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Can you be a Casual Wargamer?

Sean Johnson
United States
North Judson
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I really like the idea of wargames. I like the basic nature of them. I like how narrative, theme, and mechanics are interwoven together. The year we started this blog (2012) is the same year that my wife and I discovered that she absolutely does not like war games (with several very notable exceptions). For the past several years, I have really tried to hone in on finding the perfect (for me) collection of wargames. I think I am really close. Something I have learned along the way, is I think in a lot of ways I am actually a bigger fan of historical war themed games, than I am of simulations. I want to process my thoughts about this here by first going though what I do not like in wargames, then focusing on what I do, and then thinking about where I go from here. Here are my overall thoughts on the games of war, and what I have learned about how I like to fight them.

What I Don't Like

Battle Simulation: So at this point I have played several of
Board Game: Gazala 1942
these games like Battle for Galicia, 1914, Monmouth, Gazala 1942 and Antietam Campaign. While I moderately enjoyed all of these games, if I am being brutally honest I also got a little bored playing through them. I think part of it is the scale of these games. These games tend to be on the brigade or company level. The game boards seek to be accurate recreated maps of the actual battlefields. The problem with these game for me, is that I do not feel them. When the little counter representing the 5th Brigade clashes with the another Brigade counter, and I roll for a result on a combat result table, I have no concept what that actually looks like. On top of that, the bird's eye view perfect information of these games makes everything feel so clinical and sometimes so programmed. Now I have to admit that in playing these games I did learn a lot. I was able to read about the battle after playing the game, and the game play experience did help illuminate reading about it. However, I just do not think I am the biggest fan of hex and counter battle simulations when a counter represents hundreds or thousands of soldiers.

Extra Chrome: I think it is this point that made me think I like war themed games more than tried and true wargames. I have definitely come to learn that I like streamlined game systems. I do not mind complexity and remembering a lot of rules, but the more extra stuff that is piled on top of extra stuff the more tedious it gets for me. It is for this reason that even though I love Federation Commander I have no desire to even attempt Star Fleet Battles. Another good example of this was my recent attempt to play Battlewagon.
Board Game: Battlewagon
In the quest of authenticity that game requires rolling on like four different tables (which were of course on different pages in the rulebook, and not on their own sheet). It was ridiculous and I gave up halfway through.

Terrible Production: Four years ago, perhaps even two years ago, this would not have been an issue for me. I can live with paper maps and boring(ish) counters, but assuming that players can live with ugly components, terrible design decision, and obtuse layouts is something I have little patience for at this point. I have a secret wish to someday discover the "perfect" old war game at a thrift sale or garage sale someday, but honestly I think that production issues are going to make it hard to find one that truly engages me. A good example of this is Robots!
Board Game: Robots!
. I got this as part of the wargamer generosity thread, because the idea of creating robots to fight each other sounded fun. However, these robots are made by creating a stack of counters. This is ugly, boring, and it is a pain to move around on the small paper map. Fortunately most modern games do not have these issues, but the graphic design of most wargames lags far behind those of euro or ameritrash games.

Games I Can't Play: This one is not the fault of the game, it is my fault. However, I do not want to own wargames that I cannot play. A great example of this Columbia Games block games. I love those games. I think the system is great, and in a perfect world I would have them all. However, I do not because they would never get played. For instance, I used to have Athens & Sparta
Board Game: Athens & Sparta
, but I traded it because it was never going to get played.

What I Like
Ahistorical Games: I really like it when games capture the feel of history without being methodically tied to it. Card driven games are really good at this. For instance, I really enjoy Washington's War.
Board Game: Washington's War
It has a strong historical flavor and feel, yet events do not necessarily happen when they did historically. I like that this gives the players a chance to re-write and create their own version of history.

REALLY ahistorical Games: Wargames are really tied to history, but honestly the games I like the most are games that are fictional. These come in a couple of forms. The first is science fiction games. I really, really love spaceship combat games. There is a part of me that just wanted to collect all of the spaceship combat games there are just so I can have them and explore them all. For instance, when you count the flight path games I have five of them as it is. I also like games like Star Fleet Marines and Ogre. I think the narrative is stronger in games with fictional settings, because I help create the narrative. The other type of games like this are ones that do not seek to simulate anything, but instead try to capture the feel of the conflict. An excellent example of this is Manoeuvre
Board Game: Manoeuvre
. There is game captures the feel of the Napoleonic fighting, but it is clearly a game first and foremost that is not bound to history.

Scenarios and Customization: This is a big one for me. I do not want a meticulous recreation of a specific battle. I want a game box that allows me to fight multiple battles. Command and Colors captured this really well, as does Federation Commander. I love the idea of every time I sit down to play the game it is going to be different. More than that though, I like that these games give me the ability
Board Game: Ram Speed: Naval Warfare in the Bronze Age
create my own scenarios. I also like it when games allow me to customize my experience. A simple and small game I will be holding on to is Ram Speed: Naval Warfare in the Bronze Age. This game begins with players creating their ships, and it is a lot of fun to decide what is going to be on my ship

Small Counter Count: Specifically, I want what a counter represents to be small. I mentioned I do not like when a single counter represents a battalion. This is why I like naval games, because one counter being one ship makes sense. This can get down to the man. I like how in Frontline: D-Day
Board Game: Frontline: D-Day
the cards do not represent just individual soldiers, they represent specific soldiers with names. When it is a smaller scale it makes it much easier to get caught up in the story.

Plays Well Solo:
It does not have to be a pure solo game. I am not opposed to playing both sides, but the more traditional of a wargame the game in question is the less likely my wife will play it. That means I like it when games play well on my own.

What Next?
I am going to be reducing the number of wargames I have. Two games I have not yet played that I will keep until I play them are Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 and Ambush!. I have high hopes for these, especially Ambush.
Board Game: Ambush!

In a lot of ways my perfect wargame has already been created in Memoir '44. Hold the Line is similar and I like it a lot as well. We also have Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. One of the huge advantages of these games is that my wife will play them with me. Part of me is tempted to just go all in and look into getting Commands & Colors: Ancients as well as Hold the Line: Frederick's War. However, if we have so many games so similar, I am not sure they will all get played.

I think I am pretty close to saying I have all of the wargames I need. What do you think? Based off of all this, is there anything you think I am missing?
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