Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ralph Ivy's Combat Vision Maps

This is a mirror of an article original appearing at this link:

To mark the 10th Anniversary of Squad Leader, Rodger MacGowan's Fire & Movement had a good article on the history of tactical wargaming in their May-June 1987 issue. (On a personal note, this article is what has inspired my ongoing interest in the history of tactical gaming, and provides a good, solid (though brief) background in the earliest years of the hobby from 1969 and the release of Tac Game 3 up through the development of ASL).

Also published in that issue was an ASL scenario as well as these two mapboards. Some interesting comments by the designer:
John Hill has said that in creating Squad Leader he has found himself "building" a system rather than "presenting" one. This way a "very firm, solid game system would be created that would have enough flexible handles that any combat effect could simply be plugged in or out like a replaceable module."

I have taken him at his word. My introduction to the game was such a delight that I began tailoring the game to suit my wants almost immediately. I felt I had stepped back to childhood, maneuvering my toy soldiers through the bunkers and fortifications I had once constructed in my backyard.

Most changes were in graphics, simple alterations in the way the game looked. Much as I had felt compelled to add color and detail to my toy soldiers.

The first alteration was purely accidental. I was still playing the first three scenarios and I had left a game set up in my studio while I worked on another project. When I came back to it, the sunlight striking a portion of the playing field had faded some of the German counters to a lighter shade. I like the faded counters better. They reminded me of how the Germans' field uniforms were said to have faded with wear. "These are my old vets," I decided. I then started to experiment with other changes.

The German S.S. counters were one change. The black counters provided in Cross of Iron were dramatic; they introduced a psychological factor that I found awesome. But still, the black was more appropriate, I felt, for Death Camp guards (or Panzer crews). I experimented with new counters, speckling the colors to resemble the battle dress the S.S. soon adapted for use on the Russian steppes.

The "berserk" units were also revised. While I appreciated their uniqueness, I felt their status shouldn't be so readily obvious to one's opponent. I ordered a second set of regular counters and placed a red dot over the morale factor of each to indicate "berserk" status instead.
Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from these comments; chiefly that some artistic sensibilities should be kept as far away from wargame design as humanly possible.

Some of the comments in the previous blog entry on the Waffen SS may be of interest here. Game players are not often uniform historians as well. My own personal interest in these comments is as both, having published three books on Canadian Army uniforms of the Second World War in addition to some magazine and other articles on the subject. Ivy's comments were, I hope, written for effect, as I've not read that the German uniforms were any more prone to fading than anyone else's, excepting those worn in the desert, which indeed faded rapidly to almost white. The use of faded counters to represent veterans, however, is something that comes up often among SL/ASL players, and others, and is a reasonable comment.

The entire point of the berserk counters he mentions, however (and for those who never played the original SL, they were bright red for high contrast) was to do exactly what Ivy wishes they didn't - "make their status readily obvious to one's opponent."

The maps
The maps illustrated above were part of Ivy's re-imagining of the graphic presentation of Squad Leader. Veterans of the system will recognize some immediate shortcomings as far as applying them to SL/ASL, such as the layout of the walls.

The maps use a one-inch grid - slightly more comfortable than the standard 5/8" SL/ASL boards, but the lack of hexes make them difficult to position units so that covered arcs are clear, and impossible to determine such things as ability to bypass obstacles (a special rule permitting a unit to avoid the cost of terrain in a hex by moving around it, IF there is sufficient room between the obstacle and the hexside to do so).

Ivy's plan was to create eight of these boards, claiming that wargaming "is more than an intellectual exercise. unlike Chess, 'mood' or 'feel' is critical. I need earthy browns and somber grays, barren trees, stubbled fields, washed gullies, muddied and rutted roads and cobble-stoned squares to put me there as much as I need the rules." Citing a "'Springtime in Europe' school of gameboard design", he derided the standard SL boards, saying "No matter what the scenario called for - assaulting a block of rowhouses in Stalingrad or defending a crossroads in the Ardennes - my senses were insulted by the lush greens of a landscape in the full flower of spring."

My final word
From a purely personal standpoint, I enjoy the full flower of spring and don't require my senses to be badgered by depressing imagery to "put me in the mood." I was much disappointed with the 3D world in Eric Young's Squad Assault, for example, because it seemed so drab and depressing; even the simplistic scenery of Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord seemed welcoming and inviting. I think there is something to be said for lush greens, frankly, though I would agree that Stalingrad in January 1943 and the Ardennes in December 1944 needn't look that way.

My question to you
Has anyone actually played on these maps marked C and D (one source cites a B and C map) and has anyone ever seen the others that were planned by Mr. Ivy? I do not imagine they were a success for the ASL crowd, though they were billed as being applicable to any game system of similar scale. The buildings are so incredibly large, I suppose even a man-to-man game could have made use of them.

1 comment:

  1. This post originally appeared at The comments there read:

    Rindis - 02 Jun 08 10:47
    Hmm. Took me a bit to spot the red 'center dots'. That doesn't look like a 40-meter hex to me. And it's too big for Sniper on the other side of things.

    There any tactical games with a 20-meter scale?

    As far as the visuals go--he's definitely made a statement. Probably not a bad one for claustrophobic city fighting. On the other hand, SL's bright colors are very 'welcoming' and I think are one of the things that helped get people in the game.

    Michael Dorosh - 02 Jun 08 16:57
    As far as the visuals go--he's definitely made a statement. Probably not a bad one for claustrophobic city fighting. On the other hand, SL's bright colors are very 'welcoming' and I think are one of the things that helped get people in the game.
    A whole new meaning to the phrase "user-friendly" - the SL boards are literally just pleasant to look at. I think the new computer generated ones that MMP is doing to replace the old artwork is even, somehow, a little friendly - in my personal opinion.

    As for 20 metre scale, I'm not aware of one, but now I'm curious. I'll keep it in mind as I'm going through my collection here. I've seen 10 metre scale, 5 metre scale, 125 metre scale for the various "tactical" games.