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Subject: History of wargames rss

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Matteo Badinelli
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Hi, I'm preparing for my gaming group a series of meetings about wargames. During these meetings (for now five are planned) we'll introduce some major historical battles: first how they went in history and then how they go on hex map.

My problem is that, while material on battles is readily available, material on the history of wargames is scarce. I just need some information on how wargames were born and explanation of the lexicon of thes games.

Could you point me where to find material on this argument?

Thanks in advance
Matteo
 
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Rick Goudeau
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A few years ago James Dunnigan put together a book on wargame design. There was chapters on the history of wargaming, and use by the military.
There is online version of the book available see http://www.hyw.com/Books/WargamesHandbook/Contents.htm
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Rich Shipley
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I was going to go through the major points of wargaming history, but this page does it better:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wargame
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Mark Palko
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Parlett's Oxford History of Board Games is always a good starting point. I remember he mentioned that Agon came out of early hex-based war games in the 1700's.
 
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Jay Richardson
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Here are two excellent and comprehensive articles, if you can find them:


Strategy & Tactics Magazine, Issue #33, July 1972
The History of Wargaming
by Martin Campion and Steven Patrick


Strategy & Tactics Magazine, Issue #53, Nov-Dec 1975
History of Wargaming: Update
by Stephen B. Patrick
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Derek H
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rshipley wrote:
I was going to go through the major points of wargaming history, but this page does it better:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wargame

Anyone want to work on that article? The statement "This period can be considered the 'Golden Age of Wargaming'" (referring to the 1960s to 1970s) is surely debatable? Perhaps some more objective commentary, and a reference to the ongoing development of wargames, could replace it?
 
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Isaac Citrom
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gamesbook wrote:
rshipley wrote:
I was going to go through the major points of wargaming history, but this page does it better:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wargame

Anyone want to work on that article? The statement "This period can be considered the 'Golden Age of Wargaming'" (referring to the 1960s to 1970s) is surely debatable? Perhaps some more objective commentary, and a reference to the ongoing development of wargames, could replace it?


Interesting, because I also view this period (also into the 80s) as the golden age of wargaming. Games from that period regularly sell on eBay for hundreds of dollars; that is, they are highly sought after. Quality wargames were popping out of the ground like so many dandilions.

So, what is the golden age in your opinion (sincerely)?
 
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Derek H
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isaacc wrote:
Games from that period regularly sell on eBay for hundreds of dollars; that is, they are highly sought after. Quality wargames were popping out of the ground like so many dandilions.

OK - I am not sure which games sell for these prices, nor how many of them there are. Given how many were produced though, there obviously had to be some that were good... but its also true that many of themes they covered, many of the mechanics they used, the production qualities, and even the "feel" of the simulations have been superceded by modern designs. I would also argue that the rate of innovation has been higher in recent times, with a more fragmented market that is less dominated by a few major players (parallels here with Open Source software innovating faster than traditional monopolies).

The Golden Age is now - or still with us, if you are a die-hard - surely?!

FWIW, I have the same issue with those claiming the "Golden Age" of SF was in the 40's/50's/60's. There was a lot of dreck from that era too, as well as "classics", but the modern SF novel, in the hands of some very talented writers, is a very slick thing indeed!

PS Now if the article had said "The Golden Age of Hex-based Board Wargaming" I would have agreed more.
 
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Dale Stephenson
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Golden age of wargaming vs golden age of wargames
The wargames now are as good as they've ever been, in my opinion. Probably better. There's a large number of titles on a wide variety of subjects and styles. The physical components (aside from the lack of Avalon Hill's mounted board) are outstanding. Add to that the advantage the internet brings in game support and playing games against remote players, and I think there's never been a better time to be a wargamer.

There have been better times to be a wargame company, though. The modern companies produce terrific games in tiny print runs. The days where you could go to your local toy store and see a shelf full of wargames are long since gone. Panzerblitz sold over 100,000 copies. The combined output of all the wargaming companies last year may be less than that.
 
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Derek H
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Another useful site might be:
http://www.zoi.wordherders.net/
Have not had time to go into depth... but some good discussion and links.
 
