Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is the Golden Age of Tactical PC Wargaming Over?

This is a mirror of an article original appearing at this link: http://www.gamesquad.com/forums/blog.php?b=432

Tactical-level board wargames are back in vogue, and miniatures are in resurgence. Axis & Allies, Flames of War, ASL, Panzer Grenadier. Board wargame grogs got their hopes up with regards to computer games in the 1980s with M-1 Tank Platoon from Microprose, a mixture of sim and tactical level game that took everything oh-so-seriously, despite the vector graphics. At the time, they didn't look half as silly as they do in hindsight.

Tactical PC wargamers then got bombarded with a lot of mostly mediocre titles (which isn't to say they weren't fun) in the 1980s and 1990s, like Muzzle Velocity and M4 and Panzer Generals, finally got to the good stuff with Close Combat, Combat Mission and Steel Panthers...

...and then all three franchises shot their bolt.

After half a dozen successful titles and versions for the military, Close Combat tried to go 3D - at least two times, with GI: Combat and Eric Young's Squad Assault. The latest release by Matrix was a rehash of the 2D material in a special edition of the Close Combat franchise.

Combat Mission - had three successful titles, then tried to reinvent itself, broaden its fan base, and please everyone in sight from RTS fans to sim junkies to beer and pretzels grognards. They're still picking up the pieces over at Battlefront.

Steel Panthers - three successful games, and then ended up as not one but two freeware releases which really hadn't changed much from the original release, a fairly straight-forward IGO-UGO turn-based 2D tactical game.

The Holy Grail - the game that would become "Squad Leader on the computer" - has proved to be elusive.

On the Decline?
Multi-Man Publishing just put up a 10 scenario pack (with 3 mapboards) for their Advanced Squad Leader boardgame series up for preorder. It hit 700 credit card orders in less than 3 days. For a game with a 500 page rulebook, that you play with little cardboard pieces, in a room with some sweaty fat dude who wants to use your toilet and drop chips on your carpet. But there is obviously still appeal to this grand-daddy of all tactical games. Perhaps there will be nothing to knock it off its perch anytime soon.

The hopes of the old board gamers may not be driving the hobby anymore, but anyone who knows the difference between the two boxes pictured above still has a vested interest in the future of tactical-level PC games. Panzer Command has released its second title, and developer Erik Rutins has been busy on his own forums, at gamesquad, and other places around the internet taking notes, interacting with the gamers, and adding to his to-do list. Will he be the one to decide where the future of tactical wargaming on the PC goes? Will Panzer Command become "ASL for the computer" as some are intimating here at gamesquad's forums?

Or do we really need to have the ability for squad-sized units to be able to swim, ride horses, climb cliffs, rappel down buildings, interrogate prisoners, set fires, clear rubble, ad infinitum?

My Question To You
I finally found my first edition purple boxtop at auction, and though the contents were fourth edition, the box is pure 1st edition. What is the most prized possession in your boardgame collection? And why?

1 comment:

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

    Egbert - 16 Apr 08 05:55
    Off topic.
    I think the pic above speaks a lot about the impact of the packaging for the games. The introduction of the orange and green really made a compelling piece of art. The use of one of the best (or at least most recognizable) photos to come out of the war and the dramatic colors demanded attention. When this came out, there were not such pieces of art in use in the commercial sector. It fairly jumped off the shelf at you.

    To answer your question, I do not collect, I simply don't discard the games that I play or played and enjoyed so much.

    Rindis - 16 Apr 08 17:09
    Huh. For some reason I had never noticed that the old purple-box was a straight three-color job (purple, red, black), and didn't have the separate helmet and shirt colors of the orange box.

    Most prized possession? Hmm. Once it was probably my original edition of Privateer. Fun game, nice cloth map and wooden pieces. Sadly, the box was in bad shape, and the contents spilled out without me noticing during a move.

    Now? I'm not sure. My stuff is mostly recent, having relied on my Dad's collection for a long time. So I haven't built up much attachment, nor do I have anything yet that I've quested after for a while.

    Maybe my Metagaming copy of GEV. I spent a lot of quality time with that in my early teens before getting the SJG pocket box.

    Re: Graphic design: A lot of AH tactical games really benefited from good, solid, stark cover layouts. Fire in the Sky is my favorite cover of recent years.

    turbidite - 17 Apr 08 13:56
    I don't see HPS squad battle mentionned in your list, do you know about it ?

    It is definitely a tactical PC wargame as you can see here for example : http://www.hpssims.com/Pages/product...winterwar.html

    There is even a forum here about it.

    Michael Dorosh - 17 Apr 08 14:21
    Thanks for posting that reminder to the thread - your incredulity suggests it is not well known? I think it kind of reinforces the point that hybrids are just as popular as the 3D games and there may soon be more hybrid board game/computer games than actual 3D tac games... Thanks for the link.

    Do you recommend the game?

    turbidite - 17 Apr 08 16:14
    Yes it is not well know to the outside world. There are a few reviews and AAR available :

    Preview of the Soviet Afghan War

    AAR of the Soviet Afghan War

    There is a good fan supported site at http://www.wargamer.com/Hosted/squadbattles/id108.htm

    These enthusiasts have even modded a version to picture the Africa conflicts (South Africa vs Angola and some more)

    As on recommending the game, I have not played it enough yet to give a truly informed opinion however there are a couple of sore points to be mentioned from the start:

    1-you cannot make maps from scratch - this is a major source of complains and they have addressed it by releasing large maps which can be cut of. Still no editor if you want to have that hamlet here and that forest there.

    2-the armor model is not very detailed because the focus point is infantry - however there are enhancements progressively introduced to correct this.

    3-the graphics are not particularily eye popping - this is very user dependant as some cannot stand them while others don't give a damn - it is possible to mod them as well as the sounds and most of the weapons/vehicule tables as well (except for Advance of the Reich because a sequel is planned).

    The core group of players that dwell at http://www.gamesquad.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=263 should be able to give you much more details about the jewels and dirt of the engine than myself.

    The scale is quite similar to ASL : 5mn turns and 40 meters hex and you don't have all these die rolls