Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Landships! and the coming popularity of World War I

I hauled out my copy of Landships! today to peruse the designer's notes and see if I thought the game would be worth trying to play PBeM. I didn't come to a hard conclusion on that latter point, but I did come away with renewed appreciation of the historical research in the game. There was a lot of exotic armor in those early days.

With the approach of the Great War's centennial I wonder if there will be a new burst of interest in the topic. Wargaming got a jump start in the 1960s due to the centennial of the Civil War (Gettysburg was specifically crafted to tap into that). So there's certainly precedent for a spike in interest. We're currently in the middle of the bicentennial of the Napoleonic Wars and there does seem to be plenty of interest in the topic among wargamers, although it's hard to say there's more than the usual because the Napoleonic era has always been popular.

The 800-pound gorilla in the wargame room has always been World War II. Tactics II was designed just a few years after the war ended and the Second World War has always been the single most popular period among wargamers.

The First World War, for those of us who were young wargamers in the 60s and 70s, had a reputation for being rather boring, stagnant and grim, compared to the drama of Blitzkrieg-fueled World War II. That's not to say that it was completely ignored, but even those wargames that did depict World War I combat either reinforced that feeling or danced around it by sea and/or air.

Dunnigan's 1914 was an impressive game, but it did nothing to make World War I seem "sexy." His other World War I design from that period, Jutland, was about naval warfare. Battleships are sexy, and Jutland has plenty of those. The other notable early Avalon Hill on World War I, Richthofen's War, was about aerial combat, another "sexy" topic. Later games about naval and air combat such as Avalanche Press' Great War at Sea series and Ace of Aces also did well, but that seems to be more about their medium than their era.

It wasn't until Ted Raicer came along with his various titles that World War I started to get more respect, and with Paths of Glory now has a bona fide hit.

Wings of War, of course, is also another current hit game set in World War I, but again that's an air wargame.

Will there be a Memoir'44 or Tide of Iron style game about the Great War? Will Columbia or GMT publish a block game on the topic? How about Hasbro? Is there enough interest in the Great War for an Axis & Allies style game (Central Powers & Entente?).

Time will tell, but I think there may well be. As time passes opinion only becomes more firm that World War I was probably the most important political event of the 20th Century. World War II and the Cold War would not have happened but for the way WW I played out. If the war had ended in 1914 or 1916 or even with a German victory in 1918 we would be living in a very different world. It's only with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that we started to really move into a post-Great War world. The very last of the World War I veterans are leaving us now and shortly it will move out of human memory and into history. The increased media attention the centennial will prompt will bring World War I to the fore in the immediate future.

1 comment:

  1. As far as the American public goes, WWI is a dead horse. I'd estimate that 60% of the population thinks that the Nazis were in power at the time. And who the hell are the Ottomans or Austria Hungary? As such, you won't see any mass market games on the subject because the only reason anyone knows there was a First World War at all is because they called The Big One WW*2*.

    Besides, no one grew up watching Great War movies. Until very recently, there were very few movies centered on the Eastern Front in WW2, and most Americans think we won the war single-handedly. As such, no marketer for Hasbro would even consider a WWI title, anniversary or no.

    There aren't even any *computer* games on the subject!