#Wargame SITREP 230109 N6 Comms: Military Conflict as Entertainment – Yugoslavia Edition

As a Grognard in the 2020’s, I am sure we have all heard it. Indeed, I am sure some of us have been accused of it. What am I talking about? The accusations that wargames glorify war and those that play, particularly World War II games with Germany as an antagonist or that dark gothic-like sci-fi miniatures game from the UK, are bloodthirsty neo-something’s. It should not be a surprise to anyone this is not a uniquely American phenomenon.

In mid-October, the article “War Games: Replaying Yugoslavia’s Military Conflicts as Entertainment” by Milica Stojanovic appeared on the web pages of Balkan Insight, a publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). The article focuses mainly of first-person shooter (FPS) and other video games, though several boardgames get mentioned in the article too. The author asserts: “Many of the shooter games offer a distorted view of history and are blind to the war crimes committed during the operations upon which they are based.”

Battlefield scenarios from the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 20th Century are used in various board games and video games, but while some of them offer the opportunity to play with history, others distort the facts completely.

“War Games: Replaying Yugoslavia’s Military Conflicts as Entertainment”

I am not a follower nor fan of FPS video games but I am concerned about how hobby wargaming is perceived.

Not as bad…is that a good thing?

The authors does point out that board games are not as offensive as video games: “The video games based on the 1990s wars take their scenarios from military operations in Bosnia, Croatia or Kosovo and tend to be much more violently hostile and historically dubious than the board games.”

The article name-checks several board wargames:

The game discussed most is ‘General Draza.’ In particular, the author points to controversy surrounding the seeming rehabilitation of Mihailovic:

The game focuses on the conflict between Mihailovic and Tito’s forces. Mihailovic was the first leader of a popular uprising against the German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, but became convinced that Communism posed a greater long-term threat and started to fight Tito’s Partisans.

Mihailovic’s Chetniks were accused of committing war crimes against Bosnian Muslims and Croats as well as against Communists. After Germany was defeated and Tito came to power in Yugoslavia, Mihailovic was tried and executed in 1946 for high treason and Nazi collaboration.

The Chetniks were banned during the Communist era, but regained popularity with the rise of Serbian nationalism in the 1990s. For some Serbs, Mihailovic is an icon of patriotism whose face can be seen on murals, T-shirts, mugs, calendars – and in board games.

As an ultra-conservative, Serb nationalist organisation, the Chetniks’ legacy has been embraced by right-wingers in contemporary Serbia who have used Mihailovic as a symbol. Last November in Belgrade, extremists painted a mural of Mihailovic next to one celebrating Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic.

“War Games: Replaying Yugoslavia’s Military Conflicts as Entertainment”

Another wargame discussed is Brotherhood & Unity by Tomislav Cipcic and published by Compass Games. I don’t personally own this game, but from what I see the game got fairly positive reception (the exception being perhaps European backers of the Kickstarter that suffered shipping problems during COVID-time fulfillment). In the few articles I’ver read, videos viewed, or audiocast listened to, one recurrent theme is that players liked the game system but few commented on what the game was depicting. Which makes me wonder…

…if Brotherhood & Unity is a fair depiction of the political reality of the war?

…if players of Brotherhood & Unity learn about the realities of the conflict?

…if game design can blind players to the reality it presents?

I certainly hope that Brotherhood & Unity is a fair depiction, and I hope players learn a bit of the (undistorted) history. What I fear is some game designs focus so heavily on playability and enjoyment that they fail to “realistically” (whatever that means) address the history. The article points out this is the situation those FPS video games about the conflict are facing:

The war crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict are also overlooked.

Potzsch pointed out that “when creating a war simulation or game, you make decisions as to what to include and what to exclude”.

“In an expensive commercial product, you won’t want to antagonise your customers by presenting them with the true ugliness of war. You want them to play and most of your customers want to feel like unambiguous heroes on a mission for good,” he explained.

“War Games: Replaying Yugoslavia’s Military Conflicts as Entertainment”

Which would you rather be? One of those “unambiguous heroes” or an informed one?

Feature image courtesy Balkan Insight

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

8 thoughts on “#Wargame SITREP 230109 N6 Comms: Military Conflict as Entertainment – Yugoslavia Edition

  1. the challenge that a lot of those writers have is that there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of game design

    the pushback that should be put to them when they complain about the lack of war crimes in a board game is “to what end?”
    What are the game objectives for creating/preventing those atrocities? What are the game mechanics you expect to use to implement them? How does one build the necessary rules sub-systems into the game to create/manipulate those results?

    There’s always some part of the history that gets left out because you can’t put *everything* in there. What’s necessary for the kind of game the designer is putting out?

  2. Informed everytime. I really need to get ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ to the table.



    1. Thanks for the compliment. Please let all of us know your thoughts about the game after play!

  3. War is man’s #1 pursuit. There are atrocities in every single conflict. So singling out one conflict in particular for censure leaves me unimpressed. I play wargames to learn, first and foremost, and the “entertainment value” is secondary. I don’t play FPS games, but those are more “hands-on” and visceral, and in addition to the military FPS games you can throw in Grand Theft Auto and their ilk. They are a different problem in my book from board games. The only proof I need is that ISIS mimicked FPS games using real people (usually Iraqi Army soldiers) to execute with Go-Pros mounted on their weapons. Those monsters even had their kids do it, the so-called “Cubs of the Caliphate,” who are probably damaged for life from their experiences. But there are some excellent wargames on countering ISIS from which one can learn (two from Javier Romero). I use the “ISIS Crisis” matrix game in my graduate classes, and it sometimes includes the effects of collateral casualties from airstrikes and ISIS atrocities as lessons to learn, to include 2nd and 3rd order effects like media coverage. I can’t apologize for using it as a teaching tool.

    1. Amen, brother! I also play to study. Wargames are a powerful teaching tool.

  4. My long answer to your final question is in “Chess, Go and Vietnam – Wargaming Modern Insurgency”, the chapter Volko Ruhnke and I co-wrote in the Zones of Control anthology from MIT Press.

    I saw the article you are referencing some time ago… IIRC in discussion with others who did, the person who wrote the article did not actually contact either Javier Romero (War Returns to Yugoslavia) or Tomislav Cipcic (Brotherhood and Unity) for comment (says he did wrt the latter, but Tomislav says he didn’t get the questions). So, usual shoddy journalism, but he does exhume a pertinent question once again.

    1. ZoC! Sits on my shelf but I sometimes forget to look. Need to pull it down regularly.

      1. Pull it down as summer approaches… it is a fine and weighty thing to keep your window propped open.

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