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Leo Zappa
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I own a number of books on the subject. I find "The Art of Wargaming" by Peter Perla to be the best of the bunch. A good telling of the origins of both professional (i.e. military) and hobby (i.e. what we do) wargaming, and how at times they have merged and adopted from one another. I don't know if it's out of print, but you can probably find a used copy on Amazon.com or one of the other on-line book dealers.

 
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Isaac Citrom
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There are several games that sell for hundreds of dollars. My pride and joy is a mint copy of The Longest Day. Those that sell for such high prices tend to be games that are considered to be the definitive work on the subject, like The Longest Day is for the Neptune and Overlord operations. And, that the game is out of print. For example, War in the Pacific (first edition) was also going for close to $500 until Decision Games reprinted it.

I hear what you guys are saying. Yes, I too see the great wargames that have come over the past 20 years or so. And, I sense that there is still a lot more great things to come. But, I think people are misusing the term "golden age". Golden age does not mean that everything then was the best. I think another poster here said it well when he pointed out that there was a time that one could go into many a hobby shop and see shelves full of great wargames.

And, although we continually improve upon what came before, much of wargaming today owes its mechanics to what came out of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I will add that I do not mean card driven games (CDG). The more I play CDGs the more I think they are a terrible way to play a game.
 
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The question is what definition of "golden age" you use. Going back to Wikipedia, you find two different definitions: "a mythical perfect age" and "an age where great things happened." And, to be honest, great things kept happening after the 60s and 70s, and by far most games that I would play nowadays postdate that era.

I play many, many games from the 80s. I play few from the 70s. There are some excellent ones and, yes, there are some that command premium prices, but are they played that often?

I think the sense in which the 60s and 70s are the Golden Age is the other one: the mythical one. And to a certain degree one finds that this view of the 70s is driven by the myth of SPI.

SPI was a giant and produced many memorable games. But I find that actually I do not play all that many of them, and many have indeed been superceded. That War in the Pacific or Campaign for North Africa still command a high price is not surprising. Such games always stand out, even if (like CNA) one expects they are hardly ever played. But is The Longest Day really that much of a giant towering over, say, Guderian's Blitzkrieg II? I'm not so sure. You can add to that the effect that many of the old SPI staff who left the board wargaming community (Dunnigan and Costikyan are two I've particularly noticed) have taken a public stance of "nothing new came afterwards". But I don't agree.

(As a side note, one could argue that SPI was not the pillar in terms of seeing wargames in every store - this was before my time but one does get the impression that SPI relied much more on postal orders than AH which went for the retail trade.)
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Ray
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In the context of games and other collectibles (comic books for instance) I don't think Golden Age means best. Terms like "Golden Age" and "Silver Age" come from the idea that a 25 year anniversary is the Silver one and the 50 year anniversary is the Golden one. Likewise Golden Age refers to the time period where things first took off.
 
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Derek H
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If "Golden Age" means "starting age" then the period referred to could be construed as such. Of course, it owes much to the games gone before it. Perhaps, more specifically though, it is the "Age of Nostalagia" for many in the "Boomer" generation (see, for example, http://www.tomorrowtoday.biz/refreshers/mind-the-gap.html ). Certainly for me, I did not grow up with hobby stores that had masses of wargames on the shelves, but I was exposed to the mail order catalogues from Avalon Hill and SPI. In those days I used to drool over the games that I could not afford because of lack of pocket money. Nowadays I still do not see wargames on the shelves; am exposed to the 'glossy' on-line catalogues of GMT, DoW etc; and either stilll cannot afford games because of financial committments or simply do not have the time to play.

Its a bit like SF movies - saying there are no good SF movies made since the "Golden Days" of the [original] Star Wars movies is a very limited view point even though it was surely the breakthrough movie of the genre - but SW will always hold a special place for me, because of the time and age when I saw it.
 
