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The Campaign for North Africa
May 11, 2009 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Even among "monster games", it stands alone. A 7-foot mapsheet. 1,800 counters. 1,500 hours to play. It is SPI's The Campaign for North Africa.
posted by Joe Beese (89 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Rommel, you son of a bitch! I read you're book!!!
posted by Senator at 9:26 AM on May 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


I can see the appeal of playing these games — I mean, I don't like 'em, but I can see how someone would — but I've always wondered how the hell you design and playtest something that runs so long.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2009


Your link says the map is 10', which matches that girl a little better. Unless she's a 3' 8 year old?

The other link wonders why wargaming declined at the same time real war's image improved. Seems like that answers itself to some extent. Also, instant gratification, kids today, lawn, etc.
posted by DU at 9:31 AM on May 11, 2009


DU: "Your link says the map is 10', which matches that girl a little better. Unless she's a 3' 8 year old?"

Fog of war.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:38 AM on May 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Just don't sneeze. For 1200 hours.
posted by bardic at 9:39 AM on May 11, 2009


Year ago I remember reading an article about Campaign For North Africa the guy who wrote it had never actually played a full game - he was saving it for his retirement. The one thing thing I remember was the micro-management when to such a level that the Italians needed a greater water supply than the rest of the combatants in order to cook their pasta...

One of the games I'd read about in the pre-Warhammer Games Workshop catalog and dream of owning as a kid. The other was 'most complicated board game ever' Air War. May be when I retire...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Awesome. This was nearly one of my first wargames, but I thankfully ended up with "Blitzkreig" instead. CfNA was once memorably described as "the game that takes longer to play than the actual campaign".

Greg Costikyan's essay is interesting but I don't think all the blame for the collapse of wargaming can be laid at TSR's feet. The audience - as he later says - just wasn't there any more. In the meantime, computer games, CCGs and Eurogames took off. Why? They were easier to get into, has less of an outlay in time and effort and you could run a game without having to block out a weekend and struggle through legalese. (Ah, SPI's famous case format rules, looking up 3.2.15 "Morale when pinned under fire"). The community was important too - I used to play a bit of "Squad Leader", a game that slowly grew into a shambling, ever-expanding maze of rules and supplements that could only be played by those who dedicated themselves to it full-time.

Gaming survived - it just got friendlier to amateurs.
posted by outlier at 9:42 AM on May 11, 2009


I tried to play World In Flames once with some die-hard war gamers. That was when I realized that I was way more of an RPG and more casual board gamer prefering stuff like Talisman, Supremacy, Axis & Allies, etc, etc, etc, etc. I just don't have the patience for that type of game...but it is impressive to see it all set up initially.
posted by GavinR at 9:42 AM on May 11, 2009


The other link wonders why wargaming declined at the same time real war's image improved. Seems like that answers itself to some extent. Also, instant gratification, kids today, lawn, etc.

Computers.
posted by empath at 9:43 AM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


note to self: copy and paste entire entry on Eschaton from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest into thread.
posted by shmegegge at 9:43 AM on May 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


further note to self: on second thought, don't.
posted by shmegegge at 9:43 AM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Awesomeness. I used to play Panzerblitz when I was a teenager. Loved it, and subsequently pursued a lot of history as a result.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:44 AM on May 11, 2009


Though the idea of something like this appeals to me more than it should, I don't see the point in playing games like this, in this age, without computer assistance. Much of that 1,500 hours is probably dedicated to the physical act of moving a counter from one hex to another. I could envision playing something like War in the Pacific for the PC if I had the time to spare, though.

On the general subject of hex-based wargaming, the best-kept secret of Nintendo DS games is Panzer Tactics. Not as hardcore as a full-scale grognard game, but plenty hardcore enough for most people, and it has the additional virtue of not wholly robbing you of your social life.
posted by Prospero at 9:45 AM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also worth mentioning are the "World in Flames" and "Europa" series, whose fans just love to combine the individual games of the series into massive "simulate all of WWII", rule fests. I remember seeing one such Europa game, where they'd spent the weekend setting up the board ...
posted by outlier at 9:45 AM on May 11, 2009


When we were kids, my brother would often 'accidentally' knock the board over if it became clear that he was going to lose a game of something like Monopoly or Stratego. This usually resulted in me chasing him down and beating him up. So now I'm trying to picture exactly how pissed I'd be if we got, say, 1000 hours into this thing and he pulled that shit.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:46 AM on May 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


My favourite monster game is VG's Vietnam. Never found the time to play through, and never played anything but solo. Maybe if I can find a like-minded grognard in the retirement home...

