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?
6 thoughts on “Wargame Battle Reporting for Dummies: Do It Like Batman”
Some fair points raised there that I’ll try to take forward with my own.
The thing I find hard on a personal level is trying to play (or even umpire the game) and take decents photos (be they of good quality of high interest) at the same time is difficult. I tend to get too caught up in the moment of the game- which is a good thing I think really as at least it shows that the game was good. What I need is a personal war correspondent….
I would take issue with a few elements of your post. Your opening thoughts quite strongly state that may AAR writers are boring and that gamers are writing for themselves rather than their audience, as though there is one single audience, but it strikes me that you are just wanting a different style for yourself, rather than speaking on behalf of all other readers, for example, your comic strip account with speech bubbles is a huge turn off for me as I prefer the more serious approach, Because a certain style can’t hold your attention, does not mean that is true of an audience at large, it is very much horses for courses, which is why we each have our favourite bloggers and choose to follow.
Secondly, I think you miss the point that the most gamers that do this sort of thing, do so in the spirit of sharing and sharing freely. This free content often takes a big investment of time by the blogger and reward is not sought, which is good since a quick thank you or other response by the average reader is rarely given! we live n an internet society in which the consumer is generally coming to believe everything is free and has little regard for the effort made by the creator.
My comments here disagree with you, but at least I am doing you the courtesy of responding to your work and this is what is missing generally. If the blogger is failing, so too is the audience.
In some respects I find it refreshing that there are still some parts of life that are not coming under the pressure that everything must be professionalised or creatively perfect and that we do not fall into the trap of producing sizzle over beef, form over content.
It is one area in which the amateur and the enthusiast has a chance to express and share at whatever level of ability they have and for me, that just adds to the charm of the blog.
Tnx for commenting. I’m (in) famous for my strong opinions, both as a wargamer and as a private person. I was once trained as newspaper reporter, so I think I’m entitled to judge the quality of the average blog.
Amateur efforts don’t mean that hobbyists should not try to improve. Just like painting. And I don’t blame my fellow amateurs, but if you want to reach an audience, think about structure and presentation, not only before starting but also after finishing your blog.
‘I’m just an amateur’ is an easy alibi for not thinking.
The ‘photographic novel’ has many forms. I like the Batman parody, others might write more serious blogs. Matter of style. As a storytelling device, a form, a structure, I think this tool can help the amateur writer, however. But you should choose the template and style that suits you most.