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Subject: State of the Art in Wargaming rss

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Corey Butler
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My recent GeekList, A Brief History of Wargaming sparked a fair amount of controversy. In addition to such perrenial questions as "Is Risk really a wargame?", several folks took exception to my last game entry, which I claimed was the new "state of the art." Since I made a mistake on the first block wargame anyway, I've decided to revise the list a third (and last!) time. I thought it might be fun to let the 'Geek decide what the current "state of the art" wargame is, so please submit your vote below.

Your selection should be recent (< 10 years old), high quality, and innovative. What wargame do you think is the greatest and latest, and best indicates what the new games of the next ten years will look like? Please refrain from rants, multiple votes, and definitional squabbles. Just tell us which wargame represents the state of the art and why.

Thanks!
 
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Dane Peacock
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Here are three rules off the top of my head:

It needs to be streamlined. Fiddly rules are history!

It needs to be well made. Paper maps and flimsy one sided cardboard chits have got to go!

It needs to be a 'next generation' game, incorporating time-proven and enjoyable game mechanics.
 
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The Real and Only
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Age of Napoleon
I can only say something from my collection. I am going to go with Age of Napoleon. I think it is state of the art because it does not have fidely rules, uses both dice and cards and simulates both the diplomatic and strategic situation for the period it was representing. It does this without locking the players into pre-set history determined strategy and thus is highly replayable.

The bits are top notch in this game and the support from its designer is also top notch.

The only downside is it is a two player game. But that could also be an upside.
 
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Ray
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Heroscape/Memoir'44 - Look at the generations of gamers brought in by games like Axis and Allies. Great bits and easy enough for kids to play is what will sell and these are two examples of that. Minaitures games with tighter rules that hold up to strategic analysis yet expandable enough to become a game system. The dice will have symbols on them. I predict someone will manage to pull of a better wargame that also has these elements.

 
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Chris Farrell
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Heroscape and Memoir '44 may be good games, but they are at least 10 years from being state of the art.

I'd be tempted to nominate something like Gettysburg (Columbia) or maybe Pacific Victory - these to me sort of represent the "next generation" of Axis & Allies, in that they have fog of war, much more interesting production, yet are built on familiar systems.

Age of Napoleon would probably qualify, but only if state of the art doesn't actually require being very good (AoN isn't bad, but it has some pretty obvious problems too).

Along those lines, Sword of Rome might also be a good candiate - it's also got issues, but it uses a lot of "modern" ideas.

Even though it's ten years old now, I think Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage really is the state of the art. The art just hasn't progressed a lot for various reasons. War of the Ring, for example, borrows from Hannibal but doesn't really improve on it, and is less skillfully overall. Same with Age of Napoleon. But Hannibal will never be considered mainstream. In most of these cases, it's just that Hannibal feels like a Knizia game in its balance and attention to detail, while in most of these other games they've borrowed heavily, but not gone the distance to ensure a classic game.

I think almost by definition "state of the art" is going to be something that not a lot of people are playing just yet. If it's "state of the art", it's not "mainstream" yet.

One last random thought, one thing to bear in mind is that "wargaming" is a hugely diverse category, far moreso than "eurogames". So to pick exactly one "state of the art" game might be a quixotic goal.
 
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Corey Butler
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Chris, how is Memoir '44 rehashing old stuff? Has it really just ripped off older games without improving on them, and if so, which ones? I'm just curious.

Quixotic indeed! If not a result of the great diversity of wargaming, then for the alternative belief that there is very little diversity, and that they all have to be detailed historical simulations. Anyway, we'll see what comes up.

By the way, if it helps, here is the Merriam-Webster definition of state of the art:

"the level of development (as of a device, procedure, process, technique, or science) reached at any particular time usually as a result of modern methods"
 
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Nicolò Blotto
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I think state of the art right now in the wargaming department has been reached by various products of different age, given their respective play field. Paths of Glory, but also For the People, have redefined the strategic gaming with new mechanics. A World at War and Totaler Krieg have approached the same problem with old and proved mechanics from two different and opposite ways of gaming and they managed actually to refine them to the point we can define as state of the art. ASL still reigns over every other WWII tactical game out there... but the introduction of the Starter Kit is something that is giving it a lot of new life. OCS and Eastern Front series are still the games to beat in the operational department, even if the most innovative product ever in this case was Operational Art of War, which is incidentally a computer game. Downtown proved that every other designer that had try to tackle air war had missed the point up until now, since it simply redefines the way this has to be done. So, what we've got is a lot of different candidates that span all over the art of wargaming, defining the state of the art of an art which is so much complex. Actually, if you look well, you can't find many innovations in certain type of wargames, say the tactical napoleonics in example, but in the meantime you can now find a lot of true gems which are niche games, but so well made they almost deserve state of the art status: This Accursed Civil War, Ukraine 43, Streets of Stalingrad, Zero and co. Wargaming is not dead. And it won't be War of the Ring or any other Axis and Allies "clone" that will redefine wargaming in the future... we still love hexes and clipped counters, you know? Good luck on your next list release!
Niky
 
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Tom Grant
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Vive l'Empereur
I've been very impressed by Vive l'Empereur, and I think it points in the direction of wargaming's future in the way you're asking.

