Fellow grognards, do family, friends and loved ones scoff when you spend hours pushing cardboard counters around a map? Direct their attention to this article, which proclaims that wargamers are an essential national resource!
Despite sentimental connections with New York City (I lived there for five years, worked near the World Trade Center, went to college with the Governor of New York and empathize as much as any nonresident can with the City's post-9/11 travails), I rooted for the Arizona Diamondbacks when they faced the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. It was the least that any wargamer could do to thank Curt Schilling for his role as a partner in Multi-Man Publishing, which rescued Advanced Squad Leader and other "hard core" Avalon Hill titles from the maw of Hasbro. Before M-MP showed up, I shuddered at the image of ASL repackaged with plastic miniatures and two pages of rules.
The Daily Telegraph's Web site has maps of the military situation in Afghanistan as of early morning (Kabul time) on November 14 and November 15, 2001. A map and schematic published on November 29, 2001, show the Tora Bora cave complex, where Osama bin Laden hid but didn't make an heroic last stand.
|"Low, Slow & Deadly". Col. Charles E. Miller (USAF, ret.) describes the capabilities of the AC-130 gunships that helped shatter the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Michael Laver, Playing Politics: The Nightmare Continues is an odd mixture of political commentary and illustrative strategy games, mostly intended for a large number of players in a social setting. The commentary isn't to my taste, but the games show promise.
This review of Ancient Conquest (Excalibre Games, 1975) is the first of a planned series of retrospectives on old, unusual and overlooked games.
In The First Punic War: A Military History, J. F. Lazenby reconstructs the war that first took Rome beyond the boundaries of Italy. Important though it was, that conflict was very inadequately chronicled, and the gaps in our knowledge are chasms. Professor Lazenby's study, the first modern account in English, sheds as much light on what happened (and on the yet more mysterious why) as is reasonably possible.
The military history of China, particularly during the period before large-scale contact with the West, has been neglected by occidental scholars. Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300-900 by David A. Graff attempts to fill part of the gap.
More Generals in Gray by Bruce S. Allardice consists of 137 brief but pointed biographies of men who have some claim to be recognized as Confederate generals but are not included in standard reference works. The author doesn't try to resolve controversies about status. Instead, his sketches give a lively picture of the diversity of the South's political and military elite.
C. E. Callwell wrote Small Wars as a manual for British officers posted to Africa and India, telling them how to defeat backward, but far from incompetent, native enemies. His strategic and tactical insight, illustrated by scores of historical examples, makes his work of continuing value to students of both military history and 19th Century colonialism.
A Better War by Lewis Sorley recounts the neglected "second half" (actually twice as long as the first) of the Vietnam War, beginning with the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and continuing through the fall of Saigon in 1975. Contrary to received assumptions, this period was marked by considerable success - until the United States "cut and run", leaving its South Vietnamese ally without even the limited aid needed for survival.
Wargame Publishers and On-Line Retailers
Wargaming has come a long way since my youth - mostly downhill. In the mid-70's, according to the best available estimates, North American publishers sold over a million board wargames a year. A small outfit like Simulations Canada could expect to sell a thousand copies of any of its titles, while sales of the two superpowers, Avalon Hill and SPI, often ran into tens of thousands per game. AH sold over 200,000 copies of PanzerBlitz.
Today, by sad contrast, what we think of as major publishers print fewer than a thousand of each game and consider 500 sales a success. A consequence of this contraction is that no one can afford to spend much on marketing (SPI used to buy television commercials, albeit not many of them), and their games get little exposure in the diminishing number of hobby stores. Web sites are practically the sole advertising vehicle left. For the convenience of aspiring grognards, here is a rundown of the principal (by no means all) companies, with links to help you find them:
Decision Games inherited most of SPI's copyrights, along with its magazine Strategy & Tactics. It also publishes Fire & Movement, once the leading source of game reviews, then rather tired and pedestrian for a long time, now attempting a revival. Like its famed predecessor, DG features widely variable game quality, a frenetic publication schedule and heavy dependence on a single top-notch designer (Joe Miranda, probably the most inventive figure in the field since Jim Dunnigan). The most highly regarded of its recent productions is Krieg!, a fast-moving, innovative World War II simulation - now expanded into Totaler Krieg!, which makes possible such alternate histories as communist Germany invading still-Tsarist Russia.
