Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The changing face of wargaming

One of the things that has impressed me most in the time I've been wargaming is the way that game design has progressed.  

When I started it was with Diplomacy and Warhammer Fantasy Battle, both of which required a certain time investment to play. Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition was massively fun at the time, but it took an evening to cost out your army, took all day to fight, and the amount of dice rolling was phenomenal. Diplomacy required eight people (seven if you could get by without an umpire), and by the end of the game your relationship with at least one of those players would be damaged almost irreparably. 

That said, each game was a genuine event, and would be remembered for years.

When I got into wargaming again in the post-university years, it was with process-heavy historical miniatures games - seemingly cut from similar cloth to WFB - and sprawling hex-and-counter games such as those from The Gamers. 

Enter card-driven games -  Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage and For the People, for example - which used point-to-point movement instead of hexes, based victory around control of blocs of territory, and made card play the central decision mechanism. Able to be used in a variety of ways, each card gave players the choice to trigger an event, use the card to perform an action, or try to bury it so that it could not be leveraged to advantage by one's opponent. 

Then there were Commands and Colors: Ancients and Lost Battles: both hybrid developments of earlier miniatures and board game types. Commands and Colors used cards for unit activation, employed custom dice, and provided generic units with customisable battlefields. Lost Battles used a square grid with a lead (as in front, not metal!) unit model to allow tactical match ups, a handicap system to afford outmatched armies a chance at a game win, and followed a uniquely academic approach.

In the meantime both eurogame and wargame designers had been coming up with interesting new takes on old game mechanisms, such as tile drawing, deck building, trick taking, dice hoarding, chit pulling, and bluffing. Friedrich, Maria, the Simmons titles and Sekigahara all helped bring some of these interesting intersections into the world of wargames. 

Then along came W1815, the strikingly innovative map game on Waterloo, which featured static forces, and an action card for each commander, not only designating possible actions as in other card-driven games, but also - brilliantly - functioning as individualised combat results tables. This game on its own has led to an entirely new 'static battle' genre that is being explored by designers to take on previously hard-to-game situations, and its influence is felt almost everywhere. 

Ian Brody's groundbreaking Quartermaster General series has been another landmark modern design. In terms of how cards can be used to introduce player options, create gruelling battles of hand and mind, while also reducing large conflicts to key elements playable in ninety minutes, it is hard to overstate its importance. Who would have thought in 1980 that you could take World War II and play it out as a six-player game in recognisable and satisfying fashion in less time that it takes to complete a game of Risk, and without a die in sight? Certainly not Milton Bradley!

The Quartermaster series has broadened the definition of wargame.

And the dance continues. The Undaunted series has added new layers of depth to map, card and dice combinations in wargames. Solitaire games, using bots, are plentiful - and designers are retro-fitting older games for solitaire play using these new concepts. We are seeing an explosion of impressive fast-playing, decision-centric, bot-soloable, war-themed crossover games that bring in ideas put together in fresh ways by young(ish), crafty designers who are not afraid to defy wargame convention, who have wide gaming experience in different genres, and will borrow and refine from anywhere in the service of the game.  

It seems, at the moment, that possibilities are legion.

What a great time to be a wargamer! 

5 comments:

  1. Aaron,
    As always, well informed, well stated, and well worth thinking about. Inspires me to consider my own philosophy - for lack of a better word - and history. (Yes, again for the latter, but perhaps a first for the former.)

    Nitpicking: I would have typed myriad instead of legion, but as you have been known to game in the ancient periods . . .

    Apologies for brevity and lack of more substantial comments. I shall have to copy this so I can read and annotate, dissect and comment more fully at some future point.

    Cheers,
    Chris

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  2. You know me too well, Chris ;) Thanks for your thoughts. Cheers,
    Aaron

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  3. Very interesting post on wargaming development paths, Aaron.

    First, I would say this it is always a great time to be a wargamer!

    Second, the designs and attributes you highlight seem more of an evolutionary process, in nature, than a revolutionary one. Sure, some game design concepts may appear revolutionary but could they have been created in a vacuum without standing on the shoulders of those going before? Perhaps so but perhaps not. Later designs are always pushing the development envelope in an attempt to provide innovation and freshness. Are these designs simply a step up in the natural development progression/cycle or a radical regime change? Often there is something old in these new designs that harken back to an earlier age.

    Still, I have a small list of designs that I think are revolutionary in substance.

    Much to think about...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Jonathan, and yes, I agree that these are all 'standing on the shoulders of giants' advances, but they still require the pulling together of disparate elements from various sources and the designer's own unique input to realise their vision.
      And again you are right - it's always a good time to be a wargamer :)

      Cheers,
      Aaron

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  4. and if you are a self confessed ruleset hoarder its also quite expensive to own them all (but i dont mind really ;-) )

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