VlE is based on Richard Borg's Battle Cry/Memoir '44 system. I say, based on, because the differences are significant. Some are tweaks of the system, such as a nearly-simultaneous movement mechanic. (Both players play a card face down, turn them up, and alternate moving activated units.) Some are profound differences, such as having different levels of play with profoundly different rules. (The card play system is radically different between the basic and advanced rules.)

VlE also tries to make a bridge between the boardgaming and miniatures sides of the wargame hobby. Unlike the Borg games, VlE doesn't come with plastic figures; you get stand-up cardboard counters instead. Not a bad trade-off, by the way, since one of the appeals of Napoleonic games is the colorful look of the soldiers and their paraphernalia. However, VlE includes miniatures options, so anyone who has painted and based figures for other rules systems can probably use them for VlE with little or no work.

Like our ape ancestors, we're very visual creatures. Games like War of the Ring and Memoir '44 owe a big part of their success to their plastic figures. They're just plain cool, and for many games (but not Advanced Squad Leader, at least for me) plastic figs are clearly preferable to cardboard counters. Meanwhile, people like me who suffer from "miniatures envy" wish we could get into miniatures-based wargaming, but lack the time, skill, or cash to build up lead and pewter armies.

I think there's a convergence coming. Mage Knight, HeroClix, and Mechwarrior: Dark Age provide another clue. People are ready to pay for inexpensive, capably-painted plastic figures. The significance of this trend is somewhat obscured by the fact that WizKids' games are collectable, and therefore a big turn-off for the average wargamer. However...

* Take the state-of-the art wargames, from the simple
(Memoir '44) to the more complex (Sword of Rome).
* Publish a line of non-collectable, historical figures,
manufactured just like the WizKids stuff.
* Supplement these figures with inexpensive terrain.

You now have the raw materials for both (1) replacing cardboard counters with cool-looking figures, and (2) making it easier for people to play miniatures games.

If a company can make this happen, not only will it revolutionize the hobby, but they'll have my eternal gratitude.
 
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Bernd Wechner
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I have to admit it's not recent, and it's not going anwywhere fast, but I've always felt that historical miniatures (regardless of the system of rules used) represented the state of the art in wargames, what people really imagined and pictured when thinking of wargames, and so on.

But I guess the term is a little broader now and you're considering boardgames as candidates for the state of the art. Just a diferent axis of mesurment I guess.
 
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Ray
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Quote:
* Take the state-of-the art wargames, from the simple
(Memoir '44) to the more complex (Sword of Rome).
* Publish a line of non-collectable, historical figures,
manufactured just like the WizKids stuff.
* Supplement these figures with inexpensive terrain.

Tom,

I think that's what Heroscape is trying to do (less the 'historical' part of the figures).

You said much better what I was trying to say. Heroscape, M44, and VlE are all taking the geomorphic/isomorphic boards of Squad Leader to the next level. Taking the terrain hex tiles (from Age of Steam, 18xx, or even Magic Realm) and empowering boardgamers to make their own scenarios as a miniaturist would. That's what I meant by
Quote:
Minaitures games with tighter rules that hold up to strategic analysis yet expandable enough to become a game system

The underlying hexgrid is what keeps the rules tight enough for a board wargammer to still enjoy.

To address the point Chris raised I think the games he sites are better games. But I would say they are extremely polished versions of mature systems (blocks, Hanibal, etc). That is why I didn't pick them as examples of state of the art. But given the definition posted above I could easily say they are too if you look at a bigger longer picture. (In which case I bow to Chris's expertise).
 
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Seth Owen
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Europe Engulfed
I'm surprised no one mentioned Europe Engulfed, so I will. Besides its inherent qualities I think it's also significant because it's the first time someone other than Columbia Games has used the block game mechanic. It's success may inspire other designers to consider this underused system.
 
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Tom Grant
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Paperweights?
You could encase a miniature in a lucite block...

