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Subject: How do you feel about . . . the "e" word? rss

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p55carroll
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If you want to sell games, one word you generally do not want to mention is "educational." For the typical consumer, it's an instant turn-off. The last thing somebody wants to do after school (or after his school years are over) is something that makes him feel like he's back in school!

But I have to confess: the educational aspect of wargames has always been one of the prime attractions for me.

I'd go so far to say that if I don't see a wargame as educational in some way, I won't buy or play it. To me, it's just not worth the effort in that case. There are plenty of non-wargames around that are much more fun and much easier to learn and play.

Of course, I don't expect a wargame to be like a faultless documentary. After all, it's a game, and players can do whatever they want as long as they follow the rules. So, it's not usually going to follow history all that closely. And besides that, war isn't a game; so there's always something a bit ludicrous about any game that purports to simulate war.

Still, a good wargame (meaning one that I consider good) always has some reliable, interesting educational aspect. Maybe it has an accurate map of a historical battlefield. Maybe it has an accurate order-of-battle, showing which units were where when. Maybe movement and combat are modeled reasonably well, so that players get a sense of how fast or far various types of units could travel, or how effective weapons were at various ranges. Any of that will grab my attention in a positive way.

If a wargame is just a good geography lesson (because its map is sufficiently detailed and accurate), that may be virtue enough for me to appreciate it. Other wargames use "generic" maps of typical terrain; and that can be OK too, as long as those games give accurate information on unit types, weapon characteristics, and so forth.

Any good approximation of real-life data is welcome, and it makes the game seem better to me than it otherwise would be. My visits to various Civil War battlefields has been greatly enhanced by my having played wargames with maps of those fields. My experience with the games did a lot to help me picture what happened where and when.

Occasionally a wargame design attempts to be too educational for its own good. The advanced game of Gettysburg comes to mind, as well as 1914. Unfortunately such games aren't very playable or fun. But I find myself admiring the designer's effort anyway. Because I do want my wargames to be educational.

How 'bout you? Do you care about education at all when you play wargames? Or are you happy enough if it's all just silly make-believe, as long as the game is fun, fast, and furious?

Also, can you name some wargames that are especially educational? Or especially disappointing in the education department?

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Bill Lawson
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I learn something from every wargame I play. I tend to go back and forth between games and books (can cost a few $ the way I buy them both). I suppose the word "educational" on the box or description would turn off some people. It might cause ridicule from some others. I find them very educational in lots of ways (many of which you described). I am interested in military history so attempting to simulate it is a great tool for learning. Its also a fun way to learn!
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Clark Rodeffer
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I can't think of any consims that I haven't learned at least a little something, whether in the play itself or in the designer's notes. A few that immediately come to mind as having some good educational elements include Conquest of Paradise, Here I Stand, The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865, The Campaigns of King David and Twilight Struggle. Most of these are card-driven, which I think is a format that lends itself to incuding more educatonal elements.
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p55carroll
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I guess another good question is, What kinds of things do you most like learning from wargames?

One thing I like is being shown how weapon systems and other low-level factors influence tactics.

OTOH, I tend to dislike being taught political or economic lessons. If I'm playing a wargame, I want it to zero in on strictly military things.

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Antigonus Monophthalmus
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Quote:
If a wargame is just a good geography lesson (because its map is sufficiently detailed and accurate), that may be virtue enough for me to appreciate it.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: basic, "by the books" memorization of names, places, and relative time periods can be immeasurable to learning something. Knowing simply the names and dates of scenarios from C&C:Ancients gave me a very useful edge in my history of Ancient Greece classes, and knowing the geography of the Mediterranean from Pax Romana meant I simply understood better where certain things were going on which, in a small but important way, improved my holistic understanding. From what I've seen the utility of these basic building blocks is often greatly misunderestimated.

I also think education can be a bit overdone, like in the "Ancient World" games (Rise of the Roman Republic). The Roman election system again provides a basic understanding of the offices, but the whole political system was so complicated you can't really say you "know" how the Roman political system worked... though I think I'm just being arrogant there since maybe nobody (not even the Romans) did

So I only have experience with this from the ancient world perspective (since I play a lot of games based on the time period and study the time period), but as long as one understands the limitations of the medium I think it can definitely be at least as informational as a historical fiction, if not more.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
The last thing somebody wants to do after school (or after his school years are over) is something that makes him feel like he's back in school!


