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"American Style Wargames" Topic


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Achtung Minen15 Aug 2022 10:27 a.m. PST

Spinning off my thread about GW, I would like to unearth what I suspect is a culturally distinct evolution of wargames in the United States through the 70's, 80's and largely ending in the late 90's. Categorizing games is a messy process and is never fully accurate, since games explicitly and implicitly borrow mechanics and concepts from each other and the exception is always the rule. Nevertheless, we can tentatively trace a certain American history of wargame design that has its roots in post-WW2 fascination with "our father's generation" and the experiences of war. This first begins with counter wargames (starting with Tactics in 1954) that are then popularized by companies like Avalon Hill in the 50's and 60's, but by the late 60's and early 70's, the hex and counter games are developing parallel to a new generation of tabletop miniatures rules. Early miniatures games like Angriff!, Tractics, Tank Charts and Panzer Warfare were being released alongside Squad Leader and PanzerBlitz.

I think this simultaneous development of hex and counter wargames alongside miniature wargames in the 1970's and 80's is key to identifying a distinct American branch of wargames. Hex and counter simply were not as popular in the UK, which was home to many, many miniature wargaming luminaries (Featherstone, Barker et al.). American miniature wargames during this time share many common features with hex and counter wargame, including:

• Focus on technical detail realism (i.e. "rivet counting")
• Emphasis on a cleverly designed turn sequence doing much of the heavy lifting for structuring gameplay
• Direct command system (you may be a battalion commander, but you can precisely control what individual squads or fire teams do)
• Symmetrical play (controlled by rigid turn sequence)
• Reliance on CRTs or something approaching a CRT

Some of these features are in common with early British wargames while some are less common in the UK. What is clearly missing I think is the "Kriegsspiel" style of play that is more common in the UK. KS in particular militates against the sharp, pinpoint control that American games allow and their focus on minute technical details. One exception to this is Arty Conliffe's Crossfire, which clearly draws from that tradition (to my knowledge, Arty is an American).

Nevertheless, a more dramatic transformation begins to take root with the dominance of GW in the 90's. By the early 2000's, historical wargames are picking up a lot of cues from GW's particular style of game design. The wargame design world also begins to innovate after the early 2000's, leading to a fairly distinct set of "wargame 2.0" features that increasingly pop up in the 21st century. Some of these features were directly inspired by GW, while others were completely new. For example, these include things like:

• Dice pool mechanics, which probably evolved from the GW dice bucket style of game
• Pools of command points, so you cannot activate all of your units
• Random card activation (so that you cannot control which units activate in which order)
• Various "fog of war" effects (often card driven), so that you never feel you have complete control
• Abstraction of technical details in to a very small range of values, removal of CRT type tables
• Inclusion of "balanced" generic missions
• Inclusion of "army list" point values to generate balanced forces
• Quick play, focused on 2.5 hours for a full-sized game
• Focus on 1 player vs 1 player play
• Removal of any need for referees or game masters (by standardizing rules, simplifying them so there cannot be multiple interpretations and removing hidden or scenario-specific features from the game)
• Expectation of standard play areas (frequently a 6'x4' table area)
• The four previous expectations in particular dovetail with the underlying assumption that new games will be both marketed in and played in local gaming stores rather than private homes and clubs
• Inexorable march towards "diorama" quality table expectations (promoted first by full colour glossy photos in the rulebooks and then increasingly by wargame conventions that expect game runners to constantly raise the bar and assign awards to the best table). I think this feature is a particularly British innovation and is a lamentable one, sadly.
• A core base game system with a plethora of "special case" rules to fill in the detail (many such games depend largely on these special case rules to make the game interesting)
• Supplements and sourcebooks aplenty to sustain the company producing the game

Generally speaking, these features are seldom found in the American branch of wargames, in large part because the branch that developed alongside hex and counter wargames did not extend much into the 2000's era (I think the last game that is conspicuously American in its design is probably Battlefront WW2).

Today, I do not know of many current games that would fit the rough parameters of the American style wargame that I have outlined above. This style was defined and refined by companies like Avalon Hill, Guidon Games, TSR, SPI, Metagaming Concepts, Task Force Games, Game Designer's Workshop and others, none of which has survived to this day. Despite this, I think there is still a legacy of games that lives on in out of print rulebooks and the second hand market. American style games offer an interesting alternative to the market-driven, FLGS-centric, tournament-friendly games that predominate today.

cavcrazy15 Aug 2022 11:05 a.m. PST

I have never played a boxed game from Avalon Hill or anybody else. I started off gaming with 25mm figures on a 16x6 table. I do however think that the glossy wargame magazines had a major influence on my gaming.
Really I was just looking for an excuse to keep playing with my toy soldiers!

