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GameTalk: Historical Eras

Byron Grant, 15 September 2014

We’re launching a new weekly column, discussing game design and inviting you to weigh in…

Wargames have been published for just about every historical era one can think of.  Pick an era, and tell us what you think is the most important consideration in design for a wargame of that period.  Are there “must haves” that you need to see in an ancients or Napoleonic game?  Are there any elements that truly distill the essence the an era?


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5 Responses to GameTalk: Historical Eras

  1. Clair Conzelman says:

    Interested in wargaming commander decisions in tactical and operational level games, all historical periods.

  2. Lance McMillan says:

    I don’t necessarily see anything as a “must have” feature. Rather, each game must stand a “believability” test on its own merits. If a game can’t produce a credible narrative which makes sense within the context of its subject, it doesn’t matter how robust the game mechanics are, or how much chrome the designer decides to layer on to it.

    This applies not just to historical battles/campaigns, but to alternate history, science fiction, and fantasy topics as well. I may expect to see Dwarves in a fantasy game and be mildly disappointed if they’re not included, or roll my eyes in ennui when those same Dwarves are inserted into a SciFi game, but as long as the game makes sense when I play it I’m willing to accept the inclusion or omission of various elements that I might feel are inappropriate.

    To me, the most important thing a game needs is a set of rules which are well written (or “easy to read” if you prefer), can be learned/understood without too much effort, and are intuitive enough that I don’t have to keep referring back to them to make sure I’m playing the game correctly. If I need a degree in advanced mathematics to calculate a line-of-sight or resolve an engagement, the game isn’t going to ever hit my table. Too many designers today feel that a misguided quest for “accuracy” gives them carte blanche to dial their game’s complexity up to eleven (which, for me, is a sure fire way of ensuring I have zero interest in the product).

  3. Allen Dickerson says:

    As a newly-returning wargamer (after a 30-year hiatus)… I can say that the single big advance I’ve seen in the interim for my favorite Civil War era grand tactical game (the various flavors of the original Richard Berg Terrible Swift Sword system) is the advent of the chit pull mechanism to create fog of war, (lack of) command control and reducing the benefits of player hindsight. The system seems to really add that layer of playing out the difference between what the player (as army commander) envisions as the proper course of action, and what his subordinates (corp, division and brigade commanders) can accomplish, given their wide ranges of command skill and efficiency (and even factoring in their personal demons, such as alcoholism and being a “loose cannon”).

  4. Brant Guillory says:

    I think anything pre-WWI needs a some way of accounting for the ‘shock’ effect of a massed cavalry charge. Even the infantry square had a morale hit when those horses came a-charging…

  5. Byron Grant says:

    One of my favorite historical eras (and milieus) is the “age of sail”. IMHO any a-o-s game worth its daily rum ration should feature: weather; point-of-sail based performance; hull, crew and sail damage; ammunition type, critical damage, and striking colors. Signals, grounding and sinking, anchoring, shore fortifications are “nice to haves”; while things like towing, kedging, ships-boats, crew assignments and fireships are wholly optional. Although boarding rules are almost ALWAYS included in age of sail games, I typically try to avoid such engagements (which were rare in the day, as well).

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