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Subject: Where are the permanent wargames? rss

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p55carroll
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Returning (tentatively) to wargaming after a long hiatus, I'm impressed with all that's available nowadays. But I'm also dismayed by how ephemeral it all seems.

Seems that every time I find a game that sounds really great, it's out of print. Or it's up for prepublication order, and if I ever want to see a copy, I'd better preorder it, lest it be gone by the time I get around to buying it. Or, worse yet, there's really no way to buy the game in a box; I'd have to download it, print it out, and assemble it myself.

Even back in the 1970s, wargames were sometimes discontinued. Or a new version would come out, effectively replacing the older version. But if a game was discontinued, it was usually because it was hopelessly broken and no one (except a collector) would want it anyhow. And anytime you bought a game, it came packaged with everything you needed, and you could expect it to remain in print indefinitely.

Today, it looks like the most "permanent" games (the ones with quality components that look like they'll stay in print for a long time) are light, just-for-fun games. And some of the most highly respected "serious" wargames are the most likely to go out of print or come out in some kind of print-and-play format.

I don't have any interest in a wargame I have to download and assemble myself. I'm reluctant to buy a game that's likely to go out of print. And yet I want something more serious and realistic than Memoir '44 or Axis & Allies. And I'm not too keen on the Columbia block games.

So, where does one go to find a "permanent" wargame these days? A game that will still be in print and popular five or ten years from now? Is there any such thing? There used to be.

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Off the top of my head:

A House Divided
Bitter Woods
ASL
The Russian Campaign
Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage
Rommel in the Desert
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Bill Eldard
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Returning (tentatively) to wargaming after a long hiatus, I'm impressed with all that's available nowadays. But I'm also dismayed by how ephemeral it all seems.


You need to look arond a little more. There are a number of publishers issuing and re-issuing high quality games.

The primary difference these days is that publishers are getting smarter about their market audience. Tools like P500 lists allow them to gauge a game's potential before they produce it. Also, some publishers have abandoned retailing altogether, going to direct-mail and online ordering.

Patrick Carroll wrote:
I'm reluctant to buy a game that's likely to go out of print.


That can be just about any game. But what difference does it make if you have copy of it? I've got dozens of SPI and AH games that have been out of print for 10 to 30, but remain very good games.

Patrick Carroll wrote:
And I'm not too keen on the Columbia block games.


That's too bad. They have a number of games that have been in print for decades.

You may not find any "permanent" wargames to your tastes. But there are many high quality wargames on the market.

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Kurt Weihs
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Yeah, it's a pain but it's the way the industry has chosen to deal with the conflicting demands of a low customer base while maintaining a varied selection of titles. The more popular titles ARE reprinted on a fairly regular basis.

As a wargamer who grew up in the 70's and 80's I must say the quality of the games today are immensely superior to what I played with then. Components are great. Thick counters are much more common, printing is done in multiple colors, there is less reliance on NATO symbology for periods where NATO didn't exist. Rules are more creatively laid out and less likely to induce deep sleep. Game boards are more likely to be mounted, and because of systems like P500 we do see games in periods that aren't so popular. The downside is that players have to be patient and more willing to wait months (or years) for a particular product to see the light of day, but it beats not having the titles at all.
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Todd Pytel
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Is there any such thing? There used to be.

It's a much smaller hobby than it used to be. So it should hardly be surprising that very few games are kept continuous or even near-continuously in print. That being said, sbszine mentioned some classics that don't appear to be going anywhere.
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Patrick, you're always coming up with some fascinating questions about the state of wargaming, my hat's off to you! I think today that there's less individual games, and more "series" games. I have an ATS system game set up on my gaming table now, that's finally replaced Conflict of Heroes, which I played for months. Luckily, there's a CoH series game "Rain of Steel" coming out sometime next year. ATS has several games that use the same rules, as does the LnL Forgotten Heroes series, the AP Panzergrenadier series, and of course the venerable ASL series continues to roll out games. Hold the Line is a nice light wargame series, and they've already come out with an expansion game for that. So I'd say that the companies are sticking with a series that's a winner, and producing more games for them. Oops, I can't forget the OCS series, which has a good following. MMP also has an IGS series of games produced by foreign designers, I have A Victory Lost and am looking forward to A Victory Denied which should be released soon. Until you asked that question I didn't notice the pattern, but now I do!
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William Barnett-Lewis
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Based on what I see of history,

ASL
ASLSK
PG
ATS

Beyond that, good luck.
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David Heldt
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And I thought this was going to be a forum asking why there aren't any games about battling hairdressers.