Multi-Man Publishing is heir to the best parts of the Avalon Hill carcass. (The corporate name belongs to toy maker Hasbro, which slaps it onto Stratego, Battle Cry and the like.) Backed by what passes for serious money in this mini-industry (pitcher Curt Schilling is among the principals), M-MP has concentrated on the Advanced Squad Leader franchise but is gradually broadening its scope. It has brought out Grant Takes Command, a new entry in AH's Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series, and is reprinting some of the AH backlist. In September 2001 it acquired The Gamers, whose designs (primarily World War II but also Napoleonic, Civil War and modern era) tend toward heavy duty simulation.
GMT Games publishes fewer games than Decision but covers just as wide a range of topics. The Great Battles of History series is popular enough to have its own dedicated Web site. Also worthy of note are Paths of Glory (World War I) and the trio of Barbarossa "monster games": Army Group North, Army Group Center and Army Group South. In an effort to minimize risk, the company announces potential games far in advance and produces only those that receive at least 500 paid pre-orders.
Clash of Arms Games started with, and is still best known for, the La Bataille series of Napoleonic grand tactical games (famous for fractured French and tricolor-waving partisanship, though now much toned down). It has since expanded its line greatly. The quality of its productions is high, but small print runs make the unit cost high, too.
Avalanche Press used to be a nondescript publisher of miscellaneous World War II titles. Then it achieved critical (and apparently monetary) success with its operational naval series The Great War at Sea (which actually ranges from the Spanish-American War to the 1930's and now has a WWII follow-on). Its latest ventures are into the Ancient world (Rome at War) and squad-level World War II combat (Panzer Grenadier, a challenge to Advanced Squad Leader).
Columbia Games has a unique gimmick: Units are represented by wooden blocks standing on end. Their identity is invisible to one's opponent, thus easily shrouding the contest in the "fog of war". This system, which tends to be on the simple, quick-playing side, has been adapted to medieval, Napoleonic, Civil War, World War II and fantasy settings. The latest addition is Liberty: The American Revolution, 1775-1783. Columbia recently announced that it will sell its games only by direct mail.
Eagle Games is a relative newcomer that emphasizes gigantic, component-laden productions that nonetheless are priced no higher than conventional games with cardboard counters. The target audience lies somewhere between the family market and the "hard corps". The best known titles are Civilization and Age of Mythology, board versions of popular computer games. The line also includes semi-historical titles like The American Civil War and Napoleon in Europe, as well as the Risk-like Attack.
Australian Design Group is best known for the gigantic and ever-expanding WWII game World in Flames. WiF, like Advanced Squad Leader, is a hobby in itself. ADG does, however, want to diversify and has just released 7 Ages: 6000 Years of Human History (no relation to the computer game Seven Ages), which has received enthusiastic notices from people who have played the prototype. ADG promises an 11 square foot (double A1-size) full-color mapboard, 1300+ counters, 100+ cards (for the characteristics of the civilizations that come and go during play), only four pages of rules, and, if designer Harry Rowland lives up to his track record, a first-rate game.
Critical Hit specializes in Advanced Squad Leader scenarios, which it pretends, for legal reasons, are generic. For the jaded ASL player, this is the place to find new and inexpensive variations, including non-WWII settings like the Spanish Civil War and the Arab-Jewish War of 1948. In an effort to reduce dependence on a product that it doesn't control, the company also produces its own squad-level World War II series, Combat! The original version had the distinction of requiring more dice rolling than ASL, but the system has been reworked and vastly improved through heavy borrowing from the classic tactical game Tobruk, which CH has brought out in a new edition. A subsidiary, Moments in History, has a small line of innovative games.
Operational Studies Group is a one-designer house, the designer being Napoleonics specialist Kevin Zucker. Most of his designs are operational level views of the Emperor's campaigns. The latest are Highway to the Kremlin (1812) and The Sun of Austerlitz (1805).
Cheap desktop publishing has made it possible for individual designers to produce games of reasonable quality without the assistance of middlemen. The largest and most varied line of DTP games comes from Microgame Design Group. (Update: Microgame Design Corporation has announced that it will cease operations on November 1, 2004. I have published a list of its games on Stromata Blog.] Also prolific is Schutze Games, an Australian publisher that has lately been upgrading from DTP components to die-cut counters and higher quality maps. Sierra Madre Games is remarkable for bizarre subject matter, including ecological competition in North America (5 million years per turn) and mutant insects, but also for the near-classic Lords of the Sierra Madre. Markham Designs is the one-man shop of one of the more innovative designers. One Small Step is not, strictly speaking, a DTP operation, but its production is quite "bare bones". It used to publish GameFix (briefly renamed Competitive Edge), a magazine that specialized in small, simple, quirky games. Its most notable recent release is Joseph Miranda's Millennium Wars, a series of hypothetical near future conflicts.
