April 20, 2024

Old-New Wargamer Perspectives in The Wargame Developments Handbook, Third Edition

RockyMountainNavy, 22 February 2024

To the more “progressive” members of our wargaming hobby, The Wargame Developments Handbook is likely dismissed as just another wargaming book that is surely a product of “conservative perspectives” given it was first published in 1984; you know, those dark and unenlightened hex & counter days of the 1970s and 1980s. It therefore might surprise them that The Wargame Developments Handbook is wargaming without hex & counter and actually an inclusively-driven approach to wargame design showcasing the diversity of wargaming with strong relevance to the hobby today.

History lesson

Wargame Developments, the organization behind The Wargame Developments Handbook, was founded in 1980 by Dr. Paddy Griffith in the United Kingdom (back then). Wargame Developments intended then—and continues to this day—to create a “means by which wargame designers from across the globe have been able to meet, exchange ideas, and test each other’s designs” (WDH, back cover). Their all-encompassing publication is The Wargames Development Handbook edited by John Armatys and John Bassett, OBE, which is now available in a third edition (with Amendments) published in October 2023.

[Paddy Griffith (4 February 1947, Liverpool, England – 25 June 2010) was a British military theorist and historian, who authored numerous books in the field of War Studies. He was also a wargame designer for the UK Ministry of Defence, and a leading figure in the wargaming community. Courtesy Wikipedia]

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Dr. Griffith on the ITV show Battleground in 1978 playing The Battle of Gettysburg (photo courtesy Manchester Military History Society)

 

The Wargame Developments website has a plethora of public information where one can learn all about the organization:

What is Wargame Developments

Wargame Developments (WD) is a loose association of like-minded wargamers who are dedicated to developing wargames of any type whatsoever. Its aims are:

    • to provide a forum for the exchange of new ideas and concepts.
    • to develop both new and existing methods of recreating military conflicts.

WD stands for diversity in game types and designing your own rules.

We don’t want to impose our ideas on anyone or establish a rigid line on rules or game formats. Wargames are a recreation – we want to see people doing their own thing, and that means encouraging them to see that “do it yourself” wargames can be every bit as good as or even better than “ready-made”, and a lot more fun into the bargain.

WD has an ethos of civilised cultural wargaming.

WD as an organisation has no collective opinion, only the individual opinions of its members.

WD is a non-commercial, non-profit making organisation. This does not mean that members of WD do not play commercial games or sell games that they have developed.

“In WD, we make our own rules”.

The Wargame Developments Handbook, 3

Inclusive

Like the very first edition of The Wargame Developments Handbook, published in March 1984, the latest third edition carries an article by Dr. Griffith which identified the vast array of groups which made up recreational wargaming. “Military professionals, schoolteachers, re-enactment societies were all in the same field and could all perhaps teach us useful lessons which we could adapt to our own ends” (WDH, 4). Griffith went on to identify, “a distinction between wargamers who come to our hobby from a genuine interest in military history and the culture of past ages, and those who are in it just for competitive gaming with colorful ‘chess pieces'” (WDH, 4-5). Griffith went on to write, “What we in Wargame Developments had to do…was to work towards games which were not historical nonsense, and which satisfied people whose interests extended beyond merely competitive or competition gaming” (WDH, 5).

Dr. Griffith was also very concerned with “sensible history” and the morality of wargaming:

“I had become aware of many unsatisfactory features of the hobby. Sensible military history did not seem to be played very much, and game mechanisms often seemed to be over-complex and unplayable to all but the obsessive zealot. In addition to this, I was interested in clarifying my mind about the morality of wargaming, since it raised many important questions which wargaming seemed unable or unwilling to face…The Moor Park Conference [spring of 1980] was therefore intended to produce some solutions to problems of all these types, or if not solutions then guidance for future progress.” The Wargame Developments Handbook, 4

The Wargame Developments Handbook, though first written 40 years ago, delivered a very inclusive, uniting message for many different wargamer tribes. All wargamers need to look in the mirror and seriously ask themselves if they truly embrace the Wargame Developments vision of inclusion or if they are actually divisive in their labeling language.

