The Golden Age of Wargaming is Now

I’m what people in the strategy-gaming hobby call a grognard. The word is literally French for “grumbler”, historically used for Napoleonist diehards who never reconciled themselves to the fall of L’Empereur even after 1815, and nowadays refers to guys who cut their teeth on the classic, old-school hex-grid wargames of the 1970s.

As a grognard, I’m expected to grumble dyspeptically about the superiority of the huge, heavy, elaborately simulationist two-player wargames we used to play back in the day, and bemoan how fluffy and social the modern wave of multiplayer Eurogames are. Sure, they’ve got four-color printing and unit counters you don’t have to use tweezers to pick up, but where are my pages and pages of combat resolution tables? Where are my hairsplitting distinctions between different types of self-propelled assault gun? O tempora! O mores!

But you know what? Times change, and game designers have actually learned a few things in the last forty years. In this essay I’m going to revisit two games I’ve reviewed previously (Commands and Colors: Ancients and Memoir ’44) and take a closer look at two others: War Galley, and Conflict of Heroes. These games exemplify how very much things have changed, and how little point there really is in pining for the old-school games any more. Yes, I may forfeit my old-fart credentials by saying it, but…I think the golden age of wargaming is now.

So we know what we’re talking about, I’m going to start by laying out some metrics by which you can judge the quality of a game design, then evaluate these for the games we”ll be looking at.

First: Realism. A historical game is “realistic” to the extent that if you do correct period tactics you will get the results that historical commanders got. A highly realistic game should also not reward doing things that are ahistorical. That is, for example, if you find a corner case in the game rules that makes some unit type vastly more effective than it was in period and that distorts the outcomes of battles, this is a realism bug.

Second: Playability. How difficult are the rules to learn and remember? How much setup time is required? How long does the game take to play? Simple rules engines, minimal setup, and rapid play are good, but these virtues may have a cost in simulation realism.

Third: Depth. A game is “deep” when it offers lots of behavioral space to explore, multiple paths to victory, and surprising turns which proceed naturally from its logic. Deep games reward repeated play and careful study.

Fourth: Thematic appeal: A game has thematic appeal when it covers a subject that is intrinsically interesting. Of all the metrics I’ll describe, this is the one gamers are likely to disagree about most, simply because tastes in “intrinsically interesting” vary so much. A game can have thematic appeal by revisiting a well-known arena (Pirates on the Spanish Main! Arrr!) or by shining an interesting light on an obscure corner of history (The second Roman siege of Jerusalem? Cool!)

Fifth: Presentation. Is the physical furniture of the game appealing? Are the maps, tables, and counters easy to read, pleasant to handle? Do they package the game’s mechanics in a way that minimizes the effort of play?

There’s one thing everyone, grognard and newbie alike, can agree on: the average quality of presentation in games has improved spectacularly since the 1970s. Part of the reason for this is technological: cold-press technology has made four-color and specialty printing far less expensive, and economical at much smaller print runs, than it was back in the day. Wider use of game counters with tactile interest (wooden blocks and figures as opposed to thin paper squares) has contributed as well.

Another part of the reason is that game designers have techniques they didn’t in the old days, and fully exploit good ones that were formerly rare. An excellent example of this is the broad shift away from combat based on die rolls followed by a table lookup. This has frequently been replaced by faster-playing, less tedious mechanics using cards or chit draws or unit block losses.

I don’t think there’s much case that the average level of thematic appeal has changed since the olden days, if only because judgments about that are so idiosyncratic.

But now to the grognard’s complaint: where old-school games emphasized realism and depth (sometimes to the actual exclusion of playability), modern designs trade away all that for playability and presentation. And for *grumble* social gaming.

There’s some truth to the charge. The archetypal mega-failure in old-school wargames was Campaign For North Africa (CNA). As the Wikipedia entry correctly notes, “Even gamers who were initially fascinated with the idea of an extremely detailed war game might have been chagrined when they opened the box to discover 1,800 counters, maps large enough to cover several tables, and a three-volume rulebook of considerable weight and density. The rules cover logistics in extreme detail…”.

By contrast, rather a lot of modern games are pretty but shallow and easily solvable. I’ll give one extreme example, a multiplayer card game called Straw about loading stuff (including magic carpets with negative weight) on a camel’s back. It was easy to learn, cute, we laughed a lot while the game was going on, and I never want to play it again because it would bore me to tears the second time.

But these extremes are not symmetrical. These light, fluffy games are popular, much more so than CNA ever was. They have lower development budgets, too. And a game publisher doesn’t care much if you only play a game once, as long as you bought it before that first time. From the publisher’s point of view, replay value and depth are mainly marketing tools to improve the brand; if they can pump out lots of silly, appealing, shallow “family” games for more profit they’re generally going to do just that.

Even forgetting the grognards with extreme views on the subject, this looks like a setup for tragedy from any serious gamer’s point of view. Is everything truly interesting about the hobby doomed to be swept away in a tide of fluff?

Thankfully, no. For one thing, the fluff is incubating a market for more challenging games. Among serious gamers, we recognize a category of games we ironically call “gateway drugs” – brightly-packaged, appealing games of light to moderate complexity that are both worth playing in themselves and tend to arouse a taste for higher-complexity experiences. Puerto Rico, a now-classic Eurogame of trade and development in the 16th-century Caribbean, is a well-known gateway drug. So is Carcassonne, a tile-laying game in which players compete to build medieval cities. An excellent recent example is Castle Panic, a fun little game in which you must fend off waves of monsters besieging your fantasy fortress; I’ve met the author of that one and he smilingly admits to having designed it to be a gateway drug.

For another thing, as I’ve previously noted, there’s a new wave of designers trying to revive the traditional simulationist hex wargame, but in a more modern and playable style. These publishers are finding a market not just among grognards like me but among newer gamers who have passed the gateway-drug stage and are hankering for more challenging fare.

The question all these designers and publishers are facing, now that everyone takes good presentation pretty much for granted, is: Must realism and playability be forever at odds? Can we achieve both in a game that both appeals to newbies and gets the grognard seal of approval? To address this question, I’ll evaluate four recent designs that have tackled it in different ways and with differing degrees of success.

I’ve blogged about Commands and Colors: Ancients before. It’s an excellent example of new-school design applied to a very old-school subject, tactical ancient-period warfare with hoplites and barbarians and legionaries and war elephants and all. It keeps the classic wargame hex grid, but fits over that a light, fast-playing rules engine that mostly replaces lookup tables with results read directly off specialized dice. Another new-school trick is the use of an action-card system to simulate fog of war and the difficulty of unit coordination.

