Wargamer Year in Review 2016: A Year of Sequels26 Dec 2016 1
To use a descriptive statistics term, 2016’s wargames represent a normal distribution, i.e. a bell curve. Few games were really bad but few hit the bar for outstanding excellence. If the curve is skewed toward the positive tail, it’s because the games that caught our eye were almost all sequels or parts of a good existing series. Innovation was seen on the peripheries, not the core. Here are some games that prove the point.
Hearts of Iron IV
Paradox Interactive re-worked its World War II series so completely that they could have been excused if they gave it an entirely new name. Politics, diplomacy, and domestic affairs have changed so that the course of history can be realistically redirected by players. Research and military affairs are more believable yet fairly simple to handle. Combat has taken on a whole new approach with the introduction of a commander tree and battle plans allowing for coordinated attacks without tremendous micromanagement. By having one of the two scenarios start in 1936, the game yields insight into the dangers and possibilities of the time.
The recent add-on allows for implantation of anti-colonialism through country-specific focus options and leaving dear old Blighty high and dry. This game shows how a sequel can take a series to a higher level of involvement.
A saving grace of wargames is that they allow for education and modeling of immediate global situations. These four DLC’s for Command Modern Air and Naval Operations, itself a descendent of the Harpoon series, take real life hot spots - the Baltic, the Spratly Straits, Syria and Moldova - and creates realistic scenarios for armed clashes in those areas. The forces of all participants are modelled in exquisite detail with believable objectives and rules of engagement. Players’ actions transcend mere achievement of objectives by invoking political ramifications. Players gain understanding not only of ordinance but proper application of a myriad of weapon platforms.
Beginners will struggle with all the nuances at first but will soon be solving or aggravating international problems. These DLCs couldn’t do their instructive job without an exemplary parent system.
Tigers on the Hunt
This game is the only non-sequel game in the group. Although it is a port of the Advanced Squad Leader board game, many other computer games failed to mimic this popular system; Tigers on the Hunt has succeeded in a clever way. The graphics are like the board game and crucial concepts such as leaders, breakdown and morale checks perform per the system. The ease of creating new scenarios ensures an ongoing supply.
Read our review of Tigers on the Hunt here.
Translating the feel of the system required enough ingenuity and insight to mark this game as an original regardless of any precedents.
Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun
Turning the Pike and Shot engine into an Oriental game could have been just an exercise in creating new icons. Fortunately, the developers of Sengoku Jidai went several steps further. While keeping the base mechanics of the older game, the terrain resembles a Chinese landscape painting and the icons show details of many Japanese, Chinese and Mongol units. Weapons include artillery and arquebuses alongside longbows. The addition of generals and subsidiary officers brings a new feature to the engine.
The original game with its two add-ons makes an interesting contrast to Pike and Shot. Any engine that can switch between continents, cultures and time while adapting to those switches is powerful indeed.
Strategic Command WW II: War in Europe
Hubert Cater’s Fury Software has created many variations of World War II over the years with each adding some interesting features to the base engine. This latest version sports much better graphics and interface. Combat has been improved by allowing movement after combat, making way for follow-on units to take a blow at survivors or continue the advance. All other aspects such as research, purchasing and diplomacy have been tweaked only a little. If Panzer Corps weighs in as “light weight” and Hearts of Iron IV as “heavy weight” on a complexity scale, this game is a good, solid “welterweight”.
Beer-and-pretzel gamers who want more than operational level play should applaud this new version of a classic that can be improved without being overly repetitive.
Order of Battle: Blitzkrieg
The Artistocrats made their name with Order of Battle: Pacific. That series used an engine that had the look and feel of Panzer Corps in many ways. Yet, the innovative features in the naval and air game gave the game a refreshing feel. The theatre specific terrain and units were excellent. However, the Blitzkrieg version may represent a version too far by moving the scene to Europe. The differences in graphics and scenarios are not great enough to distinguish the game from its apparent model, Panzer Corps. The secondary objectives are harder to win and the events following some victories are nice but any veteran of the older system will have a sense of déjà vu.
Jim's review of Blitzkrieg can be read here.
Ok, so XCOM 2 isn’t a historical wargame. Yet, the system allows for real world tactics and weapons. This latest version of the 1994 all-time classic has Earth ruled by the aliens and human collaborators. A noble resistance fights back with research, construction, logistics, communication and production – all the elements of the best historical grand strategy games. In tactical mode, individual fighters deal with cover, line-of-sight, ammunition and morale.
Having trouble with XCOM 2? Read Matt's handy survival guide.
The superb graphics along with believable missions makes this product a good buy for wargamers of any stripe.
John Tiller is often criticized for not updating his basic engine significantly. What people don’t understand is the stability of a good, stable system allows teams to explore and create different conflicts that pass under most developers’ radar. Campaign Marengo continues the John Tiller Software’s examination of Napoleonic warfare. What sets this instalment apart is the fact the Napoleon did not lead crack troops in this campaign nor had he completely constructed his group of talented subordinates. Here we see him using sheer genius and tenacity without the aid of combat-hardened troops to conquer Italy. This situation sets this game apart from others in the series and proves the positive side of a stable system.
You can read our review of Campaign Marengo here.
This year’s crop of good games shows that sequels can be significantly better than their parents. However, we’re approaching a point of diminishing returns. Developers and publishers understandably want to stick with cash-cow proven titles instead of risking capital on unproven concepts but a hobby without true innovation will become comatose. 2017 needs to see new ideas and systems. Original ideas are around but need courage for their creation.
This article discusses games that are published and/or developed by members of the Slitherine Group. For more information, please see the About Us page.