That link claims a play time of 360 minutes, but they must be talking about some wee little introductory tutorial mission. Real men only play the grand campaign, and my guess is it is at least 100+ hours to get through that.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:47 AM on May 11, 2009


OOh! Yes, World in Flames was great, too, especially paired with Days of Decision and the Cold War expansions. You could play grand strategy from 1933 right through to the early cold (maybe hot) war in the 50's.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:49 AM on May 11, 2009


It would be interesting to compare the micromanagement of this huge amount of resources divided amongst just five players per side, and compare that to the corporation management of a game like EVE Online, where you are managing upwards of a thousand or more players and their resources per side, in real time.
posted by chambers at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Several of the war games I play suffer from calls of "unrealism" from the peanut gallery. Especially humorous in the case of 40K when the whiney is playing a force composed of fungal life forms equipped with chainsaw swords, force fields, and a gun that launches life forms through a combination of hyperspace and hell; who drive vehicles that can go faster with a red paint job because the passengers believe red ones go faster.

The Campaign for North Africa is the natural outcome of submitting to calls for realism. I'd like to try it at least once.
posted by Mitheral at 9:54 AM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


You guys make it sound like socializing with Gamers is tantamount to not having a social life!

Oh wait...
posted by kalessin at 9:55 AM on May 11, 2009


I've participated in 2 Empires in Arms games and tried to start a third. The first EiA game was probably the most fun I've had playing a board game to date. The second nearly so.

One thing that helped with the 'don't sneeze' factor was doing the following:

- Photocopied all of the color maps using a blueprint copier, then glued them to 1/2" foam-core board. Repeat this with the status boards.
- Use a hat pin for each 'stack' of counters (yes, impale them on the board). Then just move your kebab of counters using the pin as a handle around the foam-core board. This also allows you to move the boards from location to location and post the board on a wall instead of occupying a table for 2 months.
posted by Fuka at 9:57 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The last link gives a play time with the recommended number of players as being 1200 hours, which is approximately 1/20th of the amount of hours that the actual North Africa Campaign took. If you played it for an hour a day every single day, it would actually go on for a longer timespan.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 9:58 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would love to see two obscenely rich gamers hire 5 people each to play this game 40 hours a week for nine and a half months.

Film it, edit for the good parts, and show it on the Military channel in the US as a reality show and have folks bet on it in Vegas. I hate reality TV, but that I would watch.
posted by chambers at 10:09 AM on May 11, 2009 [22 favorites]


Man, I freaking loved these games growing up. That you spent more time arguing game legalese then rolling dice actually appealed to me.

What is frustrating is that the advent of computers should have made these games that much more popular -- all of the tracking and resource management is done for you. Instead every game became an action game. Most real-time strategy is just awful. Quick mouse clicking should not win over great strategy.

EVE Online sounds like a step back to these types of games. I had thought that the Close Combat franchise would bring it back, but they moved away from it after the first couple titles.
posted by FuManchu at 10:10 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those outside the US, we do have a Military Channel, a subset of the Discovery Channel. All the war footage you ever wanted to see in one place, 24 hours a day.
posted by chambers at 10:13 AM on May 11, 2009


I was going to play this, but then I decided it would probably just be easier to wait for another world war to break out and then enlist.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:18 AM on May 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


VG's "Vietnam" and "World in Flames" are not monster games - they are typical mid-level wargames (I've played both). Monster games are big in every sense of the word: maps (you need to build custom tables out of plywood); counters (you spend 10 or 20 hours just setting up); time (it takes at least 100 hours to play but could be much much longer); complex rules (weeks of learning, usually through a tiered module learning curve before playing the full campaign). I've played a few monsters myself, the largest being a re-enactment of the East Front (Europa's "Fire in the East" and "Scorched Earth"). The subject of this post, "The Campaign for North Africa", is indeed a monster game. I've seen it and have no desire to play it because it's too realistic, too much work involved with logistics, I've not read good things about gameplay, there is a reason it is obscure. I think without question the largest monster game is "Grand Europa", which ties together all the Europa modules into a single game. It's so large and so complex, it's been in development for at least 30 years and is still not been released, although you can buy the modules individually and play them sequentially, but it's not a single game (yet).

For anyone interested in playing a very large wargame for the first time I recommend highly Avalon Hill's "The Longest Day". It's old but a classic - game play is good (balanced), every single counter is unique so the historical feel is there, the rules are well done and not too complicated and it's achievable in a reasonable amount of time.
posted by stbalbach at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I crunched the 1500 hours down into 5-day 8-hour work weeks; that's 37.5 weeks.
posted by mwhybark at 10:25 AM on May 11, 2009


I had thought that the Close Combat franchise would bring it back

Close Combat killed ASL (Advanced Squad Leader).
posted by stbalbach at 10:27 AM on May 11, 2009


HOURS OF FUN
posted by mwhybark at 10:28 AM on May 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


I would love to see two obscenely rich gamers hire 5 people each to play this game 40 hours a week for nine and a half months.

