This page was last updated on 1 January 1998.

Combined Strategic-Tactical Gaming

by Brian McCue. (c)1996, 1997 Permission granted to copy for non-commercial use.

[Editor's Note: Brian originally wrote this for the fellow members of his gaming group, to get us thinking about how we might incorporate some of these ideas into our weekly session. I have tried to edit out most of the references to specific people; in some instances, however, to do so would require more extensive rewriting than I felt comfortable doing.]

For the last nine years, and in some respects longer, the focus of my gaming efforts has been the combination of tactical games (in which the basic units are individual ships, planes, tanks, or platoons, or (as in Panzerblitz and Command Decision) very small aggregations thereof) and strategic or operational-level games. I wanted to see McClusky and the difference his dive-bombers made in the Pacific; 88's and their effect on the war in North Africa;[1] U-boat attacks and the peril they posed to the Allied war effort.[2] I wanted to be able to see not just the campaign in the Solomons, but the reasons the Solomons were important and the attacks by Zeroes on Henderson field. The amount of work has been enormous, and success intermittent at best. Taking stock after a recent Flat Top/Shipbase experience, I decided to write down some of what I have observed in the course of my efforts.


People interested in such combined games (and I'm far from being the only one) look for different things in them. These include:

1) Added variety in tactical situations. I'm a tactical gamer at heart, but tactical games' scenarios (if any--miniatures rules provide few scenarios, and even some boardgames (such as Yaquinto's armor games, Panzer [3], Armor, and 88) provide few or rudimentary scenarios) soon run out. The idea is that the strategic overgame will make things happen in scenarios that people would never think of, or never admit could happen unless they see how. This desideratum could be termed "feedback from the strategic game."

2) Realistic, and realistically fuzzy, victory conditions. Battles in tactical games are often extremely unrealistic: victory is nearly always Phyrric, and designated objectives are pursued with regard to no other considerations. With the tactical game embedded in a larger context, players become more economical of their forces and in general behave more realistically. For example, a Panzerblitz game that was part of a campaign would rarely have the customary 100% attrition of trucks that is normally seen on both sides in an isolated Panzerblitz battle. This effect can be startling: players in my Tsushima/Battlefleet Miniatures campaign were even more cautious than their historical counterparts, having previously played Battlefleet Miniatures with the usual wargamers' abandon.

AH Submarine has an interesting Prolonged Attack Chart on which one rolls at the conclusion of the tactical game to create longer-run effects of such conditions as battle damage and low batteries, as well as a procedure for "rolling up" subs' and escorts' initial supplies of fuel and weapons. Thus, even though it is a tactical game, it provides for the fact that the vessels have done some fighting before the period covered by the game and will do so afterwards.

3) That the overgame provide visibility into the larger repercussions of tactical events, or "feedforward from the tactical game." There can be a strong "So what?" reaction to the outcome of a tactical game: people want to see a long-range effect. This desire is hardly limited to wargaming: major league sports seasons (not to mention the "seasons" played by devotees of sports simulation games, such as Strat-o-Matic Baseball) are months-long contests to find the league champion, not just schedules of games. To some degree (especially among the young), the desire may simply be for involvement in a process of long duration. When I was in graduate school, I played two campaign games of GDW Imperium (not to be confused with West End Imperium Romanum), and explicitly connected the solace I found in them with the fact that they were the only part of my life that extended beyond the due date of the next problem set. Considering the games to be simulations of history, or of possible history, the desire is for a connection between the observable and the important. This desire exists in the reading and writing of history as well: we like to be told how Hazelitt's battery repulsed Pickett's charge, making possible the victory at Gettysburg, the defeat of the South, the restoration of the Union, the New Deal, and so on. In the for-fun world of games, people are to be forgiven for wanting this sort of thing to at least the degree that it is said to exist in the real world, if not more. From the other end of the telescope, this desire manifests itself as a yearning for more visibility into the crucial battles. Thus West End Imperium Romanum (not to be confused with GDW Imperium), which can often be decided by a single battle, has a tactical system (tragically omitted from the second edition) so that the game is not decided by a single die roll. On the other hand, AH Afrika Korps normally depends on the success of an Axis attack on Tobruk, likewise decided by a single die roll, and leaves one wishing for a tactical system in which to resolve the crux of the game.

