#Wargame Wednesday – “The report of [wargame death] was an exaggeration”…maybe? Commenting on thoughts from Canvas Temple Publishing (canvastemple.com)

Jon Compton, long time professional wargame practitioner and owner of the small hobby wargame company Canvas Temple Publishing (CTP or “Old Codgers Trying to Retire!”) passed along some interesting comments in an update to his Kickstarter campaign for Imperial Campaigns Series 1: The Boer War:

In the meantime I’ve been working on CTP’s next Kickstarter project, but I admit I’ve been taking my time with it as I’ve been reconsidering printing on future games. It’s still very challenging finding a quality printer who will run the small quantities that CTP does. And while I’ve always been happy with the quality of the current printer (which is the only printer I’ve used I can say that about), these longer and longer time frames are obviously problematic. So although I’ve got two or three games somewhere in the pipeline, any future Kickstarter I run I’m going to have to have a better solution if there is one to be found. I’ve reached out to some friends at other publishers and frankly they report having similar problems for similar reasons. So although I’m  not alone with this problem, I’m also not alone in seeking a solution, and am somewhat disheartened that no one seems to have one on offer. Even worse is that no one seems to be getting any benefit from the strong dollar either. The problem with being small and having print runs in the hundreds is that CTP has no market power; a high-quality printer is practically doing me a favor printing only 500 copies of something at the specifications I demand. So as aggravating as these long delays are, it may be something we have to live with if I want to keep doing this.

“Word From the Printer (An Actual Update This Time)”, Oct 10, 2022

In a similar way to how many grognards will always debate the question of “What is a wargame” so too will we endlessly debate “Is wargaming a dying hobby?” I have personally participated in this debate as far back as “The Great Magic the Gathering Extinction Event” in the mid-1990s when MtG threatened to shutter most commercial hobby wargame publishers.

I am not a believer that we are on the verge of the “death” of commercial hobby wargaming, but I do think we are at—or nearing—an inflection point. From my perspective as a game consumer, I perceive that inflection is driven by two dynamics; publishing costs and gamer motivation.

“…any future Kickstarter I run I’m going to have to have a better solution if there is one to be found.

Jon Compton

The publishing cost part is maybe easier to understand. Quite simply, games are getting more expensive to publish. Part of this cost increase is driven by printing costs, but it is also related to consumer demand. The consumer demand is not only for high-quality components, but also an increasingly “complex” set of components. Our hobby has come a long way in how a game is presented. My copy of Tactics II (1973 edition) or Battle of the Bulge (2nd Edition, 1975) or even Victory in the Pacific (2nd Edition, 1981) are resplendent with horrible colored maps, simple counters, and rule books that look like they were produced on an old-even-for-their-day mimeograph machine. Compare that to the latest GMT Games titles! Not only is it component quality but other factors like colorblind-friendly components add to the “cost” of publication. Various pre-order schemes like the GMT Games P500 or Kickstarter or alternate publishing models such as that used by Hollandspiele or White Dog Games and Blue Panther try to reduce publishing risks and costs, but each has its inherent limitations. None are the optimal answer.

The second dynamic that is driving commercial hobby wargames towards an inflection point is gamer motivation. I fully acknowledge that the classic “grognard” wargamer like myself is both literally and figuratively dying. Rising to replace/displace the classic grognards are a new generation of wargamer that has not only different motivations but a seemingly more open approach to “what’s a wargame.”

“I don’t ‘play games'”

Classic wargamers often play to study history. However, I increasingly see more gamers who simply want to “play” rather than “study” wargames. While the results of surveys like the 2021 Great Wargaming Survey from Wargames Soldier & Strategy magazine are imperfect, they offer some supporting evidence. When asked which wargaming activities represented the best part of the hobby, the top answer was “Playing the game.” The motivation to play over study in turn drives component costs (and publishing costs in turn) as players seek to be “entertained” by a game. For instance, I love Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right designed by Cole Wehrle from Leder Games but don’t for a moment believe that the game would be as successful as it is without the incredible artwork of Kyle Ferrin and the cute wood bits.

