June 13, 2024

The CSR Awards – Not For Wargames – Should Modernize

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

Graphic by RMN (click to enlarge)


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.


Category bingo

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

Gene and Rich playing Mr. President at GMT’s Spring Weekend at the Warehouse (courtesy BGG user @rachaelbillingley)

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.”


Mode-rn awards

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.)?


Charlie 24

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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8 thoughts on “The CSR Awards – Not For Wargames – Should Modernize

  1. I think there is a sound, big, core of truth in the article. I would disagree that in Dunnigan Conflict Simulation was opposite to Wargame. I contend the current use of Conflict Simulation was a term is done by people who want to get rid of the definition Wargame. I think the current CSR format must indeed change, it is becoming meaningless and I would dare to say that the current format is largely irrelevant and skewered toward some specific results.

    On the other hand I think the Period category is still relevant for several reasons. It gives visibility to niche periods and niche simulations that would not get it if just lumped in modes… being a former Ancient Historian I love to see ancient games being in their own domain. I would also contend that specific period often requires specific solutions. There is a case to be made that periods are also modes. I would also love to see more definite rather than all encompassing periods. It is time to recognize that large period are literally meaningless. Why we have a 1939-45 category and a post 1945 one? It is like those miniature ruleset covering from Sumer to Renaissance and pretending to be simulations…

    But most of all CSR should stop to be an all inclusive thing covering apples and oranges (we have plenty of them, heck go to BGG for these!), and instead be an award made by wargamers for wargamers.

  2. Just curious where this quote came from. “conservative…rooted in the hex and counter culture of the 1970s and 1980s”

      1. Ok. So Harold is the kind of self-styled “progressive” conflict simulation players who denigrate wargamers as, “conservative…rooted in the hex and counter culture of the 1970s and 1980s”? Seems a bit harsh to me.

  3. When it comes to wargames, I know them when I see them. Historical board games that don’t involve kinetic conflict are not wargames, they are another category, like strategic pol/mil/econ competition or social conflict games. I am all good with different boardgame categories under CSR (CSR made non-wargames himself), of which wargames is but one, just don’t try and sell me that “Votes for Women” or “Fill in the Blank Railroad” game are wargames, no matter how good they are. Its getting silly.

  4. You mention the very reason why the CSRs do not have awards for YouTube channels, blogs, and podcasts. When a good part of the board has such media themselves, they are in no position to choose nominees. It’s the same as game designers who put out a game which qualifies having to judge other games as to which one is worth nominating.

    In fairness, they should get rid of the magazine category. But since none of the board members runs a wargame magazine as far as I know, at least the conflict of interest is less.

  5. CSR was a wargame designer. I’m sure he did other things including possibily even designing nonwargames. But, the CSR awards should be for wargames.
    If the committee wants to give awards for non wargames find someone else to name the awards after.

  6. Oh look another hobby infiltrated by political ideologues bent on making sure you can never escape their propaganda, gee how surprising. I’ve been involved in historical wargaming for over 30 years and I’ve never even heard of this CSR bunch. Anyways if this Harold is so triggered by a 1980s hex and counter type can you imagine his horror if he ever had to interact with a lead figure pushing grognard.

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