Goodnight folks--
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Xander Fulton
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I still play Star Fleet Battles.

Been in (near) continuous publication for almost 30 years, now.

That's good, right?
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My bet is Conflict of Heroes, a great permanent wargame...
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Alex
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I guess they're on eBay.
 
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I think Australian Design Group continues World in Flames, if you can stomach the Final Edition and are into truly monstrous size wargames at the strategic level.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
And I'm not too keen on the Columbia block games.


sbszine wrote:
Rommel in the Desert


"Rommel in the Desert" is a great game imho but alas....a Columbia block game.
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Sturmkraehe wrote:

As a wargamer who grew up in the 70's and 80's I must say the quality of the games today are immensely superior to what I played with then. Components are great. Thick counters are much more common, printing is done in multiple colors, there is less reliance on NATO symbology for periods where NATO didn't exist. Rules are more creatively laid out and less likely to induce deep sleep. Game boards are more likely to be mounted


It is a bit sad that everything on that list, except for 'rules are ... less likely to induce deep sleep' (which I don't agree with) are about purely cosmetic improvements. Not that looks are not important, or that there are not other improvements worth mentioning.

The NATO symbols are based on much older sets of symbols. Using modern symbols to represent units from even before those symbols doesn't feel wrong at all to me anyway, but let's not hijack this thread for that discussion.
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William Crispin
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Why do you need it to be in print for 10+ years? You are only going to buy it once. There are many titles out there. The outstanding ones will be reprinted on a regular basis. It can be frustrating when you rejoin the hobby because it seems like all of the good stuff is out of print but with patience you will see most of the worthwhile titles reprinted or republished.

Sometimes really good titles do not get reprinted due to issues like rising component costs or issues with the publisher. Even then most OOP games can now be found on EBay for not much more the double what they originally cost.
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wwscrispin wrote:
Why do you need it to be in print for 10+ years? You are only going to buy it once.


That's a good question, and one that I get asked a lot. Still, it always comes as a surprise to me when I hear it, and I'm thinking, "Isn't it obvious?"

Well, really it's just my weird attitude, I guess. I admire classic, time-honored games (and other things). The newer or more temporary something is, the less respect I tend to have for it.

Hence, if you look at my top-ten list, you'll see games like chess, go, and backgammon--games that have remained widely popular for centuries.

And if you've read some of my other posts, you'll notice I don't (yet) have much respect at all for CoH. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another passing fad. It needs to prove itself. And the fact that lots of wargamers are currently caught up in the fad isn't proof enough for me. We'll wait a year or two or three and see how CoH stacks up to CC:E then--or we'll see which new fad has come along by then.

In short, I am not a follower of fashion. I gravitate toward games that have been established in the hall of fame.

This will sound like a digression, but I just finished a book about a famous editor--Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. Perkins had a big hand in establishing writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. And one big struggle was keeping these authors' works in print. Especially during the Depression, sales figures didn't justify keeping them in print after the first run or so. But the editors and author worked hard to find ways to make it happen anyway. Because if they didn't, the authors would eventually be forgotten and the public would no longer have access to those fine works of literature. Thanks to Perkins arranging anthologies, getting books into schools, and so forth, most people still recognize the names of at least the three authors I cited above.

I like to think the best wargames deserve to last. If a mediocre game like Monopoly can remain hugely popular for decades, and if games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering can make the news and attract a worldwide following, where's the classic wargame?

Are we wargamers just the red-headed stepchildren of the gaming world? Are we such a niche group of hobbyists that our games can never hope to have more than a small cult following?

