Seven Years War gaming, the journey begins

I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere my curiosity spawned by the tremendous interest in 18th-Century pseudo-historical wargaming. There are literally dozens of blogs, each featuring their own “ImagiNation” around which a hobbyist develops a fictional European nation, its history, uniform, and politics. The notion of this sort of wargaming has deep roots going back to some of the earliest sourcebooks on the subject, but the internet (and especially the free blogosphere) has really allowed this field to bloom.

I’m the kind of person that will take interest in subjects that appear to have a strong following. This is sort of the “if someone else were to jump off a bridge, would you too?” To which my answer would be “if he came back grinning like a fool and saying how much fun it was, then I’d think about it.” But getting into SYW wargaming appears not that easy. For one thing, the historical wargaming community is notoriously insular and resistant to innovation. Don’t believe me? Take a gander over at the hub of the ImagiNations, Emperor vs. Elector. Going through the ranks of the bloggers, you find a common theme in the “about me” section: “20+ years wargaming,” “I’m an Old School Wargamer,” etc. Some are downright bellicose regarding “New Age Wargamers.”

I understand full well the tendency towards homostasis that infuses all aspects of our lives, but this kind of confrontational, unfriendly attitude regarding what is really supposed to be hobby seems powerfully counterproductive. Case in point: rules. Good luck discovering what ruleset people use to play these games. Some thoughtful people actually put a link on their website, but most don’t. The really difficult ones say things like “I’m playing a ruleset I made up myself consisting of a hybrid between Out of Print Ruleset and Ruleset You Can Only Get If You Belong to This Obscure Gaming Club in West Hambernobshire, England. But I’m not going to share it.” The message seems twofold. One: I don’t care about promoting the hobby beyond my own inner circle (despite having a website about it), or two: when you’ve gotten as invested as I have in all of this, you can get in.

I’m not trying to alienate the SYW wargaming community, just as an outsider wanting in pointing out how intentionally or unintentionally difficult they are making it for new people. Which, in my mind, is not only unhelpful but ultimately unproductive for the hobby, because eventually you might want to find someone else to game with, and pure attrition means you’ll need new stock from time to time. At present, the most positive thing I can say is that at least this community is not as bad as Napoleonics.

So, having been perhaps even more critical than I intended to, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give this hobby a spin, and see how it goes. I’m not an “Old School Wargamer,” I’ve been gaming for about eight years, starting with and continuing to play Games Workshop games. I’ve got limited historical knowledge on the subject. I can’t distinguish between a brigade, a battalion, and a company. But I’ll take the plunge, learn on the way, and share the experience for anyone else that has looked at all of this stuff and said, “looks like fun, but what do I do?”

Stay tuned…


  1. Nothing but agreement from me. Historical gamers seem nothing but grouchy and unapproachable. Makes me wonder how any of them have any fun.

    PS – I think you need to add commas between the Tags, unless you want it to read as one great big long tag 🙂

  2. I think a lot of them have fun, and frankly I want a piece of that action. My wife asked me why I had picked up another game, this one so different from others in my collection (which is largely sci-fi and fantasy, with only a smattering of historical stuff) and my answer was pretty straightforward:
    For the past five years I’ve basically played only one miniatures game–Warhammer Fantasy Battles. And in those games have played the same person probably over 80% of the time. The reasons are manifold, but the biggest is that I live in a very small town that is half an hour away from a medium-sized town. And while I enjoy playing my now arch-rival VInce, and think of him as a great player and a great person, I want to expand those horizons, and perhaps seek venues where I’m not so tied down socially based on my profession. That’s another small-town issue, where everyone knows you and what very bizarre vocation you have.
    So my reasoning is that, apart from Warhammer and WH40K (which I like only so-so), what other popular games are there out there? And of those popular games, which are likely to be populated by intelligent mature adults such as myself? My search has led me in the direction of historical wargaming, although I do not know if it will bear fruit. But I figure that if I pick a popular time-period/genre, my chances of finding an opponent will increase, simple as that.