Film it, edit for the good parts, and show it on the Military channel in the US as a reality show and have folks bet on it in Vegas. I hate reality TV, but that I would watch.


The only way it would work is if they used real people as the unit counters. And maybe real bullets.
posted by happyroach at 10:29 AM on May 11, 2009


> It's so large and so complex, it's been in development for at least 30 years and is still not been released

Holy shit. Suck on that, Duke Nukem!
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:29 AM on May 11, 2009


As teenagers, we tried to play Rise and Decline of the Third Reich on numerous occasions. That game was maybe a tenth the complexity of this beast. We all really, really wanted to get into it, and we gave it our best shot, but it was incredibly intimidating. The turns took hours, and I don't think we ever got past four or five turns in an entire weekend. I'm not sure why BGG says the play time was 240 minutes -- in my experience, that was about one turn for everyone.

We'd usually play the simple computer games of the era while other people were taking their turns. Gaming to break up the monotony of gaming -- that's geekery.

It sounds like playing Third Reich was a light summer afternoon hike, compared to climbing the Everest of this monster.

I wonder if any complete games have ever been played?

Us, we ended up just playing the beer-and-pretzels Axis and Allies, which isn't well-balanced, but it's relatively fast and simple, and offers a pretty good variety of strategies. Our house rules were to A) not allow Russia to open hostilities on the first turn, B) give Germany the Jet Power technology, and C) give the Super Subs tech to Japan. That seemed to improve the balance a lot.
posted by Malor at 10:32 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm impressed at the apparent scope of this, but something occurs to me: is a full game of this, played out in its 1200 hours of glory between 10 guys with an absolutely jaw-dropping amount of free time on their respective hands, any more complicated or exciting of an affair than a single match of a modern strategy game played out on a PC? I mean, those lookup tables are impressive, and that map is obnoxiously and fantastically large and complicated, but have you ever boggled at the calculations that go into, say, a game of Civilization IV? There are entire boards devoted to the nuances of gameplay, with hundreds of people delving into the theoretical possibilities of wholly different substyles of play, affecting everything from economic development of an empire to tactical maneuvering against known styles of offense and counter-attack. The actual mechanics of, say, attacking a city with a single unit would take half a dozen lookup sheets, and maybe 15-40 rolls of 10D10 to simulate in real life. A game with the maximum number of players, on the largest map size supported, might involve 50,000 such combat calculations. Play with one of the larger maps, and yeah, a physical map of the that large a grid of tiles, each large enough to contain all the crap it might have to contain, would probably cover the floor of the local gymnasium.

I guess the difference is, you can blast through a video game variant of this in a weekend by having your computer handle the bookkeeping and dice-rolling for you, whereas something like CNA sounds like it's targeting the sort of extreme-player niche that would comprise all of about nine guys, all of whom are retired sys admins who once DM'd a really epic quest into the Cave of Sorrows. And god help the man who sneezes. I'm clearly not in the target demographic for this, but I just don't see the draw to devoting that much of your life to a gaming experience with a close analogue that can be played in an afternoon on your XBox.
posted by Mayor West at 10:33 AM on May 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is this something you'd have to have not given up trying to find players for Squad Leader to know about?

on preview, I'm not the first to say it, Mayor West, but computers killed the war tactical star. Why do all the math, indeed.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:42 AM on May 11, 2009


VG's "Vietnam" and "World in Flames" are not monster games... you spend 10 or 20 hours just setting up

Heh?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:43 AM on May 11, 2009


I have a friend who put together 30 or 40 ASL boards, and proceeded to play a 2-player, year long game with his friend.

I have tried, on many occasions, to play ASL. I even really like it, but it is a maze of rules, and tricks of the trade, and there are dice involved. Once the dice enter into it, I tend to get very unfortunate rolls, and the games tend to lose their draw. Having all your squads mown down by a single unit because you forgot to lay smoke and "dash" across a roadway is no fun.
posted by Chuffy at 10:45 AM on May 11, 2009


Real grognards play War in Europe anyway.
posted by Faux Real at 10:49 AM on May 11, 2009


Real grognards play War in Europe anyway

Real players hijack a tank and attempt to invade Paris.

and then get stuck on Space Mountain
posted by The Whelk at 10:57 AM on May 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have skirted the edges of megagames for decades now: sure, I have done my time with ASL and Empires In Arms, but one look fifteen years ago in the Fire in the East room at GenCon was enough to put me off the subgenre: people playing in shifts around the clock and crashed out under the tables when their teammates were manning the Eastern Front. It became clear to me then that the amount I enjoy boardgames is (a) more than the median person but (b) less than the people who sleep on the floor in a conference room at the hotel for five days among the Dorito crumbs and spilled Jolt.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:01 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having all your squads mown down by a single unit because you forgot to lay smoke and "dash" across a roadway is no fun.

