Two things that defined the wargaming scene in the early days, aside from the flood of games, was the use of the term "simulation" rather than wargame and the unique nature of the history articles in Strategy & Tactics magazine. There were interconnected reasons for both of these developments. The primary reason is that wargamers are not so much gamers as they are very curious history buffs. While many military history enthusiasts are content to read a book on battles and campaigns, watch a good film on war or wander through battlefields, a wargamer wants to measure and analyze things. When I started SPI, the name, Simulations
Publications, was chosen to represent an accurate description of what we were doing, and what we felt wargamers wanted. What we were creating weren't wargames, they were simulations. We were stuck with the traditional term "wargame," but every one who created or used our "games" knew better. We called them wargames, and let other call them wargames, an incorrect term for an activity that was incomprehensible enough as it was. It wasn't worth the effort to expunge inaccurate terms, although we tried. Wargamers used the terms "wargame" and "simulation" interchangeably. But the labels issue was small change compared to the emergence of analytic history.
Analytic history is what a wargame was before it became a game. A wargame is, after all, an historical account of an event in simulation form. The subject must be researched and the data organized so that it can be presented in a simulation format. That's analytic history. But wait, what the hell is the difference between a wargame and a war simulation? Often there's not a lot of difference at all. The main purpose of a simulation is to present the situation so that you can manipulate the key elements. This allows you to better understand how all these elements interacted and, this is where the game element comes in, play around with alternative strategies and tactics. This explains why so many wargamers don't game at all, but simply study and manipulate the game by themselves. Yes, two people can use a simulation as a game, many do, and the game element is not ignored when putting these things together. The game element is there whether you want it or not. It's the nature of the beast. There are usually two sides in a military conflict, both have numerous elements of the situation they can manipulate, thus you have a game situation. Some wargamers enjoy the game element more than the simulation and history aspects, but they are basically into the history angle, otherwise they would play the more numerous non-historical games. And that is what many early wargamers did when the fantasy and science fiction games came along. These games were more game than simulation, although a simulation element was present.
It was easy to miss the concept of analytic history in all this. Few gamers saw the research material that went into the game. When I developed the concept of having an analytical article accompany each game (first with games in S&T magazine, later in the boxed games), most gamers simply noted that the historical material was well organized and complemented the game well. The analytic history was taken for granted, until it wasn't there any more. Even then, gamers weren't sure what they were missing, except whatever it was, it didn't seem to be there any more.
This is what was there, a concise description of what analytic history is and how to do it.
First, you have to see the historical event as several discrete parts. These parts are:
Analytic history has been done before, although not deliberately. Treating accounts of historical events in a systematic and highly organized fashion is not unique. The relentlessly organized approach of analytic history is unique. If you do it right, the reader gets a large dollop of knowledge for a small investment of time. If you do it right, the reader doesn't even know he's been hit with a carefully crafted presentation the creators know as analytic history.
Simulations and Non-Linear Information.
A historical simulation attempts to duplicate a past event, including duplicating the key elements of that past event that the original participants had to deal with. Most wargames, including chess, do this. What makes a simulation such a powerful form of communication is that it is, like most events, non-linear. A book or film is linear. The author leads you from point to point, with no deviation allowed. Simulations, games in general, and analytic history, are non-linear. That is, you can wander all over the place and still be somewhere. Flip through a book, and you pick up pieces out of context. Make different moves in a game, and you have a context, because the game allow, even encourages, deviating from the historical events. Linear media can be a drag at times, non-linear media keeps you on your toes. Analytic history is written with non-linear use in mind. You can wander around a piece of analytic history and still get a lot of useful information.
And Now, The Bad News
Simulations and to a lesser extent analytic history, require a fair bit of effort on the part of the user. Film is more popular than print because film requires less effort to get something out of it. Print is more popular than simulations for the same reason. You don't have to be terribly observant in a bookstore to see which history books sell best. History books with a lot of pictures are more popular than those with a lot of words.
The dozen or so marketing surveys I analyzed each year at SPI also demonstrated the greater popularity of the simple over the complex. But towards the end of the 1970s, and into the 1980s, another phenomena expressed itself. It seems that those people who stayed with wargaming tended to prefer more complex games. Thus if a publisher wanted to hang on to the existing market, more complex games had to be produced. Yet it was also obvious that new gamers needed simpler games. Going into the 1980s, the market for simpler games was shrinking while the market for complex games was holding its own. Actually, the complex game market was also declining, it was just declining a lot less. Publishers continued to put out some simple games, yet even the most avid and experienced gamer liked to deal with a less daunting game from time to time. The changing lifestyles of gamers actually led to their using the more complex games like books: as sources of information. There was little time to actually set up and play the more complex games. So a well done simple game was still welcome as a game that took little enough time and effort that one could actually play it.
Now in my experience, there are two ways to make the most of a simple game. The best and, naturally, the most difficult approach is to sweat blood in order to develop simple but elegant rules to accurately reflect what was going on in the situation. The other approach is to concentrate on playability relentlessly, to cut corners with historicity as much as you can get away with it and hope the gamers won't notice. Well, some of them will notice and some of them won't. In either case, it helps if you have good graphics and good playtesting. All of this may be moot as computer wargames continue to replace paper wargames of any degree of complexity.
Into the 80's
Wargames Over There
Table of Contents
Chapter 5 Contents