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.


BlackDiamond said...

Twilight Struggle is very old (we carry it). Memoir and C&C games are war themed but don't really play like war games (in my non war gamer experience). They're also carried. Dominant Species is a stealth war game that we still carry.

The real problem with war games in my store and in many stores is that publishers have abandoned the hobby store sales channel for the most part. The P500 system ensures that everyone who really wants a game, gets it direct form the publisher. That leaves a very limited audience in the hobby game store. So basically I get to sell a very expensive game with crappy production value to someone who is lukewarm on buying yet. Yeaaaaaah, about that.

But your cross-over point is well taken and many war game companies, and even those who make RPGs and CCGs are trying to tap into the Euro board game market. A new CCG is far more risky than a Dominion clone. A board game has a stronger shelf life and none of the systemic issues of an RPG with its core books and slow selling supplements. Even Evil Hat announced they're turning Spirit of the Century into a board game this week.

Anyway, I'll sell more war games when customers start buying them. They're over by the bridge cards, jigsaw puzzles and Methuselah racks. The aisles are even wide enough for your walker.

Fulminata said...

I wrote the original draft of this back in January back when I was trying to order something from you and you didn't have it, but it's not really supposed to be a call for you to stock stuff that doesn't sell ;-)

Rather, it's a call for eurogamers to broaden their horizons a bit. Something that might not be totally necessary given the virtual glut of good games on the market, but I think people could still benefit by looking at something outside of their "comfort zone" every once in a while. Then maybe some of this stuff will change from things that don't sell to things that do.

I should probably do a "customer's perspective" on P500 and other non-retail channels to get games to consumers. I think in many cases it probably is the best solution for some companies, but I also think there are some drawbacks that might not be initially apparent.

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