Friday, September 23, 2011


Test of Fire -- action around Henry House Hill

It's not just politics that seem to be becoming more polarized -- my tastes in games are going in two different directions as well.

As I get older I find I'm appreciating games on the far ends of the realism/playability spectrum and losing interest in the much that's in the middle.

On the one hand, I'm really enjoying games such as Test of Fire. It is, by no stretch, a simulation. But it does manage to capture the overall flavor of the Battle of First Bull Run with an elegantly spare set of rules -- practically a Japanese rock garden as far as wargame rules go -- that's also a lot of fun and extremely quick to play (45 minutes to an hour).

And on the other hand, when I really want to understand the "what-ifs" of History I find myself drawn to games such as Command at Sea or Persian Incursion.

The problem is that medium complexity wargames no longer hit a "sweet spot" for me. They're generally too lengthy and work-intensive and yet I've lost faith that the work leads to a significantly more accurate simulation. Some of the newer designs I've come across sometimes seem to do things differently simply for the sake of doing things differently. And some design abstractions seem to be inadequately justified to me. I'm often left wondering why things are done a certain way and the designer doesn't enlighten. There are exceptions, of course, but that's the trend I'm seeing. Now there's no question that a game like Harpoon 4 is a lot of work, but at the end of the day you see what the work is for and its explicit nature makes it easy for you to modify as you see fit. As soon as the designer starts abstracting things, a certain opaqueness descends on the design. Even if you tiker with it, you can't be sure you're having the desired effect on realism. If you add an artillery unit that's missing from the OB are you really making the game more realistic. Maybe the designer already factored it into the strength of another unit -- or maybe you're over-estimating the effect of the unit and the designer was justified in leaving it out.

On the other end, a game like Test of Fire isn't about that sort of thing anyway. It's about providing an entertaining game narrative that captures the overall flavor of the battle without worrying overmuch about any details. And it only takes an hour.

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