The View From the Bunker – I Got Things to Do!

By Jeff Ward 25 Mar 2015 0

I don’t know about you, but I’m a complete and utter sucker for superdeluxe music box sets – especially if they contain Vinyl LPs. So as you might imagine, in an effort to help Jimmy Page buy his 24th Bentley, I purchased every single one of the recent remastered Zep deluxe box set as soon as it came out. You might say it’s become an addiction! 

Curse you Amazon! 

But the truth is, in the end, I’ll play the vinyl, the remastered CD, and enjoy looking it on the shelf, but c’mon! How many iterations of Brian Wilson’s unfinished “SMiLE” album does one really need to HEAR without courting all sorts of severe psychological damage? 

And sadly, it’s getting to be same way with my beloved wargames. 

I can still clearly recall my good friend Bill Stromberg playing SPI’s Campaign for North Africa on his Evanston apartment living room floor – solitaire – and thinking he was completely nuts. For the uninitiated, CNA was SPI’s most detailed monster board game ever in which players tracked every pilot, plane, prisoner, and oil drum. 

The estimated playing time, when applying the designers’ five players per side recommendation, was a staggering 1,200 hours! That comes out to 50 straight days if you consider sleep and work to be mere distractions. 

But now I have to admit that I’m as bad as Bill – if not worse! 

Because the nanosecond Matrix announces another “monster” PC offering, I immediately descend to the level of an overzealous forty-something bride who’s been standing in line at a 50 percent off wedding dress sale for the last six hours. 

Put more simply, you better get the bleep out of my way! 

It’s gotten to the point where, if Gary Grigsby decided to put out a new line of commemorative wargame glasses – going back to his SSI days – I’d have to have every single one of ‘em. And I do! War in the East, War in the West, War Between the States, Uncommon Valor etc… 

I’m still waiting for Mr. Grigsby to thank me for putting one of his children through college. 

But just like it is with my incredibly intoxicating superdeluxe box sets, I may regularly pull those games off the shelf, I may gaze upon them lovingly, and I may even fire them up on occasion, but that’s about as far as it gets. The second I’m confronted with the mind boggling number of units in Mr. Tiller’s Kursk ’43, I immediately fall into the kind of catatonic state that, much like a skipping record, forces my wife to come into my home office and what me upside the head! 

Command Modern Air/Naval Operations is one hell of an effort, but to apply the term “learning curve” would be the most massive of all understatements. And again, I want to remind designers that bifocals are not a gamer’s best friend. Is that a plane or a bug on my screen? 

I’m invariably impressed with the level of detail included in Frank Hunter’s Forge of Freedom and AGEOD’s Civil War II until I actually have to contend with it. I could continue, but I’m sure you get my drift. 

Though I will always look back fondly on those winter days when we’d immerse ourselves in Mr. Dunnigan’s War in Euope until 2 a.m. – only to start back up again at 6 a.m. – I’m not that young anymore. And at the ripe old age of 56, I actually have things to do. 

Trust me! The IRS just laughs when you tell them you’ve been too busy playing War in The East to do your tax return. I know, I know! You can always play the smaller scenarios, but isn’t that a lot like buying a Landrover just to go to the grocery store? 

Yes! Especially the aforementioned Mr. Grigsby is getting better and better at providing the option to leave some command aspects to a competent AI, but that still leaves thousands of units to be attended to. 

And oddly enough, there doesn’t seem to be much of mid ground for strategic games these days. It’s either a form a Panzer General that’s fun every once in a while or it’s an all-out Campaign for the North Africa. 

So I have two thoughts. 

First, for folks like Mr. Grigsby for whom the lure of current PC power is just too much, allow us to take command of Army Group Center in War in the East, while the AI handles North and South. Within the bounds of reason, make it so we have to compete with the other generals for supply, objectives, replacements, etc… 

In other words, create a monster game that’s actually like the real thing. While we wargamers most certainly enjoy applying our special brand of big picture omniscience, that’s the most unrealistic aspect of these simulations. How often did Lincoln really know what Grant and Sherman were up to in real time? 

And the second thought is, as reader pz501 so eloquently stated in response to my column on SPI’s Wabbits, “I think SPI's 'simple monster' approach still has a lot going for it.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Mr. Dunnigan was the master of creating challenging epic games that were incredibly easy to play. 

Just because you can go into immense detail doesn’t always mean you have to go there. 

Right now, there are no current intermediate complexity PC games depicting the entire Second World War Russian front. The last one was Schwerpunkt’s Russo-German War (you are my hero Ron Dockal!). Though I love what a small developer did with Unity of Command, I would give my eye teeth for a PC port of SPI’s War in the East or any equivalent thereof.

So to games designer I respectfully say, while it certainly doesn’t hurt to go crazy with complexity every now and then, at times, you might want to consider that wonderful Taoist premise that, more often than not, less is more! 

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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 jeffnward@comcast.net

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