Saturday, May 31, 2008

Critical hits

Probably one of the starkest differences between wargames and any other kind of game I know of is the concept of the "critical hit."

For example, in the Down in Flames series of card games on aerial combat, an otherwise fairly "euro"-friendly light wargame, there's one Action Card that has an "Attack" result reading "Fuel Tank Hit, Aircraft Destroyed."

This, needless to say, an extreme result that can easily turn a game completely around, and it has little to do with a player's skill. Naturally, this sort of thing is an anathema to most game players interested in a contest of skill, even those otherwise comfortable with a certain mount of luck in their games.

Yet it's a pretty common feature of wargames, especially very tactical games, although it's not unheard of even in wargames dealing with higher-level operations.

Wargamers, as a rule, seem resigned to seeing an occasional game end with a spectacular bang, even though it might negate their winning strategy. While it might be rationalized as adding a little bit of excitement to a game, that really can't be the answer for why it's tolerated. After all, euro games like having excitement as well.

No, the answer simply is that real battles often turn on such fluke events. Every so often the HMS Hood has to blow up! Otherwise there's no chance for a historical result for the Battle of Denmark Straits.

Still, the existence of critical hits is a notable, if little-noted, difference between wargames and other games of skill.


  1. Euro games like having excitement? You could have fooled me.

  2. Settle down there, anonymous. Some of us like all kinds of games, but we're not so partial to snobs. Come over to my group and play Die Macher sometime.

    Twilight Struggle has this sort of ending happen all the time. I won a recent game that I was pretty sure was going to go south in the last couple of turns (I was seriously out of position in most areas of the board), but I was able to get the VP level up to 8 for myself at the cost of serious board position, then slapped the Wargames card down and won. *That* is one broken card.

    Critical hits, while an element of warfare, definitely add tension to a game, but a well designed game will allow critical hits to affect the flow but not destroy it completely. If a single critical hit will win you the game, that's bad design. If it changes the complexion of the game without immediately giving victory to the otherwise losing player, it has a place. Wellington (the Mark McLaughlin design put out by GMT) for example throws a ton of dice and a fist full of 6's can turn an otherwise certain result on it's head. Down in Flames can change a mission, but it's one event in a campaign of missions and is acceptable. The Twilight Struggle card Wargames, however, is a crap design choice.