RockyMountainNavy, 1 February 2024
The 2023 Charles S. Roberts Awards nominating committee and award categories were announced in mid-January 2024. I do not understand why wargamers get so passionate over the CSR Awards; like many Hollywood or tech awards today the CSR Awards are not a meaningful recognition of an art form. More directly to my interests, the CSR Awards themselves make clear they are not for wargames (whatever they are). I strongly believe that in order for the CSR Awards to recognize the distinct, dare I say unique nature of
wargames conflict simulation games, they need a radical modernization of award categories focusing on game design, presentation, and recognition of publications other than games.
Not a panzer pusher award
The Statement of Mission in the 2023 CSR Awards Charter makes it clear that, “The CSR Awards shall be presented annually in a variety of categories to reward excellence in the design, publication, and presentation in the field of tabletop conflict simulation.” The Charter goes on to say:
“The CSR Awards recognize conflict simulation games, including “wargames”. This charter recognizes the subjective nature of the boundaries of this space, but the governing domain of the CSR Awards is “conflict simulations”, which explicitly includes simulations of non-military as well as military conflicts, as well as simulations of related historical topics. The determination of relevance for CSR or category eligibility shall be made by the Nominating Committee.”
2023 CSR Charter, Section II
Wargamers must accept that the 2023 CSR Awards fully lean into Jim Dunnigan’s definition of a wargame:
“A wargame is a playable simulation. A conflict simulation is another name for wargame, one that leaves out the two unsavory terms ‘war’ and ‘game'” (Dunnigan, Wargames Handbook, 1992).
Whether that is your definition of a wargame or not it is seemingly the award committee’s choice; move on.
In an apparent effort to address the concerns of some who were unhappy with the 2022 CSR Awards nominating process, the 2023 CSR Awards use three broad categories of awards: Period, Mode, and Capstone. While I commend the effort, I believe the Period and Mode Award categories have no real difference which only further confuses the nomination process instead of clarifying it.
The 2023 CSR Awards categories for Period and Mode games attempt to make a distinction between games set in a time (i.e. Period) and those designed to represent a form of conflict, level of warfare, or game mechanism (i.e. Mode). To illustrate the confusion the Period and Mode categories create I will try to categorize Mr. President: The American Presidency, 2001-2020 by designer Gene Billingsley and published by GMT Games in 2023. As of the writing of this post, Mr. President is the highest ranking War Game published in 2023 according to BoardGameGeek.
“Mr. President is a solitaire game about governing as the President of the United States in the early 21st century. It’s not an election game. It begins after you’ve been elected. It’s about sitting in The Chair and trying to advance your agenda while navigating ongoing crises, political enemies, public opinion, your relations with Congress and the press, and keeping your country secure in a world of rival nations and agendas that just seems to keep blowing up around you. Mr. President is a resource management game where you never have enough resources to achieve your entire agenda and the path you take through an always unpredictable storyline rests on the choices you make. Depending on the results of those choices, and on the unfolding of a “different every game” story, you’ll either be thinking “POTUS? Piece of Cake!” or “Why was it that I WANTED this job?” many times in each game.”
Mr. President, Publisher’s Blurb
For the purposes of this post (and this post only) I am willing to stipulate that Mr. President is a
wargame conflict simulation though I recognize that is not a universal opinion (and far be it from me to argue against the superior intellect of voters on BGG who call it such). Given that stipulation, what category should Mr. President be nominated in?
Period. Mr. President, based on events in the early 21st Century, clearly fits the category of, “Best Modern Game, for a conflict simulation dealing with a post-World War II, post-1945, Cold War (including the Korean and Vietnam conflicts), or Post-Cold War topic, up to the modern day.”
Mode. Mr. President fits several different Mode categories:
- As a game about American politics, Mr. President could be nominated for, “Best Political, Social, or Economic Game, for the best historical conflict simulation dealing primarily with a non-military conflict or a conflict primarily waged, within the bounds of the game, by non-military means.”
- As a solitaire game, Mr. President could be nominated for, “Best Solitaire or Cooperative Game, for a conflict simulation designed to be played primarily in a solitaire or cooperative mode.”
One solution to the potential confusion over the multiple Mode category nominations may be to limit any game to only one Mode nomination. Alas, the 2023 CSR Awards Charter in section III allows for multiple nominations: “Games can be eligible for nomination for multiple Awards, but no individual game shall be eligible for more than one Period Award. Where necessary, the most appropriate category shall be determined by the Nominating Committee.”
It is time for the CSR Awards to drop Period category awards and instead focus on the elements of a game the CSR Awards Charter call out; the award categories must ensure they “reward excellence in the design, publication, and presentation in the field of tabletop conflict simulation” by focusing on the art, form, and skill in creating the games. To start this example I will build upon the Mode Award categories in the 2023 CSR Awards Charter.
Art of game design
Recognizing games for their treatment of a subject; the marriage of theme with game mechanisms:
- Best Strategic / Operational / Tactical Game.
- Best Political, Social, or Economic Game.
- Best Hypothetical Game.
If one really wants to do away with Period influences on conflict simulation awards then the category Best Hypothetical Game needs to be dropped. The awards should make it explicit that all Art of Game Design categories include any game (historical or alternate / hypothetical) in periods past, present, and future.
Further, as the BoardGameGeek glossary points out,
wargames conflict simulations are highly thematic. Keeping the Art of Game Design categories focused theme-first brings out the distinctions of conflict simulations as compared to the broader field of strategy boardgames.
Form of publication
Recognizing different media supporting the conflict simulation hobby that are not games:
- Best Wargaming Magazine.
What the 2023 CSR Awards are missing is recognition of other media. I recognize this is difficult in part because the committee backed themselves into a corner by using the word “tabletop” in the charter. That single word apparently translates into a single category. Yet, half of the nominating committee in 2023 has their own YouTube channel and others have podcasts. One has to wonder if the Best Wargaming Magazine category covers only deadtree or online versions..or both? What about blogs? What about books?
Skill of presentation
- Best Solitaire or Cooperative Game.
- Best New Edition of a Previously Published Game.
While I initially placed both these categories in the Art of Game Design bin I reconsidered because I think that category should keep a theme-first focus. Skill of Presentation gives us the opportunity to recognize outstanding use of game mechanisms or production first over theme. I caution, though, that it is easy to get carried away and end up with too many categories. For example, the publisher’s ad copy for Mr. President calls it a resource game; that doesn’t mean we necessarily need a category for resource games just because the Mr. President fan club clamors for one.
Likewise, the Best New Edition should recognize physical upgrades to a package; if the game has significant updates/changes to game mechanisms it is perhaps better thought of as a totally new game and not a new edition. Squishy thinking? Sure, but I won’t have to make the call because, “the most appropriate category shall be determined by the Nominating Committee.”
More importantly, I think it is shameful that the physical aspects of a new
wargame conflict simulation game are totally overlooked by the CSR Awards. Best cover art? Best game board? Best components? Excellence in graphics? Clearly written rule book? Heck, most eco-friendly packaging/components? What about the best use of AI art? Even though the CSR Awards are for tabletop conflict simulation why can we not recognize digital implementations (best port to Tabletop Simulator, Rally the Troops!, etc.)?
As much as I dislike the self-styled “progressive” conflict simulation players who denigrate wargamers as, “conservative…rooted in the hex and counter culture of the 1970s and 1980s” I agree with them that the Charlies must change. That change can start by focusing not on “what is a wargame” but on the distinct elements—not time period—of a game design or presentation as to use the Charles S. Roberts Award to recognize those who support the hobby in media both old and new.
Welcome, Charlie 24. I look forward to seeing you…hopefully next year.
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