Essence of a wargame – II

Being the second part of a mini-series (probably of 2) about what makes a great wargame.

In Part One I suggested 4 points that a great wargame needs to address:

  • Convincing portrayal of topic
  • Encouraging players to carry out believable actions within the game’s context
  • Excellent fit of mechanics to topic
  • Appropriate level of challenge

Assessment of games against these criteria is difficult to do in an objective way. While it might be possible to create some form of rating system with defined levels that seems a bit of a heavy weight tool and a lot of work. Instead I’ve taken more of a comparative and qualitative approach, which is probably indefensible scientically – but then again, this is a blog, so what the heck!

Now it might be a good idea to look for some examples of games that meet these criteria. What follows is of course my view based on necessarily limited experience despite over 40 years of wargaming. Ahem. Let’s start by considering the three games I’ve mentioned already: Up Front, Paths of Glory and La Grande Armee.

Up Front

the first of three assessed on these criteria (suggesting this series might be 4 or 5 posts).

Convincing portrayal of topic

This game is about WW2 infantry section combat. It has individual soldiers differentiated by their own characteristics for morale, and whether or not they have NCO rank. The focus on what happens to individual soldiers, and a high level of differentiation between weapons, including tanks and anti-tank guns, as well as a wide variety of scenarios and nationally characterised troops, make this a convincing portrayal in my view.  The use of individual cards rather than counters makes the troops feel more like real soldiers.

Encouraging players to carry out believable actions within the game’s context

Player actions are centred on a group structure (from 2 to 4 groups). Although this may not reflect historical doctrine, it permits the player to make fire or movement decisions that feel like believable decisions in the context of the game, as it is important to weigh up tactical circumstances against the possibilities presented by cards in hand and the state of one’s own and the enemy’s troops.

Excellent fit of mechanics to topic

Game mechanics for Up Front are designed to create short player turns with few decisions, so that action is fast and furious, interspersed with periods of inactivity, as players search for the right balance of cards for the next operation. In my view it is this aspect that portrays the ‘hurry up and wait’ nature of infantry operations.

Appropriate level of challenge

Up Front teaches the the game by gradually introducing more terrain and troop types as players progress through the rules. While this makes the rules difficult as a reference set, it improves the learning aspects. There is a mix of scenarios at all levels of complexity, and also a campaign system with points assigned to individual soldiers who can increase expertise through successes in scenarios. For those who want a tough challenge, try a parachute landing!

Next time : Paths of Glory,


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