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Subject: 1984 wargames, one dead, one returns rss

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Seth Owen
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Norwich
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Perusing my collection recently I noticed that Firepower and Rommel in the Desert are both 20 years old this year. The two games have little in common, aside from both being bookcase-sized board wargames. And their fate 20 years later could hardly be more different.
Firepower is long dead and rarely played now, although it was rather popular when it came out. It was a refinement of Yaquinto's Close Assault game system (a game that used movable terrain pieces two decades before Memoir'44, BTW). It's a prime example of what wargamers of 1984 liked. It was extremely detailed, containing a vast amount of data about just about every infantry weapon and fighting vehicle used by every nationality between 1950 and 1984. It had dozens of scenarios from every obscure war from that time period. It had elaborate game mechanics that attempted to account for every imaginable factor affecting man-to-man combat. It used lots of charts. It took a very long time to play and involved a lot of work.
Yet it was played. It was published by the leading wargame publisher, Avalon Hill, and appeared at various game conventions.
But all those factors just described also make it obvious why it's gone now and most unlikely to ever reappear, even aside from the demise of Avalon Hill. No one has the time or patience anymore for long, detailed, complex, intricate wargames where the work-play ratio is so lopsided in favor of the work part.
This is the kind of manual wargame that computer games have killed off for good, I think. It's debateable whether a computer game can do a better job than a good paper game of simulating map-based operational and strategic level warfare. But I think it's beyond debate that any of dozens of real-time man-to-man computer games (like Medal of Honor) are far superior than any paper wargame can hope to be.
On the other hand, Rommel in the Desert has just been reprinted. I haven't gotten my copy in the mail yet, so I can't comment on the new version in detail. I understand the changes are minor. At the time it was first published Rommel in the Desert was well-received by a minority interest among wargamers, self-styled "blockheads." These were players who appreciated Columbia Games' block wargames such as Quebec 1759, War of 1812 and Napoleon. Rommel in the Desert was significant because it demonstrated that the block game mechanic was not limited to black powder era wars, but could be adapted to other periods, including World War II mechanized combat. It led directly to EastFront.
But in 1984 few hex-and-counter would even look at a block game. While Rommel uses hexes, previous block games had all used area movement systems and if there was anything hex-and-counter wargamers disdained more than a game without counters, it was a game without hexagons!
So in the 1980s those of us who saw the virtues of the block games were lonely voices in the wilderness and muttered among ourselves about the narrow-minded hex and counter players.
Of course, in this age of the Eurogame the worm has turned and the block wargame has won respect. Interest in the block games has never been higher and there are at least 17 in print, compared to four when Rommel first showed up. If this appears to be a minor feat, it's only because the context hasn't been considered. With the reissue of Rommel EVERY block wargame ever published is still in print and available. Only a tiny fraction of the huge number of hex-and-counter games are still in print. Hex and counter games are much less demanding to produce, of course, particularly now with desk-top publishing. The block games, like all games with bits, are harder to manufacture.
So Rommel in the Desert's return after 20 years seems appropriate. It was just a little ahead of its time, after all.
 
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Shyue Chou Chuang
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Sadly, in 1984, block games from Columbia were not available where I was, namely, Singapore.

From 1985-89 when I was in university in Northern California, block wargames were not avaiable either. Columbia Games' products were not available either. I have just only heard of 'Harn' as a supplement to RPGs then. Beyond that, nothing at all.

I am just wondering as to the distribution of block wargames in 1984. Were they very available where you were?
 
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Jerry McVicker
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Quote:
No one has the time or patience anymore for long, detailed, complex, intricate wargames where the work-play ratio is so lopsided in favor of the work part.


I'm not sure what this comment means. Somehow the days are shorter than 20 years ago or we understand less. I really don't get this mentality.
 
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Robert Wesley
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Good observation
Nicely delivered Seth, and I will make mention of my OWN observation, in that I would believe that the NEXT innovation for the 'Block Type' games would be taking the 'Clix' BASE and turning it SIDEWAYS(on its edge) for use in a 'Block Style' game! Just think, by having THIS 'method' to depict diminishing VALUES(and NOT just the 'numeric' ones), the applications could be innumerable! Certainly, the limits of the actual 'Block' itself will bear upon just WHAT would be included and it may just end up being replaced by the plastic 'Clix' BASE in entirety. WHY hasn't someone thought of using this 'method' before? Because, they didn't ask ME to 'devise' it for them until now, huh? Just you watch and see, it will transpire in the very near future and remember where YOU heard about it first, from some 'guy' that obviously KNOWS of what HE speaks about, and can innovate his "butt off!"!

At it's very minimalist use, a 'dial' or 'pointer' could be on the 'front' of the 'Block' to point AT a particular 'indicator' on that, to SHOW at just which VALUES are to be used. There could even be '2' or more of these to display, 'Strength', 'Morale', 'Supply', 'In Command', etc. and maybe COLOR code them to match the 'status' that they apply to. I have played those '4'-Block style games of which you hint at and some others("Quebec, 1759", "War of 1812", "Napoleon", "Rommel in the Desert", PLUS "Diplomacy", original "RISK", even early "Stratego" and some others), so I am quite familiar with most of them, if not all. I think that with most folks, "Firepower" was a Modern "Squad Leader" equivalent and they were coping with just getting into THAT and ASL, so unless they developed 'split personalities' to make full use of those in EACH of these games, it was just too much to take in ALL at once. I'd also mention that "Marine: 2002" by Yaquinto used 'moveable terrain' and was fought on our own lil 'Moon' between the Soviets and the U.S.A.! I've always preferred THAT over the SL and ASL kind, since it is much easier to get into, and actually TEACH someone else HOW to play, while at the same sitting! That's enough for now, lil "mop-botters" and I'll leave it up to some others to IMPROVE upon what I've mentioned...as IF!laugh
 
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THE MAVERICK
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Roseville
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In defense of Firepower
It took a very long time to play and involved a lot of work.

Actually, this is a bum rap.

Firepower's basic game was very simple to play, quick, and fun - and highly replayable, especially with the virtually unlimited scenario options and chit mechanic. I think most non-wargamer gamers could jump right into the basic game (4 page rules folder, as I recall) after watching a few turns.

Now if you added every single advanced rule, then things would grind to a halt very quickly... but I don't think the intent was to use every single rule except perhaps in unusual circumstances.

A dynamite little game that does a lot of things better regarding modern man-to-man combat than any games before or since... and arguably more realistic (even at the basic game level) than its "fog of stratego" counterpart.

Thanks for the wargaming journals. (Or, "W"argaming, I should say!)
 
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Luca Iennaco
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Quote:
Quote:
No one has the time or patience anymore for long, detailed, complex, intricate wargames where the work-play ratio is so lopsided in favor of the work part.


I'm not sure what this comment means. Somehow the days are shorter than 20 years ago or we understand less. I really don't get this mentality.


Probably we've simply got better alternatives.
 
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