Friday, February 20, 2015

Wargaming with my wife and thoughts on why women don't wargame.

After eight years together my wife finally submitted to my unconventional desires this week. Our boy was away at his grandparents so we had some unexpected peace and quiet, and I used the opportunity to bring Columbia's War of 1812 to the table. Well, to be honest it's not her first wargame but it took me four years to proceed with the conversion after that game of Battle Cry in 2011 :)

War of 1812 is as simple as block wargames get, but it serves as a great introduction to the genre and gives a nice stepping stone to the mid-level Columbia wargames so I like to hold onto it in my collection. Sure enough, explaining the concepts to my wife only took a few minutes and after the first campaign year she was already in full swing. War of 1812 has relatively little dice rolling, so luck may become a factor, and I had lots of it in the beginning. I was getting worried that my wife will lose just on the account of me rolling too well, but luckily (heh) the dice balanced out and my wife won a glorious and deserved victory at the end of the second year as the US

After two days my wife wanted seconds (yaaay!). We set up the game again and she played the US again. This time around she lost, but wasn't unhappy about it. We have precious little time for boardgaming these days, so it was quite enjoyable!

The games got me thinking a bit on why there are so few women in wargaming. When I go to a boardgames convention, a good third of the people there are women, but they rarely sit down to play war themed boardgames or heaven forbid a hex&counter wargame. I've seen a woman playing Warhammer or a Commands & Colors game occasionally but that's pretty much it. The female wargamer remains a rare specimen among the population.

Is it the theme? Is war so masculine a theme that it puts off women? Maybe some, but I've seen women play plenty of boardgames with downright macho themes so it must be something else. Is it the complexity? Definitely not. Eurogames can be brutal not only in complexity but in the way you have to optimize every move and plan your game many turns in advance, making many of them more difficult than the average wargame, yet they are still favoured by women.

Is it because wargaming is a boys' club of fat middle aged men and it's quite difficult to fit in that group? Maybe, but I don't see the local gamers here as sexist. We love new blood in the hobby regardless of gender or age. It might just be that the atmosphere of.. err.. manliness condenses around the table and it might not be that attractive.

I think the secret might be in the mechanics. When I look at the games women play at boardgame conventions, they are often based on a "race" of sorts where the players gain victory points and compete for the winning position by "doing their own thing" without much direct and personal interaction between the players on the board. Cooperative games are also popular. Wargames however are based on the idea that you are in direct, aggressive confrontation with the other player and must seek the best way to hit her where it hurts the most. Is it this dynamic that makes women shy away from these games?

In any case, I shouldn't make generalizations and there are women among us who revel in the joy of crushing their opponents on the field of glory, but you have to admit they are few and far between. If you happen to be one, drop a comment and share your opinion!


  1. I'd probably go with the theory that some of the more "aggressive" confrontational games are probably putting at least some of them off. The missus of my household does like to play a lot of board games, but only really the co-operative ones or games where the chances of influencing other players game are small. I guess playing directly against someone and trying to confront them just isn't that interesting to the better looking folk then.

  2. I tend to think it has more to do with clarity of rules, and aesthetics of the game :). Successful ones so far have been: Hannibal, Rome vs. Carthage, Washington's War, Age of Napoleon, Space Hulk, Italia and Strike of the Eagle. What is common with all the above is clear and manageable rules with clear goal (Age of Napoleon excepted) and more strategic view than petty details and micromanagement.