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Making the pie bigger

April 17th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Uncategorized

My recent review of Birth of America has been linked over at the unfortunately named Tacticular Cancer, a sister site to the better known RPGCodex. Since they frequently link to my rants and raves, I’ve added them to my site list on the side bar. It’s a fairly decent linking site at this point, though I hope they can soon add some original content. Some of the people there seem to know what they are talking about.

The forum post on my review has raised an interesting question about getting people interested in wargaming. I made a throwaway comment in my BoA review in which I doubted its efficacy as a starter wargame. A guy named Naked Lunch argued against that and has asked the very reasonable question “What would I recommend?”

And that’s kind of the kicker, isn’t it? There was a time when there were lots of beer and pretzel wargames that served as training grounds for would-be Rommels and wannabe Lees; games that were easy to understand and provided some immediate satisfaction. Stuff like Panzer General. That war-ish niche has been filled by the RTS in many respects. It looks like war, and even feels like war, but for people who prefer Korsun Pocket they don’t quite scratch that itch.

It’s not news to anybody that wargaming is less than it once was, percentage wise. There are niche developers like HPS and the occasional publisher like Matrix Games or Shrapnel that are willing to put some money behind things like Flashpoint Germany or the Armored Task Force series.

And it’s not like there aren’t some great wargames out there. Birth of America is almost great. The SSG wargames are gems that don’t get enough publicity. If Second Manassas holds up to the high standard set by its predecessor, we could have an excellent introductory serious wargame company not to far from me.

So how does a genre move beyond its base? I point RTS people to Battle for Middle Earth II. I point wannabe strategy gamers to the Total War series. But wargamers? Could I be wrong about Birth of America?

Please enlighten me.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Bruce

    I’m not sure wargames are really ever going to move “beyond their base.” I’ve seen plenty of comments on messageboards with the impending release of HOMMV saying, “I’d play that in a second if it were real-time” etc.) I think the turn-based market as a whole is shrinking, and to expect wargames to make some kind of breakout of a larger shrinking subgroup is kind of unrealistic. My feeling is that if a non-wargamer isn’t excited by Combat Mission, he (or she) isn’t going to be excited by anything wargamey, period. Heck, almost every friend of mine who played board wargames with me in the past has abandoned the genre completely, even on the computer. Those who still play computer games at all prefer more “mainstream” games. You can only enjoy squinting at chits and calculating combat odds for so long, I guess.

  • baby arm

    If beyond its base means taking over the top 10 sales at Walmart or such, then it’s never going to happen. But it’s still possible for the base to be expanded somewhat. Just think about all those thousands or millions of gamers that bought Civ4 and GalCicv2 recently. It’s not too much of a stretch that a lot of them would be primed for a solid and relatively accessible wargame. Imagine Strategic Command 2 with Civ4 production values. Or a non-buggy Paradox game with 3D graphics & an intuitive interface (EU3?).

    Ok, the last one may be pushing it.

  • Michael A.

    Hmm .. have to agree with ba. Consider for instance the success enjoyed by the boardgame Memoir’44. Of course the hardcore crowd will sniff at M44 (just like many sniffed at Panzer General), but I think it is pretty clear that there exists a market for these kind of games.

    From a game development point of view, I think one reason not many such games exists, is due to how hard it is to make them. Its “easy enough” to create a hard-core wargame – simply pile in enough details (or obfuscate the game algorithms in complexity enough), and you’ll make some people happy.

    A simple and playable wargame – now that is a difficult task.

  • Bruce

    “Imagine Strategic Command 2 with Civ4 production values.”

    So a bad game that looks good? Hmmm.

    “Consider for instance the success enjoyed by the boardgame Memoir’44.”

    I don’t think you can use the success of a boardgame to predict reception of a computer game. I’ve been arguing for simpler wargames for years, but time after time it seems that the market prefers more complex games, simply because of the medium. I think the only way to sell simple wargames is to have extremely robust multiplayer, like with Ticket to Ride. But that imposes time limitations on the game. I’ll be interested to see how Days of Wonder does Memoir Online.

    “A simple and playable wargame – now that is a difficult task.”

    I agree that making a well designed, simple wargame that is a decent simulation is tough. But I really wonder how much of a market there is for this. There are plenty of models for clean, simple wargames, like Path of Glory or We the People. But I don’t think they’d be successful on the computer because simple mechanics lend themselves much better to multiplayer than to solo play.

  • Michael A.

    “but time after time it seems that the market prefers more complex games, simply because of the medium.”

    Perhaps you are right. Certainly, the “fanboys” who flock to message boards invariably are the type who prefer complex games. I am not convinced though, that this group is really representative of the potential market.

    Your opinions on their games may differ, but to my mind Slitherine is a good example of a company that has settled in a niche of doing fairly simple wargames – and doing fairly well from it. Which is pretty amazing, considering that their early games had pretty hefty competition from the Total War series.

    “But I don’t think they’d be successful on the computer because simple mechanics lend themselves much better to multiplayer than to solo play.”

    I don’t see that as a disadvantage: quite the opposite, I’d say. But boardgames and computer games are (usually) quite different sizes, and they rarely cross-over well.

    Personally, I think that a wargame with the kind of production values Panzer General had for its time, and the same combination of simple gameplay and play depth could do very well even today.

    The problem is that today most wargame developers are “enthusiasts” like myself. And enthusiasts often let their enthusiasm for the subject get the better of them…

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