I don't know about you guys, but when I was learning things, it never felt like being in school...
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It is not a good idea to assume that you've gained much education from playing a wargame, any more than from watching a movie. Both can, however, tend to whet one's interest, and often lead to reading that will indeed be educational.

Once you've read a number of books on a subject, you'll gain a better understanding of what was portrayed well, and what was not, in the book or the movie that inspired the research.
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I don't play wargames to learn things, and I don't believe I've ever benefited in any tangible way from anything I've learned in a wargame. (Of course I will change my tune if I'm ever on a game show, and the final question is "14-letter city on the Dnieper River.")

So, seeing the word "educational!" on the back of the box is not going to move me to buy it. It may even discourage me, unless it's written in considerably smaller letters than the word "fun!"
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Antigonus Monophthalmus
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Sphere wrote:
It is not a good idea to assume that you've gained much education from playing a wargame, any more than from watching a movie.


Or from reading a book. Every bit of educational material you have should be reinforced with others, because just as movies and games will twist chronologies/events/characters so too can "scholars," legitimate and otherwise, or simply leave things out which limits your understanding of the material as a whole. However, learning the building blocks (places, names, even events in a very loose/haphazard chronology) is just as instrumental to education as learning about the sordid, nitpicky details.

Example: the upcoming game "Spartacus" puts the Romans up against Mithridates/Spartacus/Sertorius, and they have to defeat them without raising too many armies or giving one man too much power. This demonstrates very well several principles and problems of the time period. Not knowing anything about Sertorius, the first thing I thought of was "wow, I didn't realize they were fighting a rebellious Roman in Spain at this time, too." Without even playing the game I've learned something, and (though I have supplemented that with historical sources) if all I learned was from what that game demonstrated (the pseudo-Senate in Spain, the problem of Pompey, etc.) I would be far more knowledgeable than most people about this time period.
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I consider every game to be "educational" in as much as I have to learn the rules.

Calvin Ball being the obvious exception (but it's not a boardgame).
 
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Xander Fulton
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Sphere wrote:
It is not a good idea to assume that you've gained much education from playing a wargame, any more than from watching a movie. Both can, however, tend to whet one's interest, and often lead to reading that will indeed be educational.

Once you've read a number of books on a subject, you'll gain a better understanding of what was portrayed well, and what was not, in the book or the movie that inspired the research.


And that's equally true of wargames.

I'd hardly take one game off my shelf, study it in-depth, and assume I had a full understanding of a given battle/theater/war.

On the OTHER hand...once I've enjoyed many plays of a given wargame, and have a feel for tactics that work and those that don't, what ships and fleets were in an area, the commanders involved...it adds a LOT of depth to books I read on the topic. And, backed by a compelling wargame experience, I may read many. Which...next time I go back to the wargame, adds even more depth to it.

The point being, while a specific wargame is not the be-all, end-all source of knowledge on a topic, even one single (well designed) one can be the nexus on which an entire new chapter of knowledge opens up before you.

And that...well...that's very valuable. Indeed, I've read volumes on theaters or wars I never thought I had any interest in, until a remarkable wargame sparked it and served, if you will, as the 'focus of discussion' on it.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
The last thing somebody wants to do after school (or after his school years are over) is something that makes him feel like he's back in school!

Except for the people who like school and learning.

Quote:
But I have to confess: the educational aspect of wargames has always been one of the prime attractions for me.

There are more of us than you think.

Plenty of people go back to school for further studies, after all.

That said, yeah, seeing "Educational" on a gamebox is often a turnoff - not because I don't want to be educated, but because explicitly "educational" games are often not very interesting or fun as games. (Kind of like how many of my Christian friends who like rock music have said that they nonetheless avoid most "Christian rock" since it so often sucks as rock music.)

Quote:
Do you care about education at all when you play wargames? Or are you happy enough if it's all just silly make-believe, as long as the game is fun, fast, and furious?

Education in this sense is icing on cake for me. Most of the time I don't play games that educate in that way, though I'm happy to.

