The Operational Art of War III

By Klaus 15 Oct 2013 0

First, let me express my gratitude towards the editor of The Wargamer to give me the opportunity and allowing me to present and explain my (and the community?s) fascination about this game. While nowadays a range of wargames, I prefer calling them CoSims (Conflict Simulations), are being released on a yearly, if not monthly base, the true classic adaptations of ?classic? wargames for PCs appeared in the mid or late-90s. A range of different, but in a way similar games, were released by companies like SSI, Talonsoft and HPS, just to name some who?re either no longer in business or who?s focus was, and still is, to release classics for Grognards. 

So, what?s so different, or shall I say special about The Operational Art of War? (TOAW) What is the fascination about a game that was released 15 years ago that still captivates a whole community of dedicated CoSim players around the world? 

First, an overview of the TOAW series in order to give the reader an idea how it developed.

The first five releases of the series were published by Talonsoft, and in case I forget to mention the brain behind it, TOAW is truly Norm Koger?s child. 

  • The Operational Art of War I: 1939-1955 (1998)
  • The Operational Art of War II: Modern Battles 1956-2000 (1999)
  • The Operational Art of War II: Flashpoint Kosovo (1999)
  • The Operational Art of War II: Elite Edition (2000)
  • The Operational Art of War: Century of Warfare (2000)

 

Like with so many other wargames or CoSims the new releases were either stand-alone updates, add-ons or simply reflect the design philosophy of their developers and the demand for more sophisticated versions. 

The game we now know as The Operational Art of War III wasn?t released by Talonsoft, but by Matrix Games in 2006. At first, as with so many other titles, the community, like me, were sceptical. Too many good titles have been bought up by new companies and basically just being revamped with fancy graphics but without solving known ? issues? or improving the game mechanics. Soon I found out, that it wasn?t the case with TOAW III back then. 

 

The Operational Art of War III 

It would require more than just a few pages or articles in order to list and explain all the improvements that have been implemented (and being implemented as we speak). How they were implemented I can?t tell you, but why and who was the driving force behind it ? that was the community of dedicated players. 

Let?s have a look about the key points that make this game in my option unique, even after so many years since its re-release. Naturally, not everybody might agree, but that?s a matter of personal taste and perception. Here they are: 

  • Deep gameplay
  • Re-Playability
  • Scenario Editor and mod-able Databases

 

... which in turn are responsible for: 

  • Huge community of dedicated players & scenario developers
  • Tons of articles, AARs, Blogs
  • Modifications of old scenarios adapted for the new game mechanics
  • In depth analysis of the game mechanics (what?s under the hood and how it can be used for a historical re-creation of conflicts)

 

So, taking these in turn:

 

Deep Gameplay 

What defines ?Deep Gameplay? in connection with TOAW III or any game? Let me quote parts of an article from Mike Stout: 

?In my experience, in order for a game mechanic to be deep it needs two very important things:

  • It needs clear objectives, so the player knows what he has to do to succeed. Confusion and obfuscation tend to make players feel like a mechanic is LESS deep once they find themselves needing to experiment randomly to win.
  • It needs a variety of Meaningful Skills that you, as a game designer, can use to create good challenges for the player and that the player in turn can use to achieve mastery over the game.? 

(Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/134273/evaluating_game_mechanics_for_depth.php) 

Deep gameplay is inevitably connected to the game mechanics and the scenario developers of TOAW III. A scenario should not only try to re-create the historical battle, operation or perhaps even a campaign, but to allow the players to do better (or worse) than those who were actually conducting it, or faced with the situation at that time. This leads us to: 

 

Re-Playability 

The beauty about wargames or CoSims that don?t use a linear approach (e.g. linked battles of a specific campaign, etc.) is the high level of re-playability. In my case, and forgive me if I can?t recall exactly, I must have played the original Korean War scenario 20+ times and I am still enjoying it because one always discovers something new about the game mechanics, the options, or being faced with a more aggressive or challenging AI or PBEM opponent, etc. One of the reasons, why TOAW III always offers something new, leads to: 

 

Scenario Editor and mod-able Databases 

This was, and still is, one of the reasons why I personally like games, regardless if they?re CoSims, 1st Person Shooters, Adventure, Simulations, etc., because of the ability to update, modify and to create different scenarios, ?What if...? situations, and even different games within a game. 

