I’m a big fan of series games. The idea of learning a single set of base rules that will allow me to play multiple games on topics that I enjoy really appeals to me. This is especially true of games with substantial or detailed rulebooks. If I’m going to invest a lot of time and energy learning a big set of rules I’d like to be able to play more than just one game with them. I doubt very much that I’d bother trying to learn the La Bataille Règlement de l’An XXX rules if I knew I’d only be able to play Quatre Bras.
In order for me to really learn a set of rules I need to play a lot. And what I mean by learning the rules is not just playing the game correctly from a rules standpoint but learning how all of the parts fit together in order to play the game well. First off, whether it’s the group of ne’er-do-wells that I frequently play games with or my own desire to play certain types of games, the majority of the games that I play are series based. This means I spend more time on fewer rule sets allowing me to learn those rules more quickly than I would be able to otherwise.
Secondly the wider range of situations that a game series can present allows me to learn how the “parts fit together” so that I can play the game well, or in my case, somewhat competently. Moving supply in the Operational Combat Series is handled by the same set of rules in every game, but having to move that supply through the rough terrain in Burma as compared to the steppes of Russia really gives me a chance to learn the different nuances of those rules and how to apply them efficiently.
Of course in some instances a detailed stand-alone game might just appeal to me enough that I’m going to try and make the effort to learn it anyway. GMT’s 1914: Twilight in the East (TitE) is one example of this as it covers a topic that I’m very interested in and appears to have enough detail in the rules to keep things interesting. The problem is that every time I start to read the rules I look at my gaming shelf and see a collection of La Bataille, Battles from the Age of Reason, or Tactical Combat Series games and think that for the same amount of effort I can open up the ability to play many different games on topics that I enjoy. I do still take the time to learn some detailed stand alone games once in awhile, as there are just too many good games to ignore, but I never get as comfortable with their rules as I do with those from series games.
With all of that being said I thought it would be an interesting (well, interesting for me anyway) exercise to give some random and rambling thoughts on some of the game series I have spent the most time with.
ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER
The very first real wargame that I ever played was the original Squad Leader. Not the easiest way to jump into the hobby but the programmed instruction nature of the rulebook certainly made it doable. It wasn’t long after I had started playing that I began to wonder why my squads couldn’t do things that I thought they should be perfectly capable of. I can’t walk between two buildings that don’t touch because they’re in adjacent hexes? I can’t have my squad lay down some smoke before trying to cross a street? I can’t fire at moving units until they’re done moving?
These nagging deficiencies, as I saw them at the time, led to my purchase of Advanced Squad Leader and Beyond Valor. As far as squad-level, World War II combat went, this system had no equal. Every other squad level game I had tried was compared to ASL and every one of them came out on the losing end. With ASL I could play a scenario that represented actual combat from just about any theatre of operations that occurred during WWII using a single ruleset. It was awesome and I had a ton of fun with it. Eventually I started to burn out and after five or six years of playing ASL almost exclusively I sold off my entire set and took a break from wargaming for a few years.
GERMANS AWAITING THE CANADIAN ATTACK IN GOING TO CHURCH
When I eventually did get back into the hobby I found that I wasn’t as interested in forcing squads of soldiers out of certain terrain features as I had been before. I was no longer as interested in taking a hill or clearing a building. I wanted to take control of entire cities.
OPERATIONAL COMBAT SERIES
For those of you who know me you already know how I feel about OCS. For those who don’t, OCS is by far my all time favorite wargaming series. I own every OCS game and, with the exception of Hube’s Pocket, have played every one of them. I tend to think that OCS sometimes has an unfair reputation as being this massively huge, difficult to learn system. While some of the games certainly are massively huge in size the system itself is really pretty straightforward to learn.
Like a lot of people who have gotten into the system after its initial release my first OCS experience was The Race for Tunis from Tunisia. While The Race for Tunis is certainly a decent place to start I think there are much better options for getting into the series. My current go to scenario for this purpose is Edge of the World from Case Blue. A one mapper that doesn’t overwhelm a new player with hundreds of units or numerous game specific rules. I’ll usually take the role of the attacking Germans allowing the newbie to worry about setting up the Russian defenses as opposed to having to worrying about getting across the map with almost no supply.
