Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Games That Define Us - Chiming In

Jumping on the bandwagon again, this time with the games that define me.

1. Chess. My introduction to both strategy and tactics. I learned to play when I was seven, eventually reaching a respectable (but not brilliant)USCF rating as an adult. In all the wargames I've played, I have never encountered a single one that provides the same tactical or strategic depth without having rules dramatically more complex than those of chess. It is an incredibly "economic" game in terms of its depth-to-complexity ratio. It has always been the standard by which I measure all other games of strategy and tactics.

2. Stratego. My first truly "war-themed" game. I played this for years and years as a kid until I finally moved up to actual simulations. I'm kind of surprised that Stratego never led me to an obsession with Napoleonics, given how much I played it.

3. Afrika Korps. The first wargame I ever owned, which I got for my twelfth birthday. From that point on, WWII was my favorite historical period. And for a very long time, I was a fanatic about the western desert campaign, reading everything I could get my hands on. I think it also set squarely in my mind the idea that simple games are not only fun but can, at the very least, make a decent simulation.

4. Dungeons and Dragons Basic (Moldvay). The first RPG I ever owned, which I also picked up when I was twelve or so. Even once my friends and I "graduated" to AD&D, we were really still just playing D&D Basic with expanded classes, spells, and monsters.

5. Panzer Leader. My first foray into tactical (as opposed to operational) wargaming. A step up in complexity, but I fell in love with this game. Even after I tried Squad Leader, Panzer Leader was still tops for me. For only a fraction of SL's complexity, I felt like this game gave a pretty full range of West Front WWII weapons and tactics. The lack of so-called "realism" (compared to SL and other more complex games) was not significant enough IMO to break the game. It's still one of my favorites.

6. Talisman. This was my favorite fantasy board game. My friends and I played this all the time when I was an undergraduate. I recently bought the Fantasy Flight Games edition of it, and I still play it. It's also one I've managed to get Mrs. Bard to play, and she enjoys it too.

7. Bruce Quarrie's "Tank Battles in Miniature" from A Beginner's Guide to Wargaming. I did no gaming throughout grad school. When I picked it up again, I got curious about miniatures. This very simple set of tank rules was my first introduction to miniatures rules. I played with this set and a few handfull's of 1/300 scale tanks for quite a while. It involves written orders, but surprisingly that makes it excellent for solo play, by just making up random tables for enemy actions. Then you write your orders (committing your forces to specific moves and targets), then roll to see what the enemy does. The enemy's unpredictability combined with your inability to "uncommit" your tanks makes it work quite well.

8. Paul Scrivens-Smith's "Men of Frost." This is a free set of WWII infantry skirmish rules that I first encountered something like 10 years ago, and it is still available through the Free Wargames Rules site. A very simple set of rules with a fascinating individual initiative-based system. It's probably still my favorite set of WWII man-to-man skirmish rules.

9. Song of Blades and Heroes. My first fantasy minis game, at least the first one to which I gave any serious attention. I played it and never looked back. Simple, flexible, effective.


  1. I was big into Avalon Hill in my mid-teens and still am a WWII buff. We mostly played "Russian Campaign" but also enjoyed "Panzer Leader," "Panzer Blitz," and "Third Reich" (usually with three of us playing). One of my friends had "Tobruk," which I wish I would have had a chance to play. I also liked "Starship Troopers." We did a fair amount of Strat-O-Matic sports games. Of course, we played a lot of chess and Stratego. All of that came to a grinding halt when I brought home the Holmes D&D set.

    1. I always loved the PL/PB series. "Russian Campaign" was a game I always wanted to try but for some reason never managed to buy.

      D&D was the big one of course, and once we got to college, the my small D&D group ended up playing a LOT of Talisman (which we saw as "D&D with no prep"). Of course you don't get the variety and depth of an RPG with a board game, but still it was great fun!

  2. I still have "Third Reich," which is fun to play but has lots and lots of moving parts and a high level of abstraction. I wish I still had "Russian Campaign."


Two Up, One Back

"The dominant (though not the only) tactical formation for the infantry in both attack and defense remained 'two up, one back.' This was a product of the triangular organization that the infantry used from platoon to division level. Triangular units had three main 'maneuver' elements (weapons units did not count as 'maneuver' elements). Rifle platoons had three squads; rifle companies three rifle platoons; battalions, three rifle companies; and so forth. This encouraged commanders to place two of their maneuver units forward while keeping back the third so that it could relieve or reinforce a frontline unit."

--John Sayen, U.S. Army Infantry Divisions 1944-45 (28)