Monday, September 20, 2010

The Wargame as Game: Pastime and contest.

One of the benefits of social interaction in general and the net in particular is exposure to ideas and discussions. Sometimes this cross fertilization is a distraction, other times irrelevant whether interesting or not, but sometimes its useful or even on occasion inspirational. I'm not sure where these thoughts lie in this spectrum yet.

A couple of blogs have commented recently on various Battlecry and Command and Colours  variants present or future and coupled with some thoughts on games at , they got me thinking about  the nature of games and wargames. So I did a quick check of the definition of game and came up with a long list of  which these two seemed germane:

  • a contest with rules to determine a winner

  • an amusement or pastime

  • Now I definitely started wargaming as an amusement or pastime but I must confess to having indulged in a certain period when determining the winner was of high importance, including a few ancients tournaments, not many thankfully.  The latter did result in a certain rush of victory after a tight game but the dismay and disgrace at the occasional defeat combined with deflation of a game with no challenge and the massive headaches after a long game led me to belief that this just wasn't what the hobby was supposed to be about for me. More over, even at the height of my brief competitive period, I didn't view the game as merely a "game" but as a wargame or battle and while making good use of the rules tried to design my armies in a rational, supportable basis using history as a guideline and tried to use tactics that felt reasonably historical to me.
    In other words, I never reached the depths (sic) of "anything legal goes".  I especially delighted in occasional opportunities to defeat cheesy tactics and organizations by solidly based ones. That it was possible to do so indicates that the old WRG rules were sound at heart no matter how much they could be twisted if you tried.

    It was perhaps a reaction to the whole tournament thing that for the next few decades, I sought to minimize the winning/losing aspect of wargames. Instead, the success of the game  was to be judged either by how well it recreated probable history or by the experience of the players, the trials overcome and so forth. Needless to say, the thrill of winning was not banished quite so easily and the instinct to win surfaced (and still does) periodically and naturally without need for either approval or encouragement.

    A few years ago, a friend who had dropped out of the miniatures side of the hobby for a few years, invited me to play a new game he had picked up called Axis & Allies. A hex map with off scale miniatures and wonky rules?  Well, time spent with a friend is rarely wasted so I agreed but to my surprise I enjoyed the games we played. That was when I first started thinking about the wargame as "a game".

    I'm not too interested in clearly defined and limiting rules, to my mind as long as the rules are simple and cover the basics soundly, the details should take care of themselves and odd tactics fail not because the rules prevent them  but because the rules are designed to reward historical tactics. Charge! is an ideal example of this principle in practice  However, it seems to me that in my earlier post about intuitivenss and wargames, I missed  a key expectation: (continuing the list)

    d) Win-ability: People expect a game to have a point and they usually want to know if they won or lost.

    Perhaps it is the preponderance of solo games and unfinished social games over the last few years on top of my acquired distaste for "competiton games" that dulled my appreciation of the importance of this aspect of wargaming. The real question though is what, if anything, does it mean going forward? At the moment, I usually rely on scenario design to provide victory conditions of some sort, often with with a turn limit. Perhaps that is enough if the conditions are specific enough and the game can be played to a conclusion in the time available.  Perhaps the subject needs more thought, especially around that crucial points of reaching a conclusion in the time available and being able to measure success, win, lose or draw..


    1. Ross

      As ever, astute and stimulating post. The "victory conditions" point hit home with me. Yes, there does have to be a point to the battle, and knowing when/if you are finished seems, intuitively, like a Good Thing.

      I realise that real generals in real history formed their own judgements on when they had lost (or had had enough, or felt a strategic withdrawal was required, or whatever...) without checking what proportion of their initial OOB was still operational. Ideally, my solo games are part of a campaign, which makes it a good idea for one side or the other to retire with whatever dignity can be salvaged when their losses become a problem for the coming weeks.

      In any event - and maybe it is just conditioning over the years - my house rules, including the computerised ones, will do some sums in the background and tell you when you're done, even if you hadn't realised it yet. In the absence of any reason to act otherwise, the last man standing wins, I guess!



    2. Ross,

      Yesterday we played a four-player game of VWQ and a few hours in the C-in-C player on the other side asked what the "victory conditions" were . . . he couldn't find them in the rules.

      Well we decided that it was whenever someone decided he had lost . . . with came several turns later and those vile Stagonians (Parliamentarians) chose to abandon the field.

      So I'll echo Tony's comment . . . on the other hand some people prefer artificial but definite endpoints.

      -- Jeff

    3. play: if you come to just waste some time pushing lead or socialize in a silly way then this is what you are after ~ some 'power gamers' fit into this genre ultimately also as they cannot fit into the other view.

      simulation: or kriegspiel if you prefer; these players are in search of a particular historical reference, understanding or experience. They will rail at all sorts of game mechanics that make no sense to them ~ from a simulation point of view. Sadly many rules lawyers come from this category.