 

Design diversity

Critics of grognard wargamers berate players like myself who enjoy hex and counter wargames with CRTs [Combat Results Tables] and dice as being unimaginative when it comes to game design. Given the 1970s and 1980s provenance of The Wargame Developments Handbook we should expect to see a fetish-like worshipping of the cult of hex & counter. Here, however, is what The Wargame Developments Handbook states when it comes to Game Type as part of Game Design:

“In wargames there are a great number of game types. Each of which has advantages and disadvantages when considered against the Aim [of the game design]. A key decision to be taken at this stage is whether the game is to be Open or Closed. The degree of closure is vital when deciding on basic game type – for example it is very much harder to have a high degree of closure in a two-player board game. You need to be clear why you are selecting a particular game type; and at this stage you should not necessarily arrive at a single game type – but a short-list should be apparent early on. Be clear why you are excluding particular game types as well as why you are including others. Few Aims can be met by all game types. Unfortunately, only experience can tell you what does and doesn’t work for a particular design.” The Wargame Developments Handbook, 11

The Wargame Developments Handbook identifies a broad diversity of 13 different types of wargames. Wargame Developments is able to identify these diverse wargame types in part because their history is not rigidly derived from the legacy of American commerical hobby wargaming born from Charles S. Roberts and the Avalon Hill Game Company. Instead, hailing from the UK, the legacy of wargaming that Wargame Developments draws upon is more from Kriegspiel and miniatures wargaming founders such as H.G. Wells.

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Illustrated London News picture from 1913, showing Wells measuring a move with string (courtesy BBC.com) 

 

Going through the list of wargame types in The Wargame Developments Handbook one will be challenged to find “hex & counter” directly named. Indeed, going through this list I am challenged to find game designs that depend on a particular game mechanism such as “Card Driven Game (CDG)” or the like.

Umpired Games & Free Kriegspiel. “Umpired games are games in which certain actions are performed by a neutral party. This can be limited to merely resolving the rule disputes in a “traditional” game or can involve organising the entire structure of the game to properly model such things as Hidden Movement and limited intelligence. Most WD games involve an Umpire in some shape or form” (WDH, 15).

“In Free-Kriegsspiel two opposing courses of action are explained to an umpire who decides on which course will prevail, based on historical precedence, personal experience, reasoned debate and his or her own judgement. There are no rules to resolve battles, although there may be movement and deployment tables. So called because it was the method used in the later (post 1870) examples of the Kriegsspiel” (WDH, 16).

Muggergames. “A Muggergame is a game where the overall result is decided over a number of intermediate steps, by the consensus of those playing, based on historical precedent and reasoned judgement. It usually takes the form of a Tabletop Game, but without any “rules”. An excellent research tool for finding out why things happen, as opposed to merely finding out what happened. Muggergames work best when considering elements outside the details of combat resolution. The disadvantage in recreational (as opposed to educational) Muggergames about battles is that the participants are little more than spectators on the battle unfolding, as there is deliberately no competitive element” (WDH, 18).

Map Games. “A Map Game is a game based on a map. This may be a real map of the terrain, dating from the period; or could be a sketch map representing only the important elements in the conflict to be examined. Some Kriegsspiels were played using lead counters sized to represent unit formations, on an enlarged terrain map. Map Games are often played in a Back-to-Back game format” (WDH, 19).

Voice Games. “In a Voice Game the players give verbal orders. This implies a hierarchy of players, short time intervals and small tactical elements, for example the operation of a tank squadron. Many Control Panel Megagames are Voice Games above the tactical level (within the player hierarchy) as, by definition, are all Telephone Games or Battles” (WDH, 20).

Multi-Player Solo Games. “A Multi-Player Solo Game (or Co-operative Game) is a game, usually with a tabletop format, in which all the players represent only one side of the conflict being examined. The opposition can be a Programmed Enemy or played by Plumpire [Player-Umpire] or a small team of Plumpires” (WDH, 22).

One Brain-Cell Rules. “One Brain-Cell Rules are rules, usually taking up no more than two sides of an A4 piece of paper, which require only one brain-cell to understand. They are often specific to a single battle and are designed with playability as the first priority” (WDH, 23).

Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT). “A TEWT is a game designed to be played over a real piece of terrain with the players representing only the commanders of the forces engaged, with the Umpire detailing what they can see and the results of engagements. From the real Army training exercise of the same name, used in the teaching of tactical principals” (WDH, 24).

Simulators. “A Simulator is a game, or element of a game, where the success of an action is dependent on the players using their physical skill to perform a task that is representative of the real action required. For example an 18th Century ship’s gun crew was represented by six players and a park bench. The bench represented the gun, an elastic bungee the powder, a tennis ball the shot, some house bricks the elevation quoins, and a garden gate the hatch. To fire the gun; the bench (gun) was pulled back and the hatch opened, the rammer loaded the powder (stretched the bungee across the end of the bench), the shot was loaded (the ball placed on the bench), the elevation was selected (one brick, or two, under the feet at one end of the bench) and when the order to fire was given, the elastic was pulled back and the tennis ball fired at the target. Simulators are sometimes referred to as “Cardboard Simulators” because cardboard boxes are used in many games” (WDH, 25).

Committee Games. “Committee Games are games in which the players decide on a course of action within a committee format. Usually the players are equal in game terms, although there may well be a chairman, who might be the person running the game. Normally associated with Hidden Briefings to each of the players, some (or all) of which may be mutually incompatible” (WDH, 26).