Glengarry515 Aug 2022 11:20 a.m. PST

The old school "American" miniatures rules were written like technical manuals from gearheads. It seeks to be an accurate simulation of historical reality. The other style (which I typify as "English") was more like historical literature, it uses wargames to tell a story while not being overly concerned with every nut and bolt. I prefer the latter.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP15 Aug 2022 11:23 a.m. PST

Your list of features that you say are "directly inspired by GW, while others were completely new." includes many features that were in use a long time before GW existed.

Many of Featherstone's games are 'buckets of dice' – just different in that the dice are thrown one or two at a time.

A pool of command points is used in DBX type games.

Army lists turn up (under a different name) in a rule set I have from 1968.

Desert warfare rules from the early 70's have points values for each element likely to be involved.

I have a dozen sets of rules dating from the 70's that refer to the sides as 'player', not 'players' – so 1 on 1 isn't new either.

I could go on but you should get the point by now. Most of that list ain't new.

Achtung Minen15 Aug 2022 11:43 a.m. PST

I am not surprised Gildas… the early GW crew were all familiar with historical wargames prior to developing GW (and played them privately during their GW tenure as well, for example at the Perry Bro's house). It is interesting to hear about these antecedents to rules that GW later became famous for promoting in their games.

DisasterWargamer Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2022 12:58 p.m. PST

A couple of thoughts come to mind in addition to what has been stated above

I do think there are influences – such as higher quality digital photographs. 3d printing or awards that pushed up the other all presentation of a game

There are rule sets and concepts that are driven by player interest, commercial enterprises or innovation – then used to develop the next evolution of new thing – Hopefully we will all continue to learn from each other as we do

In board gaming circles – eurogames and more cooperative games versus the tournaments GW and the rules you talk about

As Gildas mentioned many of the innovations were around before GW and in "American" games for a couple of examples:
-think of Sword and the Flame and its supplements – most going back 40 years (cards to activate units etc)
-Craig Taylor, one board game designer of the American style, began using chits for activation with Close Assault and later Firepower (Hex Games started in early 80s)
- Rudi Scott Nelson and others had point based armies also going back with Indunas, Colonels, and Emirs along with his other rules beginning in mid 80s
- Dave Waxtel, They Died for Glory was using buckets of Dice in the mid 80s

More recently some miniatures rules from England had added in zones or areas – perhaps a return to zones of control and facings

BTW If I am not mistaken Player A and B goes back to HG Wells and Little Wars

A final thought is that the fantasy genre certainly influenced wargaming as well

FlyXwire15 Aug 2022 1:50 p.m. PST

On American games, or gaming style, or rules methodology, etc. -

I never heard of a tournament competition when I was first introduced, and then became enthralled with historical miniatures wargaming back in the early 1970s here in the USA.

Perhaps I would have played in one then if they had been around.

This is one of the saliant divergencies that came up from the Fantasy side of gaming, which I think gave license to be cloned into other "settings" (WW2 wargaming rules)…..I still think it's an alien life form too.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2022 2:30 p.m. PST

My British/American dictionary is out in the garage, but I'm pretty sure "American" is a British word meaning crass, unsophisticated and/or greedy. (Check the editorial pages of British wargaming magazines, and you can work it out from context.)

But as a wargame rules type, I'm not sure it's useful. Rules pass back and forth across the Atlantic River to the point I couldn't tell you with any degree of accuracy which rules I use were written in which country. Good ideas are adopted regardless of national origin. The personality of the wargamer matters more than his nationality, and the swings of the cultural pendulum may be equally important. You can see how your "innovations" are being picked off one by one.

But don't neglect the environment. The availability (or otherwise) of opponents and of non-playing umpires, of space in homes for games, and the presence of magazines with color pictures of troops and terrain have all been influential, and have all varied over time.

And really take a look at your timeline. It's hard to come up with a game more meant to be played on a standard-size board between two players and in a short time than DBA (1990) and both stand-removal and 12-element armies date back at least to Joe Morschauser's How to Play Wargames in Miniature (1962.)

Changing fashions are not progress.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2022 5:36 p.m. PST

It finally hit me! Achtung, you think UshCha is an American, don't you?

Not so. We may drive on the wrong side of the road, hold our forks in the wrong hand, and be responsible for a number of military and cultural debacles, but when it comes to rivet counting, the only miniature wargamer I know who thinks you're not serious unless you track how many rounds of each type are stored in each turret lives on the other side of the Atlantic.

pfmodel15 Aug 2022 6:01 p.m. PST

If you are specifically focused on WW2/Cold War figure gaming I suspect you are correct for the 60's and 70's. However in 1986 Bruce Rea Taylor published Corps Commander in the UK, which was based on a SPI board game and which covered a scale that was not common prior to 1986.

