March 4, 2024

#UnboxingDay – Where it all started – TACTICS II

RockyMountainNavy, 15 July 2021

MY FIRST WARGAME ever was Panzer by Jim Day from Yaquinto Publishing (1979). In other words I’ve been a Grognard for a long time (Hi, Ardwulf!). I own some early Avalon Hill titles like Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 (Avalon Hill second edition, 1977) but nothing earlier. That is until I recently acquired a very nice copy of the 1973 edition of TACTICS II published by Avalon Hill and designed by the Grandfather of Wargaming, Charles S. Roberts himself.

TACTICS II comes in a 11 1/4″x 14 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ box. All the text is on the cover—the box bottom is plain.

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TACTICS II – Box Cover

click images to enlarge

One of the oldest arguments in wargaming is “game” or “simulation?” I guess even C.S. Roberts had an opinion.

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” – simulation gaming”


One part I won’t argue with is that wargames are a “Lifetime of Pleasure.” Again, C.S. Roberts knew….

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“Begin a Lifetime of Pleasure!”


Contents are far from fancy but the basic elements of a wargame were already well established here. Rules, tables, counters, maps, and even a die.

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Wargame basics


I have some giddiness taking the digest-sized rule book out. The introduction even has the obligatory, “What is a wargame?” question and “If you have never played a wargame before.” Like so many other wargames the pattern for learning the rules are here; Basic, Advanced, and Optional rules.

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OK, this copy is highlighted but again the essentials of a modern wargame rule book are present. By today’s standards this looks very DTP and the ink has faded over time but you can still read and learn to play. Hey…notice those headers? Many are questions like “How Do You Move Units?”; you know, like Jerry White was praised for doing in the relatively recent Atlantic Chase (GMT Games, 2020). Guess his “innovative approach” is actually “Old School.”

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Highlighted but still legible


Hmm…they buried the Terrain Effects Chart (TEC) in the middle of the rule book. Not on a pull-out page either. If a company like GMT Games or Compass did this today the Twitterati would hang them.

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TEC in the rule book?


The end of the rule book includes a section on “Military Tactics & Strategy.” I always loved these discussion in wargames. Some more recent publishers forego this “fluff” and I’m always disappointed when they do.

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Not fluff


The counters for TACTICS II are certainly pedestrian but again the essential elements of a wargame counter are here. I wonder if the faded line was on the original, and if it was did they get hate mail like Compass Games or GMT does every time there is an imperfection on a counter?

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Counters (complete with blemishes)


At least Avalon Hill put the Combat Results Table (CRT) on a separate card. They also helpfully put a table for converting attack and defense strengths to odds. I guess they didn’t think wargamers had the math skills needed. Maybe this explains why the Chainmail crowd in the 1970’s eventually settled on a d20 in their man-to-man skirmish game—they couldn’t handle figuring odds and instead reduced the math to 5% increments.

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“Classic” Odds-Based CRT on top and helpful math aid on bottom


Two other cards are also included. the first is to mark the passage of time in a Campaign Game and the second is a weather table. Why did the weather table get a separate card and the TEC didn’t?

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Campaign time log
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Weather Chart


The map is MOUNTED and doesn’t use hexes. According to some accounts I’ve read it was after the publication of the first edition of TACTICS in 1958 (and maybe even after the publication of the 1961 edition of TACTICS II) that Charles Roberts visited RAND and saw hexagonal maps. Going back to the cover blurb, it’s easy to see how this game could be described as “military chess.”

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Map before hexes


I always love opening old games that still have catalogs and registration cards. It takes me back to a simpler day when if you wanted to ask a question of the designer you needed to phrase it as a Yes/No answer and send a S.A.S.E. Do all you young whippersnappers even know what a S.A.S.E. is?

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Catalog and Registration


According to the Fall/Winter 1977 Catalog included, TACTICS II sold for $6.00. The most expensive games listed are Caesar Alesia and Squad Leader each selling for a whopping $12! The inflation calculator tells me that’s about $54 in 2021 dollars—a real bargain.

Ah…how I miss the good ol’ days….

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2 thoughts on “#UnboxingDay – Where it all started – TACTICS II

  1. Ah, memories. My first AH wargame was the hex version of Gettysburg (which in those days cost $4.98!) I didn’t mind the fact that it took forever to get the forces engaged, given their absurdly slow movement rates; I was the only gamer I knew, so what did I care? My next game was Afrika Korps–I even wrote down the date of the first unit to be eliminated eliminated on the unit appearance card. I then got another title every Christmas from my parents; my aunt meanwhile was sending me a couple of boxes of Airfix figures. It never occurred to me they could be used in gaming until the town librarian showed me the Sports Illustrated article about the miniatures games played by Charlie Sweet. My eyes were further opened when I attended the first two Geneva Conventions in 1968 and 1969 (slept on the floor at Gary Gygax’s house, along with just about everyone else!) Ray Johnson’s group put on big Napoleonic games using Frappe. I did not unfortunately have access to metal figures, living as I did in the outback in Michigan, so I bought many copies of the later version of the Revolutionary War figures advertised in comic books. I guess I’d better leave it here–at 70 I’ve got a lot of gaming history under my belt. But I will add that if anyone asks me if I miss “the good old days” of wargaming, I say no: we’re in the good old days right now.

    Chris Johnson

  2. I found this game in a little store in a tiny town in ND in the middle 70’s. It was the first war game I had ever seen and I really really wanted it and tried to get my parents to buy it for me since I had just had some teeth pulled, but since I could not really explain the game and told them it was not a family game they decided I didn’t need another game. I had to wait a couple of years before I got my first wargame.

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