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Subject: I got your Fog of War right here, dude. rss

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Sandy Petersen
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Way back in college, before the Earth cooled, I came across a game named Kriegspiel. No, not the Avalon Hill abortion – a chess variant from the 1930s. In brief, the way to play kriegspiel is for two players to each get their own chessboard and sit with their backs to each other at different tables. Between them is a third table, which a referee uses to keep track of the real game. The two players each take turns on their own, but do not see their opponent’s moves, though they receive clues from the referee’s actions and comments. For instance, if you move your queen, and then hear the referee tell your opponent, “Check, short diagonal” (minimum required information), then you know you just checked his king on a diagonal and you might be able to figure out which one it was.

We played this a couple of times and it was pretty fun, with lots of hilarious surprises. In the end we went back to Dungeons & Dragons, Conquistador, and Panzerblitz. But I did take note. Many wargames tried to create some part of the famed “fog of war”. Unfortunately, most games pulled it off by lame techniques such as covering stacks of counters (which inhibit vision of your OWN troops as well as theirs) or “no peeking beneath a stack” or other such that requires you to remember to pile your units while remembering to keep the most deceitful unit atop. Ecch.

In the end we all just decided that fog of war was almost impossible to create, or it had to be simulated by rules such as not letting you move all your army at once, or not letting forces activate till they’d ”seen” an enemy or other such shenanigans. Weak beer, at best.

But in 1985, GDW made an attempt to do something about it. They released three games: Operation Market-Garden, 8th Army: Operation Crusader, and The Normandy Campaign. These games really DID what other wargames failed at. They pulled off the real deal for fog of war, and yet didn’t break the game doing it.

Opening the Box
The basic games are quite ordinary counter-based hex wargame stuff. Nothing special. Hence the fundamental rules are quite easy for any wargamer to master. This is good, because the overarching structure of the game is radically different from the usual.

Your first hint that something is seriously awry is when you spot two identical copies of the map included. One for each player? Was this a sorting error? Plus why are there so (comparatively) few unit counters, but a massive supply of control markers? German cross on one side, American star on the other (sorry Brits, I know y’all participated in the battle).

The maps are not particularly large, but you are instructed to set them up so two players cannot see each other’s map. Which means, actually, that it has quite a large set-up space – either a table big enough to host a large divider, or two smaller tables.

What is This Sorcery?

The game is basically wargame converted to the old chess Kriegspiel standard. The control markers are used to “block off” your part of the map. Both players begin by setting up their units on “their” part of the map.

The game is the typical igo-ugo wargame turn structure. If you move your units into enemy territory, you call out the hex numbers of where you are moving. The other player tells you whether you move unopposed, or if you bump into one of his units, in which case a fight takes place. Terrifyingly, you are required to fight, and you are not told what the enemy unit is, or even if there are more than one stacked together. Only when you finally finish movement, and manage to pile all your units together for the assault are you told the combat factors of the defense. Also, trying to bring up other units to flank the foe can trigger new unwelcome battles as your flankers bump into previously-unsuspected defenders. So combat is quite a nail-biting experience.

Naturally enough, Market-Garden begins with a big Allied airdrop into German territory. This is great fun for both players as the Allies call out the hex numbers of their drop, and the Germans mostly can’t do anything about it. Of course once in a while the Allies land some helpless paratroops on German panzers, or worse and then there is weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, accompanied by much rejoicing.

The airdrop rules are the most extensive I’ve ever seen, understandably so. They include air landing troops who can only arrive at captured airfields, glider troops, and even glider pilots. Sadly, they also include weather and “scatter” rules to make drops riskier and more random (as if they weren’t already the single most dangerous thing you can do in wartime).

I’ve never been happy with any wargame’s paradrop scatter rule since playing one of Jack Rady’s games and seeing that the rules involved holding a fistful of paratroop counters about a foot above the map and dropping them. He pointed out that this led to about the same degree of scatter as rolling a million dice, and took far less time. People’s War Games, I salute you!

Historical Accuracy

The Market-Garden campaign itself was an attempt to charge north and get around the heavily-defended Rhine bridges further south, by capturing (hopefully) lightly-defended bridges in Holland. The Allies made a humongous airborne drop (three airborne divisions plus an independent brigade) to try to seize those bridges and hold them long enough for the ground armored offensive to reach them.

The Dutch landscape was mostly flooded (the Germans blew the dikes), and so the Allied tanks had to stick to the roads, channeling their assault. The whole thing was a nightmare of confusion and surprises, for both sides.

The game reflects this extremely well. Essentially the Allies have a preponderance of force, but they are short on time and their movement is highly constrained. They must capture the bridges, hold them against superior German counter attacks, and punch a corridor through. It’s hard. The Germans of course have to balance a delaying action against the tank divisions vs. using their heavy equipment on the lightly-armed but dogged paratroops.

Stragedy

The Germans can tell pretty much where the tanks are going to be, and so can set up defenses. On the other hand, the Allies know the Germans know this, so they can try for an alternate route, and so on ad infinitum. As far as the bridges go, the Allies dasn’t drop right on top of them, because the Germans will obviously be waiting, so they have to drop off to one side then charge in. Of course the Germans know this. And on the other hand, there is that damn scatter rule sending your guys every which way.