While I feel there is a difference between US and UK figure gaming rules, its more to do which the venue you often play a game in. The US favours rules which support large playing areas and which may require several days to play, as US players often have larger homes. In the UK its focused on club play, where a game has to complete within a 4-6 hour period, which includes setup and pack-up time.

In the UK club based games and competitions were very popular. WRG infantry Action in 1972, Armour & Infantry in 1973 and Armour & Infantry 1950-85 in 1979. A host of army lists were published and there were a significant number of competitions. Then in the early 1980's a new range of rules came out, Challenger in 1983, Combined Arms in 1983 and Firefly in 1987. This eventually turned into Battlegroup for WW2/Moderns in the late 1990's and then, loosely, followed by flames of War in 2002, which was a reaction against complexity.

In the US Angriff was popular in the late 1960's, with TO&E's being published. However as far as I can work out it was not competition or club based and instead was focused on historical or hypothetical scenarios. This was followed up by Fast Rules in 1970, Tractics in 1971, Combat Commander in 1973 and Panzer Warfare in 1975.

The US then split off into Platoon scale rules (1 element is a platoon). This sort of started in 1973 with the pseudo rules printed in the Wargamers Digest, but the first popular formal set of rules was Command Decision in 1986. The UK also moved into a higher scale with Corps Commander published in 1986, but this went nowhere in the UK, i suspect because Bruce passed away at a young age. I still remember being shocked when this occured. Back in the US Combined Arms came out in 1988 followed by Spearhead in 1995. GHQ published Micro-armour the game in 2001 and a host of other rules came out at this scale afterwards.

In summery I feel you are correct that boardgaming had an impact on figure gaming, but the main impact was a desire to play at a higher scale, such as an element represents a platoon, company and these days battalion. This occurred in both the US and UK, but it had much more impact in the US. While this desire is not main stream, it still exists and i for one prefer higher scale rules – which are a legacy of US boardgame design.

UshCha15 Aug 2022 6:45 p.m. PST

robert piepenbrink I OBJECT I COUNT BOLTS NOT RIVETS ;-).

As to taking figures of HG Wells proably started that with Little Wars, first published in 1913 by Frank Palmer.

Not sure if GW invented anyting as a kid wargames was mainly 1 vs 1 an that was LONG ago (mid to late 1960's). Actually I am wrong, commecialism at the expence of the hobby was defeinately there invention.

Ruining wargames by excessive concentration on figures came later. Early wargames magazines encouraged 1/4" screws for infantry and 3/8" for cavalry.

Martin Rapier16 Aug 2022 12:02 a.m. PST

"The UK also moved into a higher scale with Corps Commander published in 1986, but this went nowhere in the UK"

I'm fairly sure it was published a lot earlier than that as I rebased all my WRG stuff to play it. But yes, it was Highway to the Reich played with figures.

Corps Commander and the much maligned Firefly were actually pretty slick and snappy compared to "Cambrai to Sinai".

I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of grouping rules trends by country, wargaming is a broad church but still a very niche interest and what emerges as popular is so dependant on what small groups and enthusiastic individuals do.

Rules come and go but my figures last forever.

UshCha16 Aug 2022 1:23 a.m. PST

"Cambrai to Sinai". (SECOND EDITION) 1983. I keep a copy to remind me what unfettered Rivet Counters can do. The worst set of rules EVER. Very uneven, pages and pages of tables but minimal attempt at command and control and minimal on terrain.

Scary to think we published our rules 25 years later!

Bavk to the topic, I don't think I ever met any "Forign" eules until vary late, Fire and Fury being the first. Barker and others UK writers dominated in my little but of the UK.

Similarly I would have said that 1 to 1 in my club most games were 1 to 1 and that would be in the late 1970's on. Thre are proavbly more multi player games now as a percentace than there was back then.

The rise of the internet made me aware (perhaps anechdotaly) that the Americand play more multi player games. But that may be a cultural thing as convention games like the US have do not really exsist in the UK.

pfmodel16 Aug 2022 1:42 a.m. PST

Cambrai to Sinai, that brings back bad memories. Corps Commander was first published in 1986, I suspect there may have been play test copies prior to that, but nothing official to my knowledge. Firefly was published in 1987, so perhaps you are thinking of challenger, which first came out in 1983. I liked challenger and I moved to it from WRG, but it was rather complex.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP16 Aug 2022 3:26 a.m. PST

My apologies, UshCha. I misunderstood.