Even "cult" hobbyists manage to keep their idols in print. There are fans of 1950s monster movies who have complete collections on DVD, with stacks of magazines and signed photos to go with them. Trekkies have access to vast hordes of memorabilia.

Like Trekkies, we wargamers have our regular conventions. And yet we can't seem to keep good games in print. Case in point: Two or three people recently recommended No Better Place to Die, saying it's a great intro to the Gamers' Civil War Brigade Series. But it's OOP. And just yesterday I heard someone saying he'd like to get into ASL, but the first module, Beyond Valor: ASL Module 1 isn't currently available.

Some people are collectors, and they might actually be pleased when a game they own goes out of print. Others are self-contained and figure, "Hey, I've got mine." But I get disappointed when a game of mine is discontinued. I was delighted, years ago, to get a copy of The Struggle of Nations at a good price, because I'd heard it was a great game design; but then my heart sank when I soon learned it had been discontinued. Far from being glad I got a copy in time, I now felt I was saddled with an inferior game--one that wasn't worth keeping in print. I never did play it; I ended up eventually selling it with counters unpunched (and I didn't try to make any money on the deal).

I have a hunch that one reason wargames can't stay in print is that wargamers are suckers for novelty. Decades ago, I knew people who'd take such a liking to, say, Afrika Korps that it'd become their main game for life; they never tired of it, and they were always more than willing to play it. Nowadays, it seems people treat games more like chewing gum: when the flavor wears off, it's time to spit it out and find something new.

What we call classic wargames (e.g.,Afrika Korps) are often just relics of a bygone age. Like "classic monster movies of the 1950s." I'd like to see a genuine classic wargame. A wargame that's well worth keeping around forever, introducing to generation after generation.

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wwscrispin wrote:
Why do you need it to be in print for 10+ years? You are only going to buy it once. There are many titles out there. The outstanding ones will be reprinted on a regular basis. It can be frustrating when you rejoin the hobby because it seems like all of the good stuff is out of print but with patience you will see most of the worthwhile titles reprinted or republished.

Sometimes really good titles do not get reprinted due to issues like rising component costs or issues with the publisher. Even then most OOP games can now be found on EBay for not much more the double what they originally cost.


that is the point, why a wargame has to be in production after I have bought it? Ok knowing that I can find a replacement is a good thing, but on the other side the old AH days are gone and with the new economic trends and the different consumer base, storage costs and taxes and the like I doubt that they will return if we do not encounter an alien race that goes crazy for our conflict simulations and we have an entire space empire to sell our boxes...

At this point is better to have new games on the shelves rather than the same title that often we already have owing to the small consumer base.

 
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
wwscrispin wrote:
Why do you need it to be in print for 10+ years? You are only going to buy it once.


That's a good question, and one that I get asked a lot. Still, it always comes as a surprise to me when I hear it, and I'm thinking, "Isn't it obvious?"

Seems quite obvious to me. Besides the "passed the test of time" stuff you mention, another really obvious reason is so there will be an ongoing community to play the game with, ask rules questions, discuss strategy, brainstorm new scenarios and rules, etc. There are some obvious benefits to playing a game that has a following.
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Ah, the peace of mind of rose-colored glasses.

First of all, I started wargaming around '65, and was a big consumer of both SPI and AH (and Yaquinto, and GDW, and WEG, etc.) games from the early seventies, on.

Half the SPI games I bought, learned, and played, I probably didn't play again six months after I got them. There were other SPI games by then.

Some of the AH games I did play longer than that, though not many. But if one stuck oneself with only buying AH games, I can see where you might consider them "classics", as they only printed one or two new games a year, on average. What choice did you have, but to play them over and over again?

"Still in print" is possibly the most misused phrase on this site. Most of the games one bought from SPI or AH in the seventies only saw one print run, but those print runs were large enough to exceed point-of-release demand by probably fifty percent or more, so such titles ended up having a long shelf-life. In some cases, a very long shelf-life. (I remember going into hobby shops in the late eighties, and still seeing copies of titles that had been printed ten years before.) That just doesn't happen much anymore, because the wargame publishers are better able to predict demand, are more in touch with their consumer. They can fine-tune their production numbers.

