#Wargame Wednesday – An abstract wargame? WAR CHEST by @trevormbenjamin & @djackthompson from @alderac (2018)

Some things should be simple. For a long-time Grognard like myself I think I know a wargame when I see one. This past Christmas, the RockyMountainNavy Boys found a copy of War Chest by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson (AEG, 2018) and purchased it for me. I went to add it to my BGG GeekList of 2021 Acquisitions and quickly discovered that War Chest, despite having the word “war” in the title of this “game,” is not categorized by BGG as a “wargame.” No, BGG say War Chest is an “abstract.” You know, like Go or Chess.

(Photo by Raul Machado on Pexels.com)

Huh?

Fact is, War Chest is a “wargame” and one that Grognards should seriously consider including in their collection.

War Chest certainly fits most classic wargame definitions. The game is a psuedo-historical conflict simulation that involves combat, the board uses hexes, and units are represented by counters (though in this case the “counters” are nice heavy poker chips.). What’s missing is dice. Is that not enough to make War Chest not-a wargame?

It’s a wargame…

Now, I can see how some people—especially non-wargamers (i.e. most of BGG)—might want to declare War Chest an abstract game like Chess given the flavor text introduction:

In this simple chest is everything a leader needs to become a strategist and general. It will be seen as a game by the child but, in truth, is preparation for ruling the land and surviving the tests of battle that will surely come, when it is time to inherit your kingdom.

You hold in your hand a replica of this gift, a game of coins played by Kings, Queens, and Warriors.

War Chest, Inside Box Cover

[I have to wonder, though, if people never heard of Kriegspiel before. Must remember to keep my expectations of BGG in check…]

When it comes to the game mechanisms of War Chest I can see how some people might look at the bag-builder mechanisms as abstracted from real warfare. After all, we all just know that military commanders never have a “bag of tricks,” eh? I prefer to think of the bag as the Commander and their J-Staff. Sometimes you need to pull the J1 Admin to Recruit, or the J3 Ops to Move or Attack, or the J4 Supply to Bolster, or the J5 Plans to Claim Initiative or Deploy. Other times the Commander will take Control or dictate the use of a Tactic or even decide to do nothing and Pass. You even need to be a bit of your own J2 Intelligence and pay attention to what your opponent does to see their strategy, as well as use some deception (coins played face up/down) to execute your own plans.

Of course, a good commander plans ahead and makes sure the “staff work is done”—coins placed in the bag—so that the battle plan can be executed (coins played). That, of course, is the rub. For the more time you spend “planning” (building your bag) in War Chest the more locations your opponent seizes. So you have to plan just enough to keep ahead of your opponent. Sometime you must assume risk and forgo building your forces (bag?) and execute a plan (play coins). Most importantly, you have to understand the asymmetric strengths—and weaknesses—of your units (cards) and use them in a manner to maximize those strengths while minimizing their weaknesses (like…strategy!). Combat, which is simply the removal of a unit (coin) from the board, is abstracted with no need for a die roll compared to a Combat Results Table.

When it comes right down to it, War Chest is not very abstract. Everything you need do, yeah verily, everything you MUST do is right there in front of you and presented in a very direct manner. To win at War Chest is to command as though this game was a real war.

Nothing abstract about that!


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RockyReads for #Wargame – Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor (Viking Press, 1998)

BLUF

Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is two books in one – the first is a political and military treatment of the events leading up to the Operation Uranus and the second is the story of the very human tragedy of the encirclement of the German Sixth Army.

A Real Wargamer’s Book

Why do you play wargames? Personally, I play wargames to engage with the history and gain a better understanding and appreciation of a topic. For me, the first part of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is very much a book that I use to play a wargame. The first part of Stalingrad is a military-oriented treatment of the political, and especially military, situation and events from the end of 1941 through the German offensive that reached Stalingrad in September 1942 and continuing through the Soviet counteroffensive that cut off Paulus’ Sixth Army in November 1942. I can use this part of Stalingrad to better understand the historical flow of events and see what I might of done different when playing a wargame like The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 by designer Ted Raicer from GMT Games. I can even use it to better understand the situation as presented in David Thompson’s Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad from Dan Verssen Games.

The second half of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 inevitably follows the military activity, but that is not the main focus. Antony Beevor pivots from a story of the military action into the immense human tragedy that befell the German defenders of Stalingrad and, to not so much a lesser extent, the surrounding Soviets.

Arguably, the second half of Stalingrad is more important to wargamers than the first. It is very easy for wargamers to push counters or tokens or little minis around a map and forget that those are humans. It’s exhilarating to roll a natural 12 on a Combat Results Table and get that “DE – Defender Eliminated” result. It means nothing more than removing that little piece of cardboard from the map and casually throwing it into the “dead” pile, all while pumping your fist and smirking at your opponent.

Reality is not so fun. In Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 author Antony Beevor reminds us, no, shouts at us that we must face the terrible human cost of war.

Yes, we play war GAMES for fun, but at the same time we need to remember that our “fun” is a depiction of war far removed from the brutal reality. Sometimes we need to learn that lesson and a wargame is not always the right vehicle. Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1941-1943 is the right vehicle to remind us of the brutality and horror of war.

Wargame Application

Read it. Read it so you better understand what the CRT really means.

Citation

Beevor, Antony, Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943, New York: Viking, 1998.

#Wargame Wednesday – History to Wargame – Undaunted: North Africa (@OspreyGames, 2020)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Undaunted: North Africa

“Who Dares, Wins”

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Photo by RockyMountainNavy

It was nearly a week before the German High Command in the Western Desert became aware that the notorious British soldier, whom their radio referred to as “the Phantom Major” because of his persistent night raids behind their lines, had at last fallen into their hands.

It was enough of an event for Field-Marshal Rommel to write in his diary: “During January, a number of our A.A. gunners succeeded in surprising a British column…in Tunisia and captured the commander of the 1st S.A.S. Regiment, Lieut.-Col. David Stirling. Insufficiently guarded, he managed to escape and made his way back to some Arabs, to whom he offered a reward if they would bring him back to the British lines. But his bid must have been too small, for the Arabs, with their usual eye to business, offered him to us for eleven pounds of tea–a bargain which we soon clinched. Thus the British lost the very able and adaptable commander of the desert group which had caused us more damage than any other British unit of equal strength.”¹ (V. Cowles, 1)

Bibliography

Cowles, Virginia, Who Dares, Wins: The Story of the Phantom Major – David Stirling and His Desert Command, New York: Ballantine Books, 1958.

Undaunted: North Africa, designed by David Thompson & Trevor Benjamin, published by Osprey Games, 2020.


¹ Rommel’s account of Stirling’s recapture is not accurate.

Feature image: “‘R’ Patrol Chevrolet WB radio truck; the rod antenna can be seen on the right. The man at the rear is manning a Boys anti-tank rifle.” Courtesy military.wikia.com