Achtung Minen16 Aug 2022 4:51 a.m. PST

While I feel there is a difference between US and UK figure gaming rules, its more to do which the venue you often play a game in. The US favours rules which support large playing areas and which may require several days to play, as US players often have larger homes. In the UK its focused on club play, where a game has to complete within a 4-6 hour period, which includes setup and pack-up time.

Very interesting observation, Peter.

I can't help but wonder if the concept of the gamemaster or referee has a different impact in the late 20th Century American wargaming scene. Dungeons & Dragons did not invent the idea of a game master, but D&D likely had its own impact on the idea "over here" as TSR was also an important miniatures wargaming company early on. That brings up a further point… to what degree were roleplayers distinct from wargamers in the late 20th Century American gaming scene? Certainly by the 90's, my anecdotal memory of my area is that there was a good deal of overlap. Was that also true in the UK, or were wargamers and roleplayers distinct in the 80's and 90's?

In summery I feel you are correct that boardgaming had an impact on figure gaming, but the main impact was a desire to play at a higher scale, such as an element represents a platoon, company and these days battalion. This occurred in both the US and UK, but it had much more impact in the US. While this desire is not main stream, it still exists and i for one prefer higher scale rules – which are a legacy of US boardgame design.

Excellent observation.

Achtung Minen16 Aug 2022 4:52 a.m. PST

I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of grouping rules trends by country, wargaming is a broad church but still a very niche interest and what emerges as popular is so dependant on what small groups and enthusiastic individuals do.

Of course. I qualified this entire discussion thread in my first post. Nobody is carving hard truths into stone tablets here! Nevertheless, with all due reservations and caveats, there is something to be gained from tentatively excavating the analytically distinct features of the late 20th Century American wargaming scene and thinking about where games came from and why they were designed the way they were.

advocate16 Aug 2022 9:58 a.m. PST

I'm not going to do an inventory of my rules, but they have always been a mix of sets originating from both sides of the Atlantic.

pfmodel16 Aug 2022 3:06 p.m. PST

I can't help but wonder if the concept of the game master or referee has a different impact in the late 20th Century American wargaming scene.

That is a good point; referees seem to be much more common in the US than the UK, although back in the pre-1970's it was not uncommon in the UK. Even today a lot of historical Napoleonic scenarios are refereed in the US, while in the UK this is rare.

crazycaptain16 Aug 2022 7:50 p.m. PST

Very interesting discussion. I own and have played many rule sets from both sides of the pond. The one thing that sticks out to me as "American" is the way most American authors lay out their rules and the way they write them. American authors tend to organize and write their rules like a technical manual. Command Decision, Fire and Fury, Battlefront WWII, and Triumph, all come to mind as very tight rule sets. You frequently see section numbers and most mechanisms are broken down into many subheadings to make things very clear. Most edge cases are covered.

Traditionally, UK authors have had a lighter approach to layout and writing, but that seems to be changing. Before around five years ago I rarely saw section numbers. Much of the writing style had a very casual tone and rules were frequently buried in irrelevant text. Priestly comes to mind the most here, but TFL, and GW also come mind. Then we have Barker who tried to make tight systems with minimalist writing, but in the process made his rules very difficult to understand. Good writing should be clear. However, in the last five years or so, I have noticed UK publications making a greater effort to tighten the language and even introduce section numbers. David Brown's O Group comes to mind. Even the 2nd edition of SAGA is much tighter than the 1st edition.

Personally, I want my rules to be like a technical manual, but that is probably because I write a lot of technical documentation.

MiniatureWargaming dot com16 Aug 2022 8:15 p.m. PST

We were just discussing this the other day in our group, as eight of us faced off across a 16 x 5 foot table. It seemed to us that many of the UK based rules are designed for 1 v 1 games on smaller tables -- for example, where a failed activation results in the end of that side's turn. As an example, we discussed how Fire and Fury plays, as opposed to Black Powder.

pfmodel16 Aug 2022 8:58 p.m. PST

Personally, I want my rules to be like a technical manual, but that is probably because I write a lot of technical documentation.

I also like the technical manual approach, or possible more accurately the SPI format from the 1970's. Case system, cross referencing, small font, three or at the max two columns and rules which are not more than 20 pages in length.

Corps Commander used case system with some cross referencing, but the rules are so complex this did not assist very much.

I also remember having a game of FFT3 using the hard cover edition of the rules. This ended in disaster. The rules are so long its was impossible to find any specific rule, even though the rules were crisp, clean and well structured.

These days I convert all my rules into a SPI format, 8 point font, 3 columns, case system and as much cross referencing as possible. It's a lot of work but I find that it has helped me a lot when playing a game, especially when trying to find that all important rule.

arthur181517 Aug 2022 1:23 a.m. PST

I'm afraid there is no way my old eyes could cope with an 8 point font and three columns!

