Friday, August 7, 2009

Looking at my wargaming trends

Recently I have been trying to figure out what draws me towards certain wargames as opposed to others. Back when I started wargaming in 1980 or so, I was a young lad that spent hours upon hours with Avalon Hill’s Titans or Afrika Korps, moving chits and studying battles and basically I was a hard core freaking nerd.
Avalon Hills Afrika Korp
Avalon Hill’s Afrika Korps

My love for battles and war history and military conflicts has not changed, and even though I am well versed in WW2 and divisions and leaders and battles and the frontal armor of a Russian T-34, I like to branch out and learn about new conflicts.

Doing so presents a problem however. WW2 is the most over done genre in wargaming, and as such it has a slew of crappy games and some really hard to find jewels. This is not the case for themes like the Civil War or the Napoleonic era. Lately,  great amount of Civil War games have taken front stage and won some awards, from Forge of Freedom to Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States, the Civil War category is “heating up” for us grognards. That is all fine and good, but I am Civil War’d out. If that is even a phrase. Much like WW2 I really just have no interest. In fact the only WW2 topics I like to study to this day are Eastern Front campaigns. I mean honestly do we need ANOTHER damn D-Day game? I do not think so.

So the topic I picked this time around to dive BACK into the genre I so neglected while playing MMO’s is the age of horse and musket and even some time before that. Games covering anything from 1750-1815.  Heck I wouldn’t even mind a little World War One but right now the best game in that category is so complex I would need a PHD in awesomeness to even grasp it. World War One (aptly titled) by AGEOD games is on my radar but not until long after I get my Bunker Hill fix.

Revolutionary War here I come, but where to start? Options are limited. Aside from finding games you have to think about how in depth you want to get. Sure, there are several RTS games out there that cover this time period, but those are not WARGAMES. They are “lite” strategy games that are heavy on looks as opposed to being realistic. However, some gems do stand out. Rise of Nations is good for that aspect, if you lock down the years of gameplay and do not progress. Age of Empires 3 works, as does Empire: Total War. Of those 3, Empire Total War is the best “mainstream” thing us wargamers have for that time period.

That is not good enough for me. When I talk wargames I mean hexes, unit facing, supply, morale, leader values, replacements, sieges, turn based stuff that will take hours to complete a couple of turns in. So that narrows my options to hex based or provincial map based titles. From there we have some things to consider. I myself am not the biggest fan of this latest trend to veer the industry toward provincial areas on a map as opposed to hexes. That is just me being old school however. Every new game coming out seems to be province based as opposed to hexes so that is something I will have to get used to. While not many new games in that time period have been released recently, the ones that have come out in the middle of the decade prove to be very well done. The titles I have looked at are For Liberty! and Birth of America 2. Going WAAAY back to 2000 would net me the chance to gloss over 1776, a John Tiller game. However this game is so old and just so unattractive that I cannot bring myself to play it, and I am a veteran of 1995-2000 Tiller games trust me. I have just advanced beyond that look and those games have not changed at all. I need something a bit more substantial to look at. While most Tiller games are ok, he basically charges 50 bucks for databases. I do like a little production value in my titles. While this is a hotbed of controversy in the grognard circle I do have to say he produces very in depth sims. Heck I am not even sure half his titles will work on 64 bit Vista, but thats why they created compatibility mode.

To this day I still play his Campaign series set in the WW2 era. When the time comes I am sure I will give in to purchasing the re-release of his Napoleon and Civil War titles at Matrix Games.
For Liberty!For Liberty!

Birth of America 2 so far is a great game, however a bit abstract in terms of combat resolution. The engine is well hidden as to what exactly is going on, but the game is a blast to play so far. For Liberty! is a way more in depth combat game. If you do not resolve the battles in quick play format, you will be taken to the tacitcal battle screen and have a chance to move every unit, adjust facing, attack, retreat, supply, and take charge of the battle.

As I get more into detail with these games I will report back on what I find. However right now Birth of America 2 is taking most my wargaming time as I try to nail that system down. Luckily for me BOA2 has a system that is the basis for most AGEOD games, and that runs the gamut of Napoleon to Civil War. Once you learn one AGEOD system you can pick up all their games quickly.

The Napoleon era of gaming is quite alive and well in the wargame department, and my options are really open there, but for right now I want to focus on America’s war for Independence. After that I will hit up 1805-1815 then go from there to the Civil War.

Other things to take into consideration are game support, community and updates. AGEOD excels at this, as their designers and developers are readily available on the message boards. For Liberty! not so much. Hussar Games is a small outfit and has only 2 games under their belt and one is free and included with a For Liberty! purchase. Also they have relatively little contact with their playerbase which really turns me off from actually buying it.You need to also see if a demo is available and if there is a demo it usually includes a PDF manual so study that up and see if you grasp the game. Also check the forums for mods and see if there is still a buzz around the game. For instance, For Liberty! is really dead while BOA2 and all AGEOD games still have a very active community. Sometimes you can find fan sites, much like MMO’s have, that have mods and extend the life of these games (like the Colonial Campaigns Club).

Since I am relatively new at coming back to the genre in this time period, I would be more than open to other suggestions from other wargamers out there to other games that meet my criteria. I am not HUGE into grand strategy games. I don’t really want to play a nation and conquer the world, I want to focus on a specific conflict. One of the things I like to do the most is fight the battles and write about the outcome, like I did HERE with Korsun Pocket and HERE with Empire: Total War. Writing After Action Reports not only helps you understand the game, it makes it understandable to the reader.

Well I have babbled enough and I am sure my MMO reading crowd tuned out a while back. Those of you that remained thanks for your time!