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Subject: What's the problem with CDGs rss

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Matt Thrower
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Hello,

Would you all be kind enough to help me with a piece I'm working on? I'm a big fan of CDGs but I'm well aware that some gamers dislike them intensely. Here are three common objections I've heard, together with my rebuttals. Would any CDG-haters like to rebut my rebuttals so I can understand the arguments a bit better?

Q. CDGs are overly abstract

A. All games are hugely abstract. Even the most complex, detailed wargame is almost nothing like actual command - they generally stick to trying to simulate one small aspect well and make a fun game out of the rest. So why are abstractions worse than, say, the common (and absurd) abstraction of tracing a supply line of any length whatsoever?

Q. CDGs give you hand management or political problems to deal with, not actual military decisions.

A. In real life, a military commander will worry about his own units, and those directly beneath in the chain of command. Units are usually grouped by threes, so in a game that would make nine or ten counters per side to push around. You could go one level down I suppose, and have 30-40 per side. But wargames commonly have hundreds: this is nothing like *actual* command at all.

Q. CDGs generally have you playing a country rather than a commander, and so give no window into the problems facing particular commander in a particular battle.

A. Strategic level games generally don't represent a single person. Their scope of time is usually several years and command structures commonly changed over the course of a campaign due to casualties, promotions and so on. In Hammer of the Scots, for instance, who are you playing? The Scots player can crown a king with William Wallace on the board, and the English king can be killed and replaced by his son. So by arguing that CDGs are bad because they don't let you play one "person" you're effectively arguing all strategic-level games are bad. Is that really what you think?
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Stewart Thain
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Matt,

Interesting post. I wouldn't classify myself as a CDG-hater but I'm not a fan of the mechanism and I would like to comment on "abstraction".

I have a strong interest in military history and I like my war games and their mechanics to be things that I can relate directly to my knowledge of the history. The greater my knowledge of a particular era or campaign the higher the expectation I have for a game. Therefore, I am a lot more demanding of games on the Napoleonic Wars, WW1, WW2 and more recent wars, than I am for earlier periods. I also have a bias towards simulation at the expense of playability. If I can't easily relate my playing experience in the game to what I am reading about, then I would probably complain that the game was "too abstract" for me.

It is not just CDG games that I have this issue with, it is also strategic games. My war gaming history is littered with strategic WW2 games that I no longer own! One day I hope to find a strategic WW2 game that meets my needs!

A glance at my war game collection will show a definite bias towards operational and tactical games.

For periods where I have less knowledge of the history it is less of an issue for me. Here I Stand and Virgin Queen come to mind. I also play Paths of Glory, probably because it has just enough chrome to allow me to relate it to what I read.

Stewart
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Gordon Watson
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I'm actually a bit if a fan of CDG's but I do have some frustrations with them and can see why some don't like them. Some of my peeves:-

- Concur with the second point on your list that the use of cards for Op's or events is a 'gamey' decision/mechanic rather than a 'sim' mechanic.

- Some cards are more powerful than others and some of more use to one side than another. Where players are drawing from a shared deck of cards this can inevitably result in a skewed card distribution giving the game to the side who 'gets the cards' or away from the side that doesn't. I therefore prefer CDG's where players draw from their own decks.

- The 'events' on the cards in most CDG's model what happened. If the card never get's played for it's event then the narrative changes from history - which is fine, as you don't want to be completely rail-roaded into recreating history as why bother playing. However most CDG's provide less/no event cards allowing events in the game that could have happened historically but didn't.
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>Q. CDGs give you hand management or political problems to deal with, not actual military decisions.

I don't think that your 'answer' actually responds to the question that you posed. Your answer seems to be that games are already unrealistic; the implication being I suppose that as games already give the player too much control to be realistic, what's a little more unrealism (in the form of hand management)?
Additionally, I would remove the "or political" part from the question, as I think that simulations of war (being politics by other means, per Clauswitz) should include the political dimension. So:

CDGs give you hand management problems to deal with, not actual military decisions.

This, I think, is a valid complaint about CDGs, in reference to both deck cycling (hello, Combat Commander) and card counting.

In addition, I think that you've left out two of the common complaints with CDGs: false choices, and godlike control.

The false choices argument is that it is difficult to rationalize what is being simulated when a player is forced to play a card either for the event, or for the Ops. Personally, I can rationalize this as allocation of attention and resources, particularly in pre-modern games.