For me, simple rules, written in the British style, in easily readable 12 point font is preferable.

But it's all a matter of personal taste; there is no 'right' way to present rules.

Achtung Minen17 Aug 2022 3:21 a.m. PST

We were just discussing this the other day in our group, as eight of us faced off across a 16 x 5 foot table. It seemed to us that many of the UK based rules are designed for 1 v 1 games on smaller tables -- for example, where a failed activation results in the end of that side's turn. As an example, we discussed how Fire and Fury plays, as opposed to Black Powder.

It's a good point. Many rulesets these days (regardless of where they are published) are really not capable of supporting a large number of players. The entire concept of simultaneous movement in the old Command Decision, for example, really facilitated large numbers of players (so everyone could resolve their movements without waiting for their "turn").

Achtung Minen17 Aug 2022 3:25 a.m. PST

The one thing that sticks out to me as "American" is the way most American authors lay out their rules and the way they write them. American authors tend to organize and write their rules like a technical manual. Command Decision, Fire and Fury, Battlefront WWII, and Triumph, all come to mind as very tight rule sets. You frequently see section numbers and most mechanisms are broken down into many subheadings to make things very clear. Most edge cases are covered.

Good points and it is worth noting that this (i.e., tightly and even dryly written rulebooks with layers of enumerated game mechanic sections) is also a feature shared with hex and counter wargaming rules manuals.

Modern rulebooks in general have enormous amounts of white space… I blame desktop publishing on this. Battlefront WW2 was written by someone who is a professional typesetting and layout guy (Rich Hassenauer). Desktop publishing allowed anyone to produce print layout designs without needing any training or knowledge in the matter and it shows (certainly to my eye… I'm a print layout guy myself). Modern manuals also have enormous amount of space dedicated to art (mainly photography of miniatures in landscaped dioramas). This has gone hand in hand with gaming conventions becoming basically miniature diorama shows as much as they are gaming events, with game masters seemingly feeling that they have to constantly raise the bar.

It probably seems perverse by modern standards, but I get a little nostalgic about the days when a "road" was just some masking tape on a green cloth sheet… the lower bar of entry allowed more people to put on games and run scenarios, which I think was a good thing personally speaking. The move towards more 1:1 games these days also means that terrain is less often assumed to be "representative" and more often assumed to be "literal," so every little feature of the board needs to be detailed. I wonder if simple terrain representations (like an irregular cut of cloth for a forest boundary) made for easier play, mechanically speaking.

FlyXwire17 Aug 2022 5:58 a.m. PST

Well, miniature gaming allows for a lot of artful interpretation concerning terrain.

You've discussed counter wargames, where the terrain can be tightly defined within hexes, lines, or areas – with minaiture gaming, I'll take artful interpretation over the decades of felt woods, and masking tape roads now.

To a large degree, there's an inherent decision to make transitioning from board gaming, and entering "a world" of miniatures wargaming with 3D terrain. So "artful rendering", and a need for interpretation comes naturally.

A few of us debated initially over Bolt Action's (1st Ed.) single page defining Cover. In retrospect, what seemed vague or unrefined, was an acknowledgment that allowances for cover judgements needed to have some flexibility, in regards to what gamers might want to place onto their tabletops as terrain pieces.

As gamers transition up from skirmish gaming, where individual figures can directly act against/with terrain, to playing games at higher levels of command using stands, or groups of stands with a unit footprint, the whole matter of terrain interpretation needs to become generalized (all known things by gamers).

Lots of discussion about rules, and likes and preferences, never establish a basic "groundwork" that they're meant for playing at a particular level of command. A skirmish game system being specialized for the narrow-view, and grand-tactical ruleset a larger battlefield view.

What might seem a bias towards a set of rules, style, game company, might just be indicating where the player (or his group) has bought into. On the other hand, that platoon of beautiful 28mm infantry is not a WW2 "army", and despite what might be marketed by the author(s), you're not the US 29th Infantry Division taking St. Lo.

I think gamers might not believe they're compartmentalized by these collection preferences – or limited by the size and fidelity they want from their models, and/or desire, lack of it to model terrain, etc. – but they often are.

UshCha17 Aug 2022 11:35 a.m. PST

To me the masking tape and bit of cloth still is the best. Overly artistic at the expense of functionality it most definitely not me. However we may take gains of the last years. The cloth is now Angel Hair, its thinner cheaper and drapes well. The trees are flat 3D printed functional, cheap and takes less storage.

We abandoned Masking Tape for thin card as it looks better and can be overlapped etc. far more tactically flexiblity.

Where and when the obsession with more and more detailed minis originated may be an interesting. Was it Europe or US? I know it per-dates GW so is not obviously a UK sin.