(I do believe that playing any strategic game educates in a more general sense, of improving various mental skills like planning, imagining, reasoning, calculating, remembering, etc.)
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Ernest Schubert
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Eductional? Hmmm...

Well I don't know if they actually provide any sort of education or not. I think they might, for a certain type of person. In my case, I was already interested in military history when I discovered wargames. So the wargames may have enhanced my understanding of certain aspects of military history. For instance, I already knew a fair amount about AFV's in WWII before PanzerBlitz came out. But certainly, the hours I spent playing the game re-inforced that knowledge. The same would be true of geography, both physical and politicial, over time. I had a fair idea of where the Austro-Hungarian Empire was, even before I played my first game of WWI. But again, the hours spent gaming have a similar effect to what hours of reading the same book over and over would provide.

Now, there may be some folks who come at wargaming from the direction of 'general gaming'. If you come to wargaming with the standard knowledge level of history and geography provided by the American educational system - you may well learn quite a bit that you didn't know before. (like how many sides there are on a cube, or the fact that Washington D.C. is actually not in Washington state.)
 
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I certainly don't need to learn things from war games. Still, I'm an expert in tankspotting now - being able to identify tanks from their silhouettes, even down to the different versions for the Panzer Mark IV or the Sherman tank. I think battle reports are boring to read.

However, I'm interested in the tactics and strategies which were successfully or not applied throughout history. WWII is most interesting here, because equipment and thereby tactics changed a lot throughout six years. Tactics and strategy are best grasped by playing the war game!

When it comes to educational war games it is my guess that the more complex ones mostly score in this field, because things can already be learned by reading the rules. I only know of one publisher of games which specifically advertises itself as sort of educational, which is CLASH OF ARMS on the BAR series: "... as well as satisfying the serious student of history." and NAPOLEON AT LEIPZIG - I don't remember the exact words, but it also was something about "solitaire study".
 
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Ok a game with a big "EDUCATIONAL" (caps intended ) spelled on the box would often spoil a lot of people. And probably sit on many store shelves for a looong time...

But a Wargame or better a conflict simulation is by itself an educational\training tool. A nice example are games like Flight Leader and Tac air those are training tools designed by a USAf officer to teach and train, and to be quite honest they are also interesting wargames to play.

The problem is when one put everything in the wargame box. And everyone in the wargame player box. some people like me and other poster in this thread play wargames because they are interested in military history and use consim to further deepen that interest.

Other play to simply to have fun with other people. Of course the purpose is different, but more often than not the games are different. Remember that our definition of wargame is widly different. I do not consider games like Twilight Struggle or memoir 44 wargames (no one dare to star a name war it has been tried and I doubt we ever reach a consensus here... I have surrendered even my crusade for wargame purity cool), other consider them in this class.

But now just a question why a CDG is more educational than a different game based on a different mechanic? I think they have a lot of information, but they often are lacking on shoving the process and cause and effect relations. I feel a game like Totaler Krieg (Card enanched) more educational than Barbarossa to Berlin. On the other hand BtB has much more raw information through its cards. And that lead us to the last question what we consider "educational" (and I think we will got a lot of answers, soon I will reveal what I consider educational in a consim).

Arrigo
 
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"I almost feel sorry for them, but then I remember they're trying to teach me." -- Bart Simpson

If a designer bends over too far to educate, the game suffers. For one thing once you have learned the lesson that part of the game is dead to you.

Quick show of hands: How many of you haul out your third grade math book when visitors come over in the hope that some of them will want to solve problems with you?

 
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To try bringing this discussion back to where it started--I think we can all agree that the civilian wargames we play are not (and not meant to be) seriously educational. Not in the way college courses, for example, are meant to be seriously educational.

But I think they're a form of "edutainment." A little like some of what shows on the History Channel, but presented in a format that's probably even more fun than sitting and watching the tube.

I recently noticed a series of "10 Days" games by Alan Moon (e.g., 10 Days in Asia). My first thought was, "This is cool! I've always loved maps, but I'd never sit and study an atlas or anything. But if I played this game, I'd end up studying the map enough to memorize it." A few moments later, I decided against the game, btw (too simple; too much a family game; and these days the geography changes a lot anyhow). But at first, the "edutainment" element is what mainly appealed to me.

