The Publishing Art of Wargaming: Year in Review 2017

By James Cobb 28 Dec 2017 0

Each year, developers and publishers of history-based computer wargames face a conundrum: ride a successful horse to keep cash flow healthy, or gamble on a new system?. 2017 proved to be no exception and it feels like we got a middle-of-the road approach that produced more sequels, expansions, and DLCs as well as a number of completely new games.

 

Variations on Themes

Semantics come into play when separating reruns from new systems. For instance, some updates may change a game engine to the extent that it’s very different from the parent product. By the same token, does a different theater of war with the same engine constitute an innovation or a sequel? Games such as Civilization and Europa Universalis come in numbered products. Do the latest editions count as new? This article will take a conservative approach and only label games that are totally new systems or represent extremely significant departures from predecessors as new.

Industry dealings can add to the confusion. Hubert Cater had a velvet divorce from Battlefront and took his Strategic Command series to Slitherine/Matrix. Previous buyers were graciously allowed to get the new series free with simple proof of purchase. Another product that falls between two chairs is The Operational Art of War IV. The game bears clear resemblances to its three predecessors but has enough changes as to be called significantly innovative but calling it “new” would be a stretch. Field of Glory II also represents another game that revives a stagnant series. Another example of new wine in an old bottle is Matrix’s Afghanistan ’11 which just shifts the earlier Vietnam ’65 system to another battlefront. Good game, yes; actually new? Not really.

Games that saw sequels, add-ons and additions include:

  • Paradox’s Europa Universalis IV (Cradle of Civilization), Crusader Kings II (Jade Dragon and(Monks and Mystics) and Hearts of Iron IV (Death or Dishonor).

  • John Tiller Software’s team continue to add to their Civil War, Squad Battles and Panzer Campaigns series while War Games Design Studios upgrades the graphics and interface of existing games to version 2.0. The most recent upgrades are free to gamers who bought the originals from HPS.

  • Order of Battle expansions included Kriegsmarine, Burma Road, Panzerkrieg and Blitzkrieg.

  • Hexwar continued to port its iOS games to PC and Mac platforms although its port of 1812: The Invasion of Canada was quite clever.

  • The Command Modern Air and Naval Operations crew came out with the stand-alone Shifting Sands and Chains of War as well as more LIVE scenarios.

  • Kalypso Media Digital kept its World War II RTS series going with Sudden Strike 4.

  • Battlegoat Studios turned out another Grand Strategy game with Supreme Ruler: The Great War.

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  • AGEOD used its operational-level system to look at The English Civil War.

  • Graviteam looked at North Africa using its tactical engine with Tank Warfare Tunisia 1943, a welcome improvement of the system.

  • NorbSoftDev brought us back to Napoleon’s Hundred Days with Scourge of War: Wavre.

  • Totem Games was on a roll with two off-spring of its nineteenth-century operational/tactical engine with Clad in Iron: Gulf of Mexico and Clad in Iron: Philippines 1898.

  • Tigers on the Hunt expanded with a Kursk add-on.

  • Civilization VI added Khmer and Indonesia and Rise and Fall.

  • Game Labs added Ultimate General: Civil War to its UG series.

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Something New Under the Sun

This litany may seem like nobody was thinking out of the box. On the contrary, fertile minds were at work. Gamers willing to take chances found several ways to spend money on new approaches to wargames.

  • Paradox’s Steel Division: Normandy 44 adds new dimensions in what appears to be an ordinary RTS game by allowing players to build battle groups to reflect what will be needed in the battle’s three phases of recon, engagement and breakthrough and then use each force to fulfill its role. 

  • War Across the World is Stratigae’s answer to Doctor Who's TARDIS. This game can send players back in time and to anywhere on the planet to fight campaigns at many levels.  

  • One wonders if the industry needed another Gettysburg game. Yet, the simple and fast play of Gettysburg: The Tide Turns showed that Shenandoah had a fresh approach to a classic topic.  

  • Hexwar.com unwittingly celebrated the 205th anniversary of the War of 1812 by releasing 1812: The Invasion of Canada. The card-driven system deals with problems of troop quality with regards to regulars, militia and Native Americans around the Great Lakes.

  • Wargames hardly ever create a stir outside of the community, but Cats Who Play touched a nerve with Syrian Warfare. The topic of this RTS offering caused the game to be temporarily pulled in some areas.  

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  • With Arms Race – The Cold War Era, Alina Digital brought the complexities of the tense Cold War back to life with economic and geo-political challenges.  

  • A more frightening view of the Cold War was presented by Digital Gameworks’ DEFCON-2  that showed the horrible possibilities of the Cuban Missile Crisis in a tactical sense.  

  • Another Cold War entry takes gamers beneath the waves with Cold Waters by Killerfish Games. This simulation of submarines in the 1960s-1970s is a playable option to the venerable Dangerous Waters.

  • Rolling back some 2500 years, Mare Nostrvm by Turnopia brings galley warfare in antiquity alive. From the expansion of the Greeks to the Roman Civil War, fleets of oar-powered galleys slam into each other, depicting an era too long neglected by the industry. 

  • A more personal view of the galley era can be seen with Peter Turcan’s Trireme Commander. This galley simulator demonstrates the mechanisms of navigating and fighting the ship type that ruled the waves for centuries.

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All in all, 2017 saw publishers taking the middle path in two ways. First, the many titles that were updated or expanded in one way or another gave an existing customer base a better gaming experience and a reason to continue to play. Such a method not only kept customers happy but kept money coming in.

The second path is more interesting. None of the new games mentioned above are as complex in the way games like Paradox or AGEOD products are. Providing a comfortable entry into a new system or topic is the best way to bring fresh blood into the hobby while keeping veteran players interested. A middle way between simplicity and complexity doesn’t necessarily equate to mediocrity and can spur innovation as well as profit. Therefore, 2017 can declared a successful year for computer wargaming. Hopefully, 2018 will see a continuation of this year’s approach to publishing.

This article discusses games developed and published by members of the Slitherine Group with which we share an affiliation. For more information, please see the About Us page.

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