Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why Eurogamers Need to Take Another Look at Wargames

A while back I learned that my old FLGS has essentially stopped selling wargames. I found this surprising since the store's weekly board gaming event has grown quite a bit in attendance since I left the area, so I assumed that there would have been more interest in wargames, rather than less.

It turns out that it was only myself and a couple of other guys who bought most of the wargames, and all of us stopped doing so for various reasons. The people attending the store's weekly board game night are more interested in eurogames, and have little or no interest in wargames. The shame is that wargame designers have been taking a lot of lessons from eurogame designers, and there are a lot of designs coming out from wargame companies that might appeal more to the eurogamer.

There are still plenty of traditional two player hex and counter wargames coming out, but there are a lot of other types of wargames being produced as well. In fact, the number one game on as I write this is Twilight Struggle, a wargame from GMT Games! Also in the top 25 is another GMT Game: Dominant Species.

Memoir '44 and the other games in the Commands & Colors line are also wargames, although the most well known in the series have not been published by wargame companies. Most eurogamers seem to think that these games are the exception to the rule, and in the past they would have been correct, but that's increasingly no longer the case.

Twilight Struggle is arguably the best example of a type of wargame known as "card driven". Card driven wargames rely on the play of cards to drive the game, either in addition to or in place of the more traditional roll of the dice. This allows for both more control on the part of the player and more variation in the types of things that can occur in the game. It's been a very successful mechanic and there are several good games out there that use it, many of which don't even get a second glance from most eurogamers.

Part of the problem is that they are all two player games, and many eurogamers play in groups rather than pairs. Wargame designers have only recently started putting out more games that cater to this, but there have been a few such designs in the past as well. One older design that has recently found a new home at Dan Versen Games is the Down In Flames card game. This game features WWII aerial combat and can accommodate up to six players out of the box. The publisher also sells additional decks of cards to allow for even bigger games without having to buy the whole game again. I've found that most gamers willing to give this one a try end up liking it.

More recent designs have come from Clash of Arms games. Their "War Is Hell" series of card games allow for two to four players to refight famous battles in a reasonable time frame. I haven't actually played any of them yet, but have a copy of their Fires of Midway game that uses the system, and am looking forward to giving it a try.

Another reason that many eurogamers don't give wargames a try is the length of time it takes to play the game. Eurogamers generally want a game that at most takes a couple of hours to play. Traditionally, many wargames take several hours, usually lasting over multiple sessions to complete, but most of the games I've mentioned in this post come in at 90 minutes or less. The biggest exception is Twilight Struggle which comes in at three hours, which I've found to be the outside limit for the average game night.

One area where wargames haven't caught up to eurogames yet is quality of production. Dollar for dollar, your average eurogame is going to have higher production value than your average wargame. Most wargames still have cardstock or even paper boards, and cardboard chits that you have to punch out of a sheet, leaving little dangly bits on the corners. The original printings of Twilight Struggle were like this, and it was only the most recent printing that had a mounted board and more attractive counters. Despite this, most wargames cost as much or more than their eurogame counterparts. This is largely due to economies of scale where eurogames sell many more copies than do wargames.

Even this is starting to change though, especially for those games that wargame companies think can do well with eurogamers. I already mentioned Twilight Struggle being reprinted with higher quality components, and there are other games receiving similar treatment.

All of this means that if you are interested in the more complex eurogames, you may want to take another look at some of the games being published by wargame companies.