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Subject: What are the pros and cons of Block Wargaming compared to Normal (Counter) Wargaming? rss

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Chris Intres
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I love games with combat. My fondest gaming memories are my three best friends and I playing Axis and Allies everyday during the summers of my Jr. and Sr. High School years (and I mean EVERYDAY, seven days a week).

Lately I wanted to try out wargaming, but for some reason, the counters just keep me from really getting into it. I can't get past a few pages in rules before I want to go to something else.

But looking at the block wargames makes it seem so much simpler. I could be wrong, but it looks that way.

So I humbly come before you, as a slick sleeve wanting to earn my stripes, and ask you, oh masters of the warring arts, what differentiates the rules between blocks and counters and is one truly better than the other?
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Scott Anderson
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The only block game I ever played was Victory: The blocks of war. It's more abstract than most of the counter based games I've played. For an operations level game that's simple to play it's ok. If you are more inclined to squad level games then I suggest Tide of Iron. If you can't get through the rules you might want to go with a more abstract game.
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Stephen Stewart
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Try Manouevre

Block wargames....you'd better have lot's of sticker love....
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Robert Wesley
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There were YET another neglected sort of which many readily or handily dismiss so easily, and that is of the 'standup' counters variety. I'll admit, these are quite limited for what theirs comprise in whole, while they do provide the simpler means on conveying "fog of war" aspects, as well with being less costly to manufacture in comparisons. Since you indicated having enjoyed "Axis & Allies", then I'd suggest that you actively seek out and obtain a copy of this: Europe Aflame Now granted, THAT does only cover the "E.T.O." overall, while it is much more advanced with ALL that it encompasses. I suppose that it were incumbent of 'moi', in order to provide THE definitive REVIEW on this, since I alone could and should provide the penultimate background on the matter, as regards this eh?

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Complexity in block games runs the gamut from simple to brain-burning.

Generally speaking, the big pro of a block game is hidden unit strengths giving that "fog of war" feeling because you don't know where your opponent's units are (there are exceptions).

Are block games "better"? Not really. There are some block games that are brilliant, and some that are mediocre, just like games with cardboard counters.

Are block games "simpler"? Depends on the game. Block games tend to abstract certain game elements that you have to track in a counter-based game, but that's a broad generalization.
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Eric Brosius
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There are plenty of good block games, and if you find them more attractive, I suggest you check one out. My favorite of the genre is Commands & Colors: Ancients, but I suggest you pick one that looks interesting to you.

If you have fun with block games, you can always move on to counters later if you want more options. It's a way to ease your way in to wargaming.
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CJ
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ASLChampion wrote:
Try Manouevre

Block wargames....you'd better have lot's of sticker love....


That's why the gaming podcast was invented...
 
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Sylvain Martel
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RowdyRodimus wrote:
I love games with combat. My fondest gaming memories are my three best friends and I playing Axis and Allies everyday during the summers of my Jr. and Sr. High School years (and I mean EVERYDAY, seven days a week).

Lately I wanted to try out wargaming, but for some reason, the counters just keep me from really getting into it. I can't get past a few pages in rules before I want to go to something else.

But looking at the block wargames makes it seem so much simpler. I could be wrong, but it looks that way.

So I humbly come before you, as a slick sleeve wanting to earn my stripes, and ask you, oh masters of the warring arts, what differentiates the rules between blocks and counters and is one truly better than the other?


I'm sure there are complex ones, but blocks games I played where alot easier to learn than most counter games. Yet they have alot of strategy behind them. There is also alot less fiddleness in them; no counters stacking that you have trouble moving, and somewhat more immune to cats attacks too. whistle On the other side, they do abstract some parts of gameplay, like there is no Line of Sight, or no flanking since there is no facing. And because they are blocks, they takes alot of place on a map so you usually have alot less units at your disposal.

Some masterpieces(that you can still find or order easily in stores):
Hammer of the Scots
Crusader Rex
EastFront II

And some upcoming games that show alot of potential and should be out in the coming months:
Richard III: The Wars of the Roses
Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War
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Peter Lakatos
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It was also put up here on the geek a while back (sorry I can't remember who modest ) about using counter sleds for hex-and-chit games. I haven't had the chance to use them, but they look like they could achieve many of the same aspects of blocks, while not being tied to a single game, so they can be used in others as well.
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suPUR DUEper
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For me block games have one major advantage: fog of war. However, that one advantage is a biggie.
-forces you to deal with uncertainty; no more finding one more factor to get that odds shift
-typically encourages you to play more conservatively, historically
-generally requires you to keep some sort of a reserve
-introduces bluffing and deception
-makes the game feel like more of a simulation than a game


It does have it's downsides though. Many (most?) block games follow a four strength point convention and each strength point allows you to roll a die in combat. That creates two problems for me. The same basic system that is used to simulate American Civil War battles is also the same system used on the Russian steppes in WWII.

