Why simple wargames matter


If any of you follow Joe Steadman and Tom Vasel’s wonderful podcast, The Dice Tower, regularly, you’ll know about Mr. Steadman’s outspokenness about what is and is not a bona-fide historical simulation game, or “wargame”. He and I take opposing views on the subject (as is evidenced by me naming MEMOIR 44, a game that Joe takes particular interest in targeting as a non-wargaming family game as the GAMES 100 Historical Simulation Game of 2005– yes, that was me, Joe). In any event, Joe and Tom are revisiting the great Memoir 44 debate in the current contest they are running, which has assorted Memoir 44 bits as the grand prize. I already have M44 and like it a lot, but another set and the new terrain bits would be nice, so I decided to enter.

And I can’t help putting my oar in on this subject.

In a larger sense, we’re talking about “what is art” here, trying to enforce a definition on an amorphous subject like wargame design. Joe’s response is to answer from the heart (“I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it”), and I’ll say here and now that this mindset is every bit as “true” as the next one.

For the record, here’s my response, in case they decide not to read it:

“Is Memoir 44 a historical military simulation?”

The answer is, naturally, “Of course it is!”

I sense the hand of Joe in this.

Do we have to go around the block on this one more time? A historical military simulation presents a model of historical conflict. A historical military simulation USUALLY presents a depiction of real-life historical military units moving and fighting in a terrain depiction that coincides with a real battlefield. Finally, a historical military simulation provides a model of how to resolve combats and present the results.

Doesn’t Memoir 44 do ALL of that???

It seems to me that the arguments I’ve heard stated against Memoir 44 have been specious at best. “It doesn’t’ have a CRT, therefore it isn’t a simulation!” “It uses plastic toys, therefore, it’s not a simulation!” “The dice combat system is too simple, it can’t be a wargame!!”

All this babble tells us more about the expectations of certain players rather than what Memoir 44 actually DOES, which is present a model of several different historical conflicts on a (admittedly very rough) depiction of historical terrain, with (admittedly, a very rough) depiction of historical military units. You may not think the Memoir 44 Overlord scenario can hold a candle to THE LONGEST DAY as an accurate portrayal of the events of D-Day, and you would probably be right. That DOES NOT MEAN that the Memoir 44 game isn’t simulating those events, it’s just using a different scale, mechanic, and artistic method for displaying the same events.

If I like Chagall and you like Monet, does Chagall cease to be an artist because you don’t like him? The same mindset applies to different approaches to game design.

Lastly, remember the first wargame, ever? Kriegspiele was played enthusiastically by the German General Staff during the 19th century. Kriegspiele featured simplistic terrain (a gridwork), generic units meant to depict various national armies in changeable situations (hmmm.. sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). If some visitor from another time had dared tell Von Moltke that he was playing with a *toy* or a *game* because it didn’t fit the visitor’s notion of a “Proper Conflict Simulation”, the visitor would have been whomped up side his head with a bucket of sauerkraut. Those 19th century Prussians certainly took military simulation gaming seriously, as you SHOULD know, Joe.. ahem..

This ‘donnybrook’ over Memoir 44 is all about *comfort zones*, not definitions. If the notion that a generic, geomorphic design using plastic soliders to represent units and marked dice to resolve combat challenges your comfort zone, feel free to call it something else– a “table top game” or “Military themed family game” or even “fred”. But it still will be a historical simulation, no matter how uncomfortable you might be with that idea.

Games like Memoir 44 are important… not JUST because they are ‘simulations’ but because they can really, really charge up the hobby. Kids can play (and teach other kids) Memoir 44. It’s neat, visual, and absolutely ANYONE can handle the mechanics. What’s not to love? There should be a hell of a lot MORE games like Memoir 44, and Famous Aces, and War of the Ring, and Axis and Allies…

That way, we’ll all still be playing these things with our grandkids. I’m selfish.. I want to grow my own opponents in the next generation, I do!

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One response to “Why simple wargames matter

  1. CRT’s are demonstrably non-simulative because they provide a restrictive model for what in reality is rarely so; a poor argument that one simulation is better than another.