50 Years of Wargame Design

ArmyMenVictory in Europe Day just past by a few days ago.   I am also closing in on completing the 2nd phase of testing on a World War II project that has consumed over 4,000 hours of work since 2007.   This week, we’ll spend some time looking at how this segment of games has developed over the years, to what it is  today, and what might go into defining it for tomorrow?   A lot of what goes into wargames goes into a lot of other types of games, too – as we will see soon.

Army Men – These guys simply never go away.  They didn’t do anything until they were placed under the command of the the imagination of 8-year old generals.   In my neighborhood, we would set them up mainly because they “looked cool” and then proceed to knock them down – by throwing things at them.  Dirt, rocks… furniture, while providing our own sound effects, “Boom– datta-datta-shew-bang…”  The rules were…  Well, I don’t remember any… 

Army Men live on in their own PC games now – with much improved special effects.

Greek SpearmenTable Top Miniatures – An important part in the evolution of wargaming, this is “Army Men with Rules!”   Whether medieval or fantasy, modern or futuristic, you will find the “Art of Table Top Wargaming” alive and well today – and with multiple spin-offs.   The original medieval rules for tabletop medieval wargaming led to the formation of the Chainmail rule set for fantasy wargaming leading further under Gary Gygax to the creation of Dungeons and Dragons.Space_Marine_Army

This can be a very expensive hobby as the figurines are usually made of metal and come unpainted.  When I talk about the Art of Table Top Wargaming – it is that, and more.   Tabletop Wargamers take great pride in the intricacy of their paint jobs whether they are painting Leopard III tanks, Greek Spearmen, Goliath Mechs or Skaven Plaguebringers.  All versions have their own rule sets and game play takes place with the use of a ruler – to determine movement, and dice – to decide combat.   While many scenarios are based upon historical battles, there is always the option to pit one “army build vs. another” using point buy systems.

WarhammerWarhammer on the fantasy side and Warhammer 40k on the futuristic-fantasy side are both table top games that have resulted in a string of PC games, and the late Warhammer Online MMORPG.  If not for the Warhammer Universe, we would not have had World of Warcraft – at least not as we know it.

Leastwise, most of what we know of wargaming today extends from Table Top wargaming — from unit attributes such as Attack and Defense Strengths, to unit upgrades, Heroes and personal attributes.   All of today’s computer and most mobile games take these into consideration.  Lately, some games are getting into the artwork side of it by letting players “dye” their own armor, in addition to having different sets of armor.   The art itself is awesome.   For many fantasy and medieval wargames , developers still have ample room to expand upon the customization of uniforms and flags.

100px-World_In_FlamesBoard Games - Back in the 1970’s, Avalon Hill was one of the big publishers of boxed set wargames including Squad Leader, Panzer Blitz, Tobruk, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, and countless others.  Their take on wargames simplified the set up of games so that you could play them on your kitchen table.  They included cardboard maps, dice and unit counters in place of miniatures — generally using NATO unit symbols to identify infantry, armor, cavalry and artillery units.    Axis and Allies is a very popular “beer and pretzels” type game emerging from this form.  Many of these games did make their way to a computerized version, albeit with varying degrees of success.

The PROBLEM with most of the above types of games was that — they did take up the kitchen table, or in the case of Australian Design Group’s “World in Flames” – the entire room.   Ideally, many of these games would be played by at least 2 and as many as 6 players.  Simply finding other players was not easy.  Plus, many of these games would involve weeks, months and in some cases, years to finish – as people could meet over the weekends or holidays.

The following video goes to show just how much space a game like this could take up.  For those still playing “old school” (as this fellow from Norway is doing), this video shows a solution to the “Earthquake of Doom”.

Meanwhile, and though it took 10 years to do, World in Flames has been made into a computer game itself, produced by MatrixGames.com.  Unfortunately, it does not have a “playable opponent” or “AI” – you can either play solo, hotseat, or play by email.

As I am about to wrap up this first segment (more on Wednesday), this all goes to point out to mobile app developers, particularly of strategy games that they have all kinds of examples, resources and themes to serve as creative inspiration.   I can’t say that I’ve played every game – not nearly, but I’ve played a lot of them and in just about every format.

Computer and mobile games solve a lot of the difficulties we had just a few decades ago.   Games take up a lot less space, they are faster to play, and it is easier to find opponents online.  There are still problems to solve, lots of creative depth yet to explore.   Wednesday or perhaps Friday, I will unveil a project that has consumed over 4,000 hours of development over the past 7 years.  We’ll see…


Project Manager at the Opera Mobile Store providing Sales-Marketing support. Content development and research.

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