Second, and this may just be me, I find the whole "roll a bunch of dice and 6's hit" to be an absolutely terrible way to resolve combat. Better than rock, paper, scissors but not by much. And it is not the random (luck) element that bothers me either. Maybe it just feels too much like Axis and Allies, but I would much rather have a Combat Results table or some such. However, if you can accept the design for effect principle here, this should be no obstacle for you.
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Pete Belli
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As a recent convert to block games I find the fog of war element to be a tremendous enhancement to wargame play.



The blocks are also easier to handle than tiny little counters.

The only major drawback... the blocks take up more room than counters, requiring a larger playing surface to avoid crowding.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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leroy43 wrote:
Are block games "better"? Not really.

By God man, that's just plain wrong!

(Note that just because a game uses wooden blocks, that doesn't mean it's a block game. The thing about blocks in Rommel in the Desert or EastFront II or Napoleon's Triumph is that, until units are engaged, the units' type & strength are hidden from the enemy, giving the fog-of-war people are talking about. This is not the case in Commands & Colors: Ancients.)

Good things:
- generally lower unit counts. EastFront II is one of the larger ones, and it has 130 blocks; that's small for a hex-and-counter game. Low unit counts contribute to faster playing times.
- fog-of-war caused by limited information. This contributes to a high level of tension, and can contributed to faster playing times, because it's not possible to optimize attack ratios. ("If I add this wagon to this attack, that will be 24 strength, which will give me a 4-1...") If you want to take a position, you throw in as many units as you can spare, and hope it was enough.
- painless, easy step losses. (So when a unit takes a hit, you rotate the block, instead of swapping out a counter or adding a hit marker.)
- generally simpler rules. (This one may be a stretch.)
- opportunity for bluffing/outguessing/outwitting opponents in ways which aren't possible when your opponent knows just as much about your units as you do.

Bad things:
- generally lower unit counts & less detail. (Depends on your tastes.)
- no good for solitaire gaming.
- uhh... someone else will have to fill in this section.

I love block games, because I like trying to mislead my opponent as to my intentions, and I like situations where my nerve is tested. (Like, last night, discovering at the end of the game that the unit holding a pass I was afraid to attack directly was very weak--I could have rolled over him with no problem! Meanwhile, my opponent's tough guys were out causing trouble elsewhere.) When things are screwed up so badly that supply for your entire army run through a single hex defended by your weakest unit within striking distance of the enemy, and your opponent is trying to decide where to attack, and you're trying not to let your eye twitch uncontrollably every time your gaze strays to that hex, that's when things are good.

Also, I've gotten the best value by far (in terms of hours of fun per dollar) out of block games (EastFront II, Rommel in the Desert, Napoleon's Triumph, Bonaparte at Marengo being at the top of the list); meanwhile, I have a lot of hex-and-counter games which just aren't getting love on the table. (But of course you may find someone who's had the opposite experience.)

ASLChampion wrote:
Block wargames....you'd better have lot's of sticker love....

Tonight I played my 30th game of Rommel in the Desert. I recently bought a second set of cards because I was wearing out the copy which came with the game. After 100+ hours of fun, that one hour or whatever I spent stickering the blocks just doesn't matter.
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Ernest Schubert
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pete belli wrote:
As a recent convert to block games I find the fog of war element to be a tremendous enhancement to wargame play.



The blocks are also easier to handle than tiny little counters.

The only major drawback... the blocks take up more room than counters, requiring a larger playing surface to avoid crowding.


Pete, as a huge fan of 'A House Divided'... what's the status on your ACW block game?
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Ernest Schubert
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kuhrusty wrote:

- no good for solitaire gaming.
- uhh... someone else will have to fill in this section.



I can see where some of the 'fog of war' would go, but really, with my memory, and the fact that it takes days and days for me to play a full game solitaire...

Would it really be that bad playing a block game solitare? Never played a block game btw.
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
Pete, as a huge fan of 'A House Divided'... what's the status on your ACW block game?


It will be played at BGG.CON in November...

...but I suffer from a chronic shortage of local playtesters. soblue

Thanks for the comment.
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Sylvain Martel
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kazadvorn wrote:
kuhrusty wrote:

- no good for solitaire gaming.
- uhh... someone else will have to fill in this section.



I can see where some of the 'fog of war' would go, but really, with my memory, and the fact that it takes days and days for me to play a full game solitaire...

Would it really be that bad playing a block game solitare? Never played a block game btw.