4) That the focus remain on the tactical game, without the need to spend a huge amount of time on the non-tactical "overgame." Evidently I feel this requirement less strongly than do most others: I was happy with the time my gaming group spent on the Flat Top part of Flat Top/Shipbase, because I also like Flat Top in itself. However, this is still a consideration for me, and it's an over-riding consideration for some people. One advantage of having multiple people is that they can spread out the work of the overgame, as we did in Flat Top.

5) That the overgame be multi-sided, with diplomacy and all. This is another one that I do not feel as strongly as some do. However, I bring it up because it fits in well with an implementation choice that I like, namely that the overgame be played in PB(E)M mode, with the face-to-face sessions all devoted to tactical games. People who like multiplayer wheeling-and-dealing like it best in PB(E)M games, because in face-to-face games one gets too much information from seeing who goes off into the corner to talk to whom.

6) That the entire experience entail only a few tactical battles, i.e., only a few that are fought out in the tactical system. This desideratum became apparent to me only when somebody mentioned it on Consim-L and/or the GDW Command Decision mailing list. The idea was that people will not want to keep putting time into tactical battles when they are doomed in the overgame. There's a lot of truth to this. There need to be enough tactical battles that the later ones reflect the outcomes of the earlier ones, but not so many that there are a lot left after the outcome becomes clear. GDW Imperium, in which a series of wars are strung together into a campaign, maintains the interest of the loser by favoring him during the interludes of peace, so that the game is very stable: thus one can play many wars (not to mention the tactical battles within these wars; there's a rudimentary little tactical system as well) before the overall outcome is certain.

7) A well-fleshed out background, whether drawn from history, from the plausible future (as in NATO games back when the NATO scenario was plausible), or from some "known" SF such as that of the TV show Star Trek.

8) Another means of keeping the outcome unclear is elasticity. In a true campaign, the victor's troops may snowball, but he compensatingly encounters harder battles as he nears the final victory. In GDW Imperium, the loser picks up increased reinforcements for next time; in most two-level games, the winner typical takes on tougher and tougher targets (for whatever reason -- longer logistical tail, more fortifications, bigger garrisons, etc.) as he nears victory in the overgame, so he needs his growing snowball of troops. The climactic battle at the end is supposed to be big and hard to win, with the victor's snowball having to survive a lot of fire.

In my professional life, I have run into another reason for wanting to mix tactical and strategic (or operational) gaming: increased validity of the overgame through the addition of detail provided by the tactical game. People who seek such "hierarchical simulations" are starting with the overgame and working down, rather than starting with a tactical game and working up as I have tended to do. Moreover, I don't agree that they will automatically increase the validity of their overgame by adding detail (a whole tactical game) to the combat resolution process.

Approaches That Have Been Tried

As mentioned above, I've hardly been alone in wanting to satisfy these desires. Many approaches have been taken:

A) Two-level games, to include: pre-packaged two-level games [4], standalone games meant to be mated [5], strategic add-ons to tactical games [6], tactical sub-games that are almost worth playing in their own right [7], and post-facto matings of existing games [8], an approach in which I have specialized. A big difficulty in two-level games is deciding which tactical battles to fight out, a point to which I shall return later, but if it were possible to establish that the distribution of tactical outcomes was the same in the tactical system as it was in the overgame's combat resolution system, then one could use the latter for boring battles. Interestingly, the idea is often stated (e.g., in FASA Prefect) that one should do just the "important" battles: while this is sometimes possible, it often isn't, because the importance of a battle can depend upon which side wins.

B) The use of very rudimentary campaign overgames designed purely as such, e.g. the campaign games included in some of GDW's First Battle series (e.g., in the expansion set for Sands of War), or the campaign rules for SPI's Dreadnought (possibly published later in Moves). The former has armies moving from box to box on lines, the latter is just a list of battles you have to fight (having secretly allocated different parts of your fleet to each). Rudimentary systems like these tend not to be historical. There might be some difficulty in boiling down a historical campaign to the rudimentary level of the First Battle system's campaign games without simplifying it beyond recognition, but the attempt would be worthwhile. In one of the supplements to FASA's Centurion game I found a flowchart delineating a rudimentary campaign overgame. It inspired me to create a similar flowchart connecting most of the scenarios in Panzerblitz [available here], at the cost of historical sequencing. I have already suggested (to Chris Weuve) a Pacific game on this model, in which the maps of AH Midway ('64), the AH Coral Sea variant, my Aleutians variant, the Phillipines variant, and Panama Canal, Wake, and/or Indian Ocean variants, are boxes connected by lines.

