More thoughts about wargames

The weekend has come and gone and the entire Karwansaray team has – more or less! – safely returned from Belgium. As promised in my last blog post, I will briefly post some of my thoughts on the event and some further game-related musings. As I wrote in my last blog post, this was the first time that I had attended a wargaming fair and I must say that it was a very enjoyable experience, not in the least for meeting fellow editor Guy Bowers in person.

I even managed to take part in a game of Wrath of Heaven, the demo game at our stand, with rules by Guy, and miniatures and board made by Jasper Oorthuys (the castle) and Christy Beall (some extras here). Guy and our very own jack-of-all-trades, Leo de Voogd, did an excellent job explaining the rules and helping this particular newbie out. It’s a very fun game, so if you haven’t checked it out already, you really should go and buy a copy of issue 67 of Wargames: Soldiers & Strategy.

In my previous post, I asked people for comments on wargames and got loads of good suggestions. A commenter asked me about Command & Colors: Ancients, but my replies seem to have disappeared. In brief, yes, I have tried out Command & Colors and it’s a nice system, but it is also very stylized. Furthermore, I feel a little dubious about hex maps: I know how they can be useful and that are more fair than square tiles, but they seem to me even more articifial than a simple grid. (They are less problematic in computer games, like King’s Bounty, even if I have my doubts that the change to hex maps did the Civilization series any favours.)

The earlier blog post also spawned an interesting discussion on our Facebook page. Suggestions for other systems included DBA and DBM, as well as Armati and Impetus. I have heard of these rules sets and even studied them once, but I must admit that I am not very familiar with them. Impetus, at least, has a set of simplified rules – Basic Impetus – available for download online so you can try it out for free.

A key observation in the Facebook discussion by Steve Williams and Heer Browne is that most systems give the players too much control, apart from Impetus. This touches upon wider game design issues that cannot be adequately treated here, but the reason for offering the player so much control is simply because most players don’t want to feel helpless once the battle starts. In effect, in most systems, players don’t assume the role of general on the battlefield so much as more the guiding spirit of both commanders and the rank-and-file. The videogame Legion is one of the few computer games that I know of where the player had to plan a battle and the actual fighting was automated.

Meeting Guy also allowed me to pick his brain as far as good rules are concerned for ancient battles. Warhammer: Ancient Battles (WAB) is still played and considered to be among the best, even if it is no longer in print. Rob Broom’s War and Conquest is poised to be its replacement, but some of its systems work in a slightly more complicated way, perhaps in a bid to set it apart from WAB. I have ordered a copy of the book and look forward to reading it.

I definitely see the appeal in miniature wargames, but I must admit that I do not have the time nor, probably, the patience, to actually start collecting and painting any armies myself, let alone devote time to making landscapes and structures anywhere near the quality that Jasper and Christy have managed to produce.

What I have realized, is that, as far as games are concerned, I think that I prefer the smaller skirmishes over the big battles, specific scenarios and missions over generic free-for-all battles. I have an interest in the games and the rules, but no immediate will to actually collect and paint. It would take a lot of time, effort, and also space in our house: all things that are at a premium.

Perhaps instead I should try to turn some ideas into a computer game. Again, time is a problem, but maybe I should really devote some time to a project like this next year, essentially a computer version of a miniature skirmish game. I know how to model, texture, and animate a figure, and this should not as time-consuming as actually painting physical miniatures. In any case, I’ve been wanting to start programming something more meaty than websites and the like, and any excuse to return to 3D modelling is welcome. I have a load of ideas floating around in my head, and the concept, theme, and even basic game loop are all more or less ready to go.

Anyway, those are thoughts and plans for the future. We’ll see how far I will get with those. I’ll be sure to post any progress that I might make, either here (for as far as it seems applicable), or otherwise on my other blog (which is currently in the process of being revamped).

As far as loot is concerned, I didn’t buy anything on the fair and I didn’t really try to obtain any samples or free books, unlike Leo, who was very successful in securing a considerable booty, about which he will post in due course. However, I was given a review sample of a number of Roman miniatures by Van Dyck Models & Figurines. They are about 10–14mm tall and exquisitely detailed; they will eventually be reviewed in Ancient Warfare.

To sum up, a very pleasant time was had by all and I look forward to the next fair!

Edit: be sure to check out this series of let’s play videos on Basic Impetus.

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