Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pop history magazine subscribers read articles, wargamers buy books

The recent anniversary of First Bull Run brought to mind one of my major influences in taking up serious study of the American Civil War.  People often mention the Centennial, books, movies, tv series, and battlefield visits as planting the seed for a lifetime of obsession, but what really got me going was the Avalon Hill boardgame Bull Run [Did you ever play this one, Harry?]. I still remember the box cover (at right), with Jackson standing there with a bandaged hand and some idiot at his side firing a pistol at an unreasonable range.  It wasn't even that great of a wargame/conflict simulation/historical strategy game, and I soon switched to computer offerings (Apple IIe, no less) from companies like SSI, but it played a large role in steering me toward the Civil War and away from the Napoleonic Wars and WW2.

Board wargaming is still alive and well, though even more of a niche relegated largely to the Internet, conventions, small clubs, and few and far between tiny corners in general hobby shops.  Young boardgamers today would be very surprised to know that during the 70s and 80s, department stores and drug stores all over the country stocked serious wargames on their shelves, with games like Empires in Arms selling 200,000 copies.  Those days are long, long gone.

The point of all this is my long held belief that wargames in general are a vastly underappreciated (by book publishers*) gateway drug to serious subject reading. The best designed strategic-level games inspire players to actively seek out more information about military, political, diplomatic, social, and economic history.  Recently, I purchased a WW1 game and playing it led me to pick up copies of at least 50 books that I would not otherwise have bothered to read.  Yet, as far as I can tell from hobby magazines and websites (I've never been to a gaming conference or convention, so I could be wrong about those venues), book publishers have made little or no effort to market their products to the hobby, both the PC and boardgame varieties.   To the lament of their suffering spouses, wargamers spend money, lots of it, to further their interest and knowledge, and I can't help but think neglected opportunity exists for book publishers to exploit.

* - reader Chris makes a good point in the comments section about European publishing. Admittedly, my thoughts did not stray outside the U.S. when writing this post.


  1. Drew, I had Avalon Hill's Gettysburg as a kid. I think European publishers are much more attuned to the wargame market. Some of the best texts I found on War of the Austrian Succession and Seven Years' battles were written for wargamers.


  2. Drew, the basic conundrum is that the presses with the money to spend on marketing are much less likely to publish serious military history. Those who do publish serious military history don't have marketing budgets to send people out to small events such as gaming conventions.

    1. Hi Stephen,
      Yes, I was thinking of something more in the way of creative use of Internet-age marketing communications (whatever that may entail!) rather than old school stuff like setting up a booth at Gen Con.

    2. Interesting article, Drew. We at Savas Beatie are very conscious of this community and have scores of wargamers who subscribe to our monthly e-letter and purchase titles directly from us--especially titles in the Savas Beatie Military Atlas series, and our "Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution." Our map-heavy, order-of-battle-driven titles translate well into gaming. We also dedicate a very healthy budget to marketing, as I think those who know us will attest.

      Even so, we can do an even better job than we are now doing, and your post sparked a couple ideas I will pass by marketing next week. And if anyone has ideas about reaching this market, don't be shy in letting me know.

      Thanks and keep up the good work.

      -- tps


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