Megagames. “A Megagame is not simply a very large scale game; but one in which the hierarchy of command appointments in a conflict are represented by a hierarchy of players in these roles. Megagames usually feature 50 to 150 players. There have been a number of tabletop games with similar numbers of players, but these very rarely have the hierarchy of appointments replicating the real chain of command, and are usually simply very large traditional games” (WDH, 27).

Matrix Games. “Matrix games are different to normal wargames. In a Matrix game there are few pre-set rules limiting what players can do. Instead, each is free to suggest any plausible action or event during their turn. The chances of success or failure, as well as the effects of the action/event, are largely determined through structured argument and discussion. This process allows for imaginative game dynamics that are lively and open-ended, and yet also grounded in reality” (WDH, 28).

Confrontation Analysis/Dilemma Analysis Game. “A Confrontation Analysis/Dilemma Analysis Game is a form of structured discussion game played with two to five teams of one to three people looking at a political or diplomatic confrontation. The players state what each team can do and what they want to have happen. The dispute can be described manually, using pens and paper, or with a spreadsheet program called Dilemma Explorer” (WDH, 40).

Virtual Gaming. “In Virtual Gaming all the participants access the game via the Internet (see also Hybrid Session and PBeM). Members of WD gained considerable experience of Virtual Gaming as a way of keeping wargaming during lockdowns caused by the Covid pandemic” (WDH, 42).

It is likely that some wargamers will look at the above list of game designs and say, “none of that applies to me.” Some will likely say that the game designs above represent a very non-American view of wargames that is not relative to the commercial hobby wargame industry started by Charles S. Roberts and Avalon Hill Games in the 1960s. In a rather ironic twist I fully expect that some will claim, “those aren’t wargames” exactly because they don’t use hexes on maps and cardboard (or wooden) counters or blocks.

The different game designs in The Wargame Developments Handbook highlights that many wargames on the hobby wargaming market today are really no more than subsets of Map Games (most military history wargames), Multi-Player Solo (aka Cooperative), One Brain-Cell Rules (also called postcard games?), or could be better categorized as strategy boardgames instead of wargames. It also shows how products that some feel are not wargames might still fit into the hobby (Is U-Boot a Committee Game?).

For some The Wargame Developments Handbook will be a surprising view of wargaming given it was first written over 30 years ago. To others—especially those who try to move past their biases and embrace the diversity of the wargaming hobby—it should be a reminder of where our worldwide wargaming roots come from and why they deserve to be celebrated and not castigated.

 

Past future

Going back to Dr. Paddy Griffith’s appearance on the ITV show Battleground in 1978, the final words of narrator Edward Woodward starting at 25:58 capture the essence of Wargame Developments as found in The Wargame Developments Handbook:

“That was a near thing but it was a well-fought game. And it was interesting because Peter and Paddy had never played each other before. Up to now we’ve seen wargamers who face each other across the table regularly and over the years they get a pretty good idea of the tactical thinking they are up against. But neither Paddy nor Peter had that help and so they had to rely on their considerable knowledge of both history and wargaming. And that is what it’s all about. I’ve given a set of rules and a toys and anyone can start to wargame. But to get the most out of it you’ve got to love the history and want to know more.”

“We’ve only given you a keyhole view of what is becoming the fastest-growing hobby in the world. It’s not expensive and it’s very rewarding…and it’s great fun. So you try.”

The Wargame Developments Handbook should be required reading of all current or aspiring wargame designers, players, and publishers who truly want to focus on sensible historical conflict gaming. Even a cursory reading of the book reveals that the Wargame Developments approach to wargame design is not one dimensionally-focused on hex & counter wargames, much less any other particular game mechanism. The Wargame Developments Handbook instead invites a broad, inclusive grouping of wargamers and adjacent tribes to share in a diverse array of game designs in a hobby and challenges YOU to be both a designer and player of sensible history.

“We don’t want to impose our ideas on anyone or establish a rigid line on rules or game formats.”

Wargame Developments

 


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3 thoughts on “Old-New Wargamer Perspectives in The Wargame Developments Handbook, Third Edition

  1. Wargame Developments are my favourite group of British madmen across the pond.
    Attending one of their annual meetings, the Conference of Wargamers (COW), is on my bucket list.

  2. Thanks for posting this article. As a Moor Park atendee and sometime editor of The Nugget – WD’s n-house magazine – I can confirm that you give a very fair view of what WD is about. Over the years, the Conference has provided inspiration for many familiar Wargames Rules, Phil Barker’s DBA series and Bob Cordery’s Portable Wargame probably being the most widely known outside the UK.

    Kind regards,

    Chris Kemp

    Many WD members write blogs and a list of them can be found on the sidebar of my own blog (I don’t want to spam this post with a pile of links!)

    https://notquitemechanised.wordpress.com/

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