Board/Miniature/Computer Wargames Hybrids
A Lava Editorial
14 February 2008
After having played computer wargames for many years and miniatures wargames for decades, I have often lamented that no REAL (that is... designed from the very start) hybrid has ever appeared on the market.
Now wargaming can basically be broken up into 3 broad categores: Boardgames, Miniatures games and Computer games.
Board/Miniatures game hybrids have existed for centuries. One needn't surf over to Fantasy Flight Games to see all the great Board/Miniatures hybrids (such as the wildly popular Wings of War), one need just visit your local retail store to check out the venerable game known as "Chess."
The hybridization of board games with miniatures is a fairly easy construct as both share fundamental characteristics: written rules and counters/miniatures. In fact, one could easy justify that board and miniatures games are essentially the same type of game.
While Board and Miniatures games have merrily conjoined for eons in all kinds of permutations (how many of you remember Risk... loved that game), Computer Wargames have always seemed to be "a breed apart." I've always found this "we are different" kinda mentality as somewhat curious as Computer Wargames are merely electronic mimics of their Board and Miniature brothers. A "sweeping generalization," I realize, but essentially true.
Of course, Computer games have taken wargaming to the "next level" because of the inherent advantages of the CPU. These advantages, as we all know, include the ability to play the game by oneself against the AI, the lack of "bookkeeping", the easy of setup, the ability to "save" the game to be continued another day, etc. etc. etc.
Yet, given the superior qualities of the Computer Wargame in so many areas, it has, by no means, dealt a crushing blow to Board and Miniatures games. On a personal level, I enjoy playing Computer Wargames, however, I still paint miniatures and play the odd tabletop game, just as I am sure Boardgame lovers still break out the "box" and have a go with cardboard counters. It is the "social" aspect of gaming which Computers cannot reproduce and brings us back to the tabletop to fight our friends.
Indeed, "the breed apart" mindset has been breaking down for many years now. As we watch the evolution of Computer Wargames, one is struck by how Computer Wargames no longer merely mimic Board games but have edged closer and closer to simulations of tabletop miniatures battles. The Total War series immediately leaps to mind. Playing a Strategic Wargame with tactical battle resolution (so very like a miniatures tabletop but in "trons"), is now an established game type. In fact, all kinds of new computer games now "blend" into the miniatures gamers reserve, be that "miniature counters" that we find in games such as Tin Soldiers - Julius Caesar to full scale miniatures battles fought with electronic sprites such as Mad Minute Games' Take Command: Second Manasas. Again, on a personal level, as a miniatures gamer, MMG's games have been a tremendous hit with me and I am waiting with great anticipation for the release of HistWar: Les Grognards; hopefully, before I die...
Yet when all is said and done, even having played a stirring electronic battle, I still return to my beloved miniatures.
I have often thought, why have Computer Wargames and Miniatures Wargames failed to really blend? Why couldn't I play both? Indeed, if I choose, why couldn't I have used cardboard counters or cards in lieu of miniatures which might take ages to paint?
Now, of course, Matrix has produced games for quite some time that attempt to allow me to do this; that is to resolve battles using miniatures. The two games that immediately leap to mind are Campaigns on the Danube 1805 & 1809 and the most recent release Empires In Arms.
Yet to be quite honest... neither really grabs my attention sufficient enough for me to use "off screen." Though you have to give these games credit for trying to cater to miniatures players, they are, like a baby learning how to walk, very awkward first steps. One can't help but view these systems for what they are: a sidelight feature to the main attraction.
Now some might say, rightly so, because there is really no viable economic interest in producing a REAL game in which a player can resolve battles on a tabletop be that with miniatures or counters. But I would counter that since none has been produced, how are we really to know?
Let us return to the Board/Miniatures hybrids for some possible insight. The game "Wings of War" is a card card. When FFG began releasing pre-painted miniatures to complement the game, the first batch sold out completely. Makes one think.
The difference here is that game has an established rule set and that is the key. It really doesn't matter if one is pushing around cardboard or plastic, the essential ingredient is the rule set. And this is where Computer games which try to lure the miniatures player fail: they provide neither a rules set or counters to play out the battles away from our plasma screens.
When I think of all that power that the PC has given us, I am bewildered that, unlike traditional game makers, Computer game designers are unable to see the potential for crossover with board and miniatures players. Is it all that difficult for a computer game to produce a "map" of the area that the battle should be fought on? Is it really all that difficult to provide, either as a part of the game with .pdf files or a stand alone product printed counters? Would not the printed counters, if wisely constructed, be easily converted to actual miniatures on bases? And what about rules... those all important rules? The designers obviously have the knowledge to produce a written set of at least rudimentary rules which would be compatible with all three forms of gameplay... electronic, miniature or card battles.
Somehow, I can't help but believe that a Computer Wargame designed right from the beginning to allow both board/card and miniatures tabletop battles would not be anything but, as they say in the business world, an opportunity.
Now I know most folks who read this editorial will quite literally . Yet, one cannot help but be struck by the convergence of game genres in the form of hybrid games. That convergence is not slowing, in fact, it is speeding up. Why should Computer Wargames be left in the dust?
I believe the day will come when I can buy a Computer Wargame and a "Miniatures Battle Supplement" to fight out my battles on the tabletop.
The only question is... when?
Ray (alias "the long winded" Lava)