Saturday, July 26, 2008

Wings of War and the globalization of wargaming

One of the great joys of wargaming is learning neat new stuff. It's an added bonus over the general fun of any game, where you can exercise your intellect and competitive spirit. It's something that's relatively uncommon outside of wargames, with the exception of trivia-style games. Even pretty-heavily themed non-wargames rarely provide anything deeper than generally available knowledge about their topic.

Ah, but wargames are different. Even fairly simple wargames usually have terrain, order of battle and other information at a deeper level than found in most popular histories and some of them are original works of scholarship in their own right.

For the first few decades of popular wargaming the hobby had a very Anglo-centric focus. While there were some wargame publishers and designers outside the English-speaking world the vast majority were from American, British, Canadian and Australian sources. Unavoidably this introduced some biases as far as subject matter went. Generally I think the level of history discourse in English is pretty high and most authors and game designers make an attempt to be as objective as possible, but it's still refreshing to see other points of view. Even within the English-speaking history community there can be different viewpoints on subjects. All one has to do is bring up Field Marshal Montgomery or the War of 1812 to see that there's always at least two sides to every story.

The last dozen or so years have seen an explosion in wargame interest all over the world. While the core of the hobby is still American and British, some of the most exciting gaming has some from other countries such as Germany, Japan, France and Italy. One manifestation of this trend has been add copy on game boxes in many maguages. Hasbro's Axis & Allies Miniatures, for example, includes descriptive copy in English, French, Italian and Spanish.

The Wings of War series of games is Italian in origin, and is probably the most popular aerial wargame right now. So it probably shouldn't be a surprise that the game includes more Italian planes than French or American and nearly as many as the British.

Still, I'll admit is is somewhat as a surprise. Brought up on British and American histories of the air war (supplemented by a few German accounts) , I always had the impression that the air war over the Western front was where all the action is. Other fronts, if mentioned at all, were given a cursory treatment.

A moment's consideration shows that this must have meant a lot of action was simply omitted, not that it didn't happen. The war raged over thousands of miles of front in Russia, Italy and the Middle East, not just the few hundred miles of France and Belgium. There must have been a lot of use for airpower over those vast distances. Even the ground campaigns on those other fronts usually don't get a lot of copy, but the air war even less. So seeing the Italian, Russian and Austrian planes in Wings of War helps illuminate an aspect of the Great War that I didn't know much about.

There's even less attention in English historical writing about the post-World War I fighting. American histories, especially, seem to end abruptly with the armistice and don't say much about what happened afterwards. Europeans know that the fighting didn't end everywhere at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Indeed, it went on for years as the empires of Russia, Austria and the Ottomans disintegrated, rarely peacefully. Wings of War provides a glimspe of this fighting, too, with various expansions depicting Red Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Polish and Czech aircraft.

And the World War II version includes Vichy French and Italian co-belligerent forces as well as the usual British, German, French, Japanese and American planes.

This is neat stuff.

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