    • Hey, my name is Tim Greene. I want to let youknow there are some historical gamers out there who are friendly and welcoming to new pkayers.

      I’ve been playing historical miniatures since 1987. The Seven Years War and 18th century are one of my favorites. I am in California. Our group uses 28mm scale figures. We m k stly play Black Powder. If you play War Hammer you might like B k ack Powder. It was written by Rick Priestly. It is a toolkit for wargaming from 1700 to 1900. There is an 18th century supplement called Last Argument of Kings. We have further modified that. I am writing a supplement for Black Powder spec ificallyon the Seven Years War which I hope Warlord Games will decide to publish.

      Another system which was written specifically with 18th Century Imaginatio n s in mind is Maurice from Sam Mustafals Honour website. You might look into that.

  3. There is so much to say so I’ll outline only a few things:
    1. In historical gaming the player has the joy most of the time to discover unit structures, uniforms, history and tactics on his/her own. Kind of like mining. Discovery is fun and is a big part of historical gaming.

    2. Suggest you obtain all of Christopher Duffy’s works. The Military Experience…. book is a good one.

    3. Find a group that does the SYW and they will help you.

    4. SYW gamers seem to be among the most polite gamers there are. This derives from their earliest foundational systems from Charles Grant, Peter Young, Donald Featherstone and because the era at the level of officers and above seems to be more gentlemanly refined. Polite. SYW gamers seem to embody this more. Also the ones who are older have left behind, or say they have, toxic aspects of the hobby.

    5. If you live in the USA/Canada, there is an annual SYW Assn. Weekend in South Bend, Indiana. Write to me offlist if this of interest.

    6. See the website I put in here someplace for the booklet Batailles de l’Ancien Régime 1740-1763 (BAR) for more.

    Votre Serviteur,

  4. Hi. I had a similar problem with wargaming the Seven Years War.
    Most rules are rehashed Napoleonic rules or they try to encompass the whole of the 18th and 19th centuries.
    I was so disappointed with the rules available I sat down read as much about the Seven Years War in Europe and then proceeded to write my own rules.

    The rules are easy to follow and quick to use. My rules do differ from others where the charge is resolved first before any other actions.
    I cannot see why a charge goes in the stops for the rest of the bound/move whilst every other unit marches around the charging unit as if it stationary.

    The Tricorne and Musket 1740 rules are available on my Age of Musket website
    The rule are in PDF format.

  5. The “Tricorn” period is a wonderful one to explore. It basically starts with Marlborough and goes though the end of the American War of Independence.

    The “Seven Years War” (1756-1763) is probably the most popular period, but there are many others of interest . . . and, as long as you aren’t a “Uniform Nazi”, most troops can be used in many of the different conflicts.

    Yes, there are a plethora of rules . . . but part of this is that there are many different “levels” of command that can be modeled. And many different conlicts . . . for example, the Seven Years War not only took place in Europe, but in India and North America (called the “French and Indian War”).

    If you have someone in your area who already plays, start using whatever rules they use. If there isn’t anyone, take a look at “Warfare in the Age of Reason”. They are not my particular cup of tea, but they are probably the most widely-played set.

    It really is a great period . . . and has some of the nicest guys playing it . . . and the figures are far far more reasonably priced than those Games Workshop sells for its games.

    — Jeff

  6. Howdy from another SYW noob. I’m doing Russians and am plowing through them like the Russians, slow but steady (fyi, mostly the same uniform colors so easier to paint!). I usually do WW2-beyond so this is also a new period and I had very little background in it. So far I’ve only read a bio on Catherine & Elizabeth and it gives a bit of insight into the Russian perspective on the war. The Ospreys aren’t that bad for background and a quick dive-in. I’ve got some books coming on tactics of the period, that’s more along the lines of what I need to know so I understand what I’m doing (or doing wrong) and why things are the way they are.

