Sportsmanship vs Gamesmanship – from the Quarantined Wargamer

Big Lee Hadley is the owner of a YouTube channel, the Quarantined Wargamer, that I enjoy visiting, and I must admit, I do seem to agree with a lot of what he says. A couple of days ago he posted a video about Sportsmanship vs Gamesmanship in Wargaming. Have a look at it below.

Watching this brought a few flashbacks to my early years in wargaming, a time when we were all younger and winning was the thing. I recall many wargames – generally those under WRG Ancient an other Rules, where the games broke down, almost to fisticuffs over a rule interpretation or understanding an order. Competition games were even worse where the best efforts of the rules lawyer were to be seen, arguing that as the rules specifically did not rule out Ancient Gauls delivering a tactical nuclear strike on the hated Romans, there was, indeed, no reason why they couldn’t – well except for the fact that there was no way to assess it.

It seemed in those times that when heading out for a wargame, you packed your army, your rules, measuring stick, dice (both D6 and average dice), your army standing orders crafted over many previous games and covering all eventualities including Custer riding over the hill in front of the 7th cavalry and, last of all, analgesics for the headache that you knew was coming. It was in this early period of wargaming that I discovered there was nothing wrong with popping a few aspirin washed down with a beer. Either the aspirin or the beer worked.

In one memorable case, one gamer assisting me with a demonstration game in Hyde Park in Sydney, even cheated then. This gamer was famous, squire, for his 18-inch long 12-inch ruler!

So, what was Big Lee on about? Sportsmanship is assisting your opponent, especially newer members of the hobby, to understand why some moves are better than others, why it is better for your bowmen over there to fire on those naked berserkers than the shield wall and so on. Gamesmanship is doing everything you can to win at any cost, even if this means being a little “economical” with the interpretation of the rules.

Being a sportsman doesn’t mean you can’t get in your opponents head, or at least try. A bit of sledging here, a quizzical look there and second guessing your opponent is not a bad thing, especially against older experienced players who are your regular opponents. All aspects of the game should be fun.

In many respects, I am kind of glad of my current wargaming solitude. I play with myself, so no longer have the annoyance of players leaking gamesmanship all over the table. In this increasingly polarized world, it does make sense to relax, be nice and enjoy your hobby. After all, winning isn’t everything! Really, it’s not!

THERE’S a breathless hush in the Close to-night –
Ten to make and the match to win –
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

Vitai Lampada by Sir Henry Newbolt

The next post from here will be game based – yes gentle reader, I am planning on playing with myself some more. My target, refight the entire Peloponnesian War between now and the end of January. Well, we all have to dream 🙂


Play nice, roll high, and enjoy the game!