While modern commercial wargaming got its start in America, it quickly spread to other countries. The reason for the migration of wargaming was quite simple: most wargamers are well educated people with an interest in history and technical matters. Every nation has such a "technical/professional" class and these were the ones who picked up on wargaming. The English speaking nations were, obviously, reached first. Britain already had thousands of miniatures gamers and an even larger number of avid military historians. Outside the United States, history is a much more popular indoor sport. Except in Germany, military history has no stigma attached to it and, in general, there were many potential wargamers available overseas. Miniature wargaming, the earliest form, began in Europe but never became popular become of its complexity and expense. Those who did wargame over there were quite dedicated and often went beyond wargaming in their military curiosity. One of the best examples is Fred Jane, a turn of the century British naval miniatures wargamer. He eventually began publishing his wargames research as Janes Fighting Ships. That volume, published annually for many decades, has led to similar annual volumes on everything from aircraft to shipping containers. Janes publishing is currently the largest publisher of military information in the world. And all because Fred Jane wanted to develop more accurate rules for naval wargames.
The big impediments to the spread of wargaming overseas are money and language. The British wargamers have little problem with the language, although American military terms are somewhat different than British ones and the wargame terminology had to be learned in any event. Money was, and is, a big problem. Among the English speaking nations, Britain is actually one of the poorest in terms of disposable income. And then there were the import duties. Making adjustments for all these factors, a $20 wargame bought in America is more like a $50 purchase for a Briton. In the early 1970s, I set up an independent agent for SPI games in Britain (run by a Scotsman, naturally), where eventually we were able to manufacture many games in Britain. This brought down the cost considerably. This British outpost disappeared in the mid 1980s, but it had already served the purpose of building up the numbers of wargamers in Britain and making it easier for British wargaming companies to get started.
Australia, with a smaller population than Britain and with a much smaller SPI agency arrangement, managed to develop an even stronger local wargames industry. Maybe it was the warmer weather, who knows? It may have had something to do with the weaker tradition of miniatures wargaming and a more colonial attitude towards just jumping into a new concept and pushing it as far as possible.
Canada, to the everlasting chagrin of many Canadians, was just an extension of the US wargames market, although a number of small wargames publishers developed up north. SPI did have the dubious distinction of publishing the only US manufactured wargame to sell more copies in Canada than the US. The game was on the Canadian separatist movement of the 1970s. It was called "Canadian Civil War" and had the additional questionable honor of having the first sample copies seized at the border by Canadians customs officials as "seditious material." Great publicity it was, too.
The non-English speaking nations had to overcome the additional problem of language. It wasn't just a matter of translating the game rules from English to the local lingo, we had to come up with workable new words in the foreign language for the unique technobabble found only in wargames. This was a major problem for many years, although many nations ended up doing what they have done with so many other English technical terms: they just took the English terms and used them as is.
Most industrialized nations have a high percentage of English speakers among their professional/technical classes (often over 80%, as in the Netherlands). In these nations, many wargamers simply bought the American version and played it. Eventually, enterprising local gamers began to develop games themselves and publish them in their own language. This was in addition to licensed translations of best selling American wargames. Some nations, like Japan, have translated locally designed and published wargames into English and sold them in the US.
In most European countries, and Japan, wargame publishing began as a sideline for established toy and print publishing companies. This meant that the products were, well, a bit more subdued than in America. There was a tendency towards more flash and less substance. Nevertheless, there were some outstanding wargames put out.
By 1983, there were five wargame publishers in Japan, But through the rest of the 1980s, fantasy and science fiction games began to edge out the wargames. Most of the wargame publishing operations cut back or shut down. The same thing happened in Europe. One interesting development in France was the emergence of one of the few gaming magazines that successfully combined historical wargames, fantasy, science fiction and computer games. The magazine, Casus Belli, is owned by a major publisher, but has a circulation of over 50,000 and is quite profitable.
There is even wargaming in many Third World nations. The major restriction there is money. Wargames are relatively expensive. Much of the interest in these nations comes from the professional military. US professional wargames are quite expensive and few nations of any size outside the US can afford them. In fact, it was customary for the US military to send friendly foreign staff officers to me to obtain "wargaming they could afford." This brought some interesting visitors to my doorstep, including a senior general of the Egyptian General Staff. In one case I was visited by some US officers, sent by the US general commanding UN forces (US and South Korean) in Korea, for some advice on how to get the South Koreans into wargaming.
There were some even more curious incidents. Once, while at SPI in the late 1970s, I was visited by the FBI. They wanted to look at our mailing list, as they believed someone was buying wargames from us and illegally exporting them to mainland China. They never told me if they caught the, er, smuggler. The Nationalist Chinese (Taiwan) were more up front. They would buy games (apparently legally) and several times took me out to dinner to talk shop. Well, at least they were on our side.
The Russians were also great fans of US wargames. They were particularly interested in World War II games and senior staff at the Russian UN delegation were quite eager to get their hands on SPIs "War in the East" game. I eventually did find out who they had play the German side. In 1989 I was invited to dinner by a Russian navy captain who had worked on wargames in the Russian staff academy. He pointed out something I already knew, that Russian wargaming was either miniatures, or simply a series of formulas. At least that was the official form of wargaming. He allowed as how paper wargames were eagerly played whenever Russians could get their hands on them (money again). Oh yes, he noted that the junior officers had to play the bad guys, and the junior officers were expected to show proper respect for their superiors (who played the Russians). Some things never change.
As PCs began to proliferate overseas, computer wargames became popular. If anything, computer wargames became more popular in Japan than in the US. Going into the 1990s, the computer wargame is the growth segment of wargaming overseas. Paper wargames still survive outside the US, but in a much diminished form.
Analytic History, and What Is a Simulation Anyway?
How Many Wargamers Are There?
Table of Contents
Chapter 5 Contents