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John Ferryman
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Just out of curiosiy, how many of you who don't consider the 60s-70s to be the "Golden Age of Wargaming" were old enough to play a wargame in 1979? or even alive?
If you didn't live it, you're not likely to understand it. This was before the hobby was diluted by RPGs, then computer/video games, then CCGs, then Euro games. Every medium-sized or larger city in the US and Britain had a wargame club, that played exclusively board wargames and miniatures. There were more wargame-oriented magazines being published than have ever been since. Yes, the hobby was dominated by Avalon Hill and SPI, but there were also fine games produced by Guidon Games, Gamma II Games, Conflict Games, Game Designer's Workshop, Yaquinto Games, Clash of Arms Games, Battle Line Games, Rand Games Associates, Third Millenium, Excalibre Games, Marshal Enterprises, Fact and Fantasy Games, Task Force Games, Metagaming, 3W, West End Games, and on and on. And a lot of little one-off games that weren't bad, from Loren Sperry, Lawrence Rusiecki, SOPAC Games, JMJ Enterprises, Cavalier Wargames, etc.

I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect that there were more dedicated board wargamers world-wide in 1980 than there are now.

I know that this is going to get me called an "oldhead" (among other things)(hey, I'm over 50 -- that makes me old even in MY book), but one of the main criteria is that the wargames were more easily playable. A ten-page rulebook was considered very complex. The wargames were more accessible, and played quicker, so you could play more wargames in one session. If you had an entire Saturday to play, you could play several wargames instead of just one that you may not finish. And you could learn more wargames, without breaking your brain or forgetting the last 40-page rulebook you read while you memorize the next 40-page rulebook. As was pointed out, Panzerblitz sold over 100,000 copies -- its' rules folder is the equivalent of about six pages in a rulebook.

OK, that's my spiel. Take yer shots.

 
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Derek H
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Just out of curiosity, how many of you who don't consider the 60s-70s to be the "Golden Age of Wargaming" were old enough to play a wargame in 1979? or even alive?

That would be me - I was alive then and playing wargames - but I do not think it was the Golden Age of Wargaming; as I have said already, it may well have been the "Golden Age of Hex-and-Counter Boardgaming" as this is what constituted the bulk of games produced. The original article I referred to was not this specific and THAT is my beef - wargaming must also include card-based games, computer-based games, miniatures and even many "debatable" Euro-style games. Essentially, the concept of a wargame is now multi-faceted which, is, in general, a Good Thing.

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If you didn't live it, you're not likely to understand it. This was before the hobby was diluted by RPGs, then computer/video games, then CCGs, then Euro games.

Diluted or enhanced? As many have said elsewhere, board gaming is a niche hobby at best... the upside is that different sections in that niche as well as sections outside of that niche (referred to above) all contribute ideas and spark innovation. The range of gaming options also attracts more people to the field; and someone who starts off as a computer-based wargamer may well migrate to other styles.

Quote:
Every medium-sized or larger city in the US and Britain had a wargame club, that played exclusively board wargames and miniatures. There were more wargame-oriented magazines being published than have ever been since. Yes, the hobby was dominated by Avalon Hill and SPI, but there were also fine games produced by Guidon Games, Gamma II Games, Conflict Games, Game Designer's Workshop, Yaquinto Games, Clash of Arms Games, Battle Line Games, Rand Games Associates, Third Millenium, Excalibre Games, Marshal Enterprises, Fact and Fantasy Games, Task Force Games, Metagaming, 3W, West End Games, and on and on. And a lot of little one-off games that weren't bad, from Loren Sperry, Lawrence Rusiecki, SOPAC Games, JMJ Enterprises, Cavalier Wargames, etc.

OK; if sheer numbers make it a "golden age", then this is true. But if quality, variety and innovation count more...

Quote:
I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect that there were more dedicated board wargamers world-wide in 1980 than there are now.

Again - if we limit our definition of "wargaming" to "board wargaming" this may be true. if we expand it to include miniatures and computer-based wargames (of all varieties in both categories) then I think the hobby is alive and well.

Quote:
I know that this is going to get me called an "oldhead" (among other things)(hey, I'm over 50 -- that makes me old even in MY book), but one of the main criteria is that the wargames were more easily playable.