C) Mail-in-your-results campaigns. These have been run by various magazines and companies. In classic form, e.g. West End's Torg SFRP effort and the Illar IV campaign for GW Epic, people read a magazine for general ideas of what kind of battles they should fight, fight them, and send in the results to the company, where it's all somehow melded into a campaign history. (I suspect that the melding process includes a considerable amount of throwing out that which does not fit.) In the late 1960's the British magazine Miniature Wargaming ran an interesting variant in which players signed up to be Romans in a Romans-vs.-Gauls campaign. At the magazine, an overgame was played out, and from time to time each Roman commander would get instructions as to what battle to fight: he used his local choice of everything, to include miniatures, rules, and local Gaul opponent, and sent the results back in. One can imagine a variety of problems with this system.

D) Roleplaying games. These have lots of tactical rules, but are nearly always played as a very long campaign under the auspices of a referee. The players usually get only their characters' tactical view, but in many there is a strong awareness of larger events. Insofar as the game concerns a roving band of warriors, it is a tactical wargame embedded in a larger campaign.

E) Non-game "scenario generators," such as those designed for GW Space Hulk or Clash of Arms Command at Sea. I have never used one of these, but I intend to get the Command at Sea version, which covers the early part of the war in the Pacific, i.e., what we were gearing up to do with Flat Top/Shipbase.

F) Use of the successive battles of a historical campaign. Around 1970 a Napoleonic miniatures group with which I was involved devoted a gaming year to the Peninsular campaign, battle-by-battle. Because each battle was taken from history as-was, a unit could appear after having been wiped out in an earlier game. At some point somebody voiced a desire for some amount of carryover, e.g. of captured artillery, so as to have visibility into repercussions, but that would have been anti-historical.

G) "Bathtub" games. These are very large tactical scenarios, created by shrinking a historical campaign in time and space, even though their physical implementation may make them look like two-level games. For example, GDW Barbarossa/25 shrinks the Fire in the East map by a factor of 25 (in linear dimensions) so that each hex is about a mile across and thus the same as a 12" Geohex terrain hex in Command Decision. Forces are reduced by the same factor of 25 (resulting in the unforgettable Kleine Deutschland Battalion!). These capture the historical feel (albeit with a high level of quaintness: viz., the photo of the village of Moscow in the Barbarossa/25 book) and give insight into the repercussions of tactical events, if only by exaggerating them. The scale can be annoying when events that shouldn't be tactical are, like Moscow taking mortar fire from the neighboring village of Smolensk. My own modification of this idea prevented the latter effect by having an area movement concept and only focus on one area at a time: for each node of the 3W Dark Crusade map I specified a setup of GDW First Battle series maps, but these did not (quite) bridge the gaps between nodes. A subtle motivation for the Bathtub idea is the specification of terrain. Barbarossa/25 and a Crimean campaign would be about the same size, but in the latter case it would be impossible to get terrain data on the needed tactical scale (e.g., woods a fraction of a kilometer in extent): the former gives you all the terrain data you need, by "blowing down" a strategic game like Fire in the East.

None of these approaches is perfect, but each satisfies most of the desiderata: otherwise, they would not have been tried. Table 1 shows which approaches satisfy which desiderata:

Table 1: Approaches That Have Been Tried
DESIDERATA 2-level Rudimentary Campaign Mail-In RPG Scenario Generator Historical campaign Bathtub
Scenario Variety Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Sort of
Realistic Play Yes Yes Maybe Yes No No Yes
Visible Effects Yes Yes Some Maybe No No Sort of
Focus on Tactical No Yes Yes Yes Yes Total Yes
Multisided Maybe Not yet Maybe Doubtful Difficult No Maybe
Number of Battles Lots Few Any Many One Not Many 1 Huge
Historical Setting Yes Not yet Yes Seldom Yes Certainly Yes
Elasticity Yes Doubtful Probably Yes No Yes Yes

Most of the table entries are self-evident, but a few comments are in order. I have yet to see a multi-sided scenario generator, or even to have a clear vision of what one would be like, but I can't rule it out. De Bellis Multitudinus, a follow-on to the miniatures rules De Bellis Antiquitatis, may qualify. The Bathtub approach is really just a way of forming a huge tactical game, so it provides scenario variety only up to the point at which one decides what campaign to subject to the Bathtub treatment, and exactly one battle (albeit a big one, in which lots of variety might happen) thereafter; the tactical effects are visible in one sense ("My motorcycle battalion just took the village of Kiev!"), but not in the sense of appearing at a higher level (because there isn't one).