The godlike control argument is that CDGs incorporate things like the weather, natural disasters, and non-player interventions, which would normally be dealt with by random event table. But that nobody that the player could be representing had any control over the occurrence of these events - no commander in history had control over when storms at sea or earthquakes would afflict their enemy. Therefore CDGs are giving a player artificial control over something that their side couldn't possibly have controlled.
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MattDP wrote:
Q. CDGs give you hand management or political problems to deal with, not actual military decisions.

A. In real life, a military commander will worry about his own units, and those directly beneath in the chain of command. Units are usually grouped by threes, so in a game that would make nine or ten counters per side to push around. You could go one level down I suppose, and have 30-40 per side. But wargames commonly have hundreds: this is nothing like *actual* command at all.

Sure, but at least each decision you make corresponds roughly to a decision facing someone in the chain of command. Last month's thoughts on this are here:

kuhrusty wrote:
Yeah, I think that's the reason I don't tend to like that style of CDG: when you're looking at your hand of cards, planning your turn, the puzzle you're solving feels (to me) unconnected to any choices the actual participants would have faced.

I guess you could say the same thing about abstractions in other games, but (to stick with an example using cards), in Rommel in the Desert, you're thinking along the lines of how aggressively you want to use your supplies of fuel & ammo, which feels more right to me.

and here:

kuhrusty wrote:
I agree that wargames are vastly better with fog-of-war, and I agree that cards provide that; I just find myself thinking more in terms of game mechanics ("I'm going last, so if I save this for three PCs, he won't be able to do anything about it") with CDGs than with other games.

But, maybe I'm just failing to see where I think in terms of game mechanics in other games. For example, in months where I'm going second in EastFront, I would rather attack during the second fortnight than the first because that keeps the other player from having a chance to restore supply to units before the next month's production, which sounds pretty gamey when you think about it, but it doesn't bug me during play.
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Jeff K
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RandomLetters wrote:

In addition, I think that you've left out two of the common complaints with CDGs: false choices, and godlike control.


No, definitely not true! The entire genre of CDG was created to combat the god-like control players often enjoy in traditional style wargames. The is not a common complaint against CDGs. They are designed to inherently take some control away from the player. The false choices comment, OTOH, is a common complaint, but you may have covered that in your last statement.

I think you might be better off delving into the history of CDGs. Have you read Mark Herman's Philosophy on CDGs? This is a must read for you, I think it may help you to frame what the design issues and goals are in the first place. Then you can ask whether or not in wargamers' eyes those goals have been met in a satisfactory manner by the CDG design.

I think it all boils down to this: simply, a CDG provides you a fantastic game experience. Really, I have found that gameplay and playability (or even replayability) is the prominent feature in a CDG. Many times (most times?), this comes at the expense of the simulation value of the game. I would say this may indeed be true of most of the CDGs I have played, with the notable exception of Empire of the Sun (as I've said MANY times until people are tired of hearing it). Weather cards notwithstanding, this is a fantastic simulation. But then again I would not use this game as a yardstick for CDGs in general, because it is quite singular in nature. Not often do you see a game (whatever the genre) that is the result of such a long process of design and development, Mark Herman making the Pacific Conflict a lifetime study of his. It is his understanding which makes this game what it is, you just don't see such things happening that often, in CDG or otherwise.

So, all of the critcisms come in the form of where the game either A). falls down as a simulation, or B). is just too abstract in its simulative value to give the feel of reality. The latter being product vs. process (ie, even if the outcomes are mostly historical or accurate, you got there in a bizarre way that is disconnected from reality or perceived real-world choices. The end does not justify the means for many folks).
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Jason Russ
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I'm not a CDG hater, but I have to be in the mood to play one. And I'm not often in the mood for one. I can certainly see why they appeal to many people and I don't think they are bad games, or impure wargames, or anything like that. Just not usually my cup of tea.

Two things for me concerning CDGs:

1) Lack of open-ended decision making. With a CDG there are a handful (yes, great pun by me!) of decisions to choose from during each play.

When I'm looking at a map with thousands of hexes and I have hundreds of units to control I have a near infinite number of choices with levels of granularity that cannot be had in a CDG.

2) The "sameness" of CDGs. I'm sure I'm opening a big can-o-worms here, but I'll say it anyway. The feel of CDGs is far too similar for my taste. Wilderness War, PoG, and Shifting Sands depict very different circumstances. And yet the gaming experience is similar with any of them.

Note that I say "gaming experience". Yes, I realize there are interesting nuances that make the games exciting and different. But all 3 of those games "feel" the same to me when I play them. Case Blue, Grant Takes Command, and Bataan certainly do not feel anything like one another to me. I get a very different gaming experience from playing each of those three games.