I liked this game when it first shipped in 2006 and have only grown more fond of it since. The designer, Richard Borg, did a superb job of creating highly authentic tactical feel with a very simple rules engine. The game is easy to teach to newbies and has excellent depth for its weight. Each of the four expansions to the base game has broadened and deepened it, to the point where it does a decent job of covering nearly a thousand years of military history – from the early classical Greeks through the wars of Alexander, the post-Alexandrian succession wars, the Punic wars, the Roman civil wars, the career of Julius Caesar, the Roman wars with the Parthian Empire, and the beginnings of the barbarian invasions that brought down Rome. When I compare it to older, heavy-simulationist ancient-period games like the PRESTAGS system, they look absurdly overcomplicated for the degree of realism they deliver.

The realism, playability, depth, and presentation of this game are all good to excellent. Importantly, it proves that realism and playability don’t have to be antagonistic qualities fighting each other in a zero-sum way. But C&C:A doesn’t quite address the grognard’s complaint by itself, and there are several reasons for this. The most superficial is that it lives off in a specialty corner of thematic space, not competing with the modern-period classics of the wargaming form.

But there are deeper problems. C&C:A does yield realism in the sense that one can recognize things that happen on the board as accurately mirroring surviving accounts of ancient formations and tactics. But those accounts are fragmentary, and it is often difficult to separate what we actually know from the results of modern imaginative reconstructions. The orders of battle in the game scenarios use historical facts (such and such a general was present, there were cavalry in this battle and elephants at that one, etc.) but are largely invented because we lack the facts to be definite about them, and they invented are so as to balance sides and create an interesting game.

C&C:A is also evasive about the details of its own simulation. Just how many men does a unit represent? – it never says. The apparent scale of a map hex seems to vary a great deal among scenarios. It treats weapons types and doctrines as interchangeable over very long periods. For example, it is not actually very likely that all skirmishing missile troops from classical Greek slingers c.500BCE up to late Roman bowmen c.260CE could actually be treated as tactically interchangeable – too much variation in weapons, doctrine, morale. Yet for C&C:A purposes they’re all just light troops with four attrition steps, a two-hex missile range, and identical movement and combat power.

In sum, C&C:A, though an excellent game, is open to the charge that its “realism” is only skin-deep, a product of artful vagueness. It is possible to at least imagine a better game, one which would not merely feel realistic in play but justify that feeling by not handwaving away so many details.

Memoir ’44 makes an interesting contrast, because it’s from the same designer as C&C:A, deals with a period that is very well documented, and does compete directly with those modern-period classics. It applies a minor variation of the C&C:A rules engine to a different topic, yielding very divergent results. In doing so, it lends additional point to the grognard’s complaint.

M44 is an operational-level World War II game. Like its ancient-period sibling C&C:A, is both highly playable and has excellent presentation; accordingly, it is highly popular (lots of people like WWII games) and the hobby equivalent of a runaway bestseller.

The trouble with this is that Borg’s rules engine doesn’t apply nearly as well at operational rather than tactical scale, nor to a period in which (a) mobility is higher, (b) units have radios, and (c) ranged weapons are much more important. The system of action cards and field zones that worked so well in C&C:A feels ahistorical here, leading to unnatural tactics. The game makes a good first impression (I was more positive about it back when I first reviewed it), but these flaws – invisible to newbie gamers unfamiliar with the period – become more obtrusive over repeated plays.

I’ve also found that M44 scales up poorly. C&C:A works well whether you have only a handful of units or large armies on the board, but in M44 realism degrades badly as unit counts go up. At this year’s World Boardgaming Championships I spent about five hours as one of eight players refighting Operation Market Garden as an M44 scenario. It was not really a happy experience; command errors combined with the flaws of the M44 system in unfortunate ways.

I’m not going to say M44 is a outright bad game, but overall it’s…disappointing. Mediocre. Doesn’t deliver on its initial promise and surface gloss. It makes a decent gateway drug to get people interested in more realistic WWII games (one of which I’ll review later in this essay). Other than that, though, it exemplifies the grognard’s fear of mediocre but popular lightweight games driving out better designs. Realism poor, playability and presentation excellent, depth medium, thematic appeal good.

Well, if that’s a problem, why not try doing the old-school thing bigger and better with 21st-century production values? That’s the tack taken by War Galley, a game of ancient naval fleet warfare clearly aimed straight at hard-core historical-wargaming grognards. Hundreds of counters, rules for everything – oared movement, sail movement, ramming, board fireships, a gallimaufry of critical-hit types. You want combat resolution tables, it’s got ‘em by the dozen. It’s the kind of game where you need a reference chart just to keep track of the turn sequence.

I wanted this game precisely because it promised a crunchy simulationist experience in the classic style about a topic that has strong thematic appeal for me. Alas, what I got was a chore and a bore. My wife and I started the first scenario, stalled out, and it’s been sitting on the big dining-room table for two months, mocking us.

Maybe it would get easier with repeated plays, but I think the lesson for me is that you can’t go home again. Thirty years ago I would have screwed my courage to the sticking point and played this thing through, because the payoff – immersion in an exotic puzzle with interesting connections to military history – wasn’t attainable with any less effort. But the competitive landscape has changed now; it includes both computer games that do heavy simulationism with much less user effort, and elegant lightweight games with good historical feel like C&C:A. In today’s environment War Galley is a dinosaur. Huge, slow, magnificent from a distance, and doomed.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. When I last touched on the subject, four years ago, there was a tentative renaissance in hex wargaming starting to happen; the launch of C&C:A and its impressive early success could be seen as part of that. Since then, designers have been groping forward, trying to match both the realism standards of the heavy, old-school simulationist game and the playability of contemporary Eurogames. I’ve seen any number of worthy attempts that didn’t quite make it…and now, there’s at least one that does.

Conflict of Heroes is that game. Properly, it’s a game system like C&C:A; the first two installments cover Russians versus German on the Eastern Front from 1941-1943, and more are plausibly promised. It’s a tactical-level game; you’re maneuvering squads of soldiers and individual tanks. This setting is probably the single most popular one for wargames ever, and CoH enters it begging for comparison with Panzerblitz/Panzer Leader, Combat Commander and other tactical-scale classics of the old school.

In some ways it’s like them. The hairsplitting distinctions of old are back; differences between 5cm and 8cm mortars, or Panzerkampwagon model II and IV tanks, are actually significant. Line-of-sight rules for direct-fire weapons; check. Special mechanic for close assault; check. Options for hidden deployment; check…et cetera. This game scores so high on realism that if you get good at it, you’ll actually have internalized a better grasp of modern small-unit tactics than many professionally-trained military officers have – I know this because my main playing partner used to be one of those and so reports.

But it’s also different from those old-school classics in significant ways. There isn’t a combat resolution table in sight; instead, hits are rolled for with a saving-throw-like mechanic using various simple modifiers, rather obviously lifted from the fantasy-roleplaying tradition. There’s a chit-draw system for allocating damage after a hit. There are no movement points as such; rather, all unit actions (movement, firing) are paid for from per-unit action-point pools, optionally topped up with scarce Command Action Points representing officers’ exertions on the spot.