Whens and where did the great revolt start going back to flats and unpainted plastic figure start? The US site Armchair General is US and has been around for some time. Can they claim the prize?

FlyXwire17 Aug 2022 12:34 p.m. PST

Detailed minis?

Many will say most "minis" never had the detailing of plastic models, and one reason why 1/72nd-76th became a popularly used scale for WW2 gaming, before wargame companies started calling that 20mm.

Back in the '60s-'70s, when I was plastic modelling, it wasn't Europe or the US who changed the quality of kit detailing – but the Japanese, first. In the US, guys could get cutting edge kits from places like the Squadron Shop (thru mail order). I remember it as my only source for Green Stuff – seam filling putty for plastic kits, before green stuff was coined a name for sculpting material.

Personally, my 1/144th scale WW2 [wargaming] models are the most exact to scale and detailed of all my miniature collections – most are still Asian sourced (but 3D modeling and printing is starting to mix up the scene a bit now).

pfmodel17 Aug 2022 3:11 p.m. PST

I'm afraid there is no way my old eyes could cope with an 8 point font and three columns!

You are correct, as we grow older 8 point becomes harder to read and I do have gamers which find 8 point too hard. I initially reformat all rules into a British style 12 point single column format, but can easily convert it into a 10 point 2 column and 8 point 3 column to create game references. I did not wish to do this but some of my gaming Kamaraden wanted 8 point 3 column and others wanted 12 point 1 column. No single style fits all it seems.

My ideal rules structure went through a lot of change until I found a combination I liked. I remember when I reformatted LWRS I decided to include lots of diagrams, examples and commentary, all in 12 point. It turned into a 278 page document, which was rejected by the LWRS community. In the end I create a standard set of 1, 2 and 3 column rules, examples document and Cheat sheet. Once again a lot of work, but I normally play lots of different rules and unless I do this I find it hard to remember all the rules.

pfmodel17 Aug 2022 3:17 p.m. PST

The move towards more 1:1 games these days also means that terrain is less often assumed to be "representative" and more often assumed to be "literal," so every little feature of the board needs to be detailed. I wonder if simple terrain representations (like an irregular cut of cloth for a forest boundary) made for easier play, mechanically speaking.

This does raise a good point. I remember back in the 1980's when I used WRG cold war rules, one opponent insisted on making the terrain literal, so line of sight required a long piece of wood to be traced from the barrel of a gun to its target. He drove me crazy as the ground scale was about 1:5000 and the figure scale was 1:300, so this concept made no sense.

Skirmish rules should use literal terrain, but once the figure scale is significantly different from the ground scale you need a more abstract system, in some ways similar to board gaming. Saying that figure gaming is all about the bling, so good looking terrain and figures adds that all important sizzle to the steak.

UshCha18 Aug 2022 2:13 a.m. PST

FlyXwire I was more commenting on the rise for the need for detailed wargames figure, not the rise in demand for modllers. Originaly it was acceptable to have crue, unpainted figures wheras now it has gone in some ateas to be hatemail against crude or unpainted figures, a definate barrier to new players.

Last Hussar18 Aug 2022 3:30 a.m. PST

I use my former employer's requirement: 11 point Times New Roman. As that was for HM Revenue and Customs letters had to be readable.

I used to say that in US rules it was banned unless allowed, and in UK rules it was allowed unless banned. It feels in recent years the UK rules are tightening up some of the laxity, and US rules are not as uptight. I particularly like the way Sam Mustapha writes; "this is the rule, however…"

FlyXwire18 Aug 2022 4:31 a.m. PST

UshCha, I can't fathom making sense of your statement about hatemail and wargaming figures, so instead will enjoy following the discussion forward on font choice and sizes.

UshCha19 Aug 2022 1:18 a.m. PST

FlyXwire – thre are folk on here who detest unpainted figures.

Font choice, I must be losing my touch I can't think of anything contentious on that one. Load it onto an electronic device and its any font or size that can be imagined. Perhaps somebody could be contentios about paper rules? Alas I don't do rthen so can't start it off I know nothing.

wargamingUSA20 Aug 2022 6:17 a.m. PST

Some interesting discussion here… without some of the typical vitriol, thank goodness.

An observation, as concerns U.S. historical gaming, "game masters" or whatever term you use for the third-party game facilitators, seem to me to be someone(s) who are very familiar with a rules set and who serve the purpose of keeping a game moving along by informing new gamers who aren't familiar with the rules, and holding in-check gamers who think they know the rules. Probably stems from larger convention or home-based multi-player games.

Although historical game masters do frequently influence games with factors known only to them and revealed at a particular time or point in a game or campaign, they are not nearly as influential as role playing game masters.

