#Wargaming and #Autism – Why Hold the Line: The American Civil War (@worth2004, 2018) is in the right zone

MY MIDDLE BOY IS ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. As a gamer, this means that some games are harder for him to process and connect with than others. Through the years he has had success, and challenges, with different games. Recently, I introduced him to Hold the Line: The American Revolution (Worthington Publishing, 2018). The game immediately captured his attention, so much he asked for a different version of family game night where he played against his brother (first-time HtL player) while I “umpired” the game. The boys played the Battle of Champion Hill, part of the Vicksburg Campaign. After a hard fought battle taking all 20 of the allotted turns, Middle RMN Boy playing the Confederates took the win 7VP to 6VP. This was his third win in a row and he wants to play even more. So why is it that Hold the Line: The American Civil War has so totally captured his interest?

Hold the Line: The American Civil War captures his interest because of two factors: tactile components and extreme ease of play. It also uses very few Zones of Play.

Tactile Components: Middle RMN Boy loves the blocks in HtL: ACW. Not only are the blocks easy to distinguish, he can arrange, and rearrange, the blocks in many different ways. Sometimes he puts all the infantry in a column; other times he arranges them in a 2×2 formation. Sometimes he faces them towards a hexside in a manner that makes his opponent feel surrounded like they are turning a flank. But it’s not just the blocks on the map, the blocks used to track the Action Points (AP) on the Player Aid Card also give him that tactile interaction with the game.

Extreme Ease of Play: HtL: ACW is very rules-lite. More importantly, a player’s turn is a short, easy to understand (and remember) sequence of Roll Bonus AP, Spend AP, and Reset. Within each phase there are very few rules to remember and the most important information can be found on the Player Aid Card. Bonus AP? Roll 1d6 and get 1-3 AP. Actions? Movement comes in only three flavors. Combat is resolved using a set number of dice using a table on the Player Aid Card. The Morale Die can be tricky but it really is only used in two ways. All told there are something like 24 rules that must be remembered, and most actually can be found on the Player Aid Card so it’s not memory of details, but grasping of a process that must be mastered.

Given the short, easy to remember Sequence of Play and many rules found on the Player Aid Card means that Middle RMN can focus on playing the game, not executing the processes. With Hold the Line: The American Civil War he can feel like a General and fight a battle, not an administrator trying to follow a detailed methodology.

Now, the RMN Boys love the Commands & Colors-series of games, especially Memoir ’44 (Days of Wonder, 2006) which in many ways are very similar to Hold the Line. So why does HtL resonate with Middle RMN to an even greater degree? I think it may be that HtL uses only three of six Zones of Play. In Episode 209 of the Ludology Podcast, Scott Rogers talks about his concept of Zones of Play. He identifies six zones:

  1. Dominant Hand
  2. Non-Dominant Hand
  3. Tableau
  4. The Board/Shared Space
  5. Sideboard
  6. Rulebook

In HtL, Middle RMN only needs to use his Hands (Zone 1 or 2) to move items. The Player Aid Card with the the AP Track is his Tableau (Zone 3), which also doubles as an easy-to-reference rulebook virtually eliminating the need to search the Rule Book in Zone 6. The Board (Zone 4) is small enough to reach across and easy to understand. In a Memoir ’44 game, he uses many more zones; his Dominant Hand (Zone 1) to hold his cards, his Non-Dominant Hand (Zone 2) to move, his Tableau (Zone 3) to show played cards, the Board (Zone 4) to fight on, a Sideboard-extension (Zone 5) of his Tableau to hold Special Rules and Reference Cards, and the Rule Book (Zone 6) to reference often for the many items not on the Sideboard. Taken together, Commands & Colors occupies more Zones and is actually much more complex. HtL, on the other hand (no pun intended), occupies fewer Zones of Play and within each zone the rules are easy to understand and remember and the components attractive and tactilely fulfilling.

Getting HtL to the table with both boys may be a bit difficult. Younger RMN found the game easy to play but struggled to find the right tactical approach to fighting his brother. Middle RMN found the game exciting, especially since he won. I am sure that he and I will fight many more battles when his younger brother is unavailable. As an old grognard, a game like Hold the Line should be considered too easy and not detailed enough to play seriously. But looking at how much my middle boy enjoys the game makes replaying HtL not only inevitable, but something I look forward to because when he is “in the zone” the game is secondary to our enjoyment.


Feature image courtesy mr boss’ design lair

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