Where older games sometimes had reaction fire and overwatch bolted on as a sort of afterthought, it’s fundamental to the CoH rules engine. Each time a unit moves into a new hex, the enemy has an opportunity to react if they have the action points remaining to do so. This makes play more fluid and means each player actually has things to do during the opponent’s turn. Additional flavor and some unpredictability is provided by special action cards which can allow you to bend the rules a bit and pull the occasional nasty surprise.

The result is a system which matches the tactical realism of games like Panzer Leader but with a much simpler, faster-playing rules engine. It’s like what C&C:A does to old-school ancients games like PRESTAGS – but in CoH there’s no vagueness and no handwaving of the details; you can see down to the bottom of the simulation. Fights that might have taken three hours of mechanics-heavy slogging in older systems collapse to 45-minute joyrides. It’s almost too easy.

Academy Games, the publisher, is marketing this thing well beyond the comparatively small group of grognards like me who would normally be drawn by a detailed tactical game, as a “wargame Eurogamers will want to play”. Their marketing, reacting to the headache-inducing reputation old-school wargames have among younger gamers, emphasizes the lightness and accessibility of the system. But I think this is almost unfair, because I’ve played those classics and I say this game can hold its own just fine in all other ways, too, including realism.

The naked truth is that a lot of the heavy simulationism in early old-school games was a barely functional or even anti-functional way to impress players with the seriousness of what the designers were doing – a sort of blitz of corroborative detail meant to obscure the fact that, hey we’re playing with paper counters and dice here, not real infantrymen and tanks. Once this sort of self-validation by weight of rulebook became the accepted form, it turned into an evolutionary arms race that eventually produced monstrosities like CNA.

The archetypal grognard’s complaint about new-school games is in part an unwillingness to give up those signifiers of seriousness. But I’ve got thirty-seven years of grognarding right here that says to hell with that; the lessons that Eurogames have taught the designers of C&C:A and CoH – and other wargames that will come after them – are valuable. The hex wargame is back, and it’s better than ever. The golden age of wargaming is now.

59 thoughts on “The Golden Age of Wargaming is Now

  1. Jay, Sal would love CoH. I am certain of this.

    (For the rest of you, Sal is the ex-military trainer who introduced me to Western sword.)

  2. Hmm, interesting.

    I’ve been around wargames for about 35 years.

    Never got to _play_ as much as I wanted, though. Even among wargamers I had a vague social dysfunctionality.

    But I recognize what you say about oversized, overdesigned unplayable games. A simulation has to be limited in scope, or it bogs in detail.

    One correction: the original grognards were not the post-1815 Bonapartists, they were the Old Guard of Napoleon’s army, in particular the Grenadiers of the Old Guard. They were all hardened veterans, and so were expected to complain about everything – even as they attacked fearlessly and smashed the enemy.

  3. The essay omits at least two developments, and I wonder why you did so. First, some “old-school” wargames changed substrates from “chits” to “bits.” I think in particular of Larry Bond’s Harpoon and Norm Kroger’s The Operational Art of War. These don’t particularly support your thesis, but explaining why they didn’t trigger a golden age in their own right would strengthen your essay. Second, you didn’t mention advances in rules that improved realism without changing gameplay for the sake of ease and speed. I think of Ad Astra Games and their three-dimensional combat games: Attack Vector:Tactical and Birds of Prey.

  4. harpoon made an interesting transition to the digital realm — the computer versions eliminated a metric ton of pencil-and-paper calculations and recordkeeping (or painstakingly meticulous work with counters or miniatures, depending on one’s cup of tea). but i never once saw a single version that wasn’t UGLY, with lousy graphics and a poorly-thought-out interface.

    i always suspected most developers were concentrating too much on getting the extensive databases correct and not enough on presentation.

  5. The whole time while reading this I was thinking of Phoenix Command. A gaming system that only a statistician could love. (I hear it’s damage and ballistic accuracy tables were originally compiled based on U.S. military statistics on gun shot wounds)

    The thing I like most about phoenix command isn’t actually playing it. I don’t know anyone that crazy nor do I actually think i’m that crazy myself. What i’d love to see (and do if I ever get around to it) is those crazy complex rules translated into software. I’d love to see a game that had most of the look and feel of fallout (or any of the Jagged Alliance games) but the AP system and combat engine was a recreation of the PCCS. I think there was something crazy wonderful about some of these absurdly complex rule systems.

    Having said that I kind of get the opposite feel from computerised wargaming. It might have made sense when the game was Dune 2 on our 25mhz 286s, but seriously why the heck are we limiting ourselves to “that weapon gives me a +1 on a d20 roll” on a machine capable of doing some 3 billion simple calculations a second? Even worse is the “every attack hits and does X damage” meme that most mainstream RTSes force feed us.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that there’s no real options i’d be tempted to consign any game that mentions the words “hit points” to the dustbin. Seriously people, Hit Points were an over-simplification for pen and paper games and theres been enough arguments that they were stupid even there. There’s nothing holy about them and it’s time to move on already.

  6. ESR: how would you design a wargame? Why don’t you? :)

    Also, are you a fan of pen & paper RPGs also?

  7. >First, some “old-school” wargames changed substrates from “chits” to “bits.”

    Yes. More generally, I think a significant part of the reason move away from heavy simulationism in boardgames happened is that computer games do that better than bordgames can hope to.

    >explaining why they didn’t trigger a golden age in their own right would strengthen your essay.

    I think a lot of computer gamers would say they did, and have grounds for it! But I wasn’t writing about computer games this time.

    >Second, you didn’t mention advances in rules that improved realism without changing gameplay for the sake of ease and speed.

    What, you don’t think Attack Vector:Tactical and Birds of Prey change gameplay for the sake of speed? I and Ken Burnside beg to differ, I think :-)

  8. >ESR: how would you design a wargame? Why don’t you? :)

    Never done it because I’ve been too busy with other things.

    Well, that’s not quite true. Long, long ago I designed a small game based on the arena duels in Piers Anthony’s Battle Circle books. Never published. And I have a design credit in one game, an age-of-sail naval wargame called Close Action, but that was more for writing a good intro to the rules than any input on the mechanics.

    >Also, are you a fan of pen & paper RPGs also?

    Played ‘em a lot back in the ’70s and ’80s, pretty much stopped when I got into LARP (Live Action Role Playing) which I still do on occasion.

  9. There is a similar renaissance going on with older editions of Dungeons & Dragons. People figured out that with d20 System Reference Document for D&D 3.X (http://www.d20srd.com) released under the Open Gaming License that if you omitted the newer subsystem and classes what you wind up with similar to the oldest editions of Dungeons & Dragons. (1974 Original D&D, 1st Edition Advanced D&D, Mentzer Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal D&D, etc)

    Since this is discovery several retro-clones have been produced emulating one of the older editions. Adhering as closely as they legally can to the older rules. For example Beholders were not released under the OGL so they are not found in the retro-clones. Experience Points tables are slightly different.