Certainly in the camp that believes a good wargame doesn't need to be on the level of a museum diorama, but do dislike unpainted figures and masking tape roads. I appreciate the visual aspects of miniatures games… otherwise why not play a board game.

Achtung Minen20 Aug 2022 7:19 a.m. PST

@wargamingUSA, to your point, there are some games that are eminently easy to gamemaster. Not all of these are American games of course, but I would argue that modern (last ten years) games are generally not as easy to gamemaster… they tend to be games with lots of clever mechanical rules interactions baked into the game. Dice pools, decks of cards, back-and-forth interactive play rather than a fixed IGOUGO order. All of these are game layers that are fun for those who have done a careful study of the rules but require additional layers of explanation to newbies. Compare that to something like Command Decision, which has complexity in its options for scenarios but at its heart is a very easy, simple, teachable ruleset.

wargamingUSA20 Aug 2022 10:07 a.m. PST

@Achtung Minen, generally agree with your comments. I would note that Tractics is an older set of rules with technical details that could be any gamemaster's nightmare.

I've played a boatload of WWII in my fifty yeas of gaming. My experience is heavily CDII and CDIII oriented. I appreciate CD from the basic design aspect and the level of play; although CD has its flaws… and while CD is "playable" from the outset, to make it work effectively you need to thoroughly understand the rules. (Full disclosure I am in the beta stage with a set of stand equal platoon level of play WWII rules set as well as an American colonial era skirmish rules set.)

Since I do not believe you can simulate warfare on the tabletop, only approximate its realities, and ultimately I think of my tabeltop endeavors as games, both simultaneous movement and IGOUGO, as welll as modified versions of IGOUGO, deliver playable and enjoyable games if, big "if", the scenario and board layout are well thought out. Too often scenario designs and terrain layouts are not conducive to a good game regardless of the rules in play. Die rolls for effects are fine by me as long as they are not too random… meaning they reward good play rather than hijack the action due to their overly random nature. I find card decks and die rolls are effective only when the rules-game designer has integrated them in a logical and reasonable manner – so they seem as though they are part of a game's flow.

wargamingUSA20 Aug 2022 10:20 a.m. PST

Completely agree with pfmodel – "Skirmish rules should use literal terrain, but once the figure scale is significantly different from the ground scale you need a more abstract system, in some ways similar to board gaming."

pfmodel20 Aug 2022 5:06 p.m. PST

Too often scenario designs and terrain layouts are not conducive to a good game regardless of the rules in play.

Very true. You can make even a crap set of rules work, meaning: give you a fun game, if the scenario and terrain is good.

UshCha25 Aug 2022 1:11 p.m. PST

To be honest crap rules to me can not ever give a good game. If they are too far from reality there can be no fun suspension of belief and interest goes if they depart too far from plausibility. However I do have to agree if a scenario and terrain layout is poor, however good the rules are is not going to be fun.

Perhaps its a UK/US thing but to us good games don't include beginners. Beginners don't play well in competition war games its not the place to learn. Similarly the best games don't include beginners unless they are exceptional and have a deep knowledge of the tactics of the period so somebody else can interpret for them.

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2022 6:44 p.m. PST

I nominate this for Best Comeback of the year:

I OBJECT I COUNT BOLTS NOT RIVETS

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2022 2:53 p.m. PST

I have notice over the years Americans have gone from large multi-day games to games that can be finished in one to four hours tops. In the UK they now play very large games played in special club owned buildings. They leave them set up and come back to them as needed. In the US lots of games are now played at game stores which limits the size of he games and the time to play them.

In the 70s when I was in High School, we played war board games, mostly SPI, AH and GDW. Huge monster games we left set up. In my part of the country we didn't know miniature gaming existed. When I started with miniatures we again played huge battles where we could barely reach to the center of the table. We literally played all day, 8 to 12 hours.

Now I find players want to play for two to four hours and go home. I think it is the life style in America now. We are busy with work, family, school etc. Even retired types want to leave at 4:00 pm in order to beat the traffic. I love the really big games so I am often disappointed when we stop playing at 4:00pm instead of turn 25 whenever that happens. I spend hours and hours getting the scenario right, the terrain, figures etc and poof, everyone turns into a pumpkin.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2022 3:03 p.m. PST

The biggest difference I see between miniature rules in the UK and the states is the way they are written. In the UK rules are written as a narrative. It is a story with suggestions for rules to cover the story. You really are getting a tool box full of suggestions and possibilities. This approach drives many of us here in the US crazy. But the Brits love it.

We grew up with board games by AH, SPI, GDW and we like our rules written as a technical manual. Where the rules are black or white. The less grey the better. With UK rules you have to dig out the rules from the narrative.