I'll give an analogy of wine to CDGs. Every red wine I drink gives me a similar feel or experience. While there is infinite variety in the different wines, the differences are subtle and are only meaningful when you really want to delve deep into the nuances of the wine. My overall dining experience of having a glass of wine with my dinner remains quite similar regardless of my choice of wine variety.


Cheers,
Jason
Wargame Depot


EDIT: Yep, I know that "near infinite" is a lousy term to use. Kind of like saying "very unique".
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Enrico Viglino
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MattDP wrote:
Hello,

Would you all be kind enough to help me with a piece I'm working on? I'm a big fan of CDGs but I'm well aware that some gamers dislike them intensely. Here are three common objections I've heard, together with my rebuttals. Would any CDG-haters like to rebut my rebuttals so I can understand the arguments a bit better?

Q. CDGs are overly abstract

A. All games are hugely abstract. Even the most complex, detailed wargame is almost nothing like actual command - they generally stick to trying to simulate one small aspect well and make a fun game out of the rest. So why are abstractions worse than, say, the common (and absurd) abstraction of tracing a supply line of any length whatsoever?


Worse? All a matter of tastes. Columbia block games are too abstract
for me. CDGs can be ok. But, everything is degrees.

Quote:
Q. CDGs give you hand management or political problems to deal with, not actual military decisions.

A. In real life, a military commander will worry about his own units, and those directly beneath in the chain of command. Units are usually grouped by threes, so in a game that would make nine or ten counters per side to push around. You could go one level down I suppose, and have 30-40 per side. But wargames commonly have hundreds: this is nothing like *actual* command at all.


Some minis games I've played get this just about right.

But, the big issue for me is the hand management. It doesn't relate
in my mind the way that the actions I'm taking in a game wherein
I may be doing things no individual commander would - but the
mass of officers in command would have to. Basically, I'm making
decisions that people ARE making. In CDGs, too often it feels
that things not under my control, or mechanisms that don't relate
to the decision-making of actual people (if I hold this card, my
opponent won't get it) are in the game.

Quote:
Q. CDGs generally have you playing a country rather than a commander, and so give no window into the problems facing particular commander in a particular battle.


No problem here. So long as I'm making decisions that the people
in that power would be faced with, which relate well with my understanding
of the forces at play.


i don't think the mechanism is inherently flawed, but I am less
impressed with the application. I think some games do well under it
(especially those without military focus, like 1960, Twilight Struggle,
Here I Stand, ect). For a purely military game, they too often make
me feel like I'm doing something too far outside the choices that
the commanders are making. The lighter ones make interesting romps though,
and a couple seem to hold their own well enough.

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Yes, I've read Mark Hermann's piece, and I am aware that one of the design claims for CDGs is to combat the player's ability to have perfect control over what his pieces do. That's fine, though that has also been tried through chit-pull, turn continuation, and orders (written or chit). However, in combating this problem, they've given the player control over things that no mortal controlled. Depending on your preferences I suppose, the cure may be worse than the disease.

I am not prepared to say that the mechanism is inherently wonderful or terrible; it is a tool for the designer to use. I've liked some CDGs (Wilderness War, Here I Slump For Hours), thought some were okay (Hannibal, Successors, Washington's War), and disliked some (For the People, Combat Commander, Manoeuvre). I think that the CDG engine works well enough in Assyrian Wars, though I have other issues with the game.

I would probably be happier with a combined CDG/random events table design, to take player control away from those things over which they should have no control. I heard that Joe Miranda was working on such a design, but haven't heard the result.
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Enrico Viglino
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RandomLetters wrote:

I would probably be happier with a combined CDG/random events table design, to take player control away from those things over which they should have no control. I heard that Joe Miranda was working on such a design, but haven't heard the result.


Clash of Monarchs is an already existing design using that idea.
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Oh, did not know that (or knew and forgot, which amounts to the same thing). I had Clash of Monarchs, but sold it unplayed when I realized that it was sufficiently involved that reading the rules before play was essential, and the chances were nil of getting my gaming group to read them.
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Gordon Blizzard
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I think CDGs are excellent games, though i'm not sure about the applicability to modern wars where more things happen at once. I feel like the ops/event mechanism works pretty well for pre-modern wars but i feel like not enough happens in PoG/barbarossa to berlin because of limited ops.

I don't feel like random tables for events are very interesting at all and make no interesting decisions. I feel like when you have hundreds of units over a bunch of hexes, the decisions to be made are there but almost none of them are interesting, there's usually one or two logical moves, ad infinitum. It's a difference in philosophy.

