When I was in high school in the late 80's the gaming industry seemed to be in great shape, there was SPI, GDW, AH and others. I went to college and found beer and girls, and then the working world and just didn't keep playing. In the past couple of years I've been trying to get back into it and I see that much has changed.
So what happened - was it the end of the Cold War, was it computers? (Iv'e never understood some of the antipathy to computers and computer gaming, seems very complimentary to me)
Anyways since I really didn't see it happen, I'm just curious...
In general, I think the miniatures hobby has done a better job at bringing in fresh blood than the card board wargamers. At some point in time, the miniatures guys realized that the barriers to entry in the hobby were too steep. People didn't have time to paint WRG sized armies, and they didn't have the cash to invest in 500-1000 figures right off the bat.
So, they adapted. They created things like DBA (with now its multitude of variations). Its historically themed, at least, playable on a kitchen table. You can buy an army for $40 bucks or so, and the painting is managable for even the most ham fisted of artists. Then, they started doing away with elaborated packaging, so that even larger, 25mm scale figures were more affordable in army size. Even the historical emphasis changed. Napoleonics no longer is the top dog, its WWII skirmish -- again low cost for entry. Kind of like Warhammer 40K for the Warhammer line. They recognized the time constraints of the hobby membership and really altered the hobby. The last time I was at Historicon, it was crawling with kids.
Ironically, if anyone did not adapt to the new reality, it seems to have been Games Workshop. In the era of plastic painted fantasy minis for $1.50 a piece, and effortless "clicks" systems, they seem hide bound to an outdated model. They've had major problems in the UK -- their home territory.
While I agree that some of the miniature hobby have made great strides, many rules sets leave a lot to be desired in terms of poor writing, layout, and just overall lack of effort made to create a finished product. While the DBx series seems to represent the new standard, the rules themselves are poorly written and almost incomprehensible. For a newbie, unless they hook up with experienced gamers, they're going to have a hard time of it.
Personally, I would say that the average set of boardgame rules are better written and playtested than the average set of miniatures rules.
In my (limited) experience, I have to second this to some degree. I've only enticed young players with the "toys" in AXIS AND ALLIES games (and spinoffs), MEMOIR 44, and TIDE OF IRON. From there they either go into the miniatures games or to board wargames. But what draws them are the plastic figures....
I think a well constructed game with nice components (look at LNL World At War for example) can really draw people into board games, and then as they grow in the hobby they can get used to less eye candy and more abstract concepts.... If you aren't a history buff then a lot of the NATO symbols don't mean much - but a picture of a tank (a color pciture to scale) makes sense.
Nothing personal Andy, but I think this argument doesn't work. My reason - none of us (save for those who have served in the armed forces) ever saw NATO symbols until we got into wargames. Part of the allure was figuring out what it all meant. I think that our innate curiosity is part of what drives us as gamers ... mastering the system. If a person needs a lot of hand-holding and guardrails, I don't think they'll last long as gamers.
Actually, I think NATO symbology is the perfect example. It was adopted out of the simulationist streak that runs in hobby thinking. We aren't playing games, we are training people to command troops in the field -- nonsense.
By adopting this alien looking symbology, we added yet another barrier to entry. NATO uses this approach to avoid confusion between members of an alliance that speak languages as diverse as Turkish and Portugese. We use it like a secret handshake.
Now, I will forgive NATO symbology on a game like Third World War, or anything else that had Soviet tanks rolling into the Fulda Gap. There it was thematically appropriate. But when applied to Napoleonics or and ancients game, it was just absurd.
OK Dav, the map above is not exactly contemporary to the Napoleonic Wars. It was part of a British compendium of battle maps done in the 1850s. That said, it seems very typical of all the Napoleonic unit symbology I've encountered. Whatever it is, it is not NATO symbology. I think that Bowen Simmons captured the texture of Napoleonic graphics with Bonaparte at Marengo almost perfectly. If a game is trying to allude to the period asthetically, as he was, that's the way to go about it.
Of course, as you say, wargaming is also about history. The best wargames provide amazing historical context, and sometimes terrific historical insight. But that's why NATO symbology is that much more silly. Its really anachronistic. Its not how Napoleon would have viewed a battle map, and its certinaly not how Alexander would have drawn one.
I think there is more disposable income for games but unfortunately less time due to family issues, jobs, second degrees etc.
Rule sets have increased in complexity and most gamers I know now focus on one or two game systems. That way they can concentrate on quality play and deep comprehension of the tactical, operational, or strategic problem presented by the game
Wargaming is still alive and well in high school, IF, and only IF, you can find a teacher that is a gamer. As a former educator I found that most teachers were not gamers and most game designers were not teachers. In my classrooms we used simulations on a consistent basis. I have found that if you introduce kids to traditional board wargames they love them! I think it is a form of backlash to computer games which have numerous draw backs: you cannot see the full map most of the time, the game "system" is not visible, you don't have to analyze, evaluate and think as much as the game does that for you. I cannot count the number of kis that were turned on to wargaming from my classroom. Indeed, some are still gamers today.
My suggestion, contact your local school, see if there is a history club or game club of sorts and jump right in!