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Fictional and Abstract Wargames

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  • Fictional and Abstract Wargames

    What's your opinion on games like this -- games with no particular historical setting? I'm thinking of board games like AH's Tactics II, Kriegspiel, and Blitzkrieg, or SPI's Strategy I (anybody else remember that one?). Or "generic" games like Yaquinto's Battle or the game Higher Ground (I've never seen this one, but the ad makes it sound "generic"). Or even Risk, Supremacy, and such. Or computer games like Sid Meier's Civilization, if it can be called a wargame, or Sun Tzu's Art of War (an oldie) or The Perfect General. Though it's an extreme example, maybe even chess could be considered an abstract wargame. I supppose Stratego would be.

    Personally I'm always torn when it comes to this kind of game. On one hand I like the freedom of not being tied down to any particular historical engagements (where I often end up quibbling about how true-to-life the game design is). But OTOH, fictional and abstract wargames lack the hard detail of historical games and thus usually end up seeming more "just for fun."

    My impossible dream game is an abstract or generic wargame that affords players the opportunity to experiment with honest-to-goodness military strategy and tactics. IOW, what you learn and experience in the game reasonably applies, at least indirectly, to the conduct of any military engagement in any time period. (Sometimes I tell myself chess is such a game: that the principles of chess do apply indirectly to all warfare, and vice versa.)

    In reality, I find that many fictional or abstract wargames do have a historical setting. AH's Blitzkrieg was pretty obviously a stylized WWII game, for instance. Risk kinda looks Napoleonic. And even chess is reminiscent of a medieval battle. I guess it's hard to get completely away from a particular time period and still have the game look like it's about warfare. To get across the idea of warfare, you have to include a certain amount of specific detail.

    I'd like to see more wargames like Yaquinto's Battle or SPI's Strategy I -- games which attempt to outline the major changes in strategy and/or tactics throughout the ages.
    --Patrick Carroll


    "Do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other persons or their property." (Richard Maybury)

  • #2
    I really don't like that kind of theorical wargaming, Blue vs Red situation. I play wargames to relive history and I like them to be as close as possible to a real historical situations, even ASL's geomorphic maps are too abstract for me

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    • #3
      In Patrick's post he answers his own question with ""just for fun" actually.

      I have had more repeat playings more pleasure gaming in the past with games that didn't get confined to historical settings or enforced political situations.

      There's a reason why ASL is friggin mega successful even today against computer challengers for your time, yet equally mega good wargames like Advanced Third Reich are mostly just fond memories of the past.

      ASL is more about the depicting a time and place, where as some designs try to depict history, but unless certain key events are brutally shoved down your throat, the game spirals off into stupidity.

      For instance, if you are playing a WW2 looking grand strategy game, which isn't genuinely WW2 earth of the 40's, then there is no need to fret over some doofus being able to invade America with a fleet of German aircraft carriers.
      Only a complete tit thinks the Germans have ANY chance of doing that. And if you game allows it, you're playing a joke, not a serious wargame (explains why I think HoI is utterly worthless crapolla).

      I own Victory the blocks of War (board game) from Columbia Games. Likely the mos brilliant design since Tactics II. Moderate fog of war, totally customizable, and not just stuck as two player. The ultimate red vs blue and orange, green, black and any other colour of block set you wish to use .

      Civilization is a great game, because logical historical progression is there, it's not absolute, it's reasonably related to actual history, but it's not force fed either. It's not ultimately quite as wargamey as most more traditional wargames, but then you don't have to spend a lot of design time keeping Nazi Germany out of New York to maintain credibility either.

      Some games become horrible mass dice chucking disasters, but, it depends, just because you roll a lot of dice doesn't mean the game is no good. I've played conventional board game wargames that just didn't work because the design just didn't work.
      I thought Tank Leader (board game that used card activation) had a lot of promise. But in the end the game didn't work. Just didn't work. I turfed it along with several 1980's WW3 games in a bulk deal to a used bookstore. Got 5 bucks for it in the late 80s, it sucked to just get 5 bucks, but it was better than no bucks.

