Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
Ever since playing and picking up the new edition of Washington's War, I have been sporadically picking up CDGs of that sort: Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?, Unhappy King Charles!, Clash of Monarchs, etc.
One reason I like them—even the supposed bad ones—is that the cards at least inform the players what were the principle events and personalities of the period covered and what "effect" they imparted in the conflict.
Such games also further pique my interest to learn more about the period. I've picked up a few books on the Napoleonic, Revolutionary, and Seven Years Wars based having and playing the games.
Knowing what to expect from such games in terms of how they are played certainly helps, too. And I realize that a CDG is not necessarily the best way to model particular conflicts.
Unfortunately, they are arriving faster than I can collect them. I suppose once the vogue of CDGs of the sort I describe passes, I can catch up on getting them.
Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees
I used to play a lot Johnny Reb in college. Particularly the second edition of rules. Those days were not long after I left the Army in 1987 so the hours of slogging through wait-a-minute vines were still fairly fresh in my memory.
Those memories were not far from my mind as we assembled the terrain for our battles. I always wanted to put out more terrain—especially for battles in the Western Theater. The folks playing the games were much more used to tables with open terrain and so would set them up that way. Artillery never had difficulty in finding commanding positions. But neither did infantry face much delay in maneuvering across the table.
I would grouse quite a bit about that. And even more when we played Frank Chadwick's other darling of the times: Command Decision II. Tanks had no trouble with maneuvering either down roads or across country. It seemed tanks never had a rough time unless we were playing a 'Bulge scenario. Of all the games I had played till then, only Western Front Tank Leader the other titles from that series seem to handle terrain in a way that felt both suitably playable and realistic.
The point being: the miniatures games and scenarios I played never featured enough terrain. Folks didn't seem to be too bothered by that. I'm not talking about being shot at (and I've never been), but just the effort of getting into position to the job you set out to do could be hampered by an expansive tangle of naturally-occurring brush and gully. Especially at night. On a schedule.
It wasn't until a friend and I visited battle fields like Shiloh and Murfreesboro—where the National Park Service tries to maintain the fields in their original state, that I could make my impressions felt. We would leave the paved roads and trails and try to take a "short cut" through a cedar break or cornfield. Difficult enough for a couple young men. How much harder for a formed regiment? At least the first one.
"Frank says we can cross this field in 15 minutes and see 60 yards into it. What do you think?"
"Not until the first regiment breaks through it and knocks it down."
But even talking with a few re-enactors I knew, I could see that that they "got it." They certainly recognized the difficulty of breaking trail while maintaining a cohesive front. Some appreciated that WWII-infantry could remain concealed at almost any distance unless poor discipline or chance gave them away.
I think now more games are introducing the effects of terrain. No doubt, a lot of personal experience from the last decade is making its way into games. I think the designers publishers of games like Flames of War: The World War II Miniatures Game and Force on Force make a point of making sure that tables have plenty terrain.
Wheeling and Dealing
As I said, I did a fair amount of miniatures gaming in college. I still do play miniatures games, but less and less the older I get. It seems that no matter which club I play in, there are always players that fudge and skeeve on movement, line-of-sight checks, and what exactly "is" and "is not" in or out of terrain.
The principle attraction of miniatures games seems to be the spectacle of it. The pay-off of seeing so many hours devoted to create, assemble, and paint all the vehicles, figures, terrain, and detritus is game day. Too often I've seen games break down in the "argument phase" and the subsequent parsing of the rules. Usually, we'd bypass the trouble by rolling a die and hashing it out over beer and pizza later.
That's more friction than I care to handle and why I prefer hex-based systems. The rules for such games with regards to terrain, movement, and line-of-sight are usually very cut and dried. If all I'm doing is counting hexes or stringing between dots, that's a whole lot easier than trying to figure out whether we're executing wheels correctly or figuring out what fraction of the regiment can see what.
Napoleon at War does do something pretty ingenious with regards to movement. A regiment/battalion that begins and ends its movement beyond a certain distance from the enemy may end its move in any formation it wishes. Players simply move the headquarters stand a permissible distance and then reform the rest of the unit around it in any way the owner wishes.
I have a copy of the rules and friends report that much of the tedious of play is eliminated by that one simple rule.
Is it me, or are there a lot more disqualifications in these Olympics than in previous ones?