“Office-al” Game: Iron Curtain (Ultra Pro/Jolly Roger Games, 2017). Not necessarily a solo game but having to walk away between hands helps one to forget what is there making “two-handed solitaire” doable. Small game also got some big attention from office mates.
Rider will use the Cepheus Engine rules as a base with modifications made to fit with the “Old West” setting. Rider will draw inspiration from both fictional and historical Western lore but will definitely side with fictional portrayals. To paraphrase Larry McMurtry (who was misquoting “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”), we will be “printing the legend”.
As part of my Kursk Kampaign series this week I read parts of The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House (University of Kansas Press, 1990) and The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, The Largest Clash of Armor in History by Christopher A. Lawrence from Stackpole Books (2017).
I will be recording a special episode of the Armchair Dragoons Mentioned in Dispatches podcast in the very near future where we will discuss dice in gaming. At the risk of looking like a poser (because I know I am far from a true dice fanatic) I’m posting my dice collection for reference during the episode – and (hopefully) for your viewing pleasure.
The 2021 RockyMountianNavy Dice Collection
Role Playing Games
I’ll Take My Chances
Since 2d6 is so common in wargaming, it is helpful to understand the odds when rolling. Marc Miller in the rules for the Traveller 5 RPG goes way into depth on the the topic with an entire appendix, The Dice Tables.
As quick as many people are to dismiss the Traveller 5 RPG (“too complex” is a very common remark) there is lots of good design inspiration within what is admittedly more a toolkit than a simple set of rules. One dice use that has inspired me elsewhere is Flux where you use 2d6 to create results from -5 to +5. Useful for a random modifier? Hmm….
My dice collection shown above EXCLUDES dice that come in the many games sitting on my shelf. Within those many boxes I can find everything from the standard d6 to d10 and even the occasional d20. I also have specialized dice like the Battle Dice in the Commands & Colors series from GMT Games, Compass Games, or Days of Wonder. There is also the specialty dice found in the Birth of America/Europe series from Academy Games. Heck, even the latest Conflict of Heroes game from Academy Games, Storms of Steel, uses a specially marked d10. Even Root (Leder Games) has a special combat die.
Which raises an interesting question I hope we dig into during the episode; What is the best use of dice in a wargame? The hobby started with the d6. Once RPGs came along the d20 became popular which actually led to the availability of polyhedral die like the d10 (where 2d10 can actually make a d100). Some wargames replace dice with cards (for example see Tank Duel! from GMT Games) while others make the d6 the centerpiece of the game (Table Battles from Hollandspiele). Lowered manufacturing costs also allows publishers to enable designers to use special dice (Commands & Colors, etc). What do you think the future of dice are in wargaming?
Brant over at the Armchair Dragoons was kind enough to invite me to appear on another episode of Mentioned in Dispatches (Season 5, Episode 13) where the topic is “What is a wargame?”
If you suffer through me stumbling through the first part, we eventually get to the point where I offer a defintion:
“An inclusive and concise defintion may be proposed as: an imaginary military operation, conducted upon a map or board, and usually employing various moveable devices which are said to represent the opposing forces, and which are moved about according to rules representing conditions of actual warfare.”
A Brief History of War Gaming: Reprinted from Unpublished Notes of the Author, Dated 23 October 1956 (AD 235 893, Armed Forces Technical Information Agency, 15 Oct 1960)
As though you haven’t suffered enough listening to my ramblings on the podcast, I’m going to offer a few more here.
One item that many folks might insist is missing in the definition is that wargames need some sort of a randomizer. Most often this takes the form of dice but it doesn’t have to be. In Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) which, if you listened to the episode you can kinda tell that I like, a deck of cards is used to generate the random numbers for results.
Interestingly, the early editions of Flat Top (Battleline/Avalon Hill, 1977) did not have a random die combat resolution mechanic. The outcome of an attack was determined by looking up a cross-reference table. So maybe the randomizer is not actually a requirement but nothing more than an oft-called upon, easy to explain, option to introduce a random resolution element into a game design.
We hashed this out on the podcast and said, “No.” Upon reconsideration, do I still think so? As you can probably tell during the discussion, if there is one part of the definition that’s going to trip people up it’s likely will hinge on what they perceive to be a “military operation.” In regards to the Charlies Award sweeper UBOOT:
Does the ‘fact’ the game takes place during a combat patrol make it a “military operation”?
Does the ‘fact’ the crew (workers) represent a military group make it a “military operation”?
Does the ‘fact’ the U-Boat has a military mission to sink enemy shipping make it a “military operation”?
I know that Moe repeatedly made the point that UBOOT is a worker placement game. He is obviously very focused on the core mechanic of the game. A legitimate question is; can a worker placement game be a wargame?
