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Wargames: What Are They? How Do you Design One?

Updated on April 10, 2009

A war game is usually a historical simulation on a specific battle based upon the history of the battle. The game plays much like the intensity of Chess, which is really an abstract version of a war game. A wargame comes in two varieties, a computer version where you play against the computer or a board game with playing pieces and rules.

An example is like Firefight games' Eastern Operation 1941, which is a historical yet hypothetical simulation of could have occurred immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The game simulates what might had occurred had the Japanese invaded Oahu, Hawaii, as they originally planned right after the historic air raid of Pearl Harbor. Very interesting, to say the least.

In any wargame, each player is the general of all their forces, and within certain restrictions imposed by the game rules and beginning setup, the player's can try to change history by conducting an attack that did not occur historically to reach the victory objectives. The objectives are usually geographic and\or the amount of losses. The game's playing pieces or "counters" are usually 1/2 inch squares with unit designations or strengths on them according to the actual units that made up a specific battle. Player's alternate turns moving and conducting combat during the game to achieve the objectives. Combat is resolved mostly by rolling the dice and referring to a special combat table for that specific game. Units move across the map with "movement points" usually printed on the counter. Terrain features on the game map usually have assigned movement entry costs and these are subtracted from the unit moving. When the unit has no more movement points to move with that turn, it cannot move (but other units not already moved may move).

Designing a wargame is a craft and art. You must love to research historical battles or potential ones, you must obtain the raw data of the units and their nuances that were in the actual battle. This can take time. You need to read a wide variety of sources about the battle from all angles and both sides. This will allow you to get a complete picture and provide you with info about how to craft the rules that govern the game, what is allowed, what is not allowed (because it did not happen historically or could not have). The order of battle for the game is critical and must be correct as must the game map, based on historical sources. You will need to recreate this into a map using hexagons, which are used to regulate movement.

Just getting the battle information may take weeks. Reading source material is also very time consuming. Then, the designer needs to translate this info into a game with rules, a map, and counters using graphic art software. So, one game may take months or a year to produce from time research starts to the end product.

Firefight Games' North Russia has the British attacking in 1919
Firefight Games' North Russia has the British attacking in 1919
A counter from Eastern Operation
A counter from Eastern Operation
A map from FFG's Anzio 1944
A map from FFG's Anzio 1944
German units from Hitler's Stalingrad 1945
German units from Hitler's Stalingrad 1945
Cover to FFGs Petrograd 1919
Cover to FFGs Petrograd 1919


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    • FunFacter profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      chess YAAA


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