Wednesday 23 April 2014

different faces of war

This year I played a number of games which shared the same historical background as other games I have played before, and I found the contrast between how different games treat the same subject matter quite interesting. I looked at the many games that I have played before and identified those which depict the same battle or war but in a different way. I hope you find this interesting. Look at the different components, the different mechanisms, and also very importantly the different ways the maps are designed.

The Sengoku Jidai (1467-1603) or Warring States Period in Japan was a time when many great clans fought for supremacy. Famous historical figures from this period include Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen. This period of war ended with the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which lasted more than 250 years.

Samurai Swords / Ikusa has daimyos (clan leaders), ronins (masterless samurai / mercenaries), ninjas (men in black), and castles, but it is not based on any actual clans, events or personalities of the period. The starting setup of every game is random. So it is a warring states period game in spirit only, not in the details. However that gives much variability. The game is one level up from Risk, and is relatively easy to learn, thus suitable for casual players.

Sekigahara is specifically about the period of 7 weeks leading up to the Battle of Sekigahara, the final big battle that ended the Sengoku Jidai era. This is a two-player-only game and not a free-for-all. No dice in sight. Battles are fought by card play. Blocks create hidden information, and even after you get the chance to see and to remember which is which, cards still create uncertainty in whether your opponent has the right cards to activate his armies to fight. In this game all the clans, castles, cities and personalities depicted are real.

The French and Indian War (1756-1763) was the struggle between the British and the French for the colonies in North America, before the birth of USA and Canada.

A Few Acres of Snow is built on a deck-building core engine, using the deck-building mechanism to convey the challenges in managing warfare and development at a distant colony. What you invest in takes time to bring benefits - you buy cards into the discard pile and they will go into your draw deck only after the next reshuffle. It is hard to plan accurately when which resources will become available to you - it depends on the luck of the card draw. You don't see soldiers on the board. You only see settlements and towns. Soldiers are on cards. Warfare is abstracted.

Wilderness War is a card driven game. You do have to manage the nitty-gritty bits of having leaders command armies, making sure your regular troops get to wintering quarters before snowfall, and taking terrain effects into account. History is told through event cards. The game is longer and more detailed than A Few Acres of Snow.

The Battle of Waterloo (1815) was Napoleon's last, and was also an important one in European history. Everyone remembers it as Napoleon's defeat, but it was a very close-run thing and could easily have turned out differently.

Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign 1815 covers 7 days leading up to the actual battle. Players have some freedom in setting up their units, and manoeuvring them prior to the battle. In fact, the location (or locations!) of battle, and the composition of the clashing armies may turn out to be quite different from history. This being a block wargame means there is some secret information involved, at least until the units engage in battle.

Waterloo is about what happened on that fateful day itself. It has a fixed setup. The Allied army led by the English needs to hold back the French army as much as possible until the Prussian army can rush to the scene by early afternoon. The different unit types function very differently, and there is a detailed battle resolution procedure to follow. This is unlike Napoleon where differences between unit types are mostly represented by differences in movement rate and attack power.

Of the same era, there are also the following games:

Commands & Colors Napoleonics is the 5th game in the Commands & Colors series I think. I think the order is: Battle Cry, Memoir '44, Battlelore, Commands & Colors Ancients, Commands & Colors Napoleonics. The board is divided into three sections - left, centre and right, and card play determines how many units in which sections can be activated for movement or battle.

Manoeuvre is almost chess-like. Actions are based on card play. The different nationalities have their own characteristics.

World War I (1914 - 1918):

Paths of Glory is an 8-hour game and a card driven game for 2 players only.

In contrast Axis and Allies 1914 is a much more mainstream game. Less complex, more colourful (literally). It supports up to 8 players (just be prepared Russia is not exactly fun to play). The map covers Africa, bits of India and bits of USA, which the map of Paths of Glory doesn't.

World War II (1937 - 1945). 1939 was the outbreak of war in Europe, but in Asia, China was invaded by Japan in 1937.

Photo from

Photo from

Memoir '44 is one of the most successful titles from Days of Wonder, with many many expansions. Similar to other titles in the Commands & Colors series, you play cards to move or attack, and roll dice to see if you hit.

Conflict of Heroes is more complex and has a very different target audience. The game components are probably sufficient to scare casual gamers away. What do all those numbers mean?

In the Asia Pacific arena of the war:

Photo from

Photo from BGG

Pacific Victory is a block wargame, so there is some fog of war due to the blocks hiding information. It has concepts like supply line, resource centres and maintaining a front.

Axis & Allies Pacific 1940 is more mainstream, but is at the more complex end of the spectrum among Axis & Allies games.


Lord of Midnight said...

For the Pacific theatre, there's a rich list of games you should check out
- Midway (Avalon Hill)
- Victory in the Pacific
- A Fire in the Sky

Midway features hidden-search mechanics while ViTP has night battles.

And FitS has some "interesting" mechanics that has AyHeng in noughts (so it remains ahem, unplayed)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Indeed ww2 is a heavily used backdrop for wargames. I read some sessions reports about Midway and indeed it sounds very interesting.

Aik Yong said...

I heard Victory in the Pacific is the easier version which is played regularly at WBC.

A Fire in the Sky should be approached only if you want more detail, the transport and oil use calculation is so tedious that my first turn took a long time. Granted that you might be faster if you are not so anal about optimising oil use or troop efficiency.

fess said...

Was doing a search on Sekigahara and came across your blog. Very nice. Will have to take my time to read all your posts especially the older ones. Always nice to read about other gamers and how they get their kids involved as well. Keep on gaming

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Fess, welcome, and hope you enjoy my stories and musings.