For me, it's usually the same with wargames. When I bought my first historical wargame, The Battle of the Bulge, in 1970 or so, I was thinking, "Hey, this is one of the battles my dad fought in. I'd get to study the map and see which units were where when. . . . And of course I'd have fun playing a game too, but while playing I'd be learning something. And maybe I could even talk it over with Dad and get his take on it."

SL/ASL, to me, was largely a way to "incidentally" learn something about WWII weapon systems and tactics. And as long as I was getting some good, vicarious, hands-on experience with those things, I felt it was worth my time to learn and play the game. I finally abandoned the game when I saw the "educational" limitations of the game; then I decided it wasn't worth the effort anymore. Easier to just read books and watch documentaries.

Now I'm taking an interest in ancient warfare. But I'm not inclined to pick up a bunch of dry texts on warfare of that era. I'm more likely to read historical fiction or play an ancient-period wargame. That way I can learn incidentally while also having fun.

So, I guess what I'm talking about is "edutainment" rather than hard-core education.

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Patrick Carroll wrote:
To try bringing this discussion back to where it started--I think we can all agree that the civilian wargames we play are not (and not meant to be) seriously educational. Not in the way college courses, for example, are meant to be seriously educational.





I reserve my right to disagree. Many of commercail wargames are army educational Tools. Flight Leader and Tac Air are prime example of a military wargame ported to civilian market, but there are a lot of toher games who are hybrid between military and commercail games or there are commercail games used in toto by armed forces (and I am talking of boargames here not computer stuff, examples are Gulf Strike, Flashpoint Golan and others, years ago there was an article in Vae Victis about the gems the french army was using for training and I had almost all of them). Additionally as professor Philip Sabin has demonstrated teaching conflict simulations at the King's College they can be used in college classes without any problem. He had even designed two really simple games (both available here) for teaching purpose. So I think that some wargames have a definetly educastional focus and not only an edutainment one.

Serious Wargames (or to avoid confusion Conflict Simulations)are at their heart a statiscal-analitical model of a given reality in the eye of their designer. They are a powerful education and training instrument per se. They are not a form of pure entertainment, they don't descend from Wells' Little Wars but from Von Prizzwitz Kriegspiel and early post WW2 model produced by Rand corporation.

Yet, as someone as pointed out the E word is taboo, and even serious stuff is not marketed as an educational tool. Yet some stuff is first rate. Recently I was discussing The Devil's Cauldron with professor Sabin, the amount of historical information put in the box is awesome and is not the only one. Thing of the study folders included in many OSG or Clash of Arms games (Kolin by Clash of Arms has the historical notes penned by Cristopher Duffy in person). The old Killer angels by WEG was at heart an history dissertation in game form. Saint Lo, also by WEG, is an historical study desgined by an historian who wrote the official history of the 29th Infantry division in Normandy. Many designers are historians, military personnel or consultant. Even Ty bomba is a former Military Intelligence Officer, Mark Herman does games also for the pentagon. Of course those are the extremes. We have a lot of games that don't even approach this level, we have also war themed games and the like.

But while i disagree with Patrick latest statement I agree with him that E word is not going to sell more games. How many of us know the history behind games like Tac Air or Flight Leader or Light Division? Very few in the happy few who made the wargaming fraternity. Beacuse some buy games to be educated others to have fun with carboard chits(and some masterpiece in this department are much more filled with history than even the best of the historical documentary, on par with the finest history book). Thew problems is what we can derive from a wargame. Is not only basical hard information (maps, OOB, chronology), but an appreciation of the process and cause and effect relationship. This is the reason why I often dislike CDG. In twilight struggle you got a lot of info about Cold War, but you get even a glimpse about the political\strategical\military mechanichs of Cold War? Very few IMHO. Instead from a Game like Vietnam 65-75 you got a lot of operation dynamics of the war in vietnam. Beside an accurate OOB, a good model of results of RVN politics and one of the best operational level for non linear war you have a lot of appreciation for the task of both MACV and the NVA leadership and their labor under political imperatives and pressures you can't control.

If I had to make a list of some of the best training\learning tool I had here under the guise of wargames...

