I’m lucky to have the time and resources to pursue two hobbies and have friends and contact in both.

    I’m not sure that the printed MilMud produced much feedback on articles so I could wonder if there’s actually proportionately more now. It’s noticeable that the programme isn’t as active either so that probably leads to a decrease in articles, games have always been where articles start, as on-side or off-side reports or briefings prior to the game. So I’d guess the way forward is more games.


  4. Deborah Southwell

    Interesting and thought-provoking comments, Peter.

    I am not sure how to take ‘posts based on HR manuals’ – I know for myself I write from personal lived experience, observation, and the comments of others with lived experience about the implications of this for game designers. I then look for resources that may be helpful for addressing the implications for game designers wishing to improve their awareness and possibly their game and interactions with other participants. Those who care might dare to make some changes.

    Certainly, the sharing of war movie titles generated a substantial list of great movies (many new to me and I am finding them enjoyable, challenging, and interesting), a variety of comment via email on the lists, and some scathing comments on Robin Hood (2010) which mean I am clearly destined to watch and enjoy this movie by myself despite the fact Russell Crowe plays the lead.

    Yes, the Covid pandemic reduced face-to-face opportunities to meet, but I take my hat off to all the members of CWLG who rose to the challenge of shifting CWLG online whether as the designer, the participants, or controls on other-than-CLWG online options, firstly with mixed results, and increasingly more effective results as new techniques and technologies were introduced. As an Australian, distance and online education is part of my history and lived experience. This was not the case for many CLWG members – yet many actively, and sometimes reluctantly, embraced the new approach. One highlight for me was when one participant, terrified of the technology, was voted the most social player at the end of the game. ‘Well done him,’ I say.

    The online environment had the advantage of connecting members who regularly attended as well as people who were not usually able to participate face-to-face, at a time when face-to-face was not possible. I do not have any evidence-based research to prove the point, but certainly there was anecdotal evidence from members about the value, both socially and mentally, that members gained from their online involvement. Perhaps we can argue about the relevance of qualitative and quantitative research another time.

    There is definitely evidence of veteran syndrome’ – the ‘organ recital’ (aka everything that has gone wrong with my body since the last time we met) is now given appropriate recognition by the members in the first stages of the meetings. It seems to be a comradely activity, and generally not a lot of competition and one upmanship. Although there may be a small amount of smugness about having nothing to report, this is usually corrected by the next meeting.

    Perhaps along with veteran’s syndrome, there is also a level of mellowness arising from growing maturity that may take the edge of indulging in opinionated debates. Does this equate to waning enthusiasm or increasing wisdom?

    What, after all, is evidence of enthusiasm?

    I imagine a young parent (especially these days) prioritizing family needs over wargaming for a season of family raising with their spouse and evidencing their enthusiasm by playing wargames with their children while still enjoying the contributions anyone makes to Milmud. Yes, it would be lovely to hear from them even if it is only a photo of them wargaming with their children, or a map from said children working out how they would strategically take down someone else’s sandcastle. On this later topic, my four-year-old granddaughter and I successfully built a wall and moat on the ocean-side of her medieval (or was it fairy) castle and successfully diverted the approaching waves and tide from destroying it – at least until after we left the beach. Unfortunately, no photos as we were having to work quickly. NB Grandma had sore shoulders the next day from digging and moving wet sand.

    I am currently in Australia and have been thinking about what may be of interest to members of CLWG.

    I know the focus of the group is game design and I wonder how some of the Australian experience of war could contribute to that.

    Does experiencing a country (aka rural) War Museum in Australia with me contribute to game design?

    Or like watching movies, does it enhance our understanding of military history and social history during and after war? And thus contribute to creating more nuanced aspects of a game?

    Because I am enthusiastic, by my definition, I will go anyway, and naturally, I will want to share it with others who may be interested so there is a Milmud article in the making. A series perhaps for the Armchair Travelling CLWGer.

    Personally, I think the rule of a game and an article should remain. Perhaps we just need to expand our definitions.

    To me, the ‘game’ means a contribution to a meeting which I have loosely defined as including something that helps think about game design. The ‘article’ was a written contribution to Milmud. Hence ‘women in wargaming’ and ‘disability in games design and implementation’ came into my definition as much running ‘emu wars’ and writing onside and offside reports.

    I think Jur’s recent book reviews were very useful = whether presented as an article or orally at a meeting.

    Why not
    • reviews of what one finds a good resource that may be helpful?
    • The effective and not so effective elements of a commercial game?
    • Reviews of local war museums or related points of interest?
    • Reviews of where to buy miniature figures etc?

    I am sure there are dozens of related topics that we could generate.

    And does an ‘article’ have to be written?

    We probably could upload audio or video files to Milmud. If not, maybe we could have a YouTube channel for those who want to experiment with different presentation of their ‘article’.

    ‘Long live CLWG,’ I say.

    PS I have now just seen the excellent contributions made by Spike, Simon, and Brian. Apart from reassuring me that some of my ideas above aren’t crazy and about to be howled down, I found them interesting and encouraging. They each made informative reading. Thank you.

  5. Peter Merritt

    Well, that woke things up at least…
    Couple of things I cannot see any reference to a “golden era”, Brian.
    And Deborah, I’m not howling down anything; indeed, as of last week I was the only one showing in the comment sections of your challenging pieces on disability and gaming. I suppose it was those stimulating posts which I expected to generate more traffic….

  6. Brian

    I don’t recall mentioning a ‘golden era’ either; I used ‘the good old days’. It’s a commonly used shorthand way of referring to former times when things were different, usually better. I thought that was the implication of your article – that the lever of comment /conversation is not what it was. I suppose I could have said “in the times previous to ‘conversations’ at CLWG appearing to fade away in your opinion” or some such. I doubt I can sustain that level of pedantry so I’ll lapse back into silence and indifference.

  7. Peter Merritt

    Yes, I thought there was a time (several, perhaps) with much more (and much more regular) activity. Thus the reference to critical masses etc. Certainly printed magazines are very difficult platforms for debate, given the long time between issues. Plus the audience.

    I suppose I made the mistake with the previous response of doing something too quickly, at the breakfast table; a matter of severely limited opportunities. My apologies. Apart from the frequency distribution (data available via WordPress), it is all opinion. I wasn’t trying to be pedantic or [other negative], so I think I’ll join you in that silence and indifference. After all, it won’t affect CLWG…

  8. Dave Boundy

    I have only just seen Nick’s prompting email because it was identified as “spam” by my email server, so apologies for lateness!

    I guess that someone should mention the elephant in the room, Peter: the main contribution to CLWG’s continuing presence is attending the meetings. I think Covid lockdowns actually helped this, with attendances at virtual meetings being surprisingly high. There is lots of discussion at virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings alike. My personal opinion is that we are having some difficulty in the transition from virtual to some form of hybrid meeting, but attendance and involvement still seems higher and the barriers to attendance are low

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