      Abstraction sometimes belongs in certain parts of wargames. Strategic Command has one major design gaffe. The subs should never have been counters in the program. It takes no effort to just smack them in the first 2-3 turns and presto, the sub war in the Atlantic is over and not about to return.
      As an abstraction though, you can't just locate two counters and smack them.
      In A3R, you either by ASW that is a counter-reaction abstraction, or kiss good bye resources which get worse and worse. The Strategic Bombing campaign, same thing. Deal with allied bombers or get ready to suffer.

      But those were historical situations necessary to force the conditions of history on a side. Just like the Russian winter.

      In totally abstracted wargames, it's the player that counts, and whether with a 50-50 challenge, will they prevail, or is the other player better.

      The best I have seen for recent credible command and control in a computer wargame, is the stuff from Panther Games. Currently everyone else is lacking in some fashion.
      I understand there are some decent board game options out there too.

      But it's rare to see anything decent above tactical these days.
      Life is change. Built models for decades.
      Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
      I didn't for a long time either.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Boonierat View Post
        I really don't like that kind of theorical wargaming, Blue vs Red situation. I play wargames to relive history and I like them to be as close as possible to a real historical situations, even ASL's geomorphic maps are too abstract for me
        I can understand that. For a long while after I first got into wargaming, I felt the same way.

        But at some point I began to realize that no wargame ever really took me back in time and put me into the historical situation. I was always free to do whatever I wanted with my army, so right away it became a "what if" affair. And that made me start wondering if all this "what if" stuff was historically possible at all. Could the Japanese really have conquered Australia or India in WWII? Could the Germans have invaded America's East Coast? Probably not. But I get to pull it off sometimes in the game -- unless there are special rules that prevent me from doing it (thus artificially forcing me to stay within "historical" parameters).

        What's more, anytime I'm playing a historical wargame, I find myself questioning the historical accuracy of countless details. Did they get the map quite right? Are all these unit strengths correct? Did wooded terrain really have this effect on infantry and that effect on armor? I'm never sure, but in every game I've played it starts looking like some things must be off.

        For that reason, when Panzer General was still pretty new and had started generating sequels, I ended up taking a liking to Fantasy General. In PG, I could point to a thousand ahistorical details, and the game soon started looking ludicrous to me. But in FG, who's to say Goblins aren't weaker than Orcs?

        As much as I love military history, I've come to see an irreconcilable conflict between it and wargaming.

        Back in the day (the late 1970s), I subscribed to SPI magazine, which offered a wargame in each issue; and the game was always on the same subject as a feature article. So I'd play the game and read the article (not necessarily in that order) -- and I was almost always dismayed by how little the game seemed to have to do with the article. From the article, I felt I was getting real military history. But the game was only giving me a distorted picture.

        My conclusion, FWIW, is that all wargames are essentially military fiction in game form. They can't really be military history, because history doesn't lend itself to game form. History already happened, and it happened just so, in a certain way that can't be changed. What-if scenarios are just educated guesswork (which, when you get right down to it, is another form of fiction).

        A good wargame can still have a historical setting, though, just as good historical fiction is always set among real-life historical events. Take the Sharpe series of Napoleonic-era novels, for instance, or the Horatio Hornblower series. The historical background is real, even though the story details are fictional.

        Still, when I have a choice, and the historical accuracy of the game is in doubt, I sometimes prefer the patently fictional or abstract game. For instance, I've recently been trying these demo games:
        http://www.battle-fleet.com/bf.htm
        http://www.battle-fleet.com/pw/
        http://www.tankopoly.com/ww4/
        The first two are ostensibly WW2 naval games; the third is a WW4 space-battle game. All three are pretty much alike; if you've played one, you've more or less played 'em all. But the WW2 games are so obviously unrealistic (e.g., one scenario requires the Japanese to capture and hold Pearl Harbor, not just raid it) that I'm finding the space-battle game more to my liking. For all I know, it could someday be realistic; meanwhile it's pleasantly imaginative.

        Military history is great; historical wargames are great. But IME, wargames always come up short when they try to be impeccably historical or true-to-life. They come up short both as history and as games.
        --Patrick Carroll


        "Do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other persons or their property." (Richard Maybury)

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