Interestingly while I was listening to an old podcast, where Richard Berg describes the old Avalon Hill titles in a nutshell. “They were akin to Robert Ludlum novels. Same characters and plot different names!” Classic Bergism!
Without turning this into a 2000 word post I think he had a point. Much of what we fancy as special and held close to our hearts are the same set of rules with a little narrative flavour thrown in if we are lucky. More often than not these games are really just heartfelt friends, a fond memory, not that ‘classic’ we think it is. There is no doubt that I will always remember playing Avalon Hills DDay with my son. Fantastic experience. That is part of what makes something great, the experiences we have with them, often regardless of the actual game play or experience with history or quality of game play.
We can all name those titles from AH/GDW/SPI that are derivative of the standard formula. This happens today as well, when we see tired old block mechanics trotted our on a fresh pastiche of colored areas or a magazine game leaning on the same tired set of rules, poorly applied and barely tested.
In the main though I am most excited today about designers who are striving to build individual games or series of games that capture our imaginations in new ways!
Amazing AH and SPI gems are rare to find among the mass of production from those days to a large extent. Especially if you are coming ‘back to the hobby..or new to the hobby’. By all means grab that $5 dollar copy of Waterloo and let her rip. But don’t miss Fallen Eagles from Hexism a 2015 look at Napoleonic’s that does an admirable job of distilling the role you play down to its core!
These older games generally lacked accuracy, were a pastiche of rules melded together, hard to read counters and a gentle nod to historical outcomes. They were games where your perfect plan could be executed perfectly, risk mitigated and history thwarted yet again. Perfect for tournaments and repetitious play to optimize that kill ratio.
Don’t get me wrong, I own plenty of these titles. Many are however sentimental favourites. TRC 3rd edition? D DAY, from Avalon Hill? Panzergruppe Guderian and Red Star White Star from SPI?
Fine games in their day. Design principles, mechanics, art and form have moved on, in the main to provide us with two seemingly opposing qualities. First deeper richer play that evokes history and secondly smart abstraction of elements that would otherwise bog down a lesser game.
When we look at new designers and publishers we see a plethora of smart design. Revolution Games Roger Miller with Gazala, Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander, Worthington Games Jim Khron, and his smart Band of Brothers Vento Nuovo’s Emanuele Santadera and his Waterloo 200, and Legion Games Andy Loakes Siege of Toulon to name a few.
What is my point? I don’t know…Enjoy the history, dwell in the past by all means. But every ow and then crack the shrink on a new game from a relative unknown designer and give it an honest shake. Honour those ‘glory days’ just don’t be hide bound to them. Today is a great day for historical wargames of all types. The good stuff will carry on , to be eventual new classics the weaker lesser designs will fall by the way side, and be found in the consignment bin. But at least someone tried. They made an effort to bring something vibrant and new to the table.
Go have a new experience with a friend today!