Also, gamers had a more difficult time finding out what was available, without an internet.

The average gamer then had less disposable income.

The more titles come out (particularly over the span of several decades), the more individual conflicts get covered, the more the emphasis on new systems. You can only do so many Igo-Ugo games on the Battle of the Bulge before people stop buying them.

What does "classic" mean, anyway? Newer systems mean different takes on conflicts already done, and if those newer systems have merit, the old "classic" is now just...old. I'm as sentimental as the next fool, but even I can see that. If I were inclined to pick up a game on WWII North Africa (and I don't own any, right now), it sure as hell would not be AH's Afrika Korps - it would be something that has garnered a lot of positive comments about its increased realism or such.

Now, I do consider some of the older wargames "classics" (not many, but some), in the sense that nobody has done the same theme, with the same overall effectiveness in the elements the previous designer emphasized, but even then I can see there being more than one "classic" for the same conflict, because of different perspectives by the designers. And that reasoning carries forward into contemporary and future designs. And that, in turn, means that given enough iterations, even those few I still consider "classics" are going to be improved upon in roughly the same respects, at some point in time. Face it - we don't quite have as many wars as we have new wargames, and that dictates the same conflicts will get done over and over again, in slightly or dramatically different ways, and somebody at some point is going to do a better job than what was done in what I consider a "classic".
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I appreciate playing classic games also. I am not sure I see the connection between games going in and out of print and any real change in their longevity.

It was always, at least as far back as I remember to the late 70s, hard to find opponents for wargames, even popular ones. In this day and age only fairly light games (like MEM. '44) are going to give you any chance of finding random other players.

I do think there are still "classic" wargames being produced that we will still be playing in a decade. What about Bitter Woods? I think there are many more games being produced, so the noise level is much higher and that does shorten the lifespan of games. It is the equivalent of compare 60's TV shows to today. Two factors are most prevalent in our perception that there were more classic shows then. First when looking backwards you tend to not remember all of the garbage and remember the really exceptional shows. Second we now produce hundreds of shows per season so it is very hard for one show to keep people's attention over multiple seasons.
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wwscrispin wrote:
I appreciate playing classic games also. I am not sure I see the connection between games going in and out of print and any real change in their longevity.

I'm not into the ASL scene, but surely it was a Good Thing that ASL got reprinted and more people bought it, right? New blood, a new generation of ASL players, new enthusiasm and publicity for the system?

It seems like a given to me that if it's hard or impossible to buy a game because it's been long out of print and no longer on store shelves, then the community of players for the game is not going to grow as well. Reprints of classic games like Titan or Tales of the Arabian Nights surely increase the number of players and hence increase their longevity.

Of course availability is not sufficient - the game should have intrinsic interest.

Consider: if the Beatles had only pressed 1000 records and no more than that were ever made or sold, there would surely not be nearly so many Beatles fans, and fewer people would listen to them today.
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russ wrote:
wwscrispin wrote:
I appreciate playing classic games also. I am not sure I see the connection between games going in and out of print and any real change in their longevity.

I'm not into the ASL scene, but surely it was a Good Thing that ASL got reprinted and more people bought it, right? New blood, a new generation of ASL players, new enthusiasm and publicity for the system?

It seems like a given to me that if it's hard or impossible to buy a game because it's been long out of print and no longer on store shelves, then the community of players for the game is not going to grow as well. Reprints of classic games like Titan or Tales of the Arabian Nights surely increase the number of players and hence increase their longevity.

Of course availability is not sufficient - the game should have intrinsic interest.

Consider: if the Beatles had only pressed 1000 records and no more than that were ever made or sold, there would surely not be nearly so many Beatles fans, and fewer people would listen to them today.


I think we agree. If it never comes back into print then popularity will fall. I was considering a popular game that has gone through more than one printing but at this moment is out of print. ASL is a perfect example of that. At any one time most of the ASL catalog is OOP and people are complaining but it is very likely that all of the core pieces will be reprinted if you are patient.
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Patrick Carroll wrote:

Are we wargamers just the red-headed stepchildren of the gaming world? Are we such a niche group of hobbyists that our games can never hope to have more than a small cult following?