Case Blue, however, is an expensive option for someone just getting into the system. Burma, on the other hand, is still in print and relatively cheap. It offers a lot of small learning scenarios that are quick to play and are smaller pieces of the overall campaign making it that much easier to get into the real meat of the game. With the upcoming re-release of Korea, which is my personal favorite of the entire series, and the new Reluctant Enemies getting closer and closer to hitting their pre-order numbers, there will soon be plenty of other good options for someone looking to get into the series.
READERS OF THIS BLOG SHOULD BE FAMILIAR WITH DAK BY NOW
While OCS was designed to cover conflicts from the early 1900s to the early 1950s the current crop of games only covers battles from 1940 (DAK and The Blitzkrieg Legend) to 1951 (Korea). I think it would be interesting to see how the system would handle things like the Russian or Spanish Civil Wars, Dien Bien Phu, or even World War I.
I had never been much of a World War I gamer as it’s a topic that I was just never very interested in. My obviously naive and overly simplified take on the conflict was that it consisted of massive assaults against nearly impenetrable positions resulting in “successes” of several hundred yards at a time. I had played a couple of WWI games and was just never taken by them. I had fun but they weren’t games that I’d go out of my way to play again.
A friend of mine who is a big World War I gamer knew that I really liked the supply based aspects of OCS and thought I might have an interest in the Der Weltkrieg Simulation Series. It’s was operational level system, heavily supplied based, and the headquarter units played a major role in the game. Sounded like it was worth looking into and two things immediately struck me upon my initial investigation into the system; the rules and the maps.
First the series rules contains fifty separate sections! Hell, La Bataille Règlement de l’An XXX only contains 23. Once I got past that initial shock and actually started looking at the rules I realized that each section was very concise and well written. It’s one of the few systems where I’ve been able to read through the rules a single time and feel comfortable jumping right into a game. Now that I’ve spent some time with the system I have no problem stating that the Der Weltkrieg rules are some of the best I’ve come across.
The maps really take some getting used to. While they’re hex based all of the terrain is hex-side based which leads to really weird looking maps as you have all of these triangular looking terrain features overlaid on the hexes. For as weird as it might look at first it really works great during play. Movement costs are based on the hex-side your unit is crossing as opposed to the hex it’s moving into. Combat modifiers work in a similar fashion although the defender has the option to pick tougher adjacent terrain if it exists.
RUSSIANS BEFORE THE START OF TANNENBERG
Combat in this series is also handled in a very cool fashion as each point in combat counts. There are no odds ratios, if I attack with 57 strength points, I get to use them all, nothing is wasted. Once the attack has taken place it’s the defenders turn and depending on the amount of damage that was taken during the attack they’ll get to counter with either two or three times their strength. This obviously leads to a lot of bloody battles with each side trying to wear the other down. Seems about right for a WWI game doesn’t it?
As mentioned above tactical gaming isn’t really my cup of tea. I enjoy it but I’d much rather jump up to the operation level where I get to concentrate on the bigger picture. One notable exception to this is miniature gaming. While I never thought that I would enjoy miniatures a friend of mine convinced me to give it a try and I found it to be a lot of fun. One of the major advantages to miniatures is that once you have the figures and terrain (or better yet, once your friend has all of it) there are a ton of rule sets available for use. We have quite the collection of rule sets but the one that gets the most play is Disposable Heroes.
Disposable Heroes is a WWII miniatures system that has supplements for just about every nation that participated in the war. The system itself is fairly simplistic and very easy to play, which is nice as it allows us to jump right back into playing even if we’ve been away from it for a while. There are, like most of the systems we’ve tried, some ambiguities to the rules, but we’ve always been able to come up with tweaks or house rules that seem to work out just fine. We’ve played scenarios covering just about every theatre and time period from the war and had a lot of fun doing it.
US SQUAD CLOSE ASSAULTING A TIGER TANK
There are several other series games that I’ve dorked around with from time to time including GMT’s Great Battles of the American Civil War and Musket & Pike, all of The Gamers’ stuff with the exception of the Napoleonic Battle Series, Clash of Arms’ La Bataille and Battles from the Age of Reason, and a few others as well. They’ve all been a lot of fun and each one has some aspects that I really enjoy. Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to spend learning all of them and at some point may have to pick my top five and just stick with them.