We’ve gotten some ‘complaints’ that the map for Marengo is unclear. It occurs to me that this is by design and that it is a good thing. What?!
This is a great illustration of the different philosophical approach of Kriegsspiel vs modern wargames. Yes, we want the map to be unclear. To some extent, we want the rules to be unclear. This is by design and we love it.
“I can’t tell where the streams are. Which lines are they?”
” I can’t see where the roads are. Some of them fade out. Some of them look like they don’t connect.”
“Roads approach this river from both sides but there is no bridge or ferry symbol. Is there a crossing here?”
“These hatch marks for the Hills fade in and out. They don’t connect to anything. There are multiple little ones together. Is this all one slope are a series of small ones?”
“What do these little dots mean? Some kind of scrub vegetation? What does it do? The rules don’t say.”
“Why do these roads look different than those ones?”
These are common questions with Pub Battles. No, we are not going to answer all of these in mind numbing detail with a 100 page, fine print rule book. Yes, that is what has commonly been done in our industry. That doesn’t mean this is the correct or best thing to do. I’ll argue that it is wrong or at least that there are other ways.
The map for our Marengo game is REAL. It is really cool from a historical perspective to play the game on a real French map of the period. It is also more accurate and realistic. It is messy. Yes, it raises all those questions above and more.
As players, you may spend some time looking carefully at the map and trying to figure out what all this is and how it should impact the game. Guess what? You are spending time doing things that the real commanders did. You are learning and developing skills that real commanders had. You are learning to think like a real commander in a real battle.
What would you spend your time doing in a traditional wargame? Analyzing hexes, counting MPs and totaling odds for CRTs? What skills are you learning? Mechanical gaming skills for a certain type of game.
So if the rules don’t say anything, how do you decide what the map means? You analyze it and discuss it with your opponent. I am spending my time thinking about history. What would have happened? How did things work? If a division came across terrain in the real world like this, what would they do? I am spending my time discussing military history and tactics with a friend. That IS our hobby. That IS fun. I’m spending time with a friend discussing and learning about what we both love: Military History / Science and command.
There is a road on both sides of the river but no bridge, ford or ferry symbol. What do we do? Well, apply a little logic. Why would they build a road that approaches both sides of the river, at the same point, only to dead-end into the river and just stop? That doesn’t make much sense. Most likely, there is some kind of crossing there but it wasn’t put on the map. Why? Because it is the real world and it’s not perfect. Do you ever think that happens in real war with real maps and real commanders? Do you ever think something like this has come up and messed up a whole operation? All the time. The military even has an affectionate term for it. It’s called: SNAFU.
Maybe they forgot to draw it on the map. Maybe the ink didn’t stick there when the map was printed. Maybe high water recently washed out the bridge, so there is no crossing there right now. Who knows? Make a decision and go with it. What if you disagree with your opponent on how to interpret the map? That ruins the game! How do you resolve it?
Flip a coin. Ask an innocent bystander to make a ruling for you. Does it really matter?
Why are you playing the game? Are you playing to learn about history, learn about the time period, learn about command, spend time having fun with people that share your same interests? Isn’t trying to figure out what the map means doing that? I’d argue that doesn’t ruin the game. That IS the game.
Are you playing a game to competitively ‘beat’ somebody and claim some kind of superior intellect or skill? I could argue that THIS ruins the game. 100 page, fine print rule books ruin the game. How much has our hobby been damaged by this type of thinking and approach?
What has higher sales? The average wargame that rolls off the line or Dungeons & Dragons? Guess what? Do you know what the original Kriegsspiel was like? It was a lot more like D&D. What if wargaming was more like D&D? Would our hobby grow and be stronger? More accessible to new comers?
No bridge was depicted on the map. Several players are in disagreement on how that should be interpreted. What would happen in D&D? The Dungeon Master would set a percentage and roll a die. There’s the answer. In Kriegsspiel an Umpire would do the same thing. If you don’t have an Umpire in a Pub Battles game, roll a die.
Guess what? The best REAL training by military officers are Command Post Exercises. These are run like Kriegsspiel. Like D&D. It’s not about counting hexes, calculating odds on CRTs and looking up mods on charts. It’s about reading maps, teamwork, communication through limited written orders and reports with timing delays and hidden intel. What does that little dot on the map mean? Who knows but you have 3 min to make a decision and get your next order out.
Is Pub Battles unclear? Yes. The maps are a bit unclear. The rules are a bit unclear. They are that way by design. Bad rules are 100% clear. Our goal is NOT to answer any possible question, any person could possibly ever have. That results in bloated rule books to games that never get played.
Our goal for rules are to be short, concise and easy to reference. Our goal is that they should answer most questions that most people need; not explain everything.
Our goal for wargames is to push them more in the direction of D&D, Kriegsspiel and Command Post Exercises; To make them more about communication, teamwork and leadership. I believe this will make wargaming both more fun and realistic. I also think this can greatly expand our industry and hobby.
One final point. I don’t mean to slam all traditional hex & counter, CRT wargames. I like them too. I play them. I grew up on them. There are many great ones that do many great things. Don’t get me wrong.
I’m just trying to point out that there is another path, and that other path has many great virtues as well. I also think that in our industry, this other path is greatly undeveloped and under-represented.