Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Rich Historical Tapestry

This is a mirror of an article original appearing at this link:
Within the next few days, the first of what I hope will be many articles will appear on gamesquad under my name. The first is entitled Lessons From The Past and asks the question: what can PC game developers learn from their board game counterparts?


As a way of complementing the article and any follow ons, and to make them interactive, I've decided to also create a blog. I've never been a fan of blogs; the concept initially seemed to me to indicate a frustrated writer who couldn't get published by conventional means because of a lack of something significant to say. That may still apply in some cases, though my view is softening. Given the ability of people with nothing significant to say to actually get published in book form in today's desktop world, the distinctions between online and virtual publishing mean much less. But I think now that blogs are losing their 'newness', and the truly insignificant are moving to Facebook, the blogs are starting to gain in importance once again. It still bothers me that I will probably need to edit this to add an insipid smiley face to indicate that the previous sentence was intended as a joke. Sort of. What isn't a joke are some of the high quality writings of other blog writers here at gamesquad, and the calibre of the other article writers, whom I am honoured to soon number myself among.

Tactical Wargaming

My articles, and this blog, will focus on board wargaming, particularly from a historical slant. And I don't mean the history the games are covering, but the history of the games themselves. To be precise, my interests cover commercially produced board wargames depicting 20th Century combat at the tactical level. That may seem absurdly exclusionary, but by my reckoning includes about 135 titles up to the year 2000, and dozens more since then, and of course increasing every year. I also have an interest in PC games covering the same era and genre and I anticipate some crossover topics being of interest.

There are a lot of titles out there that haven't seen much public discussion in many years; perhaps for a reason. But tactical game development has progressed sufficiently that it would be relatively difficult to do anything, be it on the PC or in paper form, truly unique or revolutionary. Studying history has more value than simple nostalgia; it can help us understand our present and inform our future in addition to being entertaining and educational. These will all be goals here. My first article should illustrate what I'm talking about nicely.

I hope to go a little beyond the normal blog format of simple blocks of text; what I want to do is provide the articles with links back to the blog where supplementary information will be provided - references, supporting quotes, additional images to illustrate points made. One of the great appeals of tactical board wargaming from its beginnings in 1969 was the diversity in graphic design, and hopefully some of that can be captured here. Anyone who recalls the stark impact of the PanzerBlitz boxtop will know what I mean.

In addition to collecting, playing and studying these games, my research has extended to the magazine industry that grew up in support of them. There is a goldmine of information in the house organs, fan 'zines and hobby press that was the precursor of the Internet and was the way that information was shared in the pre-digital age. I hope to share some of that in this space as well. Many of the issues in PC and board gaming today - probably all of them, really - have been discussed in the hobby press for as long as there has been a hobby press.

I'm looking forward to the opportunity to share my thoughts with the community and to hear yours. The timing is fortuitous. Recent discussions at a PC game developers site regarding the state of development of their tactical game series has been strained recently. Many of us "old guard" there had noted there were a lot of lessons to be learned from nearly 40 years and counting of wargaming "history" - and the parentheses are unnecessary, as that is exactly what it is - history. Others remained unconvinced, and a certain obliviousness to history seems natural in all walks of life, so it seems only fair it would extend to our hobby.

My Final Word
And there would be no reason to expect the average board wargamer to know, or perhaps care, what a Tac Game 3 was, or to reflect on the origins of the Infantry Fire Table every time he rolled the dice in Advanced Squad Leader. So we won't try and change the world here, or lead horses to water, just cast a little bit of light on something I myself find interesting. And in the end, a friend of mine who produces books for a living said it best. He publishes what he would like to read, not what he thinks can make money, or what he thinks he can sell - or by extension, what he thinks will inflame, hurt, shock, annoy or disturb others. If others want to read it too, so much the better. I suppose I feel the same way.

Can anyone identify all the games that the counters in my header art are taken from?


  1. This was originally posted at The comments there read:

    Michael Dorosh - 05 Apr 08 16:59
    Even five out of six would be a start...

    Egbert - 05 Apr 08 23:04
    Wow, Michael. That's hard. I have positively ID'd 2 of them and I know I've played 3 more. It's been a long time seeing some of these.
    Egbert - 06 Apr 08 13:14
    Here's my guesses so far. I don't have my games here right now so I can't check them.