Since my early wargaming/CoSim days I loved the prospect of editing, modifying or creating scenarios. It started with C-64 titles such as Kampfgruppe (SSI) and Panzer Strike! (SSI); various SSG titles such as Europe Ablaze, Decisive Battles of the American Civil War, Rommel in North Africa and Wargames Construction Set (SSI) all the way through Age of Rifles (SSI), Steel Panthers (SSI)... and finally to The Operational Art of War. 

A Scenario Editor or the ability to mod databases is one thing, the people behind it a different matter. Therefore, let?s have a look at the: 

 

Huge community of dedicated players & scenario developers 

It would take a more than just one article to list the user made scenarios, the evolution as such, and in some cases years (yes, years!) of research, teamwork, map, TO&E, OOB creation, etc. Modifying or updating a scenario sounds like a piece of cake at first, but trust me it is hard work and an ongoing process. I started (with the permission of the original scenario designer) to bring Kharkov ?43 up to date, and it is still not finished and being beta-tested! Compared to monster scenarios like FiTE (Fire in the East, which covers the whole Eastern Front in such detail) my task is a piece of cake. 

Click for full image 

http://www.ac-smolf.dk/fite/

 

Then, there are scenarios that use the capabilities to create totally different games, scenarios one would think are impossible to implement with the game system at all. For example: would you believe that a 1970s boardgame, in this case ?Conquistador!? could be faithfully recreated and being adapted for TOAW III? Well, let?s have a look... 

Click for full image

 

Now, how is that? Simply amazing job of a dedicated scenario designer called ?sPzAbt653?, whom I know personally (Well done, Steve!). 

Regarding tools to edit and modify scenarios, databases, just two of many examples: 

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/a.edmiston/toawviewer.htm 

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/a.edmiston/toaweqpedit.htm

 

How this is possible you might ask? It?s the community, pieces of modified data here, new icons there; truly a worldwide network or simply a network of TOAW players within the huge community. 

 

Tons of articles, AARs, Blogs 

Because of the points I already made and explained above, they spawned literally tons of articles, AARs and Blogs. Can you imagine that there are TOAW players out there who spend hundreds of hours to create an AAR that has the size of more than 20MB and which consists of 90 (!!!) pages? Well, here it is: 

Click for full image 

http://joselillopdl.blogspot.com/p/aar-toaw-iii-v34-la-batalla-de-las.html (N.B. this is in Spanish) 

 

You don?t necessarily have to understand Spanish, but one can surely see how much work and dedication (and playing time) went into the finished AAR. As for the blogs, there are so many I could recommend, but let?s have a look at The TOAW Beachhead -  (http://thetoawbeachhead.wordpress.com/). A simple, basic, but incredible blog that also reflects most of my points: Scenario Development, Graphic Mods, Tools, etc. 

 

Modifications of old scenarios adapted for the new game mechanics 

To be honest, there are too many to even mention them. Good sources for updated scenarios are dedicated TOAW III forums such as: 

 

Updated scenarios, or the process of actual updates, can be found at various TOAW III Blogs as well. 

 

In-depth analysis of the game mechanics 

Last, but not least, the in-depth analysis of certain aspects and the games mechanics, how it works, and so on, of TOAW III. Again, there are simply too many examples, but there are three that are incredible: 

 

Conclusion 

The readers might be aware that I can?t cover all the pros & cons for a piece like TOAW III within just one article. Yes, I am aware it?s also about perception, what time period, level of difficulty, time & map scale, a wargame or CoSim represents or offers. I strongly recommend visiting the forums, the countless websites and blogs to get a glimpse what?s it all about this game. As for me, I am going to continue working on a better Kharkov ?43 version, making use of the latest graphic mods (Thanks Telumar!) and discussing the latest development of the game itself within the community.

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