I haven’t really sat down and watched a movie at home in a long time. Most of my leisure time is devoted to my wargaming hobby, but I’ve also been reading more, and as a result the simple pleasure of taking in a film on the comfy chair in our living room has just plain slipped my mind.
So, recently, I forced myself to start watching some of my favorite films, and I’ve been rediscovering the joys and pleasures of the western genre.
I grew up on a lot of classic cinema, from musicals and the old three-hour sword-and-sandal biblical epics to World War II action films to lots and lots of cowboy movies. I mean lots of them.
The western is a genre that I think has gotten a lot of flack in recent years. Except for, say, Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” (which came out 27 years ago this year) there doesn’t seem to have been a western that’s really hit a major chord with mainstream American audiences for a long, long time. Every so often, one comes out but they frequently don’t do well at the box office or just develop a small cult following – or the film’s western theme has to be mixed with other genres (i.e. horror – see “Bone Tomahawk” as an example of this) to be viable.
There are plenty of reasons for this, the major one being, I think, that the western, which thrived in the middle decades of the 20th century, isn’t needed anymore as a storytelling vehicle. Cowboys were the “rugged individualist” that was taming a supposedly wild frontier – an apt metaphor for an America that was trying to feel its way through the Cold War and frequently felt besieged.
With the Cold War long over, and new issues taking center stage both domestically and internationally, the western and the cowboy are essentially obsolete.
Except in wargaming.
There are plenty of fun, tantalizing options for you to put a western spin on your miniatures gaming activities. Here are just a few creative examples:
• Cowboys vs. Samurai: Akira Kurosawa (of “Seven Samurai”) famously drew inspiration for some of his films from the aesthetic of American westerns. Then, of course, Hollywood took notice and adapted some of his films into westerns. Using this as inspiration, there are plenty of options, whether for larger-scale wargaming or skirmish battles that can enable a troop of samurai and a troop of cowboys or U.S. cavalry to cross paths (and swords/sabers).
• Weird West: Take the western and cross it with horror and/or sci-fi elements, and you end up with the Weird West genre. A good early example of this is the “Jonah Hex” comic from DC, but for a skirmish wargame the Weird West setting is already out there (it frequently crosses paths with or is incorporated into steampunk and dark Victorian wargaming) for you to look into and enjoy. Resurrected gunfighters, Appalachian sorcerers, Apache shamans, pilgrim cultists and more can be incorporated into this theme and make for atmospheric gaming.
• The Mexican Revolution: A lot of latter-day and postmodern westerns (such as “The Wild Bunch” and “The Professionals”) use the Mexican Revolution as a backdrop for cowboy movies, and you can do the same for your wargaming. For instance, what about a group of American mercenaries taking on the Federales in an effort to rescue some gold for the rebels?
About he author;
Peter Kuebeck is a writer, gamer and award-winning mini-painter living in the Midwest. He wages a constant battle against the ever-growing tide of unpainted minis in his basement, and occasionally GMs role-playing game sessions with friends. Catch his hobby shenanigans on Twitter at @popculturecube