Root courtesy Leder Games

Another aspect of gamer motivation that is a major driver of change in commercial hobby wargaming is the incredible diversity of game mechanisms. While classic wargames are often associated with “hex & counter” games, the truth is that area or point-to-point maps and tokens or blocks or tiny figures/minis on a map (board?) have long been a part of the hobby. What I see as changing today is the widespread application/adoption of many different game mechanisms far beyond hex movement of cardboard counters and the (very classic? very staid?) Combat Results Table (CRT) in wargame design. I’m not just talking about the emergence of Card-Driven Games (CDGs), but also the use of game mechanisms not usually associated with wargaming. For instance, I recently played a small wargame that explores missile nonproliferation that is built around the roll & write game mechanism. Another one is an asymmetric information game, and a third is a variable pathways game. Not a single one of them uses hexes, all have bits instead of just counters, and each uses a “non-standard” game mechanism to deliver an enjoyable game.

Let me be clear here—an inflection point is not (necessarily) a bad thing. I view inflection points as opportunities. So what is the opportunity at hand? Quite simply, the opportunity we are being presented is to determine the future trajectory of our wargame hobby. Alas, as Jon Compton points out, the smaller wargame publishers—”micro-game publisher” if you will—are being threatened with fading away not because they can’t design a game, but because they are severely challenged to even get that game to print.

This is the point where I will invariably hear mentions of Vassal or Tabletop Simulator or other digital game implementations. While I agree that digital boardgames are a wave of the future (present?), I also believe that the tangible aspect of wargames remains a powerful draw. No digital platform can replicate the feel of a pair of dice in your hands, the blow “for luck” into your fist, and the clatter of the dice as they roll across the table.

@TheGascon – The best TTS wargamer there is…

While I can’t do much for micro-publishers like Jon Compton and Canvas Temple Publishing beyond buying their games when I can, I can hold hope and express my support that they find a solution to their—and by extension ours—publishing woes. While I hope that Jon Compton’s hinted at worst fears are unfounded, I am concerned about the potential death of wargaming. I have played wargames on the table for over 40 years now and I certainly don’t want to stop!


Feature image courtesy CTP

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Old school Grognard #wargame with WW2 Deluxe: European Theater (canvastemple.com. 2018)

ON A RAINY DAY CLOSING OUT THE LAST WEEKEND OF THE YEAR, I decided to go old school (sorta) and play a more classic hex & counter wargame. Searching my shelves, I pulled down WW2 Deluxe: European Theater from Canvas Temple Publishing in 2018. The CTP motto is, “Old codgers trying to retire!” and their designs reflect a desire to satisfy “more senior” wargamers with larger counters with larger fonts. As CTP says themselves:

We at Canvas Temple have been at this a long time; designing and playing wargames. The youngest of us has been playing over 35 years. Like many old-school wargamers, our eyesight has declined, our fingers have become fumbly, and our time has become scarce.

So we decided to make the perfect wargame for us old timers. A grand strategic game that is big in scope (and in lettering!) that can be played in an evening. Utilizing 3/4″ counters, a full-sized map with giant hexes, and a tried and tested game system that approaches its subject with enough abstraction to keep the game tight, but just enough detail to do justice to history and create an array of complex decisions.

Another World War II

My World War II started off with a mostly historical situation in 1939. In WW2 Deluxe you can start some setup variations possible. In this game, the Axis started with the historical setup (Panzer Divisions at full strength) whereas the Allies were joined by a Republican Spain (can join the Allies starting in Winter 1940, automatically once the USSR joins the war; Portugal may also be Allied). The Fall 1939 turn (each turn is a season) saw the historical German conquest of Poland. Winter 1940 saw the Germans shift to the French frontier and the invasion started in Spring 1940. Maybe the Germans should have waited; although they blew thru the Ardennes and besieged Paris, the British were able to bring reinforcements to the continent. Summer 1940 saw Paris fall to the Germans only to be heroically retaken by a reduced 1st French Armor**. In the course of retaking Paris an entire German armor unit was destroyed and an infantry reduced. Of course, lots of RAF support also helped the French defenders as the Luftwaffe suffered terribly in air-to-air combat. Fall 1940 saw new German armor drive on Paris and retake the city, only to be ejected once again. Meanwhile, in the south of France, the Italians had joined the fight and took Toulon, robbing the French of one Production Point and thus making them dependent upon US Lend Lease aid if they want to rebuild lost armor or air units. A German offensive drive against Paris in Winter 1941 fell short and the Germans went over to the defensive in Spring and Summer 1941 as rumblings from the Eastern Front started to become alarming.

