Wargamers ZOC

    Welcome fellow Grognards, and if you didn’t understand that, odds are this page won’t interest you greatly. That, and you might not know what ZOC means. A grognard is just a very enthusiastic wargamer, and ZOC stands for "zone of control", a feature common to wargaming.

   Once upon a time before those pesky computer games (that pretend to be wargames) arrived, and hey even before role games, there were wargames. To my mind a wargame is something played on a table. It meant suffering through a complex rulebook. There were no quick start rules normally. You had to read them all. There were no tutorials either. You were lucky to have a good index at the back of the manual.
    Then you had to punch out several hundred maybe even several thousand counters. In most cases no one counter was graphically the same. So heaven forbid you might lose even just one. And you had to place each and everyone on the game board or mapsheet yourself. In a lot of cases you had to place exact counters on exact spots.

    But that is what wargames are about. They normally recreate actual historical battles. They require genuine strategic brilliance. At no time is there ever any mention of hardware or software requirements (only how large a table surface that was required). We use terms like “play balance” and “complexity rating”, the number of players required, and hours needed to finish a normal game. Of course they were talking about real time games. The time was sure real to me at least. You could always tell what you opponent was thinking, because you were looking at them. You knew what they knew, you didn’t have to concern yourself with a lousy interface (maybe a lousy “in your face” occasionally though).

    Messaging was instantaneous unless they had a mouthful of chips. My sound effects were always quite good too, I have an incredible collection of military documentaries I have running while we play. Some of us were even blessed with the ultimate weapon, the distracting significant other (not normally considered fair play though). Game saves were a bit rougher. You were able to only save one game at a time (you only had one copy if you were normal). The true devotee had a special place to make the save between games. In my case its an entire room dedicated to that purpose (well its a small room really, ok its a large closet, but its big enough to walk into).

    So what do I play. My wargaming world revolves around Advanced Squad Leader (and oh god is it an expensive game to acquire). My collection believe it or not, is worth more than the best computer money can buy today in spite of what your opinions may be (that would be currently a P4 system, doubt that detail will be relevant next time I update my page though). ASL is as close to real combat as you ever want to get (well you might join the military if you need more). There is no smell of death, but that is about all they left out.

    Next on my list of games that actually get played (because all grognards have more games than they actually play), is likely Advanced Third Reich (known as Classic these days I think). A3R was rated a 10 in its original version as just Third Reich. I would not want to try to rate it now that I have added the Research Rules from newer concepts that have continued forth from A3R. I have yet to play a better economic/political/military grand strategy level wargame.

    I am a big fan of Columbia Game's line of wooden block games. The fog of war element is a great added bonus to the thrill of the game. Thanks to the use of the wooden blocks units can stand upright, you are able to enjoy limited intelligence conditions by being unable to exactly distinguish your opponents true forces with impunity. The non historical based design Victory is perhaps one of the most perfect games in decades. The "Front" games East/West/Mediterranean/Volga Fronts are all that you can want in a full strategic simulation without 20,000 counters. I have the out of print Rommel in the Desert, one of the easiest games to show a new player. They all have very nice mapsheets, and for once don't feature hundreds and thousands of counters.

    The Europa series is the height of indulgence if you can manage the space. Fire in the East alone takes a 6’x8’ foot table surface, and that’s just the Russian front of 1941-43. A splendid divisional level series of games that has no real equal in scope. It's also the exact opposite of the wooden block games. They all features thousands of counters. Only the fanatical need apply. I have World In Flames, perhaps one of the best designs to give you the entire war (with no locations left curiously absent), It gives you all the theatres to run. Not for the weak of heart though.

    I have the incredibly detailed Longest Day game, which only requires you to fight the Normandy landing through to the breakout. Its an attrition game where you have to assume some units wont die quietly. Some formations require the management of as many as 21 subordinate units. Again not for the weak of heart if you can't manage lengthy fights.
   Not all good games have to be hard to play and/or learn. The one game I have with the most wear on it is easily my copy of Up Front. A design that closely mirrors the look of ASL but is by now means really the same. The language of the rules will all look familiar to an ASL fan though. The game uses a special deck of cards to manage the flow of the game. Counters are merely memory aids. There is no board per se, it is abstracted through the play of the cards from the deck. Your forces are represented by a separate type cards that indicate specific individuals. All in all it is an incredibly easy game to master and can be played in a very short time span (not a common quality in wargames). Because they are common I mention, that it is not a collectable trading card game. Its a finite one purchase only card employing game design.

   My collection of course has a great many other titles. Alas some that have never even been given the first playing. I have a fine design called Pacific War. It might be the best game ever made for playing out the war in the Pacific during the second world war. But the game is a space hog and I have yet to give it the opportunity thus far.
   I rapidly turfed my WWW3 designs as soon as the Soviet Union went down the tubes. I was lucky to be able to sell them off when I did. They were all good games, but "what if" battles, that will never be are not worth the effort. Alas a good many game designs from a perspective of actual mechanics died an early death during the fall of soviet communism. I still hold on to my Assault Series of games (not sure why though). It could be the best thing on the market if it was reborn as a WW2 design.

   At one time magazines dedicated to wargaming were strong on the market. Things change. Even the venerable Avalon Hill didn’t survive into the year 2000. It was bought up as a mere add on, to Hasbro empire. It has been a long time since I saw the worth of looking for Strategy and Tactics magazine or the General, or any other title for that matter.

   Today's wargames are assumed to be found on computers. Scream and rant all you want guys. I have seen those “wargames”. Almost all are toys where you get to shoot everything in sight. There have been some attempts to emulate historical wargames of the table top variety. But the computer AI is almost always a mindless idiot. They make predictable moves and are easy to sucker. Not at all like my old wargaming friends. To date I have seen far to few designs I will recommend to those that can not find a breathing opponent. In the Operational Art of War, the AI is particularly unforgiving and the game is not a mouse chase experience. Steel Panthers (now in a variety of evolutions, my favourite being the one known as Steel Panthers World at War in version 7.1) is also a fine wannabe Advanced Squad Leader game. The AI is fairly demanding too

    but in conversations on forums, I am beginning to wonder about wargaming's future. It is looking like computer based wargames might have had their day. Something massively revolutionary is required. Otherwise they will have peaked. We might in time see the rebirth of the board game version as the preferred method of wargaming. My opinion, but I am after all a dedicated wargamer that has been around since it became commercially viable.