    What has resulted in a vibrant community of people producing material of all kind for older editions. Some are focused reproducing similar material but other are trying new things as well. For example myself with a style of a setting known as a Sandbox Campaign. Lamentations of a Flame Princess (http://lotfp.blogspot.com/) is another author pushing ahead with his focus on weird fantasy.

    One interesting thing emerging is that some people like using the retro-clone rulebook over the original as they are often better organized and more clearly written. This is particularly true of the Original 1974 rules. Some of the retro-clone introduce the use of simplifier d20 mechanics when they are mathematically the same. For example Swords & Wizardry use of Ascending Armor Class along side of the original descending AC.

    The Old School Renaissance (the organic term that applied to all of this) is also appealing to many as a light weight roleplaying game that is time-tested and free of the rules heavy mechanics of recent editions. Other still, like myself, are attracted by the open nature of the community and the ability to jump in and publish material free of onerous licensing restrictions (within limits of the OGL).

    I thought you may be interested in knowing about this as it a application of Open Source outside of computing. Here is a listing of sites I complied from here you can find the rest http://www.batintheattic.com/oldschoolsurvey.htm. My own blog is at http://batintheattic.blogspot.com

  10. “It was not really a happy experience; command errors combined with the flaws of the M44 system in unfortunate ways.”

    So, exactly like Operation Market-Garden, then?

  11. Sal would love CoH. I am certain of this.

    It sounds interesting to me, too…and I’m fairly certain I’d get wiped off the board by anyone with any experience at all.

  12. > And I have a design credit in one game, an age-of-sail naval wargame called Close Action, …

    Really? I never noticed that; I’ll have to look again. I was just commenting to someone last night that the gaming community is surprisingly … I can’t think of the right word; I mean that it probably takes only about 3 “Kevin Bacon” style connections to span the population.

    > harpoon made an interesting transition to the digital realm

    I haven’t looked at digital harpoon in a long time, but my impression was always that it suffered from a confusion as to what role the player should fill. In larger scenarios you’re responsible for micromanaging individual aircraft, turning sensors on/off, as well as coordinating the larger battle, and it just got to be much too much like work. Actually I have a similar complaint about a lot of computer RTS-type games, where skill at the game seems to be more about your skill at getting the most out of a crappy interface rather than developing cunning plans.

    I’ll have to give Conflict of Heroes a look. Thanks for the capsule review!

  13. >Really? I never noticed that; I’ll have to look again.

    Look in the 6.1 version of the game, if you have it. I’m still in occasional friendly contact with Mark Campbell (for the rest of you, that’s the game designer). Additionally, I suspect one of my regular commenters is Mark, under a pseudonym necessitated by his job as an intelligence analyst.

  14. I used own Squad Leader in the day, but had a hard time finding an opponent who was willing to devote the time to play the game. CoH sounds pretty nice. A quick spin of the Academy Games web site reveals an on-line play interface. Has anyone tried the ZunTzu interface?

  15. >I’m fairly certain I’d get wiped off the board by anyone with any experience at all.

    Depends. Do you understand modern-small unit tactics? Have you played a tactical-scale wargame before? If the answer to both questions is yes, you’d probably do OK. I’ll cheerfully teach you CoH next time you’re out here so we can find out. You are certainly intelligent enough to absorb both the game mechanics and a short course in basic tactics in one sitting – in fact, with a little practice I expect you’d get pretty good at this sort of thing. Your cognitive style is quite a bit better suited to it than most people I know who aren’t already hard-core gamers.

    Note: Do not attempt to extrapolate your odds against “anyone with any experience at all” by whether you initially win against me. My CoH record is 4-1, and my only loss so far was in the world championship tournament this year. Nor were my opponents weak; the person I’ve scored four wins against was a U.S.-trained former military officer who I have every reason to believe beat the average for his peers. Over thirty years of wargaming experience does teach a few things; even if I shellack the hell out of you the first dozen times we play CoH, you might still be doing quite a bit better than average.

  16. Additionally, I suspect one of my regular commenters is Mark, under a pseudonym necessitated by his job as an intelligence analyst.

    If this is so, then you should probably delete this comment. Your pseudonymous, non-troll, regular commenters are a pretty small group, so I doubt it would take much effort to guess whom you’re referring to.

    ESR says: Nah. He doesn’t need burn-before-reading security, just plausible deniability, because in a job like that the issue is less actual violations of operational security than a sort of bureaucratized fear that they might be committed.

  17. Wargaming is a hobby of mine. I actually have a somewhat decent collection of old-school paper-and-hex wargames from SPI, AH, Victory Games, GDW, etc. Hex games tug at my heartstrings.

    I think the golden age of wargaming can also come via computers. One of the reason I own so many old games (140+) is the desire at some point to build computer assist engines for them so I can play them. Historically, most games are owned, not played, due to the fact would-be players lack opponents.

    Throw some computer assist around it to handle the mundane details, model the game and let the solo player interact with it and perhaps bring back history. It might even make CNA playable. Yes, I do have a complete copy of that game. It’s one of the pride and joy of my collection.

    Then take it to the next level. One of the reasons I am so desperate for a open tablet computing platform is to breathe life into this genre. Lose the 2D flat grid and go to a 3D, touch-enabled world with nice models in a turn-based where the player can sit back and think, tablet in lap. I think you could draw in would-be wargamers that way. Detailed gaming to allow the player to dive in if they want but enough detail automated and handled for them by default to allow casual play and with a modern look.

    I had some engine prototypes working surrounding the Renegade Legion series of sci-fi wargames from FASA (sorry, I love the series). Perhaps I need to dust them off and hook them into a good rendering engine. Just waiting for a decent tablet platform to give them life.

  18. > Additionally, I suspect one of my regular commenters _is_ Mark

    Hi, Mark! Hope you get out from under soon; it’s been a while.

    ObCoH:

    > I’m fairly certain I’d get wiped off the board by anyone with any experience at all.

    One of the best ways to improve yourself is to get wiped off the board by people that are better than you. If you pay attention to HOW they do it, anyway.

  19. It’s worth a mention (I think) that the computer game Starcraft (roughly the 2nd-best selling PC game of all time) is a hex-based wargame (with a fixed real-time turn length) down in its engine. Unlike it’s mid-90s competitors, though, Starcraft has excellent Depth and thus remains on store shelves twelve years after its initial release. I played with a steady group for a couple hours a week for about two years at one point, and we were still refining tactics (“Hey, those ultraheavy infantry that we liked at first, then discarded as cost-ineffective later, are tremendous if you just sprinkle a few of them in the front of a human wave attack.”)