Moving on from commentary on specific cells, it's clear that the desires for "visible effects" and an historical setting are what drove me to the two-level approach, which suffers only from inordinate involvement with the overgame. The Rudimentary Overgame has high potential in that it has no solid "No's" and requires only some innovation to cure the present lack of a multiplayer feature, if that is even wanted, and the lack of historicity in any version that I have seen so far. However, the "Doubtful" elasticity may be hard to cure without sacrificing the rudimentariness of the Rudimentary Overgame.

Veteran policy analysts cringe at the sight of such charts as the above, in which the next step is all too often an assignment of numerical values to the table entries and then a summing to see which approach is best. This technique ignores the important possibility of synergisms, assumes all the desiderata to be equally weighted, and depends on the choice of numerical values, so I don't do it. It also inevitably assigns a medium number to "maybe" boxes, which definitizes them unjustly. For example, the mail-in game has a potentially huge visibility of tactical results at the overall level, as well a potentially zero visibility, and all levels in between, depending on the whim of the judges: to turn that range into a medium-size number would be to err in the fashion of the analyst who tried to wade across the Potomac, having heard that it is on the average three feet deep.

Approaches That Haven't Been Tried (Yet)

With none of the existing solutions having proven completely satisfactory, I have tried to think of some new ideas:
H) (Variant of solution A, two-level games) Use repeated play of a tactical game's scenarios to create the CRT for a strategic game. The idea is that one would play multiple encounters in, say, Panzerblitz, under each of many different circumstances, especially different force ratios. The results would then be used to build up a Combat Results Table with which to play a game of, say, Stalingrad. The US Army has actually had this idea (after I did; I thought of it when I was in high school), but has run afoul of the same difficulty that rules this out for hobby use: the number of Panzerblitz games would not be small (violating Desideratum 6), and for good statistics it might even be larger than the number of battles in the ensuing Stalingrad game! The scenarios would be varied, but still "generic," especially with respect to terrain, and there would be no feel of "elasticity" while playing through them, though there would probably be elasticity in the overgame when it was finally played out. This approach would be good with respect to Visibility (Desideratum 3); a valiant rebuff of a 4:1 river crossing would repercuss every time that situation arose, or could arise. On the other hand, the overgame could be seriously warped if the resultant CRT were very different from the original. (In my matings of strategic and tactical games to produce two-level games, e.g. Afrika Korps/Tobruk, I've discovered that the variance in the overgame's CRT can only be reproduced by varying the forces in the tactical game, so that not all 3:1's are exactly 3:1. One good way of introducing the variation was to have a "goodies" table on which the two sides rolled before the tactical game, adding a few items not in the units' basic TO&E's. This made for more varied games, and restored the needed variety.)

I) (Workable variant of H) Use tactical games to modify the overgame's CRT, not to create it. This takes fewer tactical games and does less violence to the overgame CRT. The idea can best be explained via an example of an implementation. Consider an AH classic CRT, with odds-ratio columns, die-roll rows, and simple outcomes such as A-Elim, D-Retreat, etc.. Each column can be replaced by the proverbial opaque container ("a coffee mug works well"), with six (or 6N, some multiple of six) chits for the results. Now a tactical battle is fought, its situation corresponding to some column, e.g. 3:1. The result is characterized as one of the possible simple outcomes, and a seventh (or thirteenth, or whatever; 6N + 1th) chit is added to the appropriate container, bearing the result. The balance between the number of original chits and the number added by fighting tactical battles is up to the campaign designer, depending upon whether the tactical battles are supposed to predominate the outcomes or just modify the CRT a little, and depending upon how many tactical battles the players are going to want to fight before they play the strategic game. Approach I turns back into Approach H if N = 0 and a large number of tactical battles are fought. Like approach H, it suffers from lackluster scenarios, because there is no feedback from the overgame into the scenarios, and from the lack of elasticity.