The game has a lot more “if I do this, then he might do that” kind of thinking than most wargames. The simple, conventional system supports this, because you’re never fighting the mechanics, but it FEELS like Market-Garden.


Is it Fun?

Well obviously I think so. The gameplay is a little longer than you’d expect from a game with its number of pieces and small map, but that’s because the turns move more slowly, with you calling out each hex. But it’s still not insanely long. It has some nice advantages vis-à-vis conventional wargames. First, when it’s the enemy player’s turn, you are rapt in concentration, watching carefully to see where he goes, and in fact talking to him.

Him: “Hex 0918”
You: “Sorry, there’s a unit there.”
Him: “%@$#*”
You: *cackle*

The biggest “flaw” is that you need to play only with people you trust, because there are lots of opportunities for fudging. So pick your opponents well.

What About the Others?
My opinion is that if you can find only one game from these three, you’ll be luckiest if it’s Operation Market-Garden. I like it best. 8th Army: Operation Crusader is pretty good too, but lacks the nail-biting power of the airborne landings. The Normandy Campaign is the weakest of the three – not as a wargame, but as a kriegspiel. Neither the Allies nor the Germans really have that much to conceal. Yeah the Germans can hide where their tank divisions are, but the Allies can’t really do much about it except hope their beachhead holds. And the Germans know exactly what the Allies have landed (a crapload of infantry).

If you can find this game and have a patient friend, give it a whirl. You’ll be glad you did. In the end I’m not surprised that these games didn’t start a big trend in wargames, because they are so unusual, and not all campaigns are well-served by the system. But I still, sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, pine for some designer at GMT or Decision or somewhere to take a peek at the Double Blind system used in these games and give it a second chance. A man can dream, can’t he?
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Robert Wesley
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Yes, they were no doubt inspired at the time by the likes of Clash of Steel or West Wall while these may then have led to what was culminated unto Clash of Empires. The latter even introduced having a 'single-map' usage instead of the usual 2-(1 apiece for each), up to 8-step reduction with use of a single, back-printed counter that you'd rotate to denote their current numeral status with this, and some others. This same company even went back to the initial kind with their Duel in the Desert to cover the North African Theatre with that.
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Sandy Petersen
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Friend, Clash of Steel and West Wall are incredibly obscure games. While I own many of WWW's games, they're not trivial to find, and Market Garden was a much more widely available design. You obviously have a more encyclopediac knowledge of minor 80s games than I.

Nonetheless, even if GDW didn't originate the concept of double-blind (which I give the credit to kriegspiel instead anyway), I think Market-Garden et al were important games in the perfection of the type.
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Robert Wesley
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'Obscurity' wouldn't 'obviate' 'innovative' since "fog of war" is the main consideration here, to which I'll suggest that at least the 1964 Gettysburg provided 'hidden movement' to an extent, however simplistic this might have consisted with and about. The 1958 or 1961 versions may have had this also, while I've never seen either one's Rules in person to make a determination on such. Stratego is yet another, in fact and don't start on the 'block'-"thang" here again, you-guys!
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Sim Guy
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Nice review. Having played OMG, and as an owner of 8th Army: Operation Crusader I can say you are spot on in your assessments. The games were so different from what we were used to playing: the fact that you could actually draw your opponent into a trap that would be obvious in most other games was very appealing to me. I was regularly pounded by my two best playing opponents until we pulled these out, and I did some serious butt-kicking of my own.devil

These were the lead games in what was to become a larger series, but they didn't really sell that well - I guess they were too different for most people. My buds didn't care for them either.whistle
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Great review...just setting up Normandy campaign to give it a whirl..I see that Normandy was the first release in the system in 1983, with Market Garden being the last so this might help explain the relative excitement levels in the offerings...the bugs were ironed out with each sucessive release.
 
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Bob Zurunkel
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Sandy Petersen wrote:
Friend, Clash of Steel and West Wall are incredibly obscure games. While I own many of WWW's games, they're not trivial to find, and Market Garden was a much more widely available design. You obviously have a more encyclopediac knowledge of minor 80s games than I.

Nonetheless, even if GDW didn't originate the concept of double-blind (which I give the credit to kriegspiel instead anyway), I think Market-Garden et al were important games in the perfection of the type.


I have both Clash of Steel and West Wall from back in the day, and enjoyed them. The problem was finding other people to play them with; most gamers just weren't comfortable not knowing where the opponent's units were.
 
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Darrell Pavitt
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|Good review.
Quote:

I’ve never been happy with any wargame’s paradrop scatter rule since playing one of Jack Rady’s games and seeing that the rules involved holding a fistful of paratroop counters about a foot above the map and dropping them. He pointed out that this led to about the same degree of scatter as rolling a million dice, and took far less time. People’s War Games, I salute you!


Designers always seem to overblow scatter results in Arnhem games. While Normandy drops were made in the dark, and on Sicily they were dropped in strong winds, but at Arnhem practically everyone arrived on target.

The only game I have to get this right is Hell's Highway, where you land in the chosen hex but have to roll for disruption and possible casualties.

Edit: Air Bridge to Victory does the same.
 
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