    1: I do not recognize this one.
    2: Sniper! -TSR (might be one of the expansions)
    3: GI: Anvil of Victory (Usually, there was a letter designator on the right side of the counter)
    4: Back side of Yanks tank Commander?
    5: I can't recall this one. Squad level, post SL. Not AH style to have the bazooka angled on the counter. So, maybe a GDW or SPI?
    6: Thunder at Cassino

    Michael Dorosh - 06 Apr 08 14:11
    1. Correct. (I mean - yeah, you don't. :-)
    2. Correct. I believe the maroon guys were from Sniper! Special Forces.
    3. Correct (and correct)
    4. No. And you'll kick yourself when you find out where it is from.
    5. No on all counts. Not squad level, correct it isn't AH, but it isn't GDW or SPI - this one will be tough indeed.
    6. Correct.

    Michael Dorosh - 06 Apr 08 14:17
    Here is a hint for #5 - the game was published by a company out of Blairsville, Pennsylvania.

    Rindis - 07 Apr 08 12:38
    Whew, posted the 5th - I thought I'd been missing out on this for months when I spotted the link.

    Glad to see you writing more on the subject. I'm slowly steeling myself to attempt writing on the history of wargaming myself (two of my roommates firmly said that I should right after Gygax's death).

    The computer gaming industry sometimes seems bound and determined to ignore the fact that games existed before them. Especially board games, RPGs they'll loot ideas from, and license properties from. Some of that is just they're completely unaware of the existence of wargames, as the companies that did reference them (SSG, SSI, TalonSoft), have died out.

    Also, I've started expanding the 'article indexes' on BGG with issues from my own collection. It'll be a while before I get far, but if you look a game up there and see an article listed for something you don't have, contact me, I can probably tell you if anything interesting was said.

    Counter #1 - hand drawn tank, presstype lettering, familiar factor arrangement... TG3?
    #5 - PA, so not AH, SPI, Yaquinto, VG, TSR, GDW... ya got me, boss.

    Michael Dorosh - 07 Apr 08 16:44
    Tac Game 3 is correct - thanks to Alan Arvold for providing me a copy of the counter sheet.

    Article indexes will be a big help; I'm tempted to publish something once my magazine collection is complete - if it is ever complete...

    Rindis - 08 Apr 08 11:02
    Such collections are never complete. At the very least, you find out about one more obscure title to go hunting after.

    Anyone have issues of War Game Digest they'd be willing to loan...? No, didn't think so.

    Rgirish - 08 Apr 08 13:55
    Well, I got one out of six correct. Come on then, tell us what #5 is. Don't make us wait!!

  2. gamesquad comments continued:

    Michael Dorosh - 08 Apr 08 19:39
    Another hint then....there is a picture of the boxtop up above. :-)

    Michael Dorosh - 08 Apr 08 19:41
    I think we're still working on number 4 as well, aren't we?

    Rindis - 08 Apr 08 20:41
    If #5 comes from one of the other pictures, it has to be from Combat: Normandy & Beyond, as it's the only WWII title (well, other than PanzerBlitz, but it doesn't have bazooka counters. ).

    And yeah, we are working on #4. Missed that. However, tactical games aren't my forte, and I really don't know on that one.

    I just noticed that the S&T issue is Vol. II, No. 1. I thought it had sequential numbering from when Chris Wagner started it to now. What's with the Volume 2?

    And, any reason why that issue of Campaign? Just what you had to hand?

    Michael Dorosh - 08 Apr 08 20:51
    When Dunnigan took over S&T, he carried on the numbering as if it was all one volume, but Wagner actually had a volume II, so it can be listed either way - number 11 or volume II number 1...Dunnigan's first issue would have been Volume 2 Number 7 (or Volume 3 number 1), but I guess for respectability, they went with number 18)?

    I wanted a magazine from each decade - 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s - Campaign was on my desk.

    Egbert - 09 Apr 08 01:27
    Well, you told me I'd be pissed when I found out where it's from so, it's either from sniper!, ambush or the original Squad Leader set. So, it must be either Cross of Iron or Crescendo of Doom.

    Michael Dorosh - 10 Apr 08 21:21
    Well, close. It's from Sniper, specifically the TSR remake of the SPI original.

    Egbert - 11 Apr 08 14:41
    You are right, I am kicking myself.