J) (Combination of solution A, two-level games, and solution E, scenario generators): Fully automate the strategic game. The ACW game mentioned in the discussion of existing two-level game approaches would qualify if it has a computer-vs.-itself setting; otherwise this approach has not been taken as far as I know. Players would passively observe the progress of the strategic war in the strategic game, and would be given battles to fight out and then input the results back into the program. A similar option could be provided by the computer game Reach for the Stars (computer Stellar Conquest), a four-player game of which any or all of the four players can be the computer, if anybody ever finishes the job I once started of analyzing the structure of the saved-game files enough to permit changing them to reflect the outcome of battles fought off-line in Triplanetary. If the "program" were rudimentary enough it could be hand-done without consuming a lot of time (and thus violating Desideratum 4), though it would still be fully automatic in the sense that the players wouldn't do any strategic thinking. Perhaps it would be implemented as a book, like the solitaire "create your own adventure" books, or a solitaire game like AH Patton's Best, VG Tokyo Express, or Omega East Front Solitaire. [9] Because only one person would have to go to the trouble of playing the solitaire overgame, the desideratum of not spending much time on that game would be met. In fact, this solution could satisfy all desiderata, though use of the store-bought solitaire games would run the risk of violating Desideratum 6 by having too many battles. An interesting variant is to have other people play the strategic game in refereed PBEM mode, as is presently underway in my PBEM AH/S Guadalcanal game, surface battles to be fought out locally using Shipbase.

K) (Further simplification of J) Make the connections between the battles completely deterministic, keeping the campaign while doing away with the last vestiges of the campaign game. I tried drawing up a Panzerblitz "campaign" schedule (different from the flowchart mentioned above in B) on this basis, linking the twelve existing situations via such connections as "Russians exiting off West edge of board in Situation 3 augment Russian force in Situation 10." This would be simple, give visibility, and so on, but I can hear the yowls now: "What!?! You mean just because I lost back in Situation 4 now he gets extra troops?" Of course, that's "visible effects" and it should happen, but it is not the full story: what's missing here is the desideratum of elasticity (which would ease the pain) as well as the desiderata of scenario variety and realistic play.

L) Looking back at the chart of approaches that have been tried, it is striking that any single desideratum can be satisfied by either two-level gaming or the use of a rudimentary campaign. These could be combined through the use of a rudimentary game (as opposed to non-game campaign thing), perhaps one so simple that it would normally be beneath real wargamers to play it, as the overgame. An example might be TSR Line in the Sand. Avalanche The Great War at Sea (originally designed as a campaign overgame for miniatures, which is how I use it) qualifies in this regard because the operational-level part is so simple.[10] The focus would remain on the tactical, and there would be few tactical games, because the overgame is not at all hard to play or long. This solution could satisfy all desiderata.

M) Especially when melding existing games (e.g., Afrika Korps and Command Decision), an easy way to solve the problem of deciding which games to play would be to replace one or more entries in the overgame's CRT with "Play Out Tactically" in place of, say, "Exchange." There would remain the basic conflict between keeping the focus on the tactical and keeping the number of tactical games small, because the total number of combat resolutions needed, if a commercial boardgame is used as the overgame, is not small. Note that these entries would not necessarily all be in the same column of the CRT. In the Tobruk/Afrika Korps game, we fought out all Afrika Korps 3:1's in Tobruk, which raised the question of whether our Tobruk battles had the same distribution of outcomes as the 3:1 column of the Afrika Korps CRT (they didn't). Replacing an outcome, instead of a column, with miniatures battles eliminates the question of distribution, and only requires that one discover which outcome (and I'd say "exchange" is probably pretty close) best characterizes miniatures battles.

Table 2: Approaches That Haven't Been Tried (Yet)
DESIDERATA Build up overgame CRT Modify overgame CRT Automated Overgame Deterministic Schedule Simple Overgame "Play Out" CRT entry
Scenario Variety No No Yes No Yes Yes
Realistic Play Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Visible Effects Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Focus on Tactical Medium Any Yes Yes Yes Doubtful
Multisided Maybe Maybe If wanted If wanted If wanted If wanted
Number of Battles Huge Any Many Any Small Variable
Historical Setting Yes Yes Yes Sort of If wanted Yes
Elasticity No No Yes No Yes Yes

Addendum: Information in Gaming

Background and Relation to Two-Level Games

Recently I ran across a where-I'm-going-in-gaming piece that I wrote around eight years ago. It contained a great deal about an area of interest that I've pretty much abandoned, namely what I call "design-a-thing" games. In design-a-thing games, players create their units before play. Most such games are SF games, so as to relieve the game's creator of the responsibility of coming up with a design system that reflects the real world -- examples include Car Wars and several games of the giant robot subgenre. GDW Striker, intriguingly, purports to allow for the design of twentieth-century tanks as well as SF ones, and AH Trireme and Metagaming Ram Speed should count as historical design-a-thing games because in them one gets to fit one's ships out with catapults, corvi, towers, Greek fire, etc..