    Blizzard just released a sequel, after a year or two delay (!) to fine-tune unit balance. Unfortunately it’s still hit-or-miss trying to run it under Wine…

  20. @JonB

    re: Phoenix Command: I used to play it, back in the day. I always thought it was an odd corner case in wargaming. You remember the old joke about a game system that looked like it had been designed by a rocket scientist? PhoeCmd really *was* designed by a rocket scientist: the chief designer still works for JPL as of the last time I heard. The most interesting thing to me about this was that the joke implies that the game is so complex that it is unplayable. PhoeCmd’s rules look intimidating, but I found that in actual at the table play, it was (in general) one of the more quick playing and easy to use systems out there.

    An example for you. PhoeCmd resolved gunfire damage not by any of the usual methods seen in role playing games but primarily by a location roll. This led into a table lookup where you compared weapon energy (from the weapon card), damage value (again, from the weapon) to depth of penetration (based on armor and what was hit, bone, muscle, tissue, what have you) to get a total wounding amount. This translating into a greater or lesser chance of going into shock. It could also show broken bones, etc.

    It *sounds* scary. In play, though, you see that you hit, you roll location, you do a pretty simple look up on a table, you get a result, you and the other players either breathe a sigh of relief or you get shouts of glee if something properly grisly occurred. Here is where, to me, the skill of the designer really shows. PhoeCmd would give you visceral, highly realistic results from a damage roll: a shattered kneecap, or a perforated lung, or a graze of the arm, or a bullet passing through an eye socket into the brain and out the back of the skull (all of which I’ve seen). Yet at the table I found that, with a group with roughly equivalent familiarity with both rulesets, it played somewhat faster that (as a counter example) White Wolf’s World of Darkness games. In WoD, at the end of an attack, you ended up with one or two highly abstract “wound levels” gone, to give a “realism comparison.”

    The key thing that I took out of this was that the usual tradeoff was presented as “realism vs. playability.” But in point of fact, “realism” and “playability”, while opposed, are also on a scale that has to include “designer talent” and “good playtesting.” You can quite easily make a game that is neither playable nor realistic, and in point of fact many games do just that.

  21. CoH – sounds very much like Steel Panthers decomputerized. One of the most interesting features of it – as opposed to thousands and thousands of more simplistic computer games – is that firing at a unit is not just about causing casualties, but also about causing suppression – suppression being kind of a joint concept of being scared / the morale lowered and simply pinned down. Not sure if it is an actual military term or they came up with it. Suppression reduces movement and shooting points, makes tanks button up, makes infantry become pinned, on higher levels, causes units to be completely unable to act, on even higher levels, infantry routs, tank crews bail out and rout… Given that I grew up on much more simplistic computer games it was kind of a surprise to me but I suspect such a concept of suppression – in general, fire havin other effects than causing casualties – is the No. 1 thing in a modern-period wargame that can draw line between arcade-strategies and realistic stuff.

    For example, artillery cannot really kill well dug-in infantry in the real world, but it can cause said infantry to wish to be somewhere else real, real bad. Artillery thus is to be seen mainly as a weapon against morale as far as one is assaulting well-entrenched enemy positions. On the defense it can be a killer if your enemy is advancing through open fields, but timing it well is extremely hard. I always tended to overestimate the movement speed of enemy infantry and use artillery too early.

    This is just stuff SP taught me, I know very little about real-world tactics except what little one can learn from reading a few Tom Clancy novels, as far as land forces are concerced: coming form a landlocked country ,it is logical that I am a rather a navy/marine fan/geek/nerd. It never ceases to amaze me that huge things can move about on their own propulsion and fight, too. Played the hell out of Harpoon and Jane’s Fleet Command, of course.

  22. >One of the most interesting features of it – as opposed to thousands and thousands of more simplistic computer games – is that firing at a unit is not just about causing casualties, but also about causing suppression – suppression being kind of a joint concept of being scared / the morale lowered and simply pinned down.

    Yes, this is a central concept in CoH. Typically, your first hit on a unit inflicts some degree of suppression on it; when you draw a damage chit you get a result like “Suppressed”, “Pinned”, “Damaged”, etc, with various mods to combat and movement stats (though there are a few instant-kill chits in the mix). The second hit kills.

    >Not sure if it is an actual military term or they came up with it.

    “Suppressive fire” is a basic concept in modern tactics.

  23. suppression is an actual military term. your surmise about its effects on realistic modeling at the small-unit level is correct.

  24. Another thing. My experience in boardgaming is little but I have a lot of experience in RPG gaming and maybe what I found out about RPG’s might apply. Or might not. At any rate: going for realism might not be the best idea.

    When I was say 17 and played AD&D I hated its lack of realism – f.e. if Level 10 fighters are fighting with knifes they cannot incapacitate or kill each other with one thrust because they have 50HP on the average not counting CON bonus, and a knife can make 1-3 HP of damage (or if we call it a dagger, 1-4) + STR bonus, if they have any, so they have put dozens of holes into each other until one goes down. Unrealistic. I disliked it, tried other RPGs like Shadowrun or Vampire, tried to design systems of my own, looking for ultimate realism.

    At some point something clicked in my mind and this was this. We are playing this game in order to enjoy it, and not to simulate reality in exact details. This was designed to be enjoyed, reality was not. In reality people sometimes trip over their shoelaces and break their necks on one hand, and shoot dozens of bullets at each other and don’t hit anything with them on the other hand.

    Reality is something that’s either too dangerous or too boring, rarely does it provide just about the right amount of excitement and enjoyment: therefore, anything that aims at entertaining people cannot and MUST NOT be realistic. Something that is designed to entertain people and supply just about the right amount excitement halfway between too much danger/challenge and too much boredom MUST NOT imitate something that was never designed to do so, namely, reality. This is what I have learned and I think every game designer, be that RPG or computer games knows it? Not sure if it applies to board game too.

    Instead of being realistic good RPG mechanics should be “movie-istic” or “novel-istic”. Essentially, they must be dramatic. Epic. Romantic. Never let a player die just by random chance in a random encounter, either save him miraculously in the last second or make it a very spectacular tragic death comparable to Sturm’s in Dragonlance Chronicles etc. etc. How it can be done is a difficult question, I have some ideas but those probably don’t apply to boardgames.

  25. Do you understand modern-small unit tactics? Have you played a tactical-scale wargame before? If the answer to both questions is yes, you’d probably do OK.

    Not in any formal sense (which probably means no), and not in 30 years. I did some wargaming in high school, but quickly lost interest when game mechanics and insane setup times meant that the time actually spent playing a tiny fraction of the time dealing with the game.

    I probably know enough not to get tanks stuck in a swamp and infantry close enough together to allow mutual support, but the formalities of small unit tactics aren’t something I’ve studied beyond that.

