Block Games why is it harder for you to be a real wargame?

As I come off playing Sekigahara recently, Pax Baltica last week and begin to play Blocks in the East this week, I realize there is a world of difference that runs deeper than physical attributes for a block game to be a successful wargame in my mind.

Blockies serve a purpose. They fill a market niche. They often serve as a great cross over to non block based wargaming. They can be fun and typically played quickly. Relatively speaking. But they often fall short of a compelling game experience that I seek. Perhaps you feel the same way? Maybe not so much.

Well firstly why is it that block games are deemed to automatically having to be simpler. Is it the auto recognition of childhood of the block, and blocks that means – “simple”? Is it that obvious a reason?

I doubt it but for today that is good enough.

My points that I made here about http://meshtime.com/2013/01/08/paxbaltica/ I still stand by. For a game that had a lot of promise it fell short for me in the theme department, more on that in a moment. Largely due I think to the lack of mechanism or rules to create the expectation of being in a given era. But it also took the easy way out and went dead simple at the cost of a better game.

The more recent play of Sekigahara was such a rich experience that it really jolted me and made me realize that richness of play does not have to be complex, but it can be involved. Even with a block game.

Which brings me to BitE. Blocks in the East, from a new company called Vento Nuovo. some Italians dudes who want to do something different.

Lets allow for the fact that the game is visually stunning, ok, got it. I want to focus on what I thought were interesting approaches to combat, that go beyond the handful o’ dice routine so usual in Block games, and provide a transition or gateway that I have not seen in a block game before that captures goodness from both camps (Hex and Counter & Blocks).

The game takes the time to craft special rules, that are simple and effective at two things, one offering a taste of historical action and two capturing the technological era of weaponry. By providing tried and true mechanics from traditional hex and counter wargames the combat system in BitE firstly feels right. There are special rules for Panzer Attacks, Blitz attacks, and what East Front Game is complete without Stukas. Interestingly given the scale BitE provides that combat occurs in the enemy hex or Battle Hex. I like that. It works and the rules themselves are not overwrought.

To replicate or capture the vast maneuver there is provision for Exploitation movement, in the traditional sense that we would all expect from a H&C game, with a few catches.

Combat has modifiers from the above elements and of course terrain and supply. Prior to conducting your battle air and arty have their say in a sometimes devastating manner.

What is more interesting is the application of Technology!  The Wehrmacht start out at what is called TECH LEVEL 2. Whereas the initially hapless Soviets are at one. What a difference a TECH LEVEL makes. Your percentage chance to hit chance change!

End of German Turn 1 of Operation Barbarossa

So now technology is an important factor in your mix.  Of course you want to get some better gear right? Wait though, in order to do that you need to build and research. Which cost Production Points (PP).

PP are what makes the world go around in BitE. No PP, no nada. You will require Oil for fueling and supplying units, which is managed from HQ units, that when activated ‘use’ or  ‘lose’ a pip, which can be rebuilt….at the cost of PP.  See where this is going?!

I started counting how many oil and PP points I will need to rebuild losses, re furbish used HQ’s and make sure all is in supply. I am short Armor PP, I need more oil! I must now choose to either invest for some long term gain (build a factory), reduce my usage (and therefore the size of the schwerpunkt) or acquire more from my enemy.

All of these elements are discretely simple, but brought together they drive a compelling experience that forces me to do some serious thinking about what I want to achieve in the turn and how I will do it with the resources at hand.

Contrast this to Pax Baltica or Julius Caesar and we instead are fiddling with which area I move to block an approach or move the fastest to a destination. You don’t think about unit types, combinations of weapons, as they are all classified A,B.C etc and you rely on the handful or luck cards you have. Both of those games are in essence the SAME game with a different set of areas to move over.

I think the effort at theme for both is admirable but just falls short for me, barring a few tweaks here and there over some of the sub systems at heart the above is true for most block games. A map with a set of areas grafted onto it and some stickers with nice images. The games THEN attempt to add in the theme and flavor, where as I think the flavor for most conflict based real wargames comes from the combat itself!

Phantom Fury

Look at Phantom Fury from Nuts Publishing. The game lives and dies in no small part due to its types of combat. Sniper fire, IEDs, top down assaults and more. A simple CRT based solution would not have given us the feel we needed for such a game.

Great Battles of History Alexander the Great

Even older games such as GMT’s GBoH took pains to evoke the era, explore new means to capture the essence of tactical combat in Ancient times, via weapons superiority tables and positional advantage.

Why should blockies eschew such mechanisms? They should not!

More on this topic in the coming week or so.

6 thoughts on “Block Games why is it harder for you to be a real wargame?

  1. Interesting post. I haven’t played a lot of block wargames but your comment here is revealing:

    “I think the flavor for most conflict based real wargames comes from the combat itself.”

    For me, appropriate combat theme comes down to the scale of the game. You seem to enjoy the tech / production elements of Blocks in the East, but such a system would not be appropriate for a tactical game. Likewise, the combat specificity of games such as the GBoH series is not appropriate for the scale of a game like Julius Caesar.

    I wonder if the issue you have is more one of scale than one of blocks vs counters? As block games tend to be operational or strategic, perhaps it is natural that their designers are more interested in portraying the problems of command than those of battlefield tactics / technological superiority, which at higher scales are factored in in more abstract ways.

    Just a thought, anyway 🙂

    1. Yes good point. I should have chosen the same scale for examples..oops. See OldCats comment where I expand on this. Thanks for sharing.
      let me ask this why would the approach to combat mechanics at a given scale be the same across 1,000 years of history? Because it works, and it is easy.
      I think it abstracts combat too much, and that is a big part of what makes the game.

  2. One things blocks can give you is fog-of-war. The downside is that you just can’t afford the cost and space of 800 counters of blocks. This is probably why they tend to be on the simple side.

    Still, you can produce real insight without a lot of counters or rules weight, if you try. It doesn’t have to be at the tactical level either – look at OCS where the action ratings/move and combat modes combine to really show something about how the Germans ran a war differently than the Soviets without using an explicit mess of rules like some other games do.

    GMT has a block game (Fast Action Blocks) that seems to try and bridge the gap. Each side has ‘asset chits’ that can be added into a fight to spice up what would be a one or two block on block combat. It seems to have been well received.

    1. good point. I was leading myself to a conclusion that BitE felt a little like OCS ata much higher level.
      That was a good thing!
      Perhaps I need to cycle back to FAB series, I sold them off. I mistakenly used tacitcal examples as my point. But the intent was to show that types of combat are key to theme, and how you represent that in game matters. Versus – #of pips times rating of A,B,C….each era has a feel for it….Sekigahara captured that. Pax Baltica does not.

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