#Wargame Wednesday – The Charlies are no Angels: Response to the @ADragoons dissection of the 2019 Charles S. Roberts Wargame awards

Regiment members Ardwulf, Cyrano, and Brant over on the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast of the Armchair Dragoons spend Season 2 Episode 10 doing a deep dive on the return of the wargaming Charles S. Roberts Awards, or the ‘Charlies’. It’s their longest podcast ever and its well worth it. For as much as they say I’ve still got a thoughts of my own to add.

First off, let’s be clear that I long ago considered the Charles S. Roberts Awards the ‘Oscars’ of wargaming. Way back in the mid-1970s when they started it was assumed that the awards were only for wargames. Over time, the CSR expanded to cover many non-wargame categories and eventually morphed into the Origins Awards. The ‘new’ Charlies focused on wargames and that excited me. In the end though, the execution of the Charlies disappoints me and leaves our community without a flagship award to recognize luminaries of our hobby.

Categories

A large part of the discussion revolved around the break down of the award categories. A major complaint on the podcast is that the categories, based on time periods which the new Charlies call ‘Milieu Awards’, are too broad.

  • Best Ancients to Pre-Napoleonic Era Board Wargame
  • Best Napoleonic Era Board Wargame
  • Best Post-Napoleonic to Pre-World War 2 Era Wargame
  • Best World War 2 Era Board Wargame
  • Best Post-WW2, Cold War, & Hypothetical Board Wargame
  • Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Wargame

Then, of course, there the final category, Best Board Wargame of the Year.

The second broad category of awards were format awards. Given the history of the Charlies derives from industry awards I am not as concerned. My major concern are those Milieu Awards.

Looking back at the Charles S. Roberts Awards themselves, we see that the categories have evolved over time. Take for example 1975, the 1st Annual Awards. The categories, all four of them, were:

The categories changed significantly over time. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 1978 – Added Best Pre-20th Century Board Game, and Best 20th Century Board Game
  • 1988 – Best 20th Century Board Game divided into Best 1900-1946 Board Game and Best 1947-Modern Day Board Game
  • 1990 – Split categories dropped; change to Best Pre-20th Century Board Game and Best Modern-Day Board Game
  • 1998 – Time categories dropped; return to Best Historical Game
  • 2003 – Best Historical Game dropped
  • 2005 – Best Historical Board Game returns
  • 2006 – Best Historical Board Game dropped
  • 2007 – Best Historical Board Game returns (again)
  • 2012 – Last year of the Charles S. Roberts Awards; fully replaced by the Origins Awards
  • (Source: Origins Awards Winners – Past Winners)

Which is a long way of saying the categories have always been changing and many times have not made good sense.

Like the guests, I want to spend some time on that Hypothetical category. I HATE that name. Wargames, even the ones closely based on a historical event, are HYPOTHETICAL. I play a wargame to see how the history played out; if I just want to rigidly recreate the battle I would run a simulation, not play a game. Besides, how do you define hypothetical? If we say wargames can only be ‘historical’ and hypothetical conflicts like the Cold War Gone Hot don’t count then we need to kick Tactics II designed by Charles S. Roberts himself and published by Avalon Hill in 1958 out of our most sacred pantheon of wargames. After all, it’s an abstract conflict of Red vs. Blue – nothing ‘real’ about it.

Wargame Boat?

This year’s winner, U-Boot, was described on the show as a ‘worker placement game, not a wargame.’ Looking back at the past winners, we see that the winners have not always been, shall we say, ‘classic’ wargames. Indeed, note that in the past there has actually never been a ‘wargame’ catagory!