    > I’m fairly certain I’d get wiped off the board by anyone with any experience at all.

    One of the best ways to improve yourself is to get wiped off the board by people that are better than you. If you pay attention to HOW they do it, anyway.

    I went from tyro to merely average chessplayer many years ago this way, so I do understand where you’re coming from. I also have no doubts that Eric would clean my clock quite thoroughly.

  26. My CNA experience was with “Air War” (from SPI). Bought it, dragged it over to my sister’s house to play it with my brother-in-law, a Navy pilot and instructor at Top Gun/Miramar. We got about 20-30 minutes into a game — which was excruciatingly slow — and Brad just looked at me with a silent “why are you wasting my time with this?” expression. I packed things up.

    I was more SF/F gaming (and still have all my games from the 70s and early 80s) than modern/historical wargaming, but I know the syndrome well. ..bruce..

  27. >I probably know enough not to get tanks stuck in a swamp and infantry close enough together to allow mutual support, but the formalities of small unit tactics aren’t something I’ve studied beyond that.

    There’s not really a lot of formality to it, just the application of maybe two dozen relatively simple heuristics. For example: don’t divide your forces in the face of a superior enemy, because that’s how you get defeated in detail. Advance infantry by bounds, using crew-served weapons to cover your infantry and then advancing the crew-served weapons to new strong points as the infantry secures them. Reinforce success, not failure. Last person to commit reserves usually wins. Priority targets for indirect-fire weapons are: first, the other guy’s indirect-fire weapons (if you can spot them), then his direct-fire heavy weapons, and only last his infantry. Concentrate forces – one big attack is likelier to succeed than two small ones. Never frontal-assault when you can turn a flank. Complex battle plans seldom survive contact with the enemy, so stick to simple ones.

  28. I’ll be posting on this later; some of my deadlines have a lot of teeth.

    Eric, Memoir ’44 pre-dates Command & Colors: Ancients. I bought Mem ’44 in 2004. CCA is 2006.

  29. @ Jonathan
    Ah, the wonder that is Phoenix Command. It was a fabulous game to teach players the importance of the concepts: duck, down, cover and crawl. Most realistically deadly game I’ve ever played (while still being fun). We played with a “cinematic” modification set that made the player characters harder to hit, especially in critical locations….but you still got creamed by a sniper if you were stupid. Last I heard Barry Nakazono was still at JPL, and still, despite the game being out of print for years, declining to open any of it up. There is still a yahoo group (phoenix_command@yahoogroups.com) devoted to the game (and some other Leading Edge Games products like Living Steel) though it’s pretty low traffic.

  30. One of the best ways to improve yourself is to get wiped off the board by people that are better than you. If you pay attention to HOW they do it, anyway.

    My eldest brother (over a decade my senior) taught me to play chess when I was a kid. After teaching me all the rules, he set up the pieces, and proceeded to beat me with the four-move, aptly-named Scholar’s Mate in the first game. He continued to beat me that way until I figured out how to defend against it. I never got beat that way by anyone else. And every time I lost, I learned a new weakness in my game

  31. @esr

    > What, you don’t think Attack Vector:Tactical and Birds of Prey change gameplay for the sake of speed? I and Ken Burnside beg to differ, I think :-)

    I feel tempted to defer to an admitted grognard and to the game designer, but I stand by my point. AV:T and BoP have a common great innovation that permits playable and useful three-dimensions for combat in the air and in deep space. This improves realism more than it improves ease and speed of play. AV:T makes a better game IMO than does Full Thrust, but FT plays much faster.

  32. Jay, you’re partially right – and very wrong. :)

    Where you’re partially right: 3-D does take more time than a 2-D game. FT does play faster. (Squadron Strike is a closer comparison to Full Thrust in a lot of ways; FT still plays faster, though the gap is not as wide.)

    Where you’re very wrong: 3-D done wrong takes MUCH MUCH more time than 3-D done right. I’d played Battlefleet Mars and Vector 3. Both of them require so much computational overhead of the player that, well, they ensured nobody else tried to make a non-computerized 3-D game for 25 years.

    Where my gifts lie in this field are in UI design, and making play aids that do a tremendous amount of work for you. One of the joys of playing AV:T is that you will understand how vector movement and orbital mechanics work from a very visceral ‘pilot in the cockpit’ perspective, rather than as a series of equations to balance.

    It’s the difference between being able to solve aerodynamic equations with a calculator, and being a pilot.

    But that’s still putting a lot of effort into making the game play as fast as possible.

    FYI, Eric – Full Thrust makes a decent galley combat game. :)

  33. @Jonathan

    used to play it, back in the day. I always thought it was an odd corner case in wargaming. You remember the old joke about a game system that looked like it had been designed by a rocket scientist? PhoeCmd really *was* designed by a rocket scientist: the chief designer still works for JPL as of the last time I heard. The most interesting thing to me about this was that the joke implies that the game is so complex that it is unplayable. PhoeCmd’s rules look intimidating, but I found that in actual at the table play, it was (in general) one of the more quick playing and easy to use systems out there.

    From reading the rules, I certainly figured that it’d get better with some practice. I just have a conceptual block on lookup tables, I blame the Iron Crown Enterprise games for that (rolemaster/spacemaster/MERP). Most of the people I play with are the same way. I agree that intimidating is a much better description however than unplayable. I honestly wish the copyright holders would release it for digital delivery like the Traveller folks did. Or just a collection sidebar quotes…

    “Just because it’s my gun doesn’t mean I’m the one who fired it.”
    “OK, I fired it, but I didn’t think I’d hit any civilians.”
    “Well, yes, it did occur to me that I might hit one or two civilians. But I never really thought I would hit all of them.”
    – Axly

  34. It’s not exactly a wargame (though it makes a fine small unit tactical sim if you don’t mind a fairly broad granularity and the inclusion of elves), but D&D has been going through similar stuff. Current D&D is, in many ways, a much simpler game than it used to be, and of course, many old-school players are horrified.

    You know what? I love it. It flows better, it’s easier to see the exposed wiring of the game balance if you need to eyeball something to avoid a long delay in play while people look stuff up, and it does a better job of a lot of things. Despite all the claims that the game is “dumbed down”, in practice what’s happened is that lot of tedious bookkeeping and table lookup time has gone away, freeing us up to have *much more interesting* tactical decisions. We end up thinking harder and having more fun doing it, because the complexities that were removed were uninteresting, and the complexities that are thus enabled are more interesting.

  35. >[Latest D&D] flows better, it’s easier to see the exposed wiring of the game balance if you need to eyeball something to avoid a long delay in play while people look stuff up, and it does a better job of a lot of things.

    I’ve heard the same from the D&D players at my gaming group. Which makes an interesting booked with the report earlier in this comment thread about the Old School Renaissance reviving the original D&D rules from the early 1970s in part because they’re simpler and less cluttered.