Then again, I do enjoy Totaler Krieg so maybe i'm a little weird.
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Enrico Viglino
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Panzeh wrote:


I don't feel like random tables for events are very interesting at all and make no interesting decisions. I feel like when you have hundreds of units over a bunch of hexes, the decisions to be made are there but almost none of them are interesting, there's usually one or two logical moves, ad infinitum. It's a difference in philosophy.


It is. I very much don't want to be constantly making 'interesting'
decisions. I want a few key strategic choices, and then some smaller
choices - which all leads to an easier understanding of the story.

Quote:
Then again, I do enjoy Totaler Krieg so maybe i'm a little weird.


TK is FULL of 'interesting' decisions. It's my biggest gripe against it.
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just my two cents Matt

The card driven mechanic often presents a binary decision in the way it plays out history. Do i take the action points or the event. This to me feels rather weird and puts me out of my immersion in the game. To give an example does Nixon choose nuclear weapon tests or the points for a coup in India? You can make a historical argument for such decisions, the American administration has to choose how to spend its resources, both political and economic and this is a fair simplification but to me when i'm playing the game it feels like im choosing between history and not history.

The second issue i'd raise is agency over uncontrolled events. A good example would be storm cards in either Hannibal RvC or Amateurs to Arms. You can play a storm to screw your opponents move. I understand the justification, storms and such always happen at the worst possible time, so why not simulate this by giving agency over them to the opposition. But again it is an immersion breaker to me, i feel like i suddenly have God like status in the game, which I don't want.

I understand and see the justification for CDG mechanics, but what counts is my subjective experience when playing the game, and whilst i do enjoy many CDGs they often throw me out of the game experience. I feel like i am playing with history rather than being a part of it.
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The fundamental problem with CDGs is that the events, and Ops values for that matter, are known.

Think about it, you know every card in the deck. Let's say there's a card that portrays an event that surprised the historical participants ... it's not surprising to you. You know it's there, you know its odds of occurring, you know what it will do, and you often know whether it has been played yet or not.

Which feels like five-card stud poker, not a conflict simulation.

It's true, all wargames exhibit this to some degree. When we attack using a CRT, we know the odds. When we roll on a random event table, we know the events. But the narrative of CDGs is so dependent on their script that knowledge of the possible elements of the script becomes overpowering.

Can they still be great games - absolutely. I love Hannibal:RvC, but I play it like a card game that has wargaming elements. I know the cards, and if I've seen a card played, I know it's out until the reshuffle ... and that makes for a much different gaming experience whether one likes it or not.

Cheers.
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citizen k wrote:

Think about it, you know every card in the deck. Let's say there's a card that portrays an event that surprised the historical participants ... it's not surprising to you. You know it's there, you know its odds of occurring, you know what it will do, and you often know whether it has been played yet or not.


It's a little bit of an odd argument. Just like Buford was surprised to find Heth's men? Wait, if I sit down to 3DoG, I know this already. Just like I know the entire OOB, and often the entry time and point. Did Lee or Meade?

It is well established that it is not possible to simulate military amnesia. I can't see this being a knock on CDGs, when you absolutely know these things in a traditional sort of game. If you are saying that a traditional game is not scripted like a CDG, that's somewhat of a dubious claim. Open ended as a they are, the reinforcement schedule is open information (unless it is a production system like WiF or WiE), as is the turn sequence. The game progression is going to be somewhat a known quantity in both. Whereas CDGs may have an advantage in the short term (surprising card plays, bluffing), traditional games perhaps in the long term.

Cards can, and usually do, play out differently every time. Again, this is one of the design rationales behind the approach. I am sure there are lots of knocks against CDGs, but this isn't one of them I think.
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i think they(CDG's) are fun. i am 75 years old and somewhat given up on the idealistic desire of a wargame being a great simulation after many years of gaming. now i like to just play and enjoy the ride. and also i have accepted the luck factor more than i used to. so if you enjoy them somewhat, just play and don't get upset over these other things and enjoy them more.
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citizen k wrote:
The fundamental problem with CDGs is that the events, and Ops values for that matter, are known.

Think about it, you know every card in the deck. Let's say there's a card that portrays an event that surprised the historical participants ... it's not surprising to you. You know it's there, you know its odds of occurring, you know what it will do, and you often know whether it has been played yet or not.

Which feels like five-card stud poker, not a conflict simulation.

It's true, all wargames exhibit this to some degree. When we attack using a CRT, we know the odds. When we roll on a random event table, we know the events. But the narrative of CDGs is so dependent on their script that knowledge of the possible elements of the script becomes overpowering.

Can they still be great games - absolutely. I love Hannibal:RvC, but I play it like a card game that has wargaming elements. I know the cards, and if I've seen a card played, I know it's out until the reshuffle ... and that makes for a much different gaming experience whether one likes it or not.