Many of the modern wargames (board wargames that is) have significantly easier "to read and understand" rulesets. The availability of colour; the use of living rules; and a move away from the "legalese" style of the SPI-type of approach have all added to the user experience. Length of rule sets always has been - and always will be - a variable. In general - more complex games = more complex (and quite possibly longer) rulesets. However, all else being equal, I would rather have rules being longer because more explanation/example has been added, than shorter, cryptic rules.

Quote:
OK, that's my spiel. Take yer shots.

C'mon John - we will not forget our history or deny that it has given the hobby a great heritage... but let's not knock the great progress that is being made by modern companies!
 
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John Ferryman
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Derek, you make some ineresting points, thoughtfully presented.
It appears that we have different definitions of what constitues a wargame. I suppose if you make it broad enough, you can include the card game "War", checkers, and rolling to see who gets high dice. "I scored a 12, so the Axis win WWII! Ha!" Honestly, if it doesn't incorporate some element of military strategy or tactics, how is it a wargame?

Does that mean no sci-fi or fantasy game can be considered a wargame? Not at all. The Siege of Minas Tirith, The Battle of Five Armies, The Battle of Helm's Deep, Pentantastar, Greyhawk Wars, Empire II, Imperium, Ogre/GEV, and Starship Troopers (76) are all wargames based on a fantasy or sci-fi setting. AD&D is not a wargame; the Mass Battles System is. Magic the Gathering is not a wargame; Up Front, Dixie and The Last Crusade are. Scrimmage is not a wargame, even though it is played on a hex-grid and was published in Strategy & Tactics magazine. Acquire is not a wargame. Settlers of Catan is not a wargame, but Battlemist is. Puerto Rico is not a wargame, but Risk! and Diplomacy are. Alexander the Great (Phalanx 2005) is a fun game, but it has no resemblence to military strategy or tactics, so it is not a wargame.

Both RPGs and CCGs diverted a lot of attention (and money) from the wargame industry; and a previously growing wargamer base began to shrink instead. There are maybe a fourth as many companies producing wargames, wargame miniatures, and wargame software as there were in the 70s. [Personally I think that SPI was one of the worst -- I only re-played about 20% of their titles that I tried -- most of them had at least one major flaw that ruined the game, besides the frequently unwieldy rules.]

I might mention that not all wargames in the 60s and 70s were hex-grid-based. A number of both point-to-point movement and area movement wargames were produced in that era as well, notably by Rand, Gamma II and RGI.

I admit I don't know as much about post-80s wargames, but the few dozen I have encountered have mostly had much more extensive rulebooks than the typical 60s-70s wargames.

Derek, just for my enlightenment, if you wanted to teach a complete newbie a wargame, what game(s) would you use? Maybe I have simply encountered the wrong games.

As always, I am prepared to agree to disagree. ;o)
 
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Derek H
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It appears that we have different definitions of what constitutes a wargame. I suppose if you make it broad enough, you can include the card game "War", checkers, and rolling to see who gets high dice. "I scored a 12, so the Axis win WWII! Ha!" Honestly, if it doesn't incorporate some element of military strategy or tactics, how is it a wargame?

Does that mean no sci-fi or fantasy game can be considered a wargame? Not at all. The Siege of Minas Tirith, The Battle of Five Armies, The Battle of Helm's Deep, Pentantastar, Greyhawk Wars, Empire II, Imperium, Ogre/GEV, and Starship Troopers (76) are all wargames based on a fantasy or sci-fi setting. AD&D is not a wargame; the Mass Battles System is. Magic the Gathering is not a wargame; Up Front, Dixie and The Last Crusade are. Scrimmage is not a wargame, even though it is played on a hex-grid and was published in Strategy & Tactics magazine. Acquire is not a wargame. Settlers of Catan is not a wargame, but Battlemist is. Puerto Rico is not a wargame, but Risk! and Diplomacy are. Alexander the Great (Phalanx 2005) is a fun game, but it has no resemblance to military strategy or tactics, so it is not a wargame.