Fog of War in block games is usually such an important part of the design that taking it away takes away the game entirelly.

Like in Hammer of the Scotts, if you kill Wallace (or King Edward) you win automatically. Now, you "think" he is in territory X, but those 2 blocks with him, are they full strenght? are they powerful unit? Should I risk an attack? I could reinforce my attack with those two armies there, but if he has the Norse in play, that would leave my territory undefended and in their reach!

While on the other side the questions are: "Kind Edward, is he in play? If he is, they will be able to hivernate and leave their full force here. What about his powerful knights, are they here or still in england?"

And that's not even counting on the cards. If you know the other side cards, that part also become worthless because cards decide who plays first, how many move you'll make this turn or what special action you might take.

All that completely goes away if you play solitaire and make for a dull and pretty much broken game.
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Which features are considered 'pros' and which are considered 'cons' will depend in part on personal preference. Most if not all block games have a 'bucket of dice' combat system (exception for the Bonaparte at Marengo 'system', if you consider that 'block'). Some people like BoD, others don't. They tend to have a 'built-in' fog of war - it's not a great simulation of 'actual' fog of war (being 'generic', and essentially the 'same' for different time periods and scales), but it is perhaps better than 'nothing'. They can tend to be a bit 'smaller' and 'simpler' - although there are exceptions there too. Based on your comments, it would probably be worth your while to check out one of the more highly rated block games, depending on your particular period of interest.
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Jeff Paul
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Many have answered this question very well (but as a BGG member, that never stops one from adding more trivia...uh, I mean answering the question).

If rules are causing your eyes to glaze over, it may be the complexity of the games you are choosing. As well, different companies (i.e. GMT, Avalanche Press, Avalon Hill) use very different styles in their rulebooks.

The best way to learn any game is from someone who knows how to play. Then, once you have understood the flow of the game, the rulebook will make a lot more sense.

But, from my perspective, before you ask which mechanic you like, you should look at the game.

I think you may also want to consider what level of wargame you want to play - operational, strategic, tactical? (these levels are somewhat arbitrary, as many games have some of each)

If you really liked Axis and Allies - you may want a world-spanning battle. But, these tend to be fairly complex in other wargames.

Squad level games can be both very complex (Advanced Squad Leader, Advanced Tobruk System), or simple (Sergeants!, Lock n Load Band of Heroes.) etc

As well, look at the era - do you want to play WWII? Ancient Battles? Napoleonics? Civil War?

And finally, you should also consider the forces you wish to play. Air Combat? Naval? Combined Arms? etc.

Once you find the level, era and forces you want to play, I think you will have an easier time engrossing yourself in the rulebook.

YMMV
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Pete Belli
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Good comments!

Quote:
Fog of War in block games is usually such an important part of the design that taking it away takes away the game entirelly.


An interesting observation. The fog of war provided by blocks can often introduce a "game within a game" as players shuffle and juggle blocks to confuse an opponent. A carefully crafted set of rules can reduce this element.

Quote:
Like in Hammer of the Scotts, if you kill Wallace (or King Edward) you win automatically.


This would appear to be a function of the game's rules, not the fact that the game is played with blocks.

Quote:
And that's not even counting on the cards. If you know the other side cards, that part also become worthless because cards decide who plays first, how many move you'll make this turn or what special action you might take.


Certainly valid in some designs... but once again this is a function of the game's rules, not the use of blocks.

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pete belli wrote:

Quote:
Like in Hammer of the Scotts, if you kill Wallace (or King Edward) you win automatically.


This would appear to be a function of the game's rules, not the fact that the game is played with blocks.



Well, that sentence can't really be separated from the whole paragraph. It's part of the exemple to demonstrate that the fog of war effect brought by blocks are usually an intricate part of the design in such games and thus make their soloability almost null. If you always know exactly where Wallace or the King are, it takes away the game.
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
They tend to have a 'built-in' fog of war - it's not a great simulation of 'actual' fog of war (being 'generic', and essentially the 'same' for different time periods and scales), but it is perhaps better than 'nothing'.


This point about the "generic" fog of war is right on target.

The use of dummy or decoy units (my Civil War game uses "Ghost Brigade" blocks that can be used to mislead an opponent) can help to add a level of limited intelligence beyond the uncertain unit strengths.

Even with dummy or decoy units the fog of war still has limitations.

Dummy block units on the map: you may not know exactly where the enemy is... but you can still see a lot of places where he isn't!

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Pete Belli
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Quote:
to demonstrate that the fog of war effect brought by blocks are usually an intricate part of the design in such games and thus make their soloability almost null. If you always know exactly where Wallace or the King are, it takes away the game.