Cheers.


Amen to that. The role of hand-management and "playing the deck" is too strong in my mind to generally equal the tension and enjoyment of a game that doesn't use the technique.

I think the analogy to poker is a good one. AARs of many CDGs read too much like a replay of a bridge game for my tastes. Not that they can't be/aren't fun,but there are so many other tools for limiting control that don't "break" the connection with what is playing out on the board the way I feel many CDGs tend to do. As you can see it's a subjective feel thing.
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citizen k wrote:
The fundamental problem with CDGs is that the events, and Ops values for that matter, are known.

Think about it, you know every card in the deck. Let's say there's a card that portrays an event that surprised the historical participants ... it's not surprising to you. You know it's there, you know its odds of occurring, you know what it will do, and you often know whether it has been played yet or not.


The way around this is to not memorize the decks. Which works pretty
well in most CDGs. The need to know the deck is a real problem in
a couple though - PoG especially comes to mind, as you can't get
historical results by 'playing through' without planning which requires
knowing at least some of the deck. A similar criticism goes for one
of my favorite games - Europa Universalis: a player is very unlikely
to make historical choices without knowing the events and leaders
which are coming.
 
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I enjoy the repetition?
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citizen k wrote:
The fundamental problem with CDGs is that the events, and Ops values for that matter, are known.


Agreed. My problems with CDGs are that, and events that would theoretically involve some decision-making on your part, but are played against you. When the two combine, it can seem pretty silly. Take Twilight Struggle: "We're in the late war; I need to be ready in case I shoot down a Korean jetliner". What?

Still, they make for fun games. Just not great simulations. And there's nothing wrong with that. Whatever your mood.
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I think the first error in your rebuttals is the assumption that what wargamers are looking for, when ascertaining the success of a design, is the number of roles that are being simulated. One of the greatest disservices that Avalon Hill ever did was their tagline of 'Now YOU can be General Patton' or Lee or Napoleon or whoever.

But I think you'll find that many wargamers are savvy enough to realize that they aren't playing the role of a single commander. I know for myself it's about the least of my concerns, since I have very little interest in simulating 'actual command', whatever that means. And I have no pretense that I'm playing as a particular commander.

(Furthermore, you take the complete opposite tack in your rebuttal of question three, which gives a rather ad hoc feel to your arguments.)

My own attitude towards CDGs is that they do a lot of things well and are give us the ability to game historical scenarios that were previously rather clunkily covered. For example, one of my favorite games of all time is Virgin Queen, a heavy CDG.

But I think the CDG mechanic is one that can very easily be overused and is not necessary in all cases. I think it works best in idiosyncratic settings, where non-military events would have to otherwise be covered very abstractly or with dozens of awkward special rules.

The thing that I take issue with most in CDGs is that they cause so many of the decisions in the game to be decisions which are primarily 'game decisions' rather than 'military decisions'. Yes, I understand that in an abstract sense those 'game decisions' can be imagined to represent limited resources or command difficulties, but the reality of the matter is that these are a breed apart from the other abstractions in wargames, in that they consciously introduce decisions which serve primarily game purposes and which do not precisely map to the real world.
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Xookliba wrote:
[q="citizen k"]It's a little bit of an odd argument. Just like Buford was surprised to find Heth's men? Wait, if I sit down to 3DoG, I know this already. Just like I know the entire OOB, and often the entry time and point. Did Lee or Meade?


Jeff, I get what you are saying, but I don't find it an odd argument at all. Consider this: When I play pretty much any traditional hex-and-counter Gettysburg game, I use Reynolds with impunity, because I know it's pretty unlikely that he's actually going to get killed. But if I knew there was a "Reynolds Shot by Sniper" card floating out there...
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nhojput wrote:
i think they(CDG's) are fun. i am 75 years old and somewhat given up on the idealistic desire of a wargame being a great simulation after many years of gaming. now i like to just play and enjoy the ride. and also i have accepted the luck factor more than i used to. so if you enjoy them somewhat, just play and don't get upset over these other things and enjoy them more.

Amen! Preach it brother!
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Gordon Blizzard
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Winfield
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nhojput wrote:
i think they(CDG's) are fun. i am 75 years old and somewhat given up on the idealistic desire of a wargame being a great simulation after many years of gaming. now i like to just play and enjoy the ride. and also i have accepted the luck factor more than i used to. so if you enjoy them somewhat, just play and don't get upset over these other things and enjoy them more.


The more I study history the less I respect most wargames as historical simulations so i'm in total agreement with that, and just have a preference for games that are better as games, though I do like the veneer.
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