Gulf Strike
Crisis korea 1995
Flashpoint Golan
GBOH
Napoleon at Bay system from OSG
Battles in the Age of Reason from CoA
Harpoon
Flight Leader
TacAir
Saint Lo
Fleet Series
Pacific War
Pacific Fleet
Downtonw
Burning blue
OCS
The Devil's Cauldron
Air and Armor
Civil War
Streets of Stalingrad
Korea (VG one)
John Prados Games (Campaign of Rober E. Lee, Army of Heartland, Atlanta and his Khe Shann game for ATO).






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"We learn something new every day" says the quote and I am sure wargaming is no different. We probably learn something from every game without realising it, even if that thing is we hate the game and never want to play it again or that's where Greece is or that your opponent is a bit smarter than what you thought or that more people agree with you about something on BGG than you realised.
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Sphere wrote:
It is not a good idea to assume that you've gained much education from playing a wargame, any more than from watching a movie. Both can, however, tend to whet one's interest, and often lead to reading that will indeed be educational.

Once you've read a number of books on a subject, you'll gain a better understanding of what was portrayed well, and what was not, in the book or the movie that inspired the research.


George,

It all boils down to synergy. Neither the book alone nor the wargame alone fulfil me but, taken together they multiply the pleasure and that is what I call an education.

Jim
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oneilljgf wrote:
George,

It all boils down to synergy. Neither the book alone nor the wargame alone fulfil me but, taken together they multiply the pleasure and that is what I call an education.

Jim
Est. 1949


I feel the same way, but the question was about education, not about fulfillment.

One can receive a deep and thorough education about a historical period without ever touching a game or reading a work of historical fiction. History books, however, are required, not optional, if one wishes to acquire a thorough understanding.

I've played wargames for 40 years, and love them unreservedly, yet I think their inherent educational value is sometimes overvalued. I find that a good game inspires me to read about the period, and a good book inspires me to find a game on the subject. It's a win-win, as both activities provide me with deep satisfaction.
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kuhrusty wrote:
I don't play wargames to learn things, and I don't believe I've ever benefited in any tangible way from anything I've learned in a wargame.


This is one of the saddest or most sheltered things I have ever read on the geek.
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Sphere wrote:
One can receive a deep and thorough education about a historical period without ever touching a game or reading a work of historical fiction. History books, however, are required, not optional, if one wishes to acquire a thorough understanding.


However whether something is essential or not does not decide whether it is in fact educational or not. Even though board games are not holistic (nor are textbooks, in fact... I would think you're going about learning very long if you rely simply on one textbook), I think you're ignoring the "synergy" aspect (and there's more to that aspect than "it makes me interested"). These are very real aspects to learning that post after post seems to just be glossing over, the basic information you can pick up from wargames is essential to learning and while you could pick it up by memorizing a map wargames can provide a much easier medium for transmission because there is the interest in studying the map for axillary purposes.

to expand on your argument:

I learn history through 4 ways. Reading source documents, attending lectures/class, reading secondary documents, and playing board games.

In order of "basic information gained" I can say for a fact that board games have taught me more about places, names, and names of events than attending lectures or primary sources, which are more concerned with the "nitty gritty" of human interaction and the way events went down and/or related to each other. Teachers very rarely just list places, that's up to you to memorize, and I'd far rather stare at a map of Pax Romana for 3 hours than at the map in my textbook for 1 trying to learn the names of Roman provinces. This may be anecdotal but it is real experience I have had studying classics.
 
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Now I'm taking an interest in ancient warfare. But I'm not inclined to pick up a bunch of dry texts on warfare of that era. I'm more likely to read historical fiction or play an ancient-period wargame. That way I can learn incidentally while also having fun.


Let me just say, from what I have seen and I do not hang around uneducated people, that simply knowing a grouping of events from a period in time and amalgamating a barebones chronology gained from wargames will give you more knowledge of the classics than most people have.
 
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BagpipeDan wrote:
I would think you're going about learning very long if you rely simply on one textbook...


Who said anything about reading one textbook?

From my first post in this thread:

Sphere wrote:
Once you've read a number of books on a subject, you'll gain a better understanding of what was portrayed well, and what was not...


You can tout synergy endlessly, but the fact remains that countless historians came by their knowledge without ever having played a game, while no gamer has ever become a competent historian without reading books.
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