(Patton): What's the matter with you?
(Bennet): I, I guess I just can't take it sir.
(Patton): What did you say?
(Bennet): It's my nerves sir. I, I, I just can't stand the shelling anymore.
(Patton): Your nerves? Why hell you are just a God damned coward. Shut up. I won't have a yellow bastard sitting here crying, in front of these brave men who have been wounded in battle. Don't admit this yellow bastard. There's nothing the wrong with him. I won't have sons-of-bitches who are afraid to fight stinking up this place of honor. You're going back to the front my friend. You may get shot and you may get killed, but you're going up to the fighting. Either that I am stand you up in front of a firing squad. I ought to shoot you myself, you God damned little whimpering bastard. Get him out of here. Send him up to the front! You hear me! You Goddamn coward! I won't have cowards in my army.
posted by stbalbach at 11:08 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The Longest Day Setup."

FTFY.
posted by eriko at 11:11 AM on May 11, 2009


I've always wanted to play one of these games, but have to settle for Catan and the Axis & Allies variants and such. That's what I get for having moderately geeky friends and not total geekoroids.

Off to review the BSG boardgame rules for tonight's first play-through. And why isn't there a 24 game? Oh no, I drew the Bauer-addicted-to-heroin card! Kim's gonna be stuck in that cougar trap for another six turns if I can help it.
posted by incessant at 11:17 AM on May 11, 2009


I met a guy who talked about not being impressed by Silk Road's level of detail, so they added their own micro-management to make it all "more authentic." I balked at the notion of desiring to replicate reality on such a level.

That guy has been out-done 100-fold.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:26 AM on May 11, 2009


Combat Mission. Accept no substitute.
posted by vbfg at 12:11 PM on May 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: on preview, I'm not the first to say it, Mayor West, but computers killed the war tactical star. Why do all the math, indeed.

Is your view that the fun of wargames comes from doing the calculations for thousands upon thousands of individual interactions between units?

I thought it would be about the strategy and tactics.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:22 PM on May 11, 2009


The Card Cheat brings up a reason I think people fell away from these kinds of games. There comes a point in many games where it becomes obvious that one side is going to lose. Cultural board games like Monopoly and Risk are particularly bad about this.

Wargames can put up with it a little better than most since part of the fun of playing is the joy of simulation, but still.

FuManchu: What is frustrating is that the advent of computers should have made these games that much more popular -- all of the tracking and resource management is done for you. Instead every game became an action game. Most real-time strategy is just awful. Quick mouse clicking should not win over great strategy.

It is frustrating, but perhaps understandable considering how many big-name game studios are chasing the (relatively) easy buck. It's weird... creating a 3D engine is such a big technical accomplishment, but they're routinely put to service of the kinds of stories that seem taken directly from the Braindead Blockbuster Movie Of The Month, and typically have play to match. How many Tom Clancy games have there been now?

I'd love to try a computer version of a serious wargame. Provided I could remember all the rules, that is.
posted by JHarris at 12:30 PM on May 11, 2009


Diplomacy was a big part of my teenage years (in-person Diplomacy, not that play-by-mail shit). My friend's parents had a big collection of old, hardcore war games like Europa, CNA, etc. Often either after a game of Diplomacy had petered out or while waiting for players to show up, we'd dig out those more complex games and start setting them up - not really with the intention of playing them so much as just learning the game components and studying the rules. I have to think that most of the copies of those games in existence have never really been played, as much as examined.

Though the idea of something like this appeals to me more than it should, I don't see the point in playing games like this, in this age, without computer assistance. Much of that 1,500 hours is probably dedicated to the physical act of moving a counter from one hex to another. I could envision playing something like War in the Pacific for the PC if I had the time to spare, though.

This is something I'd love to see take off. I can imagine an open-source engine that would be customizeable enough that it could work for several different games. I doubt there's enough interest for it to be a commercial venture, but I think a lot of old designers would get a kick out of seeing people actually playing their games.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:31 PM on May 11, 2009


For those of you wanting computerized versions of chit-and-board games, may I direct you to this list. You will want to pay special attention to VASSAL. Here, for instance, is the VASSAL module to play Advanced Squad Leader online, or Third Reich, or Empires in Arms.
posted by jbickers at 12:42 PM on May 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


Holy crap. Yeah, VASSAL is pretty much exactly what I was saying someone should make. Good job, internet!
posted by roll truck roll at 12:45 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I played massive games like this, typically at GenCon, and sometimes at my grandparents' house, when I was pretty young. I had a number of school chums that would come around and move pieces around the board until we got bored and went outside (!!) to ride our bikes.