In UBOOT, on every turn the players are responsible for certain crew positions. Moe (or was it Brant?) also made the point that the artificial three-order limit was not very realistic. After the podcast, it struck me that UBOOT in some ways is not unlike the old FASA title Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator (FASA, 1983). That game features Command and Control Panels for the different crew positions. It is possible to play the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator as a team…not too much unlike UBOOT. Now, I certainly consider the FASA Trek game a ‘wargame’, so why is UBOOT different?
I Know a Wargame When I See It
I think if you listen to our discussion of UBOOT and then Root (Leder Games, 2018) you will hear that, at least to me, what makes a game a wargame comes down to a matter of degrees. The question becomes, “when is enough, enough?” To Moe it sounds like the core mechanic trumps theme. I want to agree with that but my own track record is spotty. In the end, I can only say that I think theme can be both helpful and hurtful.
A weakened military has left the borders open to invasion from countless tribes such as the Anglo-Saxons, Goths, Vandals, and Huns. As you march through the Roman Empire, you must recruit armies, fortify cities, forge alliances, and face off against the invading hordes in battle.
In my mind, the fact the game explicitly tries to represent the march of forces, the recruitment of armies, fortification of cities, and even making alliances is all representative of a “military operation.” Fall of Rome does this without almost any use of “classic” wargame mechanics (though I note that Fall of Rome is also the first game in the Pandemic family to have a combat resolution mechanism).
Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.
“Real or imaginary military operations” – You need both military forces and personalities to FIGHT the Old Ones – CHECK.
“….map or board….” – You actually have two to chose from in the base game – CHECK.
“Moveable pieces” – Weak; most of the pieces do not represent ‘opposing forces” until that Old Ones wake up; then again, do your railroads and farms count as your ‘forces’? – Heck, I’m still going to say CHECK!
“….rules representing conditions of actual warfare” – There is clearly a combat resolution mechanic in the game – CHECK.
In my mind, and to be fair, AuZtralia is a wargame PLUS. In other words, it is not a “pure” wargame from the start but after the Old Ones awake it certainly BECOMES a wargame. The wargame elements it has in the second half are ‘sufficient’ in my mind to make it a wargame. When I think about it, this same approach is most likely why I consider Root a wargame; it has sufficient wargame elements to tip the scale for me.
So what is is about UBOOT that doesn’t tip that scale for me? Am I simply looking too askance at the worker placement mechanic and refusing to accept that mechanism can have a place in a wargame? How does the fact the crew must work as a team to Find, Fix, Track, and Target (F2T2 in military jargon) a merchant ship NOT make it a wargame? It works in Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator; why not here?
Maybe Moe is right. Maybe it’s all about that worker placement mechanic. Maybe I see the emphasis in UBOOT on the mechanic with a theme wrapped around it rather than a theme supported by a mechanic. Come to think of it, that’s a good way to explain how I look at all the games I talked about here.
I’m an old Grognard, So I Can Be Grumpy
Lastly, I’m going to expand a bit on a topic we talked about on the podcast. I fully agree that wargamers, as a niche group of hobby boardgaming, spend too much time defending our hobby. Indeed, the ‘elitism’ of some segments of the hobby boardgame crowd is hugely offensive. I’ll even go so far as to say that even the self-anointed ‘consciousness” of the wargame community can be offensive too. If you don’t want to play wargames, or certain wargames, you don’t have to and I won’t force you. I fully believe in our community good game designs will rise to the top; socially engineered bootstraps are not needed. But don’t you dare pretend you are superior to another gamer and can dictate what they (or I) can play. If a topic is that offensive then reasonable people will avoid it – gatekeepers are not needed.
I’ll have more thoughts coming later but for now enjoy the podcast!
*If Brant is the Regimental Commander does that make him a Brevet Colonel? That could explain some of the “chaos” in the episodes as it ‘obviously’ stems from Colonel Has Another Outstanding Suggestion.
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.
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:
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.
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 Game – Source 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); 1900-1946 – Kremlin (AH); 1947+ – The Hunt for Red October (TSR)
1990 Pre 20th – A House Divided (GDW); Best Modern Day – Red Storm Rising (TSR)
1991 Pre 20th – Republic of Rome (AH); Modern-Day – Eurorails (Mayfair)
1992 Pre 20th – Blackbeard (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-Day – Hacker II (SJG)
1995 Pre 20th – Roads to Gettysburg (AH); Modern-Day – Australian Rails (Mayfair Games)
1996 Pre 20th – Colonial Diplomacy (AH); Modern-Day – Empire of the Rising Sun (AH)
1997 Pre 20th – Age 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 Game – Age 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 Game – Catan Histories – Settlers of America: Trails to Rails (Mayfair)
2012 Best Historical Board Game – Strike of the Eagle (Academy Games)
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.