  7. I’ve found the gentlemen involved in the Emperor-Elector blog (and the Old School Wargaming Yahoo Group) to be some of the nicest, most forthcoming people when it comes to sharing knowledge about 18th century military history specifically and the wargaming hobby more generally. All you have to do is ask.

    And not all of us have been doing the (pseudo-) SYW for so long. I’ve only engaged in the madness for a couple of years while others have been doing this kind of thing for 30 years or more. An easy way in might be to ask some specific questions about things like organization or formation or uniforms. You could even ask one of the “imagi-nation” guys about the figures he’s using and why, uniform colors, how to create fictitious campaign maps, etc., etc.. It’s easy.

    Of course, you could always drop by The Grand Duchy of Stollen blog (my own) and leave a comment or two as well. 😉 The best thing about doing the 18th century imaginary campaign thing though is that one can blaze his/her own trail within the very broad parameters of the period. Just relax and enjoy!

    Best Regards,

    Stokes Schwartz

  8. Dear Strangevistas,

    I was searching the net to see if anyone had ever modified Warhammer for the Seven Years War and encountered your blog. I’m one of those “I’ve been gaming for thirty years” types, and your comments were an eye-opener for me. Do we really come off all snobby like that? If so, I’m really sorry! We’re all just pushing toy soldiers around, whether it’s SYW or Warhammer 40K, so I for one will watch my attitude carefully.


    • Yes, there is a great rules set called Black Powder that uses that system as a starting point and is gaining in popularity.

  9. No, I don’t think that everyone “comes off all snobby like that.” In fact this experience of exploring SYW wargaming has introduced me to a very genial, even support gaming community.
    I’m just sorry that I was unable to find other players in the western Ohio area.

  10. Hi read the blog and found it is a fair comment. There are a lot of commercial rules that are hard to come by.
    Finding a decent set is even harder. It can be disappointing if you spent £10/$10 or more and find the rules rubbish.
    Hence I have published my set of rules via the internet which are all free and in PDF format for easy access across all oppporating systems and.

    If you go to the Age of Musket website
    there is a set of Seven Years war rules here which have had positive comments .
    Also there are several other rules for other eras so you are spoilt for choice.
    The previous address at geocities has moved due to the closing down of the website facility they supplied.
    On the website you can access my modern rules, WWII rules and Rorkes Drift rules.
    Happy wargaming

  11. I have up dated the Age of Musket rules series.
    I have added rules for the American – Mexican War, American War of Independence and rules for the Independence Wars of Simon Bolivar and San Martin.
    Rules for the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 will be ready soon.
    The website has been up dated with a page of the rules listed by the continent the wars were fought in i.e. Americas and Europe.

  12. Whilst it can be frustrating not to be able to find a definative set of 7YW rules especially for someone coming from a Warhammer background where the whole hobby is given to you on a plate, in some ways this is a strength of the period. Because there are many good books on the tactics, strategies and outcomes of the period there is very large tempatation to write a set of rules yourself. I’ve written one that started from the Fire and Fury ACW rules but has developed in many directions until only really the core combat mechanism remains. If I ever feel that it is ready I might publish it but it is not a question of wanting to keep others out its is merely that I keep wanting to explore another angle. One of the things that historical wargamers do not like about the way Fantasy wargaing has gone is the way that more commercially minded writers/manufacturers have tried to corner the market forcing players to use exclusively their products if they want to be included in the wider community. Although I like their models I fear that the Flames of War WW2 team are attempting the same thing with that period. This can be especially annoying when you begin to suspect, as I do, that the rule writers sacrifice historical accuracy or playability for mechanisms that push people to buy more an more lead to cram on the table! As long as there are lots of different 7YW rules out there (many not published) it makes it harder for this period to suffer the same fate a SciFi/Fantacy and (increasingly) WW2.

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