Yes. We are a niche group of a niche hobby and that's not going to change.

Patrick Carroll wrote:
There are fans of 1950s monster movies who have complete collections on DVD, with stacks of magazines and signed photos to go with them. Trekkies have access to vast hordes of memorabilia.

Think about the market base for these other examples. How many people have seen a 1950s movie or a Star Trek episode? How many people have ever played a war game? Obviously not everyone who sees a Star Trek episode turns into a trekkie, but you have the chance to "make your case" as it were.

The other big factor against war games is the effort required. There's no comparison between flopping on a couch to watch a DVD and learning/playing war games. Keep in mind that this is a culture where a large fraction of the population will not read a single book during the entire year. (For scary stats look at the "Who is reading" section here: http://bookstatistics.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cf...)

On the plus side the internet has made it much easier for our small group to act as a unit -- online ordering, access to game information/rules updates/Q&As, and access to playing partners both for face-to-face and online (ACTS, VASSAL, cyberboard). It's also made it easier for game companies to make sure their games are viable with the P500-type order systems.



 
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DarrellKH wrote:
"Still in print" is possibly the most misused phrase on this site. Most of the games one bought from SPI or AH in the seventies only saw one print run, but those print runs were large enough to exceed point-of-release demand by probably fifty percent or more, so such titles ended up having a long shelf-life. In some cases, a very long shelf-life. (I remember going into hobby shops in the late eighties, and still seeing copies of titles that had been printed ten years before.) That just doesn't happen much anymore, because the wargame publishers are better able to predict demand, are more in touch with their consumer. They can fine-tune their production numbers.

They also use the speed at which something reaches the pre-order limit to gauge how many units to actually produce, but still expect a good game to sell-out its print run. It is then technically "out-of-print" until they ensure that they have not saturated the market yet through another pre-order subscription. GMT does this all the time. Paths of Glory and Europe Engulfed are two popular games that have gone out-of-print and then quickly been re-printed. Combat Commander is technically out-of-print right now, although they already have it on their list to re-print.

There are lots of reasons why a good game might not get another print run that has nothing to do with the quality of the game itself:

1) Worried the market is saturated for that game. The game may have hit enough of its target market that further print runs would not sell units quickly enough. They will dedicate the print resources to something else that has wider appeal.

2) Larger appeal for a new game in the series than a reprint. This happens with series all the time. A new game can appeal to anyone who was looking at the older game plus everyone who already bought the older game. Two series I enjoy, the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War and Civil War Brigade Series, are still getting new games published but have lots of the older games out-of-print. In effect the series is in print but specific games may not be. It has nothing to do with the quality of the individual games. Sometimes the older games are actually more popular in the series community than the new ones.

3) Financial problems with the company. Lots of good games are out-of-print because the company as a whole is gone, or in enough financial trouble that they cannot afford to re-print their back-catalogue. All AH games are gone because the company folded. Hasbro has no interest in most of their back-catalogue but owns the rights. Did all the AH games suddenly become worse because the company went under?

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thelivekennedy wrote:

The other big factor against war games is the effort required. There's no comparison between flopping on a couch to watch a DVD and learning/playing war games.


Yet, chess is still thriving, and more and more people in the West are taking up the game of go. Bridge and checkers seem to be declining, but not everything that's difficult is going by the wayside.

If chess and go can remain popular generation after generation for centuries, why can't a good wargame take off and thrive?

If a newfangled game like Magic: The Gathering or a complicated game like Dungeons & Dragons can hit the mainstream and not only remain in print but also expand constantly, why are wargames doomed to flit in and out of print as if they may die out at any time?

I'm beginning to conclude that, despite the attraction wargames hold for us die-hard fans, they're really just not very good games--all things considered. Not good enough to impress many people in the world, the way games like chess, go, and backgammon have done. Not even good enough to make the kind of splash that Magic and AD&D have done.
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