Geryk Analysis: Wargaming
Brooski - Columns - Comments - 10/03/05

I pulled a bunch of old wargames out of the closet recently. I was cleaning the house and finally decided to see if I could sell some old games that I was never going to play again on eBay. I have boxes and boxes of them, so I was only making a dent, but I had to start somewhere. There were old computer games in there, as well as boardgames. I found the jacket to the old Chris Crawford classic Patton vs Rommel that I think was the first game to do simultaneous, continuous-time movement and combat resolution. Or something. You gave orders to little boxes and watched them go attack other little boxes. Cute. I remember having a lot of fun with that game.

I remember having a lot of fun with old computer games. North Atlantic í86 was one that I played over and over. I can remember watching the little text adventure that made up the combat resolution: you watched the Tomcats fire their missiles, and the Badgers and Backfires launch their ASMís, and wondered how many would get through to your fleet. Pretty tense stuff considering it was all in your head.

Funny thing, though: while I remember the fun I had with all these games (Kampfgruppe, Eighth Air Force, War in Russia, Carrier Strike) I have absolutely no desire to replay them. You can actually download a legitimate, free, updated version of War in Russia from Matrix Games that will run under Windows XP. But fifteen minutes after I started playing it, I realized I had no desire to play it anymore. It was fun then, but it isnít fun now. Thatís not a knock against the game, because there really arenít any old computer wargames I want to play. That kind of sucks.

By contrast, there are tons of old boardgames Iíd like to play again. True, a lot of them are just as uninteresting to me now as old computer games are. But there are many notable exceptions. Iíd play Conquistador, a game from the mid-Seventies, any time. In fact, I recently started a PBEM game using the free Cyberboard utility, and am having a blast. There is a web utility for playing Avalon Hillís Dune boardgame online, and I can vouch for the fact that itís excellent. I could name a dozen boardgames off the top of my head that I would play right now if someone came over to play them. Thatís totally without thinking. Give me a second in between thinks and I could name you two dozen more.

So whatís the deal? Why arenít there any computer wargames I would come back to thirty, twenty, or even ten years later? There are a bunch of reasons. Computer wargaming is a less mature segment of the market than board (war)gaming, certainly. But I also think computer wargaming is suffering from a design crisis. The programmers who used to be able to write games by themselves (and still do) arenít designers. And wargaming needs some seriously new design ideas for its games.

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