Then, FASA released Battletech. We put away all of our historical markers, Panzer figurines, and massive maps, and started duking it out with 100' tall robots.

It wasn't long until I was yearning for the return of the massive battles that lasted for days or weeks, so I began adapting the BT system for large-scale, never-ending battles. We'd take a few sets-worth of FASA made maps, and assemble them into a floor-spanning massive map. We'd form teams into 3 or 4 differing battle groups, and spend an entire weekend trying to get head crits.

For GenCon, I created an "endless game" format called JunkMech, in which each participant who paid to play rolled randomly against a list of mechs from all tech periods, and entered the battle at a random location. Each Mech had a score associated with it, so even if you died quickly, your enemies only gained very little points. Every Mech who died left crap on the table that added to the overall instability of the terrain. I usually ran this event all day Saturday of the convention, so at the end of 16 hours of play, the maps were strewn with junk, and it was a veritable maze to navigate. I think I ran that event for 4 years (the last year being the year WotC had their first booth with M:tG...). FASA was offering me a rules-supplement deal for JunkMech, but it fell through.

I haven't played a wargame for years, historical simulation or otherwise. My kids wonder why I get twitchy fingers when they open a new boardgame.
posted by thanotopsis at 12:50 PM on May 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


For those of you wanting computerized versions of chit-and-board games, may I direct you to this list.

This list doesn't appear to include MegaMek
posted by thanotopsis at 12:52 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is your view that the fun of wargames comes from doing the calculations for thousands upon thousands of individual interactions between units?

Just the opposite. I mean, I suppose there's a bit of perverse fun in pulling out a string (literally) to see whether your shot manages to skirt the corner of that building, but throwing in barbed wire rules, smoke rules, tunnels, wooden vs. stone buildings, and on and on... the complexity is very cool, but why not let the computer do all that? When I found out that Avalon Hill was moving their stuff to software, it just made perfect sense. Don't know if it did well, though. Somehow, I think it just comes down to people liking moving little figures around a big board. And dice. People love dice.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:53 PM on May 11, 2009


Right; the computer takes care of all of the _determination of outcomes_, freeing the player to _create and implement strategies._ Understanding how the outcomes are determined is vital to making a good strategy, but doing all the table look-ups by hand every time isn't necessary. So when computers get to the point where they can implement these monster games without a second thought, of course all of the players move to the computer games.

Where a lot of the computer games come short is in moving from a _turn-based_ to a _real-time_ framework. Real-time will always come down to how fast one can click buttons; turn-based games (even with an upper time limit on turn length) shifts focus towards strategerizing, at the cost of realism.

Perhaps a happy midpoint would be a real-time game whose pace is limited by real-world travel times. So you submit orders to a unit, then find out what happened to it two weeks later when it actually gets to Normandy, and then give it new orders. You get realism and turn-based time spans all for the price of one. Every couple of days an iphone app tells you something Happened and you can submit new orders to Unit X... Could be fun.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:54 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


> How many Tom Clancy games have there been now?

He cofounded Red Storm, so he can make as many games as he wants. This might or might not cheer you up.
posted by ardgedee at 12:55 PM on May 11, 2009


Okay, your move.

Alright. Type I cavalry moving here.

Ok. Is it not blocked?

I don’t think so. Prussian footsoldier is 5’9”, with bayonet max 6”1” in natural position. Horse is making parabolic jump over T-type obstacle with zero movement of obstacle. Should clear with inches to spare.

Terrain?

Flat.

Ok. Is that it, then?

Yep, that’s it.

Checkmate.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:03 PM on May 11, 2009 [12 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: "People love dice."

They also love big maps. (At least I do.)

If I'm going to feel like I'm General Patton, I need to see the big board.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:11 PM on May 11, 2009


I didn't have many friends in high school, but I did have one that lived for the mid-level strategy & tactics war games (the kind that take 25-50 hours of gameplay). He would buy them all the time and organize sessions almost every weekend. He was also a near-megalomaniac control freak who didn't want to spend time with us as much as he wanted to win his new game at all costs. Literally, the most competitive (and smart) people I have ever met. He would commit the entire rulebook to memory before organizing a game and devise in advance what minutiae he could use to his strategic advantage. He would write out strategy flow charts and keep them in "secret" binders. The rest of us were there, really, just to provide some semblance of coherent opponents that could push chits while he tested his battle plans.

