The View from the Bunker: A Wargaming Wishlist

By Jeff Ward 06 Aug 2015 1

A humble list.

Considering this summer’s vast PC wargaming bounty, I fear that I may be getting a wee bit greedy here, but if I have fallen prey to an untoward avarice, it’s all NorbSoftDev’s fault. You see, shortly after I ruminated on my perfect PC wargame particulars in a previous piece, those merry men came out with Scourge of War: Waterloo which answered every single one of my ardent invocations.

My feeling is, since that dynamic worked so well once, there’s no reason to believe that lightning can’t strike in the same place twice. So here’s what I’d like to see showing up soon on my favorite developers’ websites.

 

This is my good side.

A very hi-res Tirpitz from Action in the North Atlantic

1. The Battle for the Atlantic

Do any of you remember an early PC game company called General Quarters Software? They produced a number of DOS titles in the late 80’s and one of ‘em was “Action in the North Atlantic.” Released in 1989, it’s still the only real PC wargame that covered the fascinating ebb and flow of that massive maritime conflict. But there’s been nothing since.

Think about what a great game it would be! The allies’ insistently increasing ASW efforts versus the Axis’ drive to stay a submarine step ahead was a fascinating proposition. And the tactics evolved almost as quickly. Then there were those iconic moments like the scuttling of the Graf Spee in Montevideo, the sinking of the HMS Hood, and the ensuing last days of the Bismarck.

And it should be much more than just a convoy escort simulation too. The persistent threat of the German surface fleet hitting the high seas will drive the British player to distraction while the German commander has to decide if it’s really worth risking those eminently finite assets.

I’m thinking Gary Grigsby might just do this one justice because I really don’t want to see too much abstraction. That said, we all know Gary gets carried away with complexity at times (to put it mildly) and that does makes me a little bit nervous.

 

Third Reich for DOS doubles as a colour-blindness test

2. World War II – European Theatre

I know, I know! It’s already been done and there are a number of titles out there, but each one leaves me feeling like there’s something missing. Grigsby’s massive War in the West/East efforts certainly seem to have gotten it right, but they can’t be combined and the kind of time commitment involved in playing those games would likely lead to a divorce. I'm still surprised I managed to con somebody into marrying me in the first place.

As for the simpler titles, sometimes the AI is far too suspect as was the case with High Command. Sometimes there’s too much abstraction. Nobody’s gotten the diplomacy aspect down, and I’m still waiting for a game with a reasonable research system. Commander Europe at War is close, but too many strange things happen for that one to truly fill the void.

Oddly enough, Avalon Hill actually managed to pull perfection off with Third Reich – the board game – not the PC version which was brain dead on arrival. And I’m kinda surprised no one’s picked up on it. So here’s what I’m thinking. A PC game that sits somewhere between Commander Europe at War and War in the West/East. That means we’re not heading down to the individual ship level, but I don’t want the Naval/ASW combat to be so abstracted that it becomes meaningless either. It wouldn’t be something for newbies, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean devoting so much time that you forget what your kids look like.

Tell you what, I’d be happy with a true Third Reich port on a slightly larger scale with a reasonable AI. Is that too much to ask?

 

A close-up of Avalon Hill's 1776; image courtesy of Francois-Xavier Euzet

3. The American Revolutionary War

Come to think of it, Avalon Hill got a lot of things right back in their pre-PC days, because, once again, given the proverbial three-wish magic wand, I’d waste one of ‘em on a true port of their excellent 1776 board game. My friend Tony and I played that game until it was utterly worn out. It’s still the only grand strategic Revolutionary War game that’s ever captured that flavor of that very unique conflict.

We already have AGEOD's Birth of America series, but while the AGEOD systems work well for some eras (Napoleonic, Thirty Years War, Russian Civil War) it’s a bit too abstract (there’s that word again!) for others. The American Revolutionary War was a singular struggle for manyn reasons. There were three distinct theaters, it was an unpopular war, Native Americans played a significant role, it saw the advent of guerilla warfare with citizen armies dissolving and reforming, there were significant mercenary forces involved, and, of course, major power intervention proved decisive. No developer has ever really captured all of that nuance with a computer.

 

Atomic's Operation Crusader -- Nothing says "wargame" like a menu labelled "Staff duties"

4. The Battle for North Africa

Atomic Games was really onto something when they released Operation Crusader all the way back in – Yikes! – 1994. But since that company ain’t around anymore, I’d like a current developer to take that theme further. I’m thinking a North African campaign game that spans from the early Italian defeats, to the rise of the Afrika Korps, to Malta, to the Operation Torch landings, to Kasserine, and finally, to the Axis retreat from Tunisia.

Again, the vast scope and ebb and flow of this legendary battle for Europe’s “soft underbelly” still captures the imagination. Simply say “Rommel” to any group of gamers and the conversation will go on well past midnight.

 

SPI's Sinai -- cool colours for a hot conflict

5. The Arab-Israeli Wars

John Tiller did a great job with Middle East ’67, but his titles always have a much more tactical feel. I love Schwerpunkt’s Middle East 1948-2010, but that one’s getting a little long in the tooth and the interface could be improved. A lot of you folks have come up with great TOAW III scenarios, but what’s always missing is the diplomacy that kept those conflicts from spiraling out of control.

To wit, when the Israelis entered Egyptian territory during the Yom Kippur War, the Russians started issuing all sorts of dire threats. So it would be interesting to cover all those conflicts with all of the international intrigue that was always involved. I would welcome any of number of modern “what if” scenarios as well.

Again, going back to another great board game, SPI’s Sinai would be a great place to start. The great Jim Dunnigan did get that one right!

 

P.S. Regarding last week’s The View From the Bunker column on “The review that never was,” apparently Battlefront’s press email address has not been working for some time. And while Co-Founder Steve Grammont and I had a lively debate on journalistic responsibilities (I’m always up for that!), there will be a review of Combat Mission – Black Sea coming up soon!

 

Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up that copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1970. You can reach Jeff at jeffnward@comcast.net.

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