I have had to go through with a highlighter and mark the rules and re-type them so we can understand them. However recently the Brits have started writing them in a way we Yanks can understand them. Bigger market to cater to.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2022 3:10 p.m. PST

I maybe the only one that notices this or cares but I find it a little annoying that so many players confuse rules with games. You use rules to play the games. Bolt Action is a set of rules you use to play a game. Probably just me.

UshCha21 Oct 2022 4:46 a.m. PST

Old Contemptible I'm afraid you are in error. Football (UK) is both a game and a set of rules. Wargame is simply a overarching refrence to a gener of games like "ball sports". The rules define the actual game.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Oct 2022 4:59 a.m. PST

Probably just me.

No. Lack of common terminology is the biggest inhibitor to talking about wargames (and many other subjects). When game means one thing to you and something else to someone else, communication is difficult.

Rules is also an overloaded term. When I teach wargaming, I start with a taxonomy of parts and assign terms. Not because what I call "rules" is right and what you call "rules" is wrong. It's because the different parts have different functions and are used in different ways. Imagine a discussion about making a piece of furniture where nails, nuts, bolts, brads, staples, and screws were only called "fasteners" and hammers, screwdrivers, ratchets, and wrenches were only called "tools".

The other big inhibitor (related to poor use of terminology) is lack of empirical data, which leads to overgeneralization. For example, talking about "Americans" do this and "Brits" do that …

FlyXwire21 Oct 2022 6:03 a.m. PST

Another unhelpful occurrence (IMO) – referencing the rules as if they're the original basis for the game's history. (this somewhat touches on what Old Contemptible speaks of in his distinction between rules vs. the game)

How many times in a game forum discussion does reference come up to some ruleset, as if warfare originates within the pages and mechanisms contained therein – it obviously doesn't – warfare analytics and the study of military history is not a finite constant, and it's an ever evolving endeavor too (my root advice – talk history, tactics, unit organization, and realize that no set of game rules will ever duplicate this – and once the ink has begun to dry, that latest ruleset is becoming obsolete too).

To OC's rules vs. game point – but some rules are the game. The Cold War Gone Hot in Europe gaming that was all the rage back in those 1970's and 80's……never happened. Much of the Fantasy and Sci-Fi gaming resides only within the pages of their rules (these gaming genres are based on fiction after all, anything becomes plausible, and there's no imperative to reconcile the "games played"). Sorta like all the Super Hero flicks that form the core of today's popular cinema [hmmmm, or streaming] releases – anything goes (and physics be damned).

Etotheipi emphasizes the point – what wargaming is someone really talking about? Probably what people are most often discussing are their gaming tastes….or should that be tolerance for it.

Today, some of us old farts can only tolerate 4 hrs. of it anymore……..and so quittin' time at 4:00pm looms (the departure time becomes a good excuse). :)))

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP21 Oct 2022 9:23 p.m. PST

Achtung Minen wrote:

I think this simultaneous development of hex and counter wargames alongside miniature wargames in the 1970's and 80's is key to identifying a distinct American branch of wargames. Hex and counter simply were not as popular in the UK,
[So had no influence on Miniature wargame designers?]
which was home to many, many miniature wargaming luminaries (Featherstone, Barker et al.). American miniature wargames during this time share many common features with hex and counter wargame, including:

• Focus on technical detail realism (i.e. "rivet counting"


[Baker, Featherstone and company weren't interested in technical details?? Surely, you've read their rules.]
• Emphasis on a cleverly designed turn sequence doing much of the heavy lifting for structuring gameplay.

[As opposed to…? IGO-UGO systems? Most miniature wargame system were. Other than Empire, I can't think of many, however, not all British/European miniature rules were IGO/UGO. If you are thinking of simultaneous movement, a number of popular US rules at the same time like Johnny Reb had Simultaneous movement.]
• Direct command system (you may be a battalion commander, but you can precisely control what individual squads or fire teams do)
[What??? Which rules are these?]
• Symmetrical play (controlled by rigid turn sequence)

[Now wait a second. If US systems were "cleverly designed turn sequence," how is that rigid?]
• Reliance on CRTs or something approaching a CRT

[As opposed to Baker, Featherstone and company? Really? because they didn't put all their modifiers and processes in a chart or a table?]

I think there has been a great deal of cross-pollination over the years. I certainly played 'British rules' growing up even while playing AH games.

Achtung Minen, if you are going to paint with such broad brush-strokes, I think you need to be far more specific.
As others have suggested, there is a lot of history there and GW didn't invent much in the way of game mechanics. They tended to be rather old-school, or contemporary at the time, NOT innovative. Many of their games, particularly historical, looked and played like a number of British rules.

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