Boring. Tedious. Aimless. Dry as a mummy.
I stopped reading wargame battle reports very soon after I started reading them. Few who are gifted painters are gifted writers. And few gifted writers play with toy soldiers. There are better stories to tell.
The four riders of the apocalypse
Many battle reports are just a nice random picture collection of a nice group of middle aged men playing a nice battle. They remember and recognize what happened. That’s mistake 1: the report is not written for an audience, but for the participating players themselves.
Many shots are medium distance half total pictures, diagonally taken from above. That’s mistake 2: the pictures lack composition, action, tension.
And many battle reports are plain boring. Words, words, words… but no story. That’s mistake 3: the battle report is a chronological description of the turns, but lacks focus. You know after reading what happened, but not why, and what the fun of the game was.
Last mistake, mistake 4: it’s written as a chess report. Too many wargamers take their hobby dead seriously. Hey friend – this is toy soldiers, remember? Adult men playing with little dolls, pardon, toy soldiers. I understand you had a pleasant night with friends and beer and dice and lucky rolls. Wargaming is not a pale dry sherry. It’s a Bloody Mary, or a wodka-martini, shaken, not stirred. Don’t write a pale dry story, but a bloody story, about you and your friends and what shook or stirred you. Make bad puns.
How others write battle reports
My example of a relatively standard, unexciting report is this Alan Perry battle report. It’s mediocre. It’s not bad but it’s not too interesting, either. The table btw is beautiful. (I’ve read and seen worse from (amateur) bloggers, but I’d dislike to criticize the hard efforts of a non-professional hobbyist).
The Warlord battle report starts with something very good: an overview of the scenario, the map, and the forces.
But the Perry story is a standard ‘how our toy soldiers moved around the table’ tale with a random selection of pretty pictures, taken at arm’s length, that could be inserted in any battle report. See below. With some familiar faces in the background.
Sigur Skwarl recently wrote a Renaissance battle report that described IMHO much better than Warlord what the flow of his battle was. I like it. He started with the setup, and shows with lines and arrows what the focus of the battle was, then zooms in on the miniatures.
His pics and table are relatively dark, unfortunately. The composition and action are substandard.
How to make better pictures
I found useful photography tips for battle reports here. In short, the Tangible Day blog advises to take different shots from different angles for different purposes:
- shots that capture the feel of the game, the friends gathering together, the mood
- medium overview shots, the medium/overview shot narrows your story’s viewpoint and brings everyone closer in
- portraits, from the the avatars and characters that drive the action and story
- Details shots: work “for transitions between other photos, especially in narrative write-ups. These detail images also have powerful story-telling impact as well (…) What color are the dice players are throwing? Are the tokens well-made, or are they crappy pieces of paper? What does the terrain look like up-close? Is there food lying about like pizza and soda, or Chinese take-out?”
- Action shots with players: “The action shots show your miniatures doing something. In this case, this also probably means the players are doing something, too. Action photos are important for more impactful battle reports because they convey an atmosphere of interaction by real humans.
A logical format: The Dark Knight Returns
Now that the club is closed I have time to paint and blog. I spend my money not on friends and beer and new armies, but on scenarios and books and funny software. Comic Life had been long on my wish list. It’s a simple and cheap (30 euro) layout template program for quick photo comics. This format is excellent for wargame reports
- it’s a graphic novel: the story is focused on the pictures
- you’re forced to show the pictures in a logical order, the story must develop
- graphic novels have characters, heroes, anti-heroes
- graphic novels zoom in from overview to detail and back
- graphic novels are fast-moving tales.
I experimented with a 2020 General d’Armee test battle, inspired by Batman.
I don’t claim perfection: I’m a dummy myself in battle reporting, the battle story above is my first experiment with the first template that looked appropriate, pictures and puns and layout could be better.
But that comes later. On the whole I like the idea. I want to popularize my hobby and inspire Amsterdam wargamers to visit our club and try a fun game with toy soldiers. I hope that goodlooking battle reports attrack attention and let people smile.
Napoleon, why did you do this to me?