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Spring 1941 – France stands & Germany goes on Strategic Defense. The war is all but lost for Germany at this point….

That really was the end of the war for Germany. As fast as the Germans tried to rebuild they had lost too much with the failed campaign against France. When the Soviet Union entered the war it was Operation Bagration – in 1942. With a toehold on the Continent (remember, both France and Spain were part of the Allies) the Americans didn’t need a Normandy invasion to get to the battle. Italy fell in 1943 and by the time Spring 1945 arrived it was an Allied Major Victory with a much reduced Germany remaining the sole Axis Major or Minor power still standing.

Game Thoughts

The Armored Action phase of a turn where Armor gets another movement and combat phase is very evocative of the era. The Blitzkrieg is real!

Aircraft are so powerful with a Strategic Warfare role and air combat for land and sea. The RAF dominated the French Campaign and the Luftwaffe was swept from the skies leading to Paris surviving and France not falling.

I underplayed my naval forces. The Battle of the Atlantic took place but the Germans had to focus on rebuilding lost ground forces to defend the Fatherland. The U-Boat campaign never really got going and the Germans never deployed enough submarines to seriously threaten either Lend Lease or the movement of US troops to Europe. The British controlled the Mediterranean and enjoyed strategic mobility against the soft underbelly of Europe.

WW2 Deluxe: European Theater is a fun afternoon’s diversion. With a relatively simple set of rules you can refight the European Theater in just a few hours. My game took about three hours although the first 75 minutes or so decided the war. In addition to the 1939 setup, there are six other scenarios that start at various points of the war. Fall Gelb and Weserubung (Spring 1940) is the historical invasion of France. Barbarossa and Battleaxe (Summer 1941) is the historical German invasion of the Soviet Union and the British defense of North Africa. Fall Blau and Torch (Summer 1942) looks at that pivotal period while Citadel and Avalanche (Summer 1943) starts with those two offensives. Overlord and Bagration (Summer 1944) is followed by Wacht Am Rhein (Winter 1945) for the final showdown. Any of those could be interesting and well worth another afternoon of play.

Kudos to John Compton of CTP for a very simple, yet highly enjoyable, old school wargame design. WW2 Deluxe: European Theater, though a newer title, is a perfect old school renaissance wargame and rightly deserves a place in both my game collection and on the gaming table.

——-

** Looks like I misplayed this whole game! Rule 12.2 Vichy France and Free France states, “The instant the Axis captures Paris, France is conquered and Vichy France is created.” Oh well, my play was still enjoyable. I haven’t cleared it off the table yet so a reset and some evening play sessions seem called for now!

#Wargame #FirstImpressions – WW2 Deluxe European Theater (Canvas Temple Publishing, 2018)

I recently took took delivery of WW2 Deluxe: European Theater (alternatively WW2 Deluxe: The War in Europe) from new-ish wargame publisher Canvas Temple Publishing. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

WW2 Deluxe is a grand-strategic game utilizing armies or army groups, air forces, and fleets. The game covers the entire conflict in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. There are two players or sides in the game. The Axis controls Germany, Italy, and all friendly minor countries. The Allied player controls France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States when it enters the conflict.

The game aims to make the war in Europe playable in an evening. Contents include 1 x 22×34 inch map,  1 x book of rules , 1 x sheets of 3/4″ inch counters, and charts and tables.

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The war in Europe, on a card table

The game funded with just over $24,000 on $6,000 needed. The extra money unlocked several stretch goals including a mounted map. There was one more stretch goal at $28,000 that would of unlocked blocks (more on that later).