  36. I’ve heard the same from the D&D players at my gaming group. Which makes an interesting booked with the report earlier in this comment thread about the Old School Renaissance reviving the original D&D rules from the early 1970s in part because they’re simpler and less cluttered.

    Well, it’s not quite a “bookend.” What Robert Conley was talking about above was combining the newer d20 game mechanics — first created for AD&D 3rd Edition in 2000, with the old-school classes. So, basically taking the best parts of the recent stuff and combining with the best parts of the old-school stuff. His main point, I think, was that the Open Gaming License — a sort of ‘open source’ license for games, was instrumental in creating this whole Old School Renaissance.

  37. >His main point, I think, was that the Open Gaming License — a sort of ‘open source’ license for games, was instrumental in creating this whole Old School Renaissance.

    Bwahaha. And the tentacles of my sinister conspiracy aimed at world domination spread wider. On the OGL website WOTC used to credit me with inspiring it, and maybe still does. I wonder if they know I’m a gamer from way back?

  38. WoTC has done the following with the OGL:

    1) 4th edition was not released under it.

    2) Any third party publishers who wanted to sign a new license for 4th edition had to sign an agreement stating that they would A) remove any existing OGL-compliant products from the market and B) they would not release any new OGL-compliant materials.

    In response to this, Paizo Publishing created Pathfinder, which is effectively D&D 3.6, under the OGL. Pathfinder has sold fairly well. D&D 4th has sold well; there’s more 3rd party publishers adding material to it.

    One of the problems with D&D 3.5/OGL is a combinatorial explosion of rules. Another problem was that, from WoTC’s perspective as a publisher, they couldn’t really exercise any kind of creative control. There was nothing out there acting as a gatekeeper to make sure that things that were folded into the game engine were worthwhile contributions.

    As a game designer, I like a lot of 4.0′s design space. It’s a cleaner game to play at the table. The bigger win is that it’s MUCH less preparation intensive for the game master. On the other hand, they mostly got rid of the interesting non-combat abilities.

    As a game marketer, the way they handled the transition was nearly a textbook case in how to badly handle a version change. They tried to grab a chunk of the WoW market. They burned a 3 million player market to make this grab. No backwards compatibility, and to a lot of their existing player base, they called it D&D and made it something that clearly *wasn’t* D&D.

    There are at least two other companies using an OGL-style license for their game engines. One of them has all but thrown their game engine into the public domain.

  39. …simpler D&D…

    Overly complex RPGs aren’t necessarily a modern invention. SPI came out with “Universe” roughly 30 years ago (1981 or so, I believe; I’m too lazy to run downstairs and check the box). I had done a lot of D&D and Traveller DMing, and so set up a Universe session with a group of friends (all of us geeks 10 years or so out of high school). I had done lots of prep, had made my own GM screen, etc.

    About 20-30 minutes into the session, the game had bogged down so much do to the complex rules and tables that I stopped using them. Instead, when I had to make some sort of decision (combat results, events, etc.), I just picked a probability and then rolled percentile dice. The rest of the evening went a lot faster and was more fun, but we never tried Universe again.

    I have warm feeling about Traveller, though, not to mention the various Steve Jackson microgames (including Wizard and Melee) and Dwarfstar microgames (such as Space Viking and Star Smuggler), as well as other games of that era. As with software design, game design depends upon picking the right models and abstractions for the problem at hand. ..bruce..

  40. they called it D&D and made it something that clearly *wasn’t* D&D.

    It’s a bit of a stretch for me to describe 4e as a RPG. It feels to me like a miniature war game with some RP elements thrown in.

    And they needed to rename backstab/sneak attack. It’s neither.

    For those who have only played earlier than 4e, the backstab mechanic has been changed so that your first attack per round with “combat advantage” is a backstab, which is fine until you realize that if the rogue is getting mangled by something and someone steps directly opposite the enemy targetting them, the rogue gets combat advantage and thus can backstab no backs or sneaking necessary. Apparantly the intent was to give the rogue a bit more consistency in their damage output.

  41. @JonB:

    Its worse than that. There is a nonmagical mount that guarantees backstab/sneak_attack damage while you are riding it.

  42. @esr:

    Have you ever tried Combat Commander? If so I’d love to hear your opinion. It is often pitted against Conflict of Heroes (on BoardGameGeek.com) as successors of Memoir ’44* for those who wanted more. After reading both rules books I feel more drawn to CC, but would love to hear from a real grognard’s point-of-view.

    * Which for the benefit of other readers I will say is better, IMHO, than you suggest. It deals very well with terrain, I’d say. It also offers more versatility than any other war game because of it’s tile system; that’s a fact. Whether it’s enjoyable is still of course subjective. :)

  43. Fucking hell. I read all of that and totally didn’t give a shit before or after…and I’m a hardcore old-school gamer, both [LA]RPG and tabletop.

    Heck, I used to come back from a week of living in an authentic medieval camp, hunting orcs and defeating evil plots, and laugh at the dorks playing card games like “Magic”….yet I would spend an at least 72 hours working hard at a complex cyberpunk campaign. Go figure.

    I do see a parallel between the tabletop world and the roleplay world….I grew totally sick of the AD&D-esque obsession with an ever-expanding en-fucking-cyclopedia of rules, tables and bullshit. I loved the Warhammer system where BAM YOU’RE DEAD, or the cyberpunk 2020 system of ballistics that totally fucked up all those people that reveled in having armor & hit points up the ass….one shot, you’re dead – I don’t care how big|tough|advanced you are.

    Anyway, I don’t do any of that any more. Sadly. I’m not sure if I miss it or not…

  44. >Have you ever tried Combat Commander? If so I’d love to hear your opinion.

    I think I’ve played it once. Good game, a bit fiddlier and more old-school than CoH. I’d play it again.

  45. I would be very interested in your review of Here I Stand, both because of the game’s interesting mechanics, and its suite of subject matter.

  46. I enjoyed reading your review and the comparisons with computer games. Our original objectives for the Conflict of Heroes series was to create a situational awareness training game for platoon and company level military commanders. Many of the young officers are growing up playing first person shooters, but have little experience thinking through larger engagement tactics. Playing board game simulations help develop their “gut instinct” subconcious decision making process. Those were our original design guidelines – fast decision making and little downtime.

  47. Uwe Eickert, I’m extremely pleased that my commentary attracted your attention. I am curious how you found it.

    >Those were our original design guidelines – fast decision making and little downtime.

    I think you achieved that. But if you want to put officer-trainees under realistic time-pressure, wouldn’t this goal have been better served by a computerized real-time tactical sim?

  48. Eric, I can answer that.

    The difference is between training (what first person shooters give) and education (what being able to roll back after seeing the consequences of a decision are).

    I wrote an article for Training & Simulations Journal on that dichotomy a few years ago.

