Without belaboring the obvious too much I should point out that most gamers, when forced to choose between games taking place on the land, in the air or at sea, will tend to prefer the land games. Naval comes next, a distant second, and an even more distant third are air games.
One would think that naval games would have a certain popularity given the long history of naval warfare. Much of the history of naval warfare that people are aware of is a myth. Most naval warfare in the past (and to a certain extent in the present and future) is rather dull and prosaic. Up until about 200 years ago most battles consisted of large groups of ships sailing or rowing into one another and then proceeding to attempt to ram or burn down (or even better yet capture) the opponent's ships. This was not a very elegant form of combat. And it was even less controllable than similar forms of combat found in land battles.
These shortcomings can be gotten around somewhat by having a game that concentrates on the operation of single ships. The individual ships certainly had an interesting situation before them. They could maneuver and although they might have only one opportunity to ram or lash themselves beside an enemy ship, the talents of a skillful seaman could be most decisive.
During the latter half of the 18th century, naval fighting tactics were developed which put a premium on organization and coordinated movement and action. The British were the first to seize upon this idea in an organized fashion and this was a chief factor in "Britannia ruling the waves" for the next 150 years.
Even with this new organized way of combat, the ships involved were still sailing ships and were heavily dependent upon the vagaries of the climate and the weather. Individual skill and seamanship were still paramount.
During the middle of the 19th century this changed with the introduction of steam propulsion. Shortly thereafter, the armor plating of ships really got going because the vessels now had the power to lug around all that weight. This was not the case when metal plating was first introduced during earlier periods.
The introduction of the wireless telegraph early in the 20th century again revolutionized naval warfare since it allowed coordinated strategic operations. Prior to this, fleets would be sent off thousands of miles on missions of, it later developed, dubious worth. Yet these missions had to be completed since there was no way of recalling the fleet or informing it as to what was going on. Particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries, sailing squadrons and fleets were sent all over the world. This led to some curious battles being fought after the war was "officially" over.
The introduction of the submarine and the aircraft carrier drastically changed all previous concepts of naval warfare. Up until World War I, naval power was still coming out of the barrel of a gun. With the advent of the submarine, considerable power shifted to torpedo tubes. Just as the war and merchant fleets had increased in size considerably with the introduction of steam propulsion, so had nations become much more dependent upon the trade that these merchant vessels carried and warships defended, or threatened. Submarines quickly loomed as the most serious threat that trade. Naval warfare now became a battle between unequal antagonists. Submarines were not really equipped to take on surface warships, yet there were never enough surface vessels available to track down all of the submarines.
With the coming of aircraft, the submarine was somewhat neutralized. Nuclear powered submarines changed a lot of that from the 1960s onward. But all ships were now even more vulnerable to destruction by aircraft. The aircraft carrier became one of the chief means of this destruction.
As with aerial warfare, the importance of electronics and "electronic warfare" increased evermore. Air warfare, more than any other form, quickly became dependent on electronics, radar, antiradar devices. Air navigation depended on electronic emissions. Even the weapons the aircraft used quickly became creatures of electronically controlled instruments.
Aerial warfare itself is rather mundane. The vast majority of combats in the air follow the "theory X" concept of battle. That is, one side ambushes the other. When two aircraft spot each other simultaneously without one having the jump on the other, the combat is usually inconclusive.
Current theory, however, holds that the lethality of electronically guided air-to-air weapons is such that two aircraft, upon spotting each other, will almost automatically destroy each other. Given the history of self-preservation among combatants and the recent history of those aerial combats that have occurred, this theory of mutual destruction is likely to be questionable.
As with naval warfare, aerial warfare can be most interesting and illuminating when conducted on the individual aircraft level. Many games do just this. This is particularly the case with the most popular form of computer wargame: the aircraft simulator. These simulators never succeeded in manual form, there was simply too much detail for the player to keep track of.
Naval games have also become relatively more popular in their computer incarnations. Again, the highly technical aspects of naval warfare can more easily be handled with a computer.
Chapter 4 - Designing Manual Games
Table of Contents
Chapter 3 Table of Contents