I have a hard time not painting a complete caricature of these gaming sessions. When pivotal moments came in the execution of one of his plans, he would yell out, "I knew it would work!" and other such exclamations that barely contained his self-satisfied glee. When the other players questioned something he did, he will spit, "Have you read the rules? Do you own the game?" at which point we would stop the game, read the rules, and debate for two hours about how his semantic interpretation of the rule supported an historically accurate version of the battle. More than once, encyclopedias were opened.

After a session or two for each game, when it becomes apparent that no one else is going to win, or even enjoy themselves, the rest of us would secretly develop clever plans of resistance. We would create mock arguments and demand that we be allowed to attack each other despite the fact that we were allies. We would threaten to quit if he didn't make rules that allowed it (and he would because it meant he would get to finish the game and win). We would abandon key positions when we had the advantage or attack when it was hopeless. It would make this kid so mad that he would literally spit through his braces that real strategic commanders would never do such a thing and that we would be court marshaled in real life. If someone accidentally bumped the board even so gently that the pieces would shift even a millimeter, he would go apeshit and put every piece exactly back in place talking about the rules of fair play.

Anyway, the point of the story is that I thought it was all fun and games to mess with this guy until one time he and I were playing an air combat computer simulator and I was flying around shooting at friendly planes, which was "against the rules." His father, a retired military officer came in and saw what I was doing and went ballistic. Full on apoplexy. At that point I learned four valuable life lessons. One, never toy with someone else's pathology. Two, behind every insufferable asshole friend, there's likely an insufferable asshole parent that has shaped them in their asshole image. Three, for each insufferable asshole friend with an insufferable asshole of a parent that has shaped them, there's likely an entire group of insufferable asshole associates driving their friend slowly insane. And, finally, four, they are probably playing games like these.
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:17 PM on May 11, 2009 [65 favorites]


In other words, Joe Beese, I feel like you and I have something in common ;-)
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:23 PM on May 11, 2009


Back in the mid-'70s, we used to play Terrible Swift Sword, a recreation of the battle of Gettysburg at the regimental level (?) from SPI. Three mapsheets and 2000 counters. I don't think we ever finished the entire three days of battle, but I vividly remember re-creating Picket's Charge. The cardboard carnage was horrifying. Cool post.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 1:29 PM on May 11, 2009


mrmojoflying, he's probably still dealing with those issues even today.

I don't help, either
posted by FuManchu at 1:38 PM on May 11, 2009


You will want to pay special attention to VASSAL.

You just totally saved me a follow-up askme =p
posted by nomisxid at 1:48 PM on May 11, 2009


That's not a map sheet. THIS is a map sheet.
posted by bertrandom at 1:57 PM on May 11, 2009


Paper maps and counters? These people call themselves grognards?

You're not officially a grognard until you lay out 20x20 feet of sculpted foam hex-cell maps complete with hills, valleys, trees and terrain and hundreds or thousands of little meticulously painted models and invented your own combat system so fantastically detailed that not only do the tanks have internal schematics for damage tables but the individual infantry does, too, and it takes a week of daily play to complete a round using protractors, wind calculators and a miniature sextant and transit.

I once watched someone complete the Battle of the Bulge this way over a couple of years. And by watched, I mean - Every few days or so I'd visit to share a smoke and I watched him shuffle a lot of paper around and make little tiny notes in logbooks. Maybe every few hours a piece would move and some line-of-sight or ballistics measuring would be done.
posted by loquacious at 1:58 PM on May 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


This feels like a really cheap and easy shot, but at the same time it just feels right, so I'm going for it.

Do you suppose the wargamers eventually died out because they never reproduced?

Sort of like the shakers? But different?
posted by Naberius at 2:01 PM on May 11, 2009


not only do the tanks have internal schematics for damage tables but the individual infantry does, too

I once saw a rulebook for that, I think. I will be damned if I can recall who published it -- little green thing, with "square-ified" schematics of human anatomy and detailed wound tables.

The entire system was intended to be used purely for point-of-impact (it started at the skin) -- it was an entire rulebook that only covered what happened once you had determined that an object had struck a human target, and that the object weighed X grams, having Y meters/sec velocity along a particular axis.

I saw madness that day.
posted by aramaic at 2:23 PM on May 11, 2009


There are some great comments over on boardgamegeek:

Hello
I have began the game in october 2007 ... alone (impossible to find opponent).
I have put all the papers in excel sheets. I have modified a few rules (mostly the air rules because in the original rules the airplane were too powerfull). So far, i'm on turn 18. Almost the end of the long italian scenario (20 turns). The short scenario (6 turns) ended with a marginal italian victory. Now, the British try to take Tobrouk to have a marginal victory but i think they will lack some time. Anyway, my dream will be reality in few months : i will see Rommel arriving on the map !


So a year and half in (the comment was posted in April of this year) and he's just getting warmed up. Not sure why he couldn't find nine friends to help him play it properly.

