Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Magicking of wargames

I played a couple of games of Wings of War and had a blast -- but also found myself with a nagging touch of dissatisfaction because of how hard it was to craft a historically realistic scenario with the tools at hand.

That's not because of excessive abstraction or some flaw in the game design. Far from it. Wings if War is like  a number of wargame products today, with an odd mix of realism and fantasy.  The game has reasonably accurate mechanics and seems well researched. The planes are mostly in the livery of famous aces. A lot of interesting planes are included. There are fascinating scenarios in the box. But there's the rub, really. The scenarios are, actually historically quite odd. There's little attempt to craft battles that could plausibly occur. For one thing, there's no attempt to avoid anachronisms, so planes that were not actual contemporaries can still fly together and fly against each other.

But even more, almost every scenario involves mixed groups of planes, often mixed nationalities.  A typical scenario might have a SPAD XIII and a Sopwith Camel against a Fokker Dr I and a Albatross DV. An interesting game, perhaps, but not a likely dogfight. Mixed air formations are rare because of the problems of coordinating aircraft with widely divergent performance. But this is the norm in Wings of War.

And not just in Wings of War. The same strangeness affects Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures and the A&A land miniatures game. You can see it in games like Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations, ASL and in Tide of Iron.

In a game setting there is often a synergy to be had from combining disparate elements. It could be called the Magic: The Gathering Combo effect. A lot of "wargames" use design-your-own mechanics that likewise reward creating combos that work off each other in interesting ways but real-life militaries avoid because of the coordination problems.

Games like Wings of War and A&A have a lot of educational potential, but one wonders if some misleading impressions aren't also being passed along.  It might be an interesting matchup to pit a Me-109 and a Saeta against a Hurricane and a Typhoon but it's not likely any such matchup occurred.

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