Tuesday, November 17, 2009
So what is a wargame, anyway? War(card)games muddy the waters
Every few weeks there's a vigorous -- and sometimes vehement -- debate on Boardgame Geek about the proper definition of a "wargame." Or perhaps more on point, which games should be considered wargames and which ones should not.
There are lax definitions that would include almost anything that has a warlike theme and strict definitions that would exclude anything that doesn't include a rick of the player getting shell shock.
Most definitions are someplace in the middle, of course, but there;s still a wide range of legitimate difference of opinion over how "realistic" or "authentic" a game needs to be in order to be called a wargame. Most of the time the debate revolves around where to draw the line on a continuum of maneuver-oriented games that range from very simple military-themed games such as Stratego or Risk to highly detailed simulations such as Harpoon4 or Advanced Squad Leader. The line seems to be resting somewhere in the vicinity of Memoir '44 or Axis & Allies, which strike some people as too much game to be considered wargames and by others to be too much war not to be considered wargames.
Muddying the waters considerably are wargame-like card games such as Up Front or the Down In Flames series.
On the one hand they're clearly games geared to appeal to wargamers, with considerable detail, numerous intricate rules that reflect real-life considerations, manufactured by wargame publishers and marketed to wargamers. If wargames are "whatever wargamers play" then they certainly qualify as wargames.
On the other hand, as card games (and not card-drive wargames, which still revolve maneuvering on a board) they are necessarily highly abstract. The problems of hand management, deck management and the interactions between cards, players and rules are entertaining, but don't bear much resemblance to the actual activities and decisions of submarine commanders (Attack Sub), sergeants (Up Front), pilots (Down in Flames), generals (Lightning: D-Day) or admirals (Lightning" Midway). They are not simulations.
My inclination is to consider most of them as wargames, but I'll admit that I'm not sure I could come up with a hard and fast rule that would categorise them. I've posted a Geeklist on Boardgame Geek to solicit some opinions on the matter.