HPS Simulations publishes the most detailed and serious computer wargames on the market, but it is mentioned here because one of its side products is Aide de Camp, software for reproducing board games on the computer screen. There's no computer opponent, but it's a handy way to carry a few games along on a trip without having to pack a bunch of boxes or risk leaving pieces behind in one's hotel room. Many game companies sell ADC modules for their products, and a couple of hundred are available for free from HPS's ADC Module Archive. Among them are my own adaptations of Microgame Design Group's ¡Arriba España! and of Panzerschreck's Reichstag: The Fall of Berlin (a small solitaire portrayal of the last hours of the Third Reich) and Nuremberg: Trial of the Century (a surprisingly successful recreation of the Nuremberg war crimes prosecution).
The days when every sizable city had a retail outlet for wargames are long gone, too, leaving the "hard corps" to depend upon mail order. For low prices, fast service and wide selection, I highly recommend Boulder Games, with which I have happily spent thousands of dollars without a a single noteworthy problem. Even non-buyers will be interested in the company's on-line newsletter Game Notes, which has particularly strong coverage of the increasingly popular "German games".
Some first rate wargame publishers have in recent years shunned intermediaries and sold directly to customers only. The Gamers was the chief advocate of this strategy and had assembled a consortium of small companies (including Clash of Arms, Operational Studies Group and UGG) in a common marketing effort. When The Gamers sold itself to Multi-Man Publishing, it spun the consortium off to newly formed Homer Games. My orders from this company have gone smoothly. Regular prices are generally higher than Boulder's, but it has titles that Boulder doesn't and runs frequent specials.
Less oriented toward wargames and generally more modest in its discounts, Funagain Games has a large stock and an informative, well-designed Web site. As with Boulder and Homer, service is courteous and efficient.
Publishing a periodical devoted to wargaming is a hazardous enterprise, and many casualties litter the field, including such once renowned titles as The Avalon Hill General, The Wargamer, Command, MOVES, Jagdpather, Panzerfaust/Campaign, Gamefix and The Space Gamer, to single out only a few. Still, there are survivors, of which the following are the leading lights:
Vae Victis is the world's best wargaming magazine. In classic fashion, it includes a game in every issue (but without die-cut counters, so "some assembly is required"). The drawback is that it's written in French. For those who can stumble through the language, issues are available in the U.S. from Boulder Games.
Strategy & Tactics is the venerable "Old Guard" of the field, having lasted for over 200 issues and pioneered the "game in an issue" format. Quality has gone up and down over the decades. Currently, under editor Joseph Miranda, it is trending upward. The games are among the best being published today. Articles are less consistent.
Against the Odds is the newest "game in a zine" publication. Its major, though far from exclusive, theme is asymmetrical conflicts, in which the belligerents vary widely in numbers, technology, doctrine, etc. Games published or announced so far range in time from Philip of Macedon's conquest of Hellas through Vietnam and have high quality components. Neither the graphics nor the writing is as lively as in Vae Victis, but ATO definitely rivals Strategy & Tactics in overall quality.
Fire & Movement, now past its 130th issue, is primarily a review zine and was once essential reading for serious wargamers. It has gone through a long period of lassitude, but a new editor is now working vigorously to restore its prior luster.
Panzerschreck is an unpretentious little zine that specializes in variants. Each issue includes a game or two, always small and often solitaire.
Frogs of War is a new (as of September 2004) zine from France. It is distributed free as a big PDF file and aims at quarterly publication.
The links lead to more detailed descriptions of the magazines and short summaries of what has appeared in recent issues.
Though it is not free, MagWeb is a treasure trove for the wargames enthusiast. It contains electronic versions of over 22,000 articles from about 100 wargaming publications, most of them extremely obscure and impossible to find anywhere else. The sixty dollars that I paid for a one-year subscription has already been repaid (in enjoyment if not in cash).
It was while browsing MagWeb that I discovered the perfect zine for gaming packrats. Simulacrum, "the quarterly journal of board wargame collecting and accumulating", is devoted to publishing reviews and other information about out-of-print, often all-but-unknown, wargame titles. The Web site does not include copies of the magazine (all issues will eventually be posted on MagWeb) but does have subscription information, an index of games reviewed and a database of over 4,000 board wargames, the largest such listing that I know of.
Jim Dunnigan, the most important figure in the development of modern wargaming, left the field many years ago. Among other activities, he nows edits The Strategy Page, a compendium of information on current and past military developments. Included is the complete text of the second edition of Dunnigan's The Complete Wargames Handbook (1992).
Parameters, the quarterly journal of the Army War College, is available on-line from 1996 to the present. Articles are peer reviewed and represent the often contentious "cutting edge" of current military thinking.