It's 2013, and despite the winter chill, hope blossoms that this year will bring in a fresh and innovative crop of wargames. Like the flowers of the spring, those hopes will probably fade before the stale wind of yet another faux-historical clickfest, Hearts of Iron clone or dumbed-down mobile game.
But the pleasure of gaming is being surprised by an unanticipated outcome. So maybe this year will see my wargaming wish list come true, and maybe yours too. Here are my wishes:
- Small wars. Wargaming is the child of history, and recent world history has not seen massed armies pounding each other at Waterloo or Stalingrad. For the last 70 years, conflict has mostly been guerrilla wars, or regional spats armies that would have merited no more than a dot on Hitler's or Eisenhower's situation map.
- Most computer wargame designers and their publishers would probably recoil at the thought of tackling a serious game on the American wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, or the Arab-Israeli and India-Pakistan wars, not to mention ultra-messy conflicts such as Bosnia or Somali piracy. Post-World War II conflicts are complicated, often more political than conventional, and are therefore hard to simulate.
- But at some point, computer wargame designers and publishers—and their audiences—will have to leave the familiar confines of Rome, Napoleon and World War II. Can one make an interesting strategy game of Vietnam? Someone made a great board game of it years ago. I will bet that computer wargames can match that accomplishment.
- Most computer wargame designers and their publishers would probably recoil at the thought of tackling a serious game on the American wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, or the Arab-Israeli and India-Pakistan wars.
- Future conflicts. Wargaming isn't just about understanding the past. It's also about exploring the future. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were many paper wargames that simulated a hypothetical NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. Happily, their accuracy was never put to the test, but they were food for understanding how such a war might turn out, and more importantly, the considerations that shaped the strategies and forced structures of the superpowers.
- It is possible that within the next 10 years, there will be war in the Pacific, whether between the U.S. and China, or China versus Japan, Taiwan and other Asian states, or the U.S. and South Korea versus North Korea. Then there are simmering conflicts between Israel and Iran, Turkey and Syria, and India and Pakistan. These conflicts would not be easy to simulate, not least because they would probably be limited, focused wars involving relatively small numbers of high-tech missiles, ships, special forces and cyberweapons.
- Any game would be conjectural. But if a game can help us understand how such a conflict would unfold (just studying the game map would be educational in itself), then it would be worth developing. This year I have noticed more browser-based serious games on potential conflicts such as Iran or Syria. Their gameplay tends to be limited, but they show what can be done.
- Realistic tablet wargames. I have grave doubts about the capability of tablets and smartphones to handle sophisticated wargames. What I've seen so far hasn't impressed me; they seem highly simplistic, which is to be expected given the constraints of screen size, interface and processing power, However, if mobile devices are the future, then I hope that wargames can be designed that focus on the quality and realism of the game rather than the limitations of the mobile platform. Shenandoah Studio's new Battle of the Bulge, designed by experienced paper wargame designers, looks like the start of a promising genre.
The odds are that my 2014 wish list will be the same. But one can hope. And I hope that all of you have a happy and prosperous 2013.