Components

In a phrase, VERY NICE! I really like the mounted board (a folded paper board is also included). The big counters are really nice for this old grognard. When I opened my box, several counters had fallen off the sprue. CTP owner Jon Compton explains:

Lastly, be advised that the printer did a very fine job of die-cutting the counters for WW2 Deluxe. Perhaps a little too fine, as they barely adhere to the sprew. So be careful when you examine the counter sheet. Personally I consider that a bonus as it means I won’t have to trim off a bunch of rabbit ears. But everyone has a different use for these games, so if that’s a problem, my apologies in advance (and before anyone asks, no, I won’t be reprinting them to make them stay in better. It’s a feature, not a bug :-).

A great feature of this bug is that the counters are easy to get off the sprue and they really look awesome when clipped – and clipping goes quickly because there are not that many counters to go through!

If I have a complaint it is that I wish there was a Production Track somewhere. Production Cities on the map are often covered up by units making counting them up a bit painful. Rule 7.1.2 also details bonus production points; wish all that was captured on a chart or track somewhere. Alas, I guess I will make my own….

Game Mechanics

In play and scope WW2 Deluxe is not much different from Axis & Allies. However, unlike A&A, WW2 Deluxe uses many “classic” hex & counter mechanics in play. Each turn includes Strategic Warfare (Strategic Bombings and Convoy battles), Production, Axis then Allied Turns (Movement & Combat), an extra Armored Action phase, Supply and End of Turn Adjustment. Classic wargame Zones of Control (ZoC) are used. Combat resolution is via a Combat Chart with the number of attacking/defending factors cross-referenced with the type of combat and column shifts based on few modifiers. Roll 2d6; every “hit” first reduces then eliminates a unit (most are two-step, front & back).

Some markers are required for the game. Air and Fleet units will need Ops Complete markers at times but the few markers keeps the map relatively uncluttered. Errata to date has also been limited (a few misprinted counters and very few rules clarifications).

When I first looked at the map, I wondered about all the “extra” areas like the Middle East and Spain and the like. At first I figured it was just there because the map is rectangular and it would look unusual to cut it out. However, the rules make those areas important! Not only does WW2 Deluxe include neutrals, but those “extra” areas are important for Production. Iraqi oil or rebellion? Rumanian oil and Swedish steel; those “peripheral” areas have value!

Scenarios

Playing time is rated as 2 hours and up. The game is advertised as, “playable in an evening.” My first solo play-thru (with rules learning) of the full 24-turn Fall 1939-Spring 1945 campaign took around 5 hours. In addition to the full campaign, six other scenarios are provided. Each starts at a different point in the war and proceeds from there. Choices are:

  • Fall Gelb & Weserubung (Spring 1940)
  • Barbarossa & Battleaxe (Summer 1941)
  • Fall Blau & Torch (Summer 1942)
  • Citadel & Avalanche (Summer 1943)
  • Overlord & Bagration (Summer 1944)
  • Wacht am Rhein (Winter 1945)

I guess I could have started with Wacht am Rhein and only played two turns. But I would have missed out on the full experience and not really see how streamlined, or not, the game is. There are also several Optional Rules and variants to choose from. This will certainly help with replayability; one can either use the random variant rolls to see what you get (like Ireland goes Axis and no Soviet purges) or pick-n-choose what experiment you want to try.

Blocks

I don’t miss the blocks. Indeed, I think this game would NOT have worked with blocks as each would have to be two-sided meaning you either stack them (like counters) or face the unused side to your opponent (losing the fog of war blocks often bring). The mapboard would have to be larger too.

Final Thoughts

WW2 Deluxe delivers what it promises; a simple wargame of the war in Europe that is playable in an evening. Nice components complement a somewhat classic hex & counter wargame. In many ways WW2 Deluxe is a good candidate for a convention game; easy to teach and playable in a reasonably short time period.

In this age of “innovation” I am quite happy and satisfied with this classic wargame approach. WW2 Deluxe proves that “innovative” is not necessarily better. WW2 Deluxe is a wargame that lets players refight World War II in Europe without fancy plastic minis or custom dice or “innovative” mechanisms and rules. Canvas Temple Publishing has given us a thematic-enough game on World War II in Europe that’s plain, simple fun!