No, I don't disagree with your basic definition or the examples. But what about card games that attempt to simulate some aspect of warfare? Or computer games? or miniatures games? Are these not "wargames"? And what about games that attempt to simulate both political and military aspects of wars? And what do we mean by "simulate", anyway?! I don't expect any one gamer would agree to a single definition; and you will find the subject debated from time-to-time here on the 'geek (and elsewhere, no doubt). All I am saying is, we cannot limit a definition of wargames to "hex-and-counter boardgames" (or even point-to-point games) or exclude games that are quite simple (such as Memoir'44).

Quote:
I admit I don't know as much about post-80s wargames, but the few dozen I have encountered have mostly had much more extensive rulebooks than the typical 60s-70s wargames.

Derek, just for my enlightenment, if you wanted to teach a complete newbie a wargame, what game(s) would you use? Maybe I have simply encountered the wrong games.

Starters - that's a tough one... but there are a number of geeklists that address this issue (in order of appearance):
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/10088
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/12200
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/15622
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/16697

(as a side note - more evidence that wargames continue to flourish - look at this list http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/18923 of downloadable games - mostly free or low cost - that a newbie could try to get his/her feet wet!)

Personally, I think that modern games like Memoir'44 and C&C:Ancients are great starter games. Some of the block games like Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex are not that hard to learn (rule books for all these games are online if you want to argue the point of "increased complexity".) From here you could graduate to more complex games like "Combat Commander: Europe" or "Bonaparte at Marengo" or "Europe Engulfed" or...

I am not sure what older games you are using as "typical". My experience was mostly with AH and SPI games (for various reasons); with the latter tending to have 16-24 pages of dual-column closely typed text. Even the SPI magazine games were not simple. Games that *I* think of are ones like "Star Soldier", "Freedom in the Galaxy". AH were a bit simpler, but games like "Wooden Ships and Iron Men" and "Circus Maximus" were not "pick and learn in half-an-hour" type of games.

Again - I would prefer a game that is well-explained and, likely, offers more depth than something on the lines of "Afrika Korps", and looks-and-feels interesting. My only disclaimer here is that I do not pretend to be a hard-core wargamer; but have an interest in board games across the spectrum.

 
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GameMeister wrote:

....but one of the main criteria is that the wargames were more easily playable. A ten-page rulebook was considered very complex. The wargames were more accessible, and played quicker, so you could play more wargames in one session. If you had an entire Saturday to play, you could play several wargames instead of just one that you may not finish. And you could learn more wargames, without breaking your brain or forgetting the last 40-page rulebook you read while you memorize the next 40-page rulebook. As was pointed out, Panzerblitz sold over 100,000 copies -- its' rules folder is the equivalent of about six pages in a rulebook....


I think I can claim "oldheadship" - born 1964 - but came into the hobby via miniatures (via HG Wells' "Little Wars" to start with) but quickly spread out into board wargaming (via AH's "Waterloo") and eventually D&D, MtG and now eurogaming. I have always felt there was room for all the florish; maybe not in numbers but in quality and for the "something different" they bring to the table. However debating definitions is not really what led me to comment but rather your suggestion that wargames were more accessible and quicker back then. surprise

When I think of the days I had to leave things set up to finish (AH's War & Peace, SPI's "War of the Ring" or "Descent on Crete" :shudder, the convoluted debates about the meaning or even intent of the rules (Yaquinto's "Mythology" anyone?), the total lies that would be printed claiming to be the likely playing time (times by 4 as a rule) but worst of all the hours of play invested only to conclude that not only the game was a dog but the historicality was also highly questionable (too many AH and SPI efforts to name). It says something about the fasination of our hobby that is has kept as many oldheads as it has - I would suggest that is only because there are better games than ever out there and the internet to help find the (albeit fewer) opponents.

No, I really think you have the rose coloured specs on here. Panzerblitz and Waterloo may have had only six pages of rules but then they had about as much to do with the periods they claims to represent as chess.

There were some great wargames to come out of the period, more so the 80's than the 60's or 70's I would say - with the exception of things like "Diplomacy", "La Grande Armee" or "Warlord" to take just three. Now however we have games with rules that actually work, play times that are near to the truth and a wider range of innovative tools to simulate history than ever.
 
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