    Training gives you a ‘programmed response’ to a given set of stimuli. It’s a reward mechanism for doing X by method Y. Training exercises are universally graded on how well the team in question executed the plan that was handed to them. Not on whether or not they won; indeed, deviating from the plan and winning by outside the box thinking can completely wreck an officer’s career at NTC at Ft. Irwin, depending on what deviations from the plan were used.

    Education allows an officer to quickly set up a tactical situation and play “what ifs”. It’s about plan development and learning to assess the macrostrategic picture without being bogged down on the fiddly details. A lot of it boils down to learning a particular sort of pattern recognition skill, and a willingness to explore options, which is the exact opposite of what most officers are taught below the rank of Major or Lt. Col. Up until that point, the officer is taught to execute plans from above, and follow a formal decision making process (the MDMP or Military Decision Making Process) with a full awareness that fucking up will cost people their lives.

    A lot of what is taught at the Command & General Staff College (I have two friends who teach there) is a careful limbering and staging out of the roles of staff officers, how staffs work as teams, and how they decide on a course of action, followed by exploration of options.

    At CGSC, they use networked PCs to do a large part of what you’re describing – and they get educational value out of it. The problem with this is that writing a scenario for a PC sim requires, if not specialized knowledge, a willingness to do the work on top of the other day to day minutia of being an officer, and then wrecking the schedules of enough people to run it, including people to set up the networked computing environment.

    Writing a scenario for CoH is easier, it’s something two or four people can do for entertainment, and it’s fun. It also allows the sim to be modified partway through or rolled back easily.

    We sell a small number of copies of Birds of Prey to the Navy and Air Force each year, becase the fidelity is good enough for interested pilots to get a ‘feel’ for what it’s like to face a different jet – what its capabilities are – without having to book flight simulator time at a training center.

  49. I’ve got a book that I’m writing that discusses game design, user interface design, their intersection, and trying to achieve a mental state in the player(s) of the game.

    Most of the changes Eric is describing are improvements not in production values, or even improvements in play space and decision making, but improvements in user interfaces for the games as presented.

  50. [blockquote]What Robert Conley was talking about above was combining the newer d20 game mechanics — first created for AD&D 3rd Edition in 2000, with the old-school classes. So, basically taking the best parts of the recent stuff and combining with the best parts of the old-school stuff. [/blockquote]

    Castles & Crusade (http://www.trolllord.com/) is currently the canonical example of that approach.

    [blockquote]
    His main point, I think, was that the Open Gaming License — a sort of ‘open source’ license for games, was instrumental in creating this whole Old School Renaissance.[/blockquote]

    The nifty hack being that by omitted newer rules you get 80% of then rules of older editions of D&D.

    You get another 10% by the principle (in the United States) that game mechanics can’t be copyrighted. (By re-writing the mechanic in your own words or slightly different numbers). And for the last 10% (certain iconic monsters, spell names, etc) you have to do without as they were never released under the Open Gaming License.

    [blockquote]
    I’ve heard the same from the D&D players at my gaming group.
    [/blockquote]

    Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition excels at presenting a tactically complex (and fun) game in a manner that just about anybody can learn. Along with high level combat not being that much more difficult to manage than low level combat.

    The big objection among some is that the game system is only D&D because of the brand and bears little resemblance to it’s predecessors.

    The biggest difference is that if I run a D&D 4th edition game for a 4 hour session you are lucky if you are able to complete three combat encounters. In contrast with AD&D 1st or older editions I can easily complete a dozen or so combat encounters in that same four hours. This is based over refereeing or playing various convention games for the past several years.

    Both are equally easy to learn but their design leads to vastly different play styles.

    [blockquote]
    Which makes an interesting booked with the report earlier in this comment thread about the Old School Renaissance reviving the original D&D rules from the early 1970s in part because they’re simpler and less cluttered.[/blockquote]

    The big three are Swords & Wizardry for the 1974 D&D rules, Labyrinth Lord for the Moldavy/Cook Basic/Expert Rules, and OSRIC for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition.

  51. ===============
    D&D 4th has sold well; there’s more 3rd party publishers adding material to it.
    ===============

    The 3rd party market for D&D 4th edition as largely collapsed outside of adventures. This is because of the prevalence of using Wizard’s DDI software to generate characters. If it is not in the DDI character generator database players and referee will tend to ignore it. Even 3rd Party adventures are hurting as they can’t advantage of DDI tools for creating cheat sheets.

    Much in the same way if your iPhone App is not in the App Store people will largely ignore it.

  52. Pretty well rubbish from start to finish, sadly. :)

    I’m cool that you like simple games now, but that’s nothing more than a personal preference which has moved in that direction. Your attempt to draw general lessons from that preference is misguided. Sometimes complex realities need complex models, and so if you want to model those aspects of reality, you need complexity.

    And if you don’t, all you are doing is playing toy soldiers and pretending you’re not.

  53. Scotty – sometimes elegant models can get the right results by abstracting away other problems.

    A mutual friend of Eric’s and mine likes to say that on a scale of 1-10, AV:T is a 12. It happens to play like a 7 because of its play aids.

    Good game design focuses on the right decision making process; this is distinct from being buried in tables about which models of trucks break with what frequency when moving Italian troops with extra water to boil pasta over North Africa.

  54. Your different takes on Memoir ’44 and C&C Ancients are interesting. I found them to be full of the same problems because essentially they are the same game. Sure C&C Ancients has a lot more bells and whistles, but it runs on the same left/center/right card engine with magic spaces on the borders between areas and all. Components wise, I found Ancients to be a step backwards. The tiny colored shapes indicating unit types were very difficult to pick out and distinguish between. Looking at these two games brings to mind the saying about putting lipstick on a pig. Perhaps I’m being unfair, I haven’t played Ancients nearly as much as Memoir or Battle Cry. After I found that it added a lot of rules complexity and hard to tell apart unit types to the earlier games without addressing the things I didn’t like, I haven’t played it since.

    One other quibble. I don’t see how in the world card or chit draw is faster than a CRT. More fun? Perhaps depending on what you find fun. But faster? A chit draw requires both players to draw a chit. Each person does one thing. A card draw requires each player does one thing. A CRT requires one player to roll a die and the other to look up the result. Each player does one thing. It’s just as fast. Some sort of strength calculation is usually required before any of the three methods and of course you have to apply the results with each as well.

    CRT’s have been in decline because they look “mathy” and scare people off not because they are slow.

  55. Howdy very cool website!! Guy .. Excellent .. Superb .. I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds additionally?I am glad to search out numerous helpful info here in the post, we want develop extra strategies in this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .

  56. Interesting piece. I’ve always said that Conflict of Heroes was Advanced Squad Leader for people who love to play games, as opposed to people who love to search rulebooks for exceptions.

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