I may just be from an ancient wargaming tradition but I wonder if anyone else has had a similar adjustment to make regarding the modern trend towards “lists”, points and player interactivity in scenario design? And do any of these comments trigger ideas of how you might tweak? Or at least make you aware of unwritten assumptions.
When we started playing the pre-cursor of Tractics in 1970 we had a 6×10′ sand table and the norm was that the Judge (not called referee or gamemaster) made the terrain, typed the orders and oversaw the players’ hidden movement. Being before the internet or ruleset supplements, we had the US Army green books a few blocks away at the library and the Handbook on German Military Forces to use as ideas for Scenarios. We put on about 70 of these historically atmospheric situations over about 2 years of high school. Usually 5-7 hours long with a quick break for lunch upstairs.
There were plenty of surprises as intel was imperfect and the gamers had to roll with the punches and might have their own reserves to call on.
Much of the unwritten assumptions about the game were directly received from gamers who were instrumental in the early design of Tractics and wargames in general — Doug Cragoe (the Infantry Condensed Fire Virgin author), Gygax (thru the IFW) and Reese (whose tanks I got when he joined the army) plus Tucker (who sent me 3 copies of his Fast Rules, but I never met, but would like to know where he is now)—together their initials made up the ruleset name, GRT. So these assumptions were passed “hand to hand” like the original Samzidat edition of GRT ruleset and charts before it was published as Tractics. So, in retyping those on manual typewriters we also learned the rules, then passed them to someone else.
Babies having boomed, we had lots of WWII-familiar players (whose dads had fought in the War) and as we were “open for business” in the basement of a shopping mall space donated to us. A neutral place to walk in with sort-of “hours” helped overcome the “going to someone’s house” hesitancy otherwise. A $1 lifetime initiation fee paid for club board games, terrain, mimeo newsletters and postcards mailed as game invitations but having mostly weekly games, the regulars needed no postcard reminder.
We went to trouble to make accurate or at least plausible OBs and scenarios. We felt that our games were *very* realistic insofar as we had to take into account armor slope and angle of incidence (the mathematical formulae I memorized and calculated in my head fairly soon). But with time we realized that the “soft” systems of the rules were as weak as the armor calc/stats *seemed* strong (then I start learning about the quality of steel and got a further minus on my Ruleset Arrorance Level). Morale and infantry action plus turn sequence particularly were poor or even ridiculous.
So there are some things that SEEM different to me about how people play these games now but I may be just not up to speed about assumptions “everyone knows”*:
• Less or no hidden movement
• The choice of various kit from lists and what I don’t know is whether there’s intel that allows the other player to react “on the fly” in setting up the game to try to counter those support choices.
I am guessing that some of these approaches have grown from how typically there are just 2 players, at least when a local gamer starts out. And so a Judge is just not a practical option be. Time may be more limited as players are more apt to be working and not oblivious students as we were.
There is also a strong culture to make beautiful models and terrain now—which may be off-putting to some of us ham-handed gamers. The amazing breadth of scales and modelling options/infrastructure is amazing. Back then AHM Rocco HO was it and we had to scratch build a lot of the Russians particularly until we discovered Rosskopf. GHQ was just starting to flesh out its line.
I now think that 15mm may be the one scale for all (though I have 3 scales personally or perhaps why I pine for one scale)… though I’d love to build a third sand table. We never hesitated to use the wrong model for what it was “really” in this game. Indeed we made a number of Russian “Nick” tanks that were really kit-bashed Saladins with tracks so that we’d have stand-in’s for BT7 and T60s. I know this is a no-no for many people. But in my (deficient) mind the beautiful free-form sand table terrain and the sheer tension of hidden fire and movement made up for the models’ weaknesses.
Based on this background, do you view the judge-made scenario and game oversight as “spoon feeding”? I recognize the modern approach invites more player pro-activity.
An aside, now you can see why I chose the photo at top with the taskmaster lording over the serfs. I am saying that the taskmaster was me most of the time (only a few judged games too). And the hapless serfs were the players who were given their order and OB then go “have at it”.
Can you see how the (possibly) interactive force selection by players is a hurdle for me then?
I love the Battle Rating loss concept but not really clear on how different this is than morale failure in other games. Or is that it’s just less predictable?
Likewise, points! It has only sunk in to me that this is just a way of having each side come up with a roughly comparable force. (Or proportional to the mission.) But we rarely made games “balanced” in any meaningful way. Our rationale was that life was unfair but maniacs were force multipliers.
P.S. I think I have brought up Hidden Movement in an earlier post and that garnered a lot viceral rejection by some players because it struck them as not worth it. Perhaps, but a very different, tense sort of game. Indeed many of our HM Systems were probably not worth it but I think there may be a place for it still even if it is not done in a purist fashion.
In one game the hidden Germans had only 3 tanks that they skillfully moved via covered avenues on a rugged series of hills after each fire; from some distant firing positions only firing machine guns to give the impression of infantry support along with defending tanks. Sure enough the mixed company of US tanks and armored infantry deployed to painstakingly search** gaining the Germans time to bring on late reinforcements.
Since only the judge really knew what was going on “off the board” he was aware of the full game and so an expansive and fascinating view of unfolding, than either side’s players could have.
*Which could be a worthwhile introductory page to help dinosaurs like me and tykes who come from left field never having seen a game like this. What ARE the assumptions and likely local variations.
**Tractics required the players to identify where each pair of eyes looked, though buttoned tank crews were severely limited. The US forces were searching much closer that the distant German locations. Eventually one Panther was spotted and fired upon: a turret ring hit!
We documented most the games in a photo album which was a great reference. Better than digital photos ‘lost’ on a hard drive with no captions or written summary. Few people can retain much later without this sort of quick write up.
I posted all above at the Official Battlegroup Facebook Group Page. I responded to comments and discussion about this, go to the Official Battlegroup Facebook Group Page to see more. Here are a few of my added thoughts:
I asked several questions but mostly to get responses and feedback. Thanks for that.
For those very familiar with the rule system and supplement(s), it may be hard to remember how it was first approaching it cold. And maybe never did—meaning they were taught by an experienced veteran and brought along.
I had to remake the QRS just so could fathom it. But again, no one here (in Uruguay) plays BG (though Diego is just across the Rio de la Plata but that’s more like a sea so not a short hop). So I was working thru it.
Then I got redirected because a new gamer popped up and asked “want to learn Chain of Command?” and so I said why not? I figure that will give another comparison. So learning BG is on the back burner for the moment. I learn lots by reading the FB group though.
Yes, the TOT, all Toys On Table became the rage for Command Decision. I guess my troops and tanks are painted so badly, I’d really rather they weren’t seen. Seriously, it’s just part of my perception of realism. But I recognize that the purist approach is probably not always so accurate.
Note that I am not complaining at all about the modern approach to wargames just contrasting with my different background. It is soaking in that there are some very positive aspects to the more proactive approach that players take now without a Judge—which we thought of as simulation but was also very passive for the players. And having so much in the way of reference and modelling stuff, more people can move past what it took a small minority of us fanatics could do imperfectly.
To sum it up, I give you a meme that applies to me as well as others.
Incidentally, I met a German guy in Uruguay who swears that this is his photo as young boy in post-war Germany. He may be joshing though.