You're right, of course. That appears to be the case in this game.

However, the fact that the loss of one block can make or break a player is still just a function of this game's rules. This element might not be factor in other block games.

I have found that keeping both sets of blocks hidden while switching sides of the board can increase the solitiare playability of block games, particularly if the player takes a short break (perhaps to post a comment on BGG!) between turns. This helps a player "lose the big picture" from turn to turn.
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The discussions regarding Blocks providing FOW are very valid and key aspect of block style wargames (Pro). I'd like to discuss a few more.

I recently converted a standard cardboard counter game into a block style game. I did this to enhance FOW in the game.



Some notes from my experience:

1. Blocks are expensive (Con). If you have a high counter density game, then the expense will increase due to the cost of the blocks. In my case, I neded to have two sets of blocks for each unit (the counters were two sided) since I desired to maintain FOW as to exact unit strength. As a result, I had to have one block for the "full strength" unit, and another for the "disrupted" unit. In a 200 counter game (relatively low density by most game standards) I needed roughly 400 blocks...at $.20 per block from Columbia..that ended up costing $80 just for the blocks. Likewise, games coming with blocks as their mechanism will be a bit more expensive. If you are doing your own conversion be prepared for the expense.

2. Blocks are large and sturdy! (Pro) For my game, I needed to have something sturdy. I had sixteen people moving counters. Blocks fit the bill perfectly! They were easy to grab and move, and I had no fears of toppled stacks of counters. As an added precaution, I had mounted magnetic strips on the bottom of the blocks. Since blocks are large, I had to enlarge the map to fit the blocks in the hexes. This was great for my purposes, because it made the map easier for all to see. I then mounted the enlarged map on a magnetic whiteboard table. Thus, the blocks with magnetic strips on the bottoms held to the magnetic whiteboard underneath the enlarged map. Since the counters adhered to the blocks were enlarged versions of the game's smaller counters, I was able to safeguard the originals and had there been a need to replace any counter that peeled off, I had replacements ready.

Counter sleds are certainly an alternative, but they are roughly $.40 per sled and they do not come painted. That said, I will most likely grab a few of those and try them out.

I'm not having much luck finding the old counter magnets.

So blocks? I dig em!


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Ben Vincent
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Kinwolf wrote:
pete belli wrote:

Quote:
Like in Hammer of the Scotts, if you kill Wallace (or King Edward) you win automatically.


This would appear to be a function of the game's rules, not the fact that the game is played with blocks.



Well, that sentence can't really be separated from the whole paragraph. It's part of the exemple to demonstrate that the fog of war effect brought by blocks are usually an intricate part of the design in such games and thus make their soloability almost null. If you always know exactly where Wallace or the King are, it takes away the game.


Plus the sentence is just wrong. Killing Wallace doesn't end the game (though it certainly hurts the Scots to lose their best unit). Edward needs to be killed twice to end the game. (I hate to nitpick - I only point this out because it seems to be a common misconception that killing Wallace ends the game; or killing Hannibal in H:RvC). The larger point - that HotS doesn't really work if you can see all the pieces, is certainly true.

Someone mentioned above that a drawback of block games is that there's no line of sight, because there's no facing. This isn't really a function of blocks so much as scale. Block games tend to be operational or strategic in scope, with blocks representing divisions or armies, and individual spaces representing huge... tracts of land.

Actually, Napoleon's Triumph does have facing, but even then LOS isn't a factor because unlike, say, Combat Commander, you aren't firing at units several spaces away. There's no reason you couldn't make a tactical level block game t, but they aren't really available today - so if that's your main interest, it's definitely a drawback of block games.

Another drawback of block games - it's easier to cheat. When you can't see you opponent's pieces, you don't know if that block he just moved really has 3 movement points, or whether he added an extra strength pip while you weren't looking. Of course there's an easy solution to this: don't play with cheaters.



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Good contributions!

Quote:
Another drawback of block games - it's easier to cheat. When you can't see you opponent's pieces, you don't know if that block he just moved really has 3 movement points, or whether he added an extra strength pip while you weren't looking.


Sad but true.

In my Civil War game most blocks have just two possible positions: full strength or disorganized. Disorganized units cannot move or attack. Most of the blocks have a flag on the top edge. Disorganized units are turned on their sides so both players know that a block without a flag visible on the top should not be moved.



In this example of play the disorganized Union VIII Corps in Western Virginia is turned on the side and cannot move or attack.

Quote:
Of course there's an easy solution to this: don't play with cheaters.


Right.

However, it does seem to me that in the heat of battle during a typical block wargame it might be possible for a careless player to rotate a block by accident. The flag system I use helps to eliminate this problem.
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