The View From the Bunker – Get Ready for Another Golden Age!

By Jeff Ward 01 Apr 2015 0

Last week we discussed the trend towards overly complex PC wargames, War in the West, War in the East, and Command Modern Air/Naval Operations just to name a few. Though I acquire every single one of those monster games, I really don’t play them all that much. So we also discussed some alternatives to simply staring at my computer monitor in an overabundance-of-detail induced catatonic state. 

But one of the great things about this earthbound existence is that it tends to move in waves with all the peaks and valleys associated with that specific amplitude. How many times have we heard that our hobby is at death’s door only to watch it come bouncing back? 

Let’s review class! 

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s board games reigned supreme! It seemed that almost every one of my compatriots were playing SPI’s Tank! or Avalon Hill’s Panzer Blitz. But then the games started to get too complex, RPGs came along, SPI went bust, and those fledgling Macs were taking the market by storm. 

Those heady days are often referred to as the golden age of wargaming, the likes of which would never be seen again in our lifetime. And the ensuing nadir was supposed to relegate the hobby to a few overly serious geeks who never left their parents’ basement. 

But then the IBM PC came along and, along with its open architecture, enabled companies like SSI and Talonsoft to reach out to an entirely new generation of aspiring Alexanders and Wellingtons with some still classic computer titles. 

Before you could say, “second golden age,” the tech crash of 2000 killed off the Eggheads and Babbages and, with little big box store interest, SSI and Talonsoft faded into fond memories. Once again, wargames seemed relegated to a chosen few. 

But the death of PC simulations was greatly exaggerated when the advent of lightning fast download speeds allowed designers to come directly into customers’ living rooms. So not only did veteran companies like HPS Simulations and Slitherine survive, but new endeavors like 2 x 2, AGEOD, and NorbSoftDev joined the fray.

Ah! But again, limited by an ever encroaching level of complexity, this recovery certainly wasn’t anything like those halcyon sales days of yore. That said, stability isn’t really a bad thing. 

So what’s next, you ask? 

Since reader APHILL enjoyed last week’s musical analogy so much, we’ll use another one here! Much like the Ramones got together to take on eight minute ELP and Yes songs, tablets may well be the vehicle that will take this hobby anywhere it wants to go!

(Authors note: “I Wanna be Sedated” came on Sirius XM as soon as I started typing the last paragraph. Perhaps I should play the lottery this week.)


Think about it! While PC games (and board games – yikes!) have been topping out at some pretty precipitous price points, you can pick up a simplified version of a John Tiller game for just three bucks in the App Store. 

The only deal that might be better than that one is a bottle of Charles Shaw wine. 

Not only that, but without necessarily going to a Panzer General level, the tablet games seem to be a bit more accessible than their average PC brethren. Shenandoah has some great offerings, I love what David Kershaw is trying to do, and, though I’m just getting into it, Kermorio’s Wars and Battles looks utterly fascinating. 

You also have the straight ports like Battle Academy, Commander the Great War, and Pike & Shot which are generally cheaper than their PC counterparts, but every bit as good. 

The great thing about the App and Play Stores is that anybody who might be inclined to give one of these games a shot, already owns a tablet or a smartphone. It’s never been easier for designers to reach out to a very wide audience. Though I certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to say they’ll never be another wargaming bust, the concept of a software store at your fingertips ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

Hint to developers! If you’re gonna go for both the PC and tablet markets, as I would heartily encourage you to do, please offer both versions for a reasonable package price or offer the tablet version at a discount for those who already own the PC version. 

It’s difficult for me to get past the notion of buying the same game twice. 

So given all the evidence; a better price point, a reasonable amount of complexity, and automatic access to a huge marketplace, I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that we’re on the verge of the third golden age of wargaming thanks to those fine Apple folks who proved that none of us can live without a tablet.




Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up a copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1972. You can reach Jeff at Please feel free to send him your View From the Bunker column ideas!



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