Or this:

It would probably be a more efficient use of time to
a) research, develop and build a protoype of a time machine
b) use said time machine to insert yourself into one of the various war departments of the involved powers (Italians, Germans, Brits)
c) get yourself assigned to the African theatre at the proscribed time
d) refight the real war.
You would probably still have time left over for a quick game of Goa.


The designer of the game even comments, but it's so full of typos as to be undecipherable.
posted by markr at 2:36 PM on May 11, 2009


You're not officially a grognard until you lay out 20x20 feet of sculpted foam hex-cell maps complete with hills,...

No matter how geeky you think you are, there's always someone geekier.
posted by octothorpe at 3:28 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you want computerized war games, you should try The Operational Art of War III. Among the many scenarios it ships with it actually has a version of the board game Blitzkrieg that someone manually "ported", among many many others.

I have to say, I am a huge board game fan and am starting to get interested in War Games, but would never see myself playing any single game for 1500 hours. Computers have robbed me of my attentio... ohh is "T" key is sticking... err um... what was I saying?

That said, there is something very fun and interesting about sitting around a table (with good opponents) playing a game for many hours that it just lost playing on a computer, even if it is against another human player. The tactile feel of putting (play) money into your hand and placing chits and counters on the board and actually rolling the dice... There will always be a place for well made and reasonably lengthed board games.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 3:46 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


this.

Has anyone actually completed a game of this? Does it even matter? If you like turning dice-rolling and chart-consulting into a tedious exercise in futility, this kind of game might be your thing. If not, play a dang RTS on a computer, and let the technology handle the calculations.
posted by tehloki at 4:28 PM on May 11, 2009


Durn Bronzefist: on preview, I'm not the first to say it, Mayor West, but computers killed the war tactical star. Why do all the math, indeed.

I grew up with these (ASL was a favourite, though I did spend a lot of time playing The Next War and Air War, which wasn't as complicated as they say), I also then got into gaming with figures, mainly ancients in 15mm or 1/300th, then WWII and modern in 1/300th.

Computers came along, made it pretty and, yeah, did some of the calculations, but what they did do was enable me to play the game on my own. At the time I thought that was awesome.

Now I look back at the earlier times and I really miss it because I miss the human company. Sure I can play Red Orchestra over the internet and it's amazing, but it's never going to be the same as the two days I spent round a friend's house (who I'd never met, he was a friend of one of the other commanders) with a bunch of others recreating some enormous battle from the seven years war on his parents dining room table.

It didn't matter that half the figures weren't painted, or that one perosn knew the rules really well and used them to pretty much wipe the floor with the rest of us, what mattered was the fun six of us had together in that room, recreating the battle, chating and laughing a lot. And no amount of intenet add-ons are going to replicate that.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:55 PM on May 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm just waiting for when the demands for realism spills over and these guys start an actual war. Like with bullets. Let's see you calculate your damage tables now buster!
posted by The Whelk at 5:27 PM on May 11, 2009


I've played Word in Flames probably a dozen times or more. Truly awesome times were had, until you eventually run out of people to play against, and space to keep a game, and time to spare. I have a fantasy that I'll be able to play it again sometime... Of course, all the bullshit additions post v5 ruined it.

when i look at a picture like this, I get all wistful. There's nothing like a Soviet set-up in May 1941 - so much promise, so many questions about to be answered.
posted by wilful at 5:41 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


erm, that picture link was supposed to be the word, not the comma. But oh well.

just saw this about Campaign for North Africa:
Commander-in-Chief: responsible for strategic decisions and to settle intra-team disputes.

Logistics Commander: In charge of all supplies. Accepts supply requisitions from the others and keeps all informed of supply shortages. Is in charge of supply dumps, Third line trucks and some second line trucks and is in charge of Naval convoys.

Rear Area Commander: Gets the supplies to the front. In charge of security, reserves, prisoners and construction.

Air Commander: In charge of all planes and pilots. Is responsible for planning air missions and deployment of air bases.

Front-line Commander: Executes all attacks and troop movements in the front line. Helps with coordinating defensive efforts.


oooh, ooh, can I be the rear area commander!!
posted by wilful at 5:44 PM on May 11, 2009


I love this quote from the "1,800 counters" link:

"The air game is a concession on the part of the designer (who would have kept the air game at the abstract level) to the playtesters who enjoyed it too much."
posted by Kattullus at 6:08 PM on May 11, 2009


I'm trying my hand at Attach Vector: Tactical. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get anyone to play it with me, though.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:41 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, prospero! It's good to have something lined up to play after I finish Advance Wars.
posted by ignignokt at 7:46 PM on May 11, 2009


I enjoyed the West Front and East Front computer games. I can well imagine that if the computer wasn't doing all the logistics calculations for you, it would take several hundred hours to play a game that the computer allowed you to play in perhaps 20-40 hours.

