Thursday, July 9, 2009

So, are YOU in command?

One of the early sales pitches for Avalon Hill wargames is that YOU are in command, as shown by the box art for Tactics II, above.

Generally I like games where you can identify with some historical personage, but lots of times this is impractical. For example, in a two-player game of Napoleon or Waterloo, the allied player will be portraying at least two individuals -- Wellington and Blucher.

In many games it's even harder to pin the player as representing some distinct individual and the player really represents a corporate body. Players often make decisions at several command levels, for example. If you're playing Chickamauga you're obviously the army commander, but you are also determining the deployment of individual brigades, which the division commanders would do.

The odd thing is that many games that tout their realism are some of the most unrealistic in the amount of control they give players. In ASL, for example, players who must represent battalion commanders are also driving tanks hex-by-hex down a road and rotating a turret -- and selecting the ammo to fire.

This is one reason I'm tending to appreciate games like Memoir '44 or Tide of Iron more, because their limits on player control seem more realistic to me.


  1. Dude, the copy doesn't say "you are the commander" it says "you are in command". Of everything. Or some subset of everything. So yes, you are the corps commander, and the division commander, and loading shells into your 76mm cannon in your Sherman tank.

    Most of the games that used that pitch back in the day were aiming, I suspect, at the kids of WWII vets who heard all of these stories about the Nazis and Japanese and how Dad went off to protect Mom and Zygote A from them. For them to be "in command" between the Korean and Vietnam conflicts was very appealing.

    The copy that would get me at this point is what lessons the game teaches about an aspect of military history, whether it's the asymmetrical nature of the Eastern Front in the early 1940s, to how staff officers plan for battles such as Bulge 20.

    That said, I agree completely about loving games where the chaos of war is portrayed in an accurate (at least as far as these things can be using paper) fashion. However, where you like Tide of Iron and Memoir '44, I can't abide them and prefer Combat Commander and Warriors of God quite a bit more. To be honest, the fact that all of these games are in print at the same time is fantastic, whether they are my cup of tea or no.

    Game on, Wayne!

  2. Tactics II, thats where it all began for me... your article states, little did I know the reality of the simulation there. While real Army commanders would have a lot less control of each division (because the basic unit in Tactics II is divisions), the abstract combat sequence with comparing odds and rolling the die (and sometimes factoring WX when using advanced rules) was more or less what someone 'in charge' would really be facing.

    Games do as much as they can to simulate various things. Most are no where near the realism to be used as training tools, and knowing this has made my gaming experience rather interesting to say the least. I've accepted 'gameisms' that drive me nuts...

    'Real' games wouldn't be any fun to the game buying public. Imagine a game where you had to delegate decisions down to a 'subordinate' player? While these could prove more realistic and fascinating in they're own right, I suspect they wouldn't sell well. Except of course to the military where they would use it for a TOC exercise...

    Wargaming is the ultimate micromanagers dream depending on the game (ASL sounds like thats its main draw!).

  3. I enjoy them all, though I end up playing Memoir '44 and especially Commands & Colors: Ancients. I also find that the simplified model keeps me more engaged in the history. With the more detailed simulation-style, I end up more focused on the game.

  4. Well,

    Having a battalion commander drive a tank does break the feel of being the battalion commander but I personally never feel like the battalion commander. I feel more like a Greek god simply controlling all my little pawns.

    Adding card events/snipers like in CC:E/M helps to limit my "god-like" powers.

    M44 is ONLY fun to me if you get to be the overall commander in a Overlord battle. Then I'll admit that it is fun pretending to be a battalion/divisional commander simply handing out general directives to my lower commanders. That can be fun and reminds me of what those higher level officers must feel.