But while this is a facet of the hobby, its not really where the roots of the modern hobby lie. What little we know of 19th Century Kriegspiels lean towards their being developed for studying/training contemporary warfare (for someone in the 1840's examining Napoleonic Warfare was still examining Modern Warfare). When we pass to HG Wells and Stevenson playing with Toy Soldiers, the games are still based on contemporary war, and the same is true of Captain Sach's game.
I'm not sure exactly when the "Historical" part crept in. A casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that it sprang Athena like, fully formed from the foreheads of Don Featherstone and Joe Morschauser but both books report on a small but well developed hobby of miniature wargaming set in historical settings (mind you its easy to forget that in 1962 WWII was still a contemporary war, closer in time than the 1st Gulf War is now with WWII veterans still on active duty and weapons such as Bren Guns, T34's and Sherman tanks still in service).
In any event, the idea of miniature wargaming as either a history based or fantasy/scifi based hobby is now commonly accepted. Just how historical those historical wargames are can vary pretty widely. Many wargamers will take part in refights of historical battles from time to time but most want the freedom to make their own choices and after all, even something as simple as the decision to allow d'Erlon to be committed at Quatre Bras slips from "history" to "alternate history" or "speculative history". In fact, while there are some gamers who only wargame specific historical battles and only deploy exactly the right regiments in the right uniforms, in the right postions, the vast majority of games whether historical scenarios, table top teasers, competetion games, campaigns or pick up games are "based on" and "inspired by" rather than "recreating" history and there is nothing wrong with either approach.
Within that large tent of "inspired by" there has always been an element enjoying an additional touch of imagination which shows itself by the invention of fictional countries and wars. These can range from narrowly disguised historical campaigns to those who blur the line between history and science fiction or fantasy. There are those who raise an eyebrow at such frivolity but it goes right back to the roots of the hobby and Red Army vs Blue Army.
For over a decade now, I have been intermittently working on a serious exploration of this frivolous aspect of the hobby. Somehow a collection of glossy Victorian toy soldiers just calls out for a setting less serious and exacting than only the recreation of actual past events. The question has been, should I make a serious attempt at alternate history, go whole hog and invent fictional lands and armies or settle somewhere in the middle. Having poked a tentative toe into each of these waters, they each have their own appeal and their own difficulties.
Alternate History: The idea here would be to explore a real historical possibility, in my current context that would mean taking one or more serious war threats between the US and Britain in the middle of the 19thC, speculating on how and why they turned into actual conflicts then following through in a plausible manner. Investigating the actual history and finding plausible alternate events is a lot of work but interesting as one examines politics, economics and recorded historical deployments and contemporary wars. This only gives you a starting point though and as the campaign progresses, one soon loses all historical context for plausibility. That's not the problem. The problem is that serious alternate history is as limiting in its own way as actual history.
By the end of the Aroostock "war" there were something like 40,000 men in arms in the Canada's, and perhaps 20,000 more in the Maritimes (the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick not being considered as part of Canada) in each case a mix of British regulars with volunteers and militia. Even given the wide geographic area and the need for garrisons etc,, still more than enough to allow for some decent wargame clashes and if there had of been a real war, that number of troops might have been doubled. If we go west however, it is unlikely that eiother side could have thrown 3,000 men into the Columbia District (Oregon Territory) and any battles for that half of the continent would likely have been skirmishes between a few hundred men at most. Fair enough, one can make an interesting wargame of such an encounter but the point is that there is no way to make a plausible alternate history campaign involving armies of 30,000 men maneuvering across Oregon in 1846.
FICTION. So what about the "imagi-nation" or fictional contry route? I enjoyed creating Faraway and Oberhilse, dipping into fabricating history and dabbling in designing cultures as well as campaigns and I can see the attraction but while I was happy enough for one side to be completely invented, even if most uniforms were copied, on the other side the army was a thinly disguised British army and even that thin disguise was irksome at times. It was fun to field the New Dundas Highlanders but the urge to paint and field historical units never faded and it was hard at times not to turn supposedly fictional places into thinly veiled real ones. That's not necessarily wrong but it meant the solution wasn't perfect.
Historical Fantasy. Here is a route that I haven't intentionally explored yet though looking back I can see that I have been there many times. What do I mean by historical fantasy? Simply wargame campaigns or battles between broadly historical armies but without any attempt at a plasuible setting and often incorporating implausible elements. This was long common between ancient wargamers as they pitted say Alexander's pikemen against Caesar's legions but could also be seen in horse and musket games as a Russo-Anglo-Austrian alliance takes on a Franco-Spanish army or what have you. In effect, this is a thinly disguised traditional Red Army vs Blue Army wargame.
On the surface it seems to solve all my issues as I can field what troops I want and give them a campaign setting without worrying about plausibility but while, in theory, I am in full favour of frivolity and escapism in an appropriate setting and even indulge in such behaviour occasionally, I fear that my imagination may not be up to the task and that the implausible bits will be a source of secret guilt! .
Only time and an attempt will tell and at least any historical units painted for this campaign will be usable for potential future ones. (unlike the Faraway Field Force artillery and Blue Guards!)