  • 1975 Best Professional Game – Third Reich (Avalon Hill Game Company)
  • 1976 Best Professional Game – Kingmaker (Philmar/AH)
  • 1977 Best Strategic Game – The Russian Campaign (AH); Best Tactical Game – Terrible Swift Sword (SPI)
  • 1978 Best Strategic Game – Victory in the Pacific (AH); Best Tactical Game – Squad Leader (AH)
  • 1979 Best Pre-20th Century Board GameSource of the Nile (Discovery); Best 20th Century Board Game – To the Green Fields Beyond (SPI)
  • 1980 Pre 20th – Napoleon at Leipzig (OSG); Best 20th – City Fight (SPI)
  • 1981 Pre 20th – Empires of the Middle Ages (SPI); Best 20th – Crescendo of Doom (AH)
  • 1982 Pre 20th – House Divided (GDW); Best 20th – Wings (AH) [Should be Yaquinto]
  • 1983 Pre 20th – Civilization (AH); Best 20th – Storm Over Arnhern (AH)
  • 1984 Pre 20th – The Civil War (Victory Games); Best 20th – Ambush! (VG)
  • 1985 Pre 20th – South Mountain (West End Games); Best 20th – Vietnam (VG)
  • 1986 Pre 20th – Pax Brittanica (Victory Games); Best 20th – World in Flames (Australian Design Group)
  • 1987 Pre 20th – Chickamauga (WEG); Best 20th – Fortress America (Milton Bradley)
  • 1988 Pre 20th – Shogun (MB); 1900-1946 – Scorched Earth (GDW); 1947-Modern-Day – Team Yankee (GDW)
  • 1989 Pre 20th – Gettysburg (AH); 1900-1946Kremlin (AH); 1947+ – The Hunt for Red October (TSR)
  • 1990 Pre 20th – A House Divided (GDW); Best Modern Day – Red Storm Rising (TSR)
  • 1991 Pre 20thRepublic of Rome (AH); Modern-Day – Eurorails (Mayfair)
  • 1992 Pre 20thBlackbeard (AH); Modern-Day – East Front (Columbia)
  • 1993 Pre 20th – SPQR (GMT); Modern-Day Hacker (Steve Jackson Games)
  • 1994 Pre 20th – History of the World (AH); Modern-DayHacker II (SJG)
  • 1995 Pre 20th – Roads to Gettysburg (AH); Modern-Day Australian Rails (Mayfair Games)
  • 1996 Pre 20thColonial Diplomacy (AH); Modern-Day – Empire of the Rising Sun (AH)
  • 1997 Pre 20thAge of Renaissance (AH); Modern-Day – Harpoon4 (Clash of Arms)
  • 1998 Best Historical Board Game – Successors (AH)
  • 1999 Best Historical Board Game – Great War at Sea: Plan Orange (Avalanche Press)
  • 2000 Best Historical Board Game – Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese Naval War (Avalanche Press)
  • 2001 Best Historical Board Game – Axis & Allies: Europe (AH)
  • 2002 Best Historical Board Game – Axis & Allies: Pacific (Hasbro/AH)
  • 2003 (No historical category)
  • 2004 (No historical category)
  • 2005 Best Historical Board Game – Sword of Rome (GMT)
  • 2006 (No historical category)
  • 2007 Best Historical Board Game – Command & Colors: Ancients (GMT)
  • 2008 Best Historical Board GameAge of Empires III: The Age of Discovery (Tropical Games)
  • 2009 Best Historical Board Game – Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games)
  • 2010 Best Historical Board Game – Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! (Academy Games)
  • 2011 Best Historical Board GameCatan Histories – Settlers of America: Trails to Rails (Mayfair)
  • 2012 Best Historical Board Game – Strike of the Eagle (Academy Games)
  • (Source: Origins Awards Winners – Past Winners)

Without getting into the never-ending, unwinnable battle over “what is a wargame,” I’ll just say that I agree with Brant; without a tight definition of a wargame there is no reason to expect anything but controversy. What that defintion is; well, I can’t always tell you what a wargame is, but I know one when I see one!

The Process – or Not?

I strongly believe that the reason there is so much controversy over the new Charlies is the process of the awards. I can’t help but feel that this awards cycle was nothing more than a popularity contest. Hence, I am not surprised at the results.

In many ways I feel the new Charlies go too far. The Milieu Awards and Game of the Year are the hallmark awards; the Format Awards, while certainly useful to the industry have less appeal to the consumer. The new Charlies need to focus on their true core, the Milieu Awards.

In addition to a tightening of definitions and enforcement of the rules, I believe the Charles S. Roberts Awards for Wargaming should be judged by a jury. A popular nomination process is maybe inevitable, but there needs to be a winnowing of the list to get to a select group of nominees that a jury can work through. The process the Origins Awards uses, while not perfect, is a good start:

Any publisher or designer can submit their products for consideration during the eligibility period. Submissions in each category are evaluated by a jury of industry professionals who choose their top products. These become the nominees, which are sent to the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. The Academy places their votes by email and the winners are announced during the Awards ceremony.

origins awards.net

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