What I especially liked was that while I was living overseas, my fried back in the States and I would devise campaigns for each other. We'd play and then report on the campaigns as we'd managed to complete each milestone. It made for an interactive element to an otherwise one-person game. It also helped keep some sense of connectedness to my pal while I spent nearly a decade working out of the country.
posted by darkstar at 10:45 PM on May 11, 2009


DetonatedManiac: I have to say, I am a huge board game fan and am starting to get interested in War Games, but would never see myself playing any single game for 1500 hours. Computers have robbed me of my attentio... ohh is "T" key is sticking... err um... what was I saying?

I know a lot of people who have spent 1500+ hours playing a single game. Arguing with fellow players, strategizing, doing lots of boring little fiddly actions and not doing all that much actual fighting. In fact, they use computers. The game is called World of Warcraft.
posted by jiawen at 2:10 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has no one written a computerised version of this?
posted by Pod at 3:10 AM on May 12, 2009


what mattered was the fun six of us had together in that room, recreating the battle, chating and laughing a lot. And no amount of intenet add-ons are going to replicate that.

Have you ever heard the saying "The quiet violence of the computer" - it was originally used in the sense of labor rights movement - pre-computer era, people worked in factories and had violent protests - post-computer era, it's cubicles and protests are now mostly virtual - quiet. But the analogy goes further. Computer work injuries are quiet and hidden like carpel or heavy metal poisoning. Theft is now a hacker working alone in a room. Even wargaming which used to be boisterous human affair is now a "quiet violence", played out individually alone. In fact online gaming, in particular of the FPS variety, is sort of symbolic of the quiet violence of the computer.
posted by stbalbach at 5:41 AM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hear you, ciderwoman. That's why I don't get how computer/console "rpg's" replace the in-person thing. (replace parents' dining room table with card/pool/coffee table in the basement)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:30 AM on May 12, 2009


stbalbach: "Even wargaming which used to be boisterous human affair is now a "quiet violence", played out individually alone."

Not just wargaming. Actual war.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:02 AM on May 12, 2009


That's why I don't get how computer/console "rpg's" replace the in-person thing.

Well, I'll tell you something. You grow up, you go to school, you make friends, and then the next thing you know years have gone by and thanks to our almost unlimited mobility you're scattered to the four winds. Time was, you could sit at your table, looking at your books and missing your friends. Now you can boot up WoW, Eve, what have you, and still have some kind of interaction with those people. It's not an unmitigated evil. Actually, most of the people who play WoW probably weren't big table gamers in the first place and never would be.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:17 AM on May 12, 2009


Actually, most of the people who play WoW probably weren't big table gamers in the first place and never would be.

And so it's nice for them. Instead of playing WoW with their friends at their own computers in their neighbourhood, they're doing it with them in Germany, Malaysia, and Japan. No difference apart from some time zone difficulties. But for us table gamers, yeah, it kinda sucks.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:06 AM on May 12, 2009


I played a couple of games of the computerized version of War in Europe against a retired sub-commander in Texas. You play your turn and then email it to your opponent. We played pretty consistently a turn a day, and each game took a year. He kicked my butt both times, but it was a lot of fun. Can't imagine playing it without a computer, though.
posted by conifer at 8:13 AM on May 12, 2009


Play Mortal Combat with a friend from Vietnam.
posted by Senator at 8:30 AM on May 12, 2009



I spent my high school weekends in much the same fashion as Thanatopsis. I loved me some boardgames, and even the computer games of the time, like Empire, SimCity, and even Elite were the definition of awesome in my youth. I could waste whole weekends memorizing hit tables, or coming up with new strategies to tackle encountered problems.

Later on, I got my wargame on by playing Military Madness and Lords of the Rising Sun (How I miss CinemaWare of old!)

In the late 90s, I discovered Airwarrior and their player organized "scenarios" which were re-enactments of historical encounters spread out over several "frames". These would involve several hundred people flying simulated WWII aircraft in bombing, air support, and patrol roles - which is nothing now, but in 1997 was quite a feat.

The tradition of these simulated wargames continues on games like Aces High! and WWII Online which are fun enough in thier own right. Although lately, I've been playing WoW with my son - although I continue to practice my years long habit of Min/Maxing with spreadsheets and other stats analysis.

No - wargaming is not dead. It is easier and better now than it ever has been. The tedium has been automated, and the bar lowered. Yeah, you have to put up with a fair amount of asshatery, but really - you always had to in this hobby.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:44 AM on May 12, 2009


Do these wargames end with the recitation of the Treaty of Westphalia?
posted by yeti at 12:32 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


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