Naw, forget it.
 
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THE MAVERICK
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Perhaps not exactly what you wanted, but...
Frankly, I don't think that ONE game can adequately represent the state of the art in the (board) Wargaming genre, which is quite diverse in subjects, scales, and fidelity of "simulation". Frequently over the history of the hobby, different games have simultaneously represented the "state of the art" as to different facets of board wargaming.

On the other hand, with the war-themed game genre, I question whether there really is a meaningful "state of the art" -- so long as you are having fun playing with plastic tanks and soldiers in a reasonably good game system. Since realism isn't a game killer in the war-themed game genre, the term state of the art really doesn't seem to apply (i.e. the amount of fun usually depends on novelty, as opposed to the war-themed game meaningfully advancing the genre of war-themed games - as opposed to board Wargamers discussing how realistic are Wargames A, B, or C considering their topics, scales, and design approaches.)

By the way, I just thought of a dividing point that might sort out some of the confusion between genre Wargames and war-themed games: Typically everyone playing a Wargame is interested in the accuracy or "realism" of the Wargame, while with a war-themed games the trappings of history are more important than any sort of historical accuracy (and only the Wargamers are complaining about the lack of accuracy???) For fantasy or sci-fi games, this would be reflected in an accuracy or faithfulness to the elements of the game world. Maybe I'll work this into my three categories of war-(themed)-gaming. Ok, sorry for the (unwanted?) detour...

As for Wargames, I think that GMT's Downtown is probably a good representative for Wargaming's state of the art, in general. If I can only pick one, there you go.

Some people might also say that Whistling Death is the state of the art for tactical air combat boardgames (although in some ways the system threatens to take a step back towards the failings of Air War).

The most recent offspring of the area movement games may be contenders... Those card games that have never caught my interest will also likely garner "state of the art" recommendations.

It may be hard to argue that ASL is not the "state of the art" for squad level tactical gaming, although the massive yet incomplete nature of it caused me to bail out. Others have certainly tried to match it, but none have come up with as big a rulebook!

Since most of the Wargames released these days are not on the primary topics that I am generally interested in gaming, I haven't bothered to chase the newest and latest titles...
so I will be interested to hear about the state of the art from the remainder of that crop.

Finally, I don't think your Wargame History Geeklist was useless, just a bit different in the mix of elements that you chose - and nobody always gets all the facts right anyway. You are going to get conflicting views on these sort of things, but that shouldn't prevent you from putting your two cents into the mix...
 
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Terry Bailey Sr.
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hmm
I hate to say this but to be most correct the "state of the art" in wargaming is computer games. I am not saying I like that fact just stating it.

Terry Bailey Sr.
 
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Nicolò Blotto
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Quote:
I hate to say this but to be most correct the "state of the art" in wargaming is computer games. I am not saying I like that fact just stating it.

Terry Bailey Sr.


Actually both Operational Art of War and Combat Mission are state of the art games for sure. Combat Mission is arguably even better than ASL as a tactical simulation, and TOAW has no contenders (even OCS can't stand the pure details of TOAW, and the latter has so many GREAT scenarios for free that it's hard to compete with it in value for your money). But, computer wargames stop there. If you need a complete simulation of WWII, you still need A World at War or Europe Engulfed (on the PC you can only install War inthe PAcific and then succumb to its size . Nothing can match PoG or Downtown on a PC. Rome: Total War is a nice game, but as an historical simulation it can't compete nor with GBoH games nor with Sword of Rome. So I think there is still a lot of room both for Computer and Paper wargames...
 
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Noel
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It's obvious
From the diverse opinions here, there is no 'state of the art'. I kind of think that the concept is actually quite silly.
 
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Jae
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This really depends on which side of the fence you sit.

If you are a Grognard, you should probably consider something in block games or simultaneous turn games.

If you are NOT a grognard, consider any of the "designer" war games such as Memoir '44, War of the Ring and (not necessarily) Heroscape.

TRUE Grognards don't particularly care for the look of the game, they are more concerned with tactics, strategy and field of play. I am not a true grognard.

Casual arm-chair generals like to "feel" the game instead of "be" the game. Nice bits, streamlined rules, and accessibility are the hallmarks here. Heroscape *could* have been the perfect choice in this area save a few drawbacks:1) the rules suck, 2) there is no mission focus, they are random scenarios with little meaning, 3) this is a throwback to 1 in that there is no mechanism in place to study the tactics and strategies of a mission beforehand, nor is there historical input for how the "actual" battle played out. #3 is the piece that makes me like Battle Cry over Heroquest.
 
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