Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What does board wargaming do a PC wargame cannot?

That is a good question. People often ask me why I bother playing these huge board wargames when I can just play almost the same thing with a Matrix Games PC title or a John Tiller game

There are a few differences however. Also a few reasons why my library blew up to triple its size over the past few weeks.

Wargaming on a board forces me to concentrate and to learn the mechanics of a game instead of just skimming a manual and letting the PC do all the work. My major gripe, no matter how great War in the East or the Panzer Campaigns are, is that I really do not KNOW what is happening beneath the engine nor do I care. I simply learn some basic rules then click and move. 

In some post analyzation after my 5 hour session with War in the East I actually felt less knowledgeable after I was done than before I started it. I was simply clicking and pointing units around the screen after a while not even paying attention to supply or reinforcements. This made the game quite tedious. Do not get me wrong it is an excellent simulation of the Eastern Front, the finest in the PC world no doubt, yet afterwards I still found myself seeking a board game on the same topic and as deep.

The other aspect is the sheer tactile feel of the counters, moving things, handling the book and reading to learn the game and know its mechanics. Sure the board games can be complicated but in the end you feel better knowing you have learned the system and can now dig in and recreate history. I cannot remember the last time I actually read and entire PDF of a PC wargame manual other than Europa Universalis or maybe Conquest of the Aegean. Others may feel the opposite. 

Some people don't want to deal with reading all the superfluous garbage they want to get right in and have the AI handle the math. While I do like that aspect I want to know what is happening and WHY. Ageod PC games are notorious for really not telling the player behind the keyboard what the hell is going on. You just accept the combat results screen and move on to the next combat pop up. Personally I hate that. It leads to the inability to analyze the battle and see what went wrong other than hovering a mouse over a bunch of symbols. I may see that some of my people ran during a fight but WHY? What factors went into deciding that? I have never been sure to be honest. 

One aspect of course that board wargaming gives us is the social one. Social for truly grognardy nerd of course usually equates to a basement and one other person but believe it or not we DO meet and make friends through the hobby. I myself have made at least 3-4 friends through the process of finding opponents. This in turn leads to stimulating conversation and the fact that you may learn something.

Speaking of learning something this is one thing that PC wargaming and board wargaming do share in common. I do think that board wargaming does it better however. The numerous playbooks and history asides included in your average boxed wargame far outweigh what comes in a PDF download of even the bulkiest PC wargame. There are some exceptions yes but for the most part the PC crowd is left to look up the battle details themselves.

Then we get to the expansions aspect. Lately PC wargaming expansions have been better and plentiful. So too have board wargames as they have been since the dawn of the hobby. Are all of them as inexpensive as a PC wargame expansion? No certainly not. While some PC wargames enter low price ranges we generally pay exorbitant amounts for board wargames and their expansions which can turn some off of that genre of the hobby. For the most part however the board game expansions that we do pay for are hefty and full of material. A typical PC expansion may sometimes feel tacked on and effortless...a few battles for quick consumption with very little thought put into them.

The next aspect I like about board wargaming is watching the battle unfold over a period of days (playing solitaire and taking my time) without having to scroll a screen or zoom out to impossible angles. Even if you crank out a quick two player game with someone it still shows better than a play by email or LAN game you may play. Unless you take a lot of screenshots you just will not get the flavor of the battle.

That leads me to the next aspect. That is convenience. Board wargaming loses the edge here as it is very difficult to break into a local group or find that one person that can play or will play your taste in warfronts or military time periods. Plus of course PC gaming has the extra added "modern" dimension of play by email and VASSAL play among other methods. If you play solo you need room and a lot of it. This can lead to other complications arising from pets, spouses, kids and in general clutter.

When you can sit down and study or learn the aspects of a battle or WHY history turned out the way it did that makes board wargaming very superior to our PC counterpart titles. However PC titles have really improved and I think that last year was a banner year for PC wargames. The games themselves are looking better and getting smarter harnessing the full power of 3D graphics and processing capability. While I do not want to ever write off PC wargaming it is becoming less and less my go to format. I still keep games going but I always look longingly to my shelf for the next board wargame I want to play with someone or setup solo. At that point the only exercise in frustration comes in learning the rules and which companies you prefer for board gaming fun. That is another post entirely. 

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