#Wargaming, it’s in the Cards – Challenging commentary on @gmtgames Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory

I AM STILL (HAPPILY) WORKING MY WAY THROUGH MY 2019 GAMING CHALLENGES. These past few weeks I was fortunate to arrive at a time in my challenge where I got to play three Card-Driven Game (CDG)* designs:

  • For the People (GMT Games, 1998) won the 1998 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999) won the 1999 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010) won both the 2010 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Ancient to Napoleonic Era Wargame and the 2010 Golden Geek Award for Best 2-Player Game / Best Wargame.

In playing these three games, I gained a new appreciation for the range of complexity the Card-Driven Game mechanic can support and how each creates a insightful historical experience.

Complexity

I ended up playing these three games in order of the wars; the American Revolution in Washington’s War followed by the American Civil War in For the People and lastly World War I in Paths of Glory. Not only was playing in this order the same as the historical timeline, the sequence also reflects the increasing complexity of the games.

My copy of Washington’s War (2nd Preprint, 2015) is the “latest published” of the three games I played but is the simplest in terms of rules. Based on Mark Herman’s We the People (Avalon Hill, 1993), Washington’s War features a single deck of Strategy Cards supporting a very streamlined selection of actions. Having not played a CDG in a while this was a good reintroduction to the CDG meachanic as the game focuses on the basics with little frills. Using the BGG complexity or “weight” scale, I put Washington’s War as a Medium Light 2.0 given the simple, rather direct rules.

My copy of For the People is the GMT Games 2nd Edition from 2006. There was a Third Edition in 2015 and I am not sure what changed. Doesn’t really matter; I enjoy my version of the game. In terms of complexity, For the People is similar to Washington’s War in the use of a single Strategy Card deck. Beyond that, For the People is more complex with the designation of Divisions, Corps, and Armies. Victory is determined not so much by area control (ala Washington’s War) but through Strategic Will (more on that later). The added rules make For the People more complex than Washington’s War, but the new rules overhead is not onerous. In terms of complexity I rate For the People a Medium 3.0 on BGG but in reality it plays more like a 2.5.

Paths of Glory, originally published in 1999, is the game that has undergone the most development since its first publication. I have a 1999 first edition, far removed from the English Deluxe Edition, Sixth Printing (2018) that is now available. I have not kept up on this game although I see lots of support available on the GMT Games website. I played the game using the Rules as Written out of the box; maybe not an optimal playing but it’s what I had on hand. Paths of Glory is the most complex of the three games played, most readily demonstrated by the use of two Strategy Card decks (separate for Allied and Central Powers). The cards themselves are also more complex, going beyond the usual Event or Operations Card values and introducing a Strategic Redeployment value and Replacement Points. However, like Washington’s War and For the People, another more subtle mechanic outside of combat is the true heart of the game. In Paths of Glory (PoG) that mechanic is War Status (also more later). Of the three CDG games I played, Paths of Glory is probably the most complex. On BGG I see that over 45% of the people voting rate Paths of Glory at Medium Heavy 4.0. I think that’s overdoing it and a solid Medium 3.0 is more appropriate.**

The progressive complexity level of the games made learning (relearning?) how to play each a simple exercise. I have tried to jump straight into Paths of Glory before and struggled. This time I built a foundation before I started and it worked much better. I guess this means that one needs several games in their collection to build up to the big one, right?

Evocative History

Although nominally a wargame, each of these games goes far beyond depicting their given conflict by looking beyond the battles. Indeed, each of these games is equal parts, if not more, a political game than a combat game.

Looking at Washington’s War, the major pieces scream wargame and combat. The Generals are standee’s and there are many chits for depicting the number of Combat Unit (CU) strength points on the board. In reality, the most important chit in the game is the Political Control (PC). Victory in Washington’s War is determined by colonies controlled, and colony control depends not on your army but on the amount of PC spaces controlled. Generals with armies can “flip” a PC, but it is the use of Operations Cards to “place” PC that is actually the most powerful action in the game. This is highly evocative of the history; armies could certainly protect areas of political control and even changed it at times but it was the political actions of rabble-rousing and the like, often in the background of the fighting, that determined control of the colony. Washington’s War captures this factor of history to a tee.

In For the People, the most important rule is not 7.0 Battle, but 12.0 Strategic Will. As designer Mark Herman notes in the introduction to 12.0:

The Strategic Will model in this game should drive a player’s actions….It is the absolute and relative value of each side’s Strategic Will that determines the current state of the war.

12.0 Strategic Will, Design Note

Rule 12.0 gives the player’s of For the People (FtP) ten different ways that affect Strategic Will. Understanding all these conditions is important because if one plays FtP and just focuses on combat, they are bound to lose the game.

Of all three games, Paths of Glory (PoG) is the most wargame-like. That said, like For the People the most important game mechanic is not Combat, but War Status. As designer Ted Raicer’s Design Notes point out:

War Status in PoG has several elements. First, it represents the progression of each alliance towards a state of modern industrialized Total War….Second, through the rules for Combined War Status, it shows the various effects of such a prolonged and costly struggle on national morale, politics, and diplomacy….Finally, through the Armistice mechanism, the effect of war weariness outside of Russia is introduced.

Design Notes, War Status

Like Strategic Will in For the People, in Paths of Glory careful management of one’s War Status and not simply winning a combat is the true key element essential for victory.

a Waro Awareness

One of the new gaming terms I discovered in the last few years is “waro.” A combination of “wargame” and “Eurogame,” the term attempts to define a new sub-domain of tabletop gaming that mixes conflict simulation with Eurogame mechanics. The poster child games for this genre is the GMT COIN-series. However, after playing these games, I would argue that the Card-Driven Game mechanic, as exemplified by Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory, are among the first waro games out there. This is not a new argument to the gaming community; long have gamers argued if any of these titles are even a wargame. Regardless of how you think about the issue, for me just playing these games has grown my understanding of what a waro can be.

putting my cards on the table

In some ways I had put CDG designs on the back shelf. I usually play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys so we need three-player games. These games are solidly two-player. CDG designs also tend not to be solo-friendly given the hidden information factor of the cards. There are some attempts to work around this but I have not delved deep into them. However, my recent plays have shown me that these games deserve to be brought down off the shelf, even if played in a sub-optimal solo manner. There is still much to be learned about the history of the times represented and these are amongst the best models to do so.


*Per BGG, a CDG is a game where, “Cards or campaign text depict events, and the challenge is in making decisions and plan their usage to win.”

**I am well aware that my complexity ratings on BGG tend to track lower than the average. I beleive this is because wargames tend to be overrated in complexity by the Eurogamers who dominate BGG.

2 comments

  1. I think that instead of the word “waro” we should use the word “wario” to more closely approximate the Nintendofication of wargaming that this represents.

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