My thesis was that most design-a-thing games are tactical, yet design is a national decision that should be represented at a national level. I said in the piece that Warren Dew had accused me of wanting to simulate one level deeper than I was playing, and that I had replied, "two levels." The culmination of my design-a-thing period was the belated appearance of GDW's Ironclads and Ether Flyers. Stripped of the "ether flyers" (1880s' spaceships), the game is a naval miniatures game with a very respectable design sequence that produces some realistic ships and also some very interesting ships. For a variety of reasons, the GDW game was a disappointment, and after writing a detailed analysis of its design system in The Wild Hunt I lost interest in design-a-thing games.

My interest in two-level games that combine strategic and tactical games relates to the interest in design-a-thing games in that all along I had wanted to see how the designs influenced the large-scale outcome. If they really combine strategic and tactical, with the operational level missing, then the lower level is, as I said to Warren, two levels below the upper level. "Bathtub" games, discussed above, are an example of such a combination, as would be games representing situations in which the middle "operational" level is missing in real life, e.g. naval and strategic nuclear games. Though I gave up on the design-a-thing games, I retained the interest in seeing how the designs influenced the outcome; as described on page 1 above, I wanted to blaze away with Rommel's 88s and see the movement of the front, etc..

Doubleblind Games

In most normal wargames, players receive far too much information. What good is it to have a zillion different weapon parameters specified to two digits' precision in Advanced Squad Leader if you then (in effect) give the troops X-ray vision and a Vulcan mindmeld? I maintain that more overall accuracy can be had with much less complication through the simple double-blind mechanic. Though many see the need for a referee as burdensome, everyone (in my experience) who tries it decides he likes doing it. More than one has said, "That was more fun than playing!" In commenting on a review of C.V., Craig Taylor (designer of the Flat Top-C.V. game system) said that he thought it odd that doubleblind wargames are ill-received because of their need for a referee, when role-playing games all presuppose the presence of a referee. Chris Weuve says that a similar point is contained in Mind, Map, and Maneuver, though the author doesn't claim to know why RPG gamers feel as they do.

I don't consider alleged "double-blind" games that use the doomed call-out-the-hexes method to be truly double-blind, because they give the players more information than their real-world counterparts would have; if these games are to be called double-blind, then the ones I advocate are also "double-deaf." There are many call-out-the-hexes naval games, and GDW did a few such land games in the mid 1980s (e.g. Eighth Army: Operation Crusader [not to be confused with GDW's own earlier near-monster Operation Crusader, in which there was a doubleblind variant mentioned towards the end], a Normandy game, and an Arnheim game). These probably served mostly to turn people off to games that were billed as "double-blind."

My own affinity for double-blind games comes originally from Stratego (which we probably all played, and which the Columbia blocks games resemble), double-blind chess (called Kriegspiel, not to be confused with the awful AH game of the same name), roleplaying games, and refereed PBM games. Simply as games, these manage to be complex without a lot of rules, or intense despite a lot of rules, because of the uncertainty. In terms of simulation, I noticed that behavior gets a lot more realistic when there is a realistic lack of information. For example, the armored cars seem useless in the initial 88 scenario, until one plays it doubleblind [11], at which point the scouting elements come into their own. Doubleblind games are doubtless over-represented on my list of games I'd like to play.

Simultaneous-move games (in which there is the uncertainty regarding the opponent's move) also engender quite a bit of realism and excitement of play. PBM games tend to be simultaneous-move, and simultaneous-move games are also probably over-represented on my list of games I'd like to play. Many people dislike simultaneous-move games because of the need for written orders (usually -- some games use chits). I used to feel that way until I played Wooden Ships and Iron Men, and discovered how much excitement and realism simultaneous movement could add. In a sense, simultaneous-move games are a step towards being doubleblind because neither player benefits from seeing the other's move before making his own.

Play-by-mail games are usually doubleblind, and I've been running two boardgames adapted as very labor-intensive play-by-(e)-mail miniatures games. The players receive photographs depicting the views seen by their respective forces -- hence the nickname "Pictureblitz". This idea actually does work, though the particular games could use some tuning. Eventually the miniatures and the camera will all be replaced by software. The idea behind these games was that even traditional double-blind games give too much information -- people should have trouble being sure what they're seeing.

In a related vein, I had a couple of failed efforts to combine a cryptography word game with the search games AH Midway and AH Flat Top. [12] Eventually Rick Westerman, moderator of the Flat Top list, pointed out the reason behind this (and other) failures: people who are good at search may not be the people who are good at word games, so a game that involves both will appeal only to the intersection of the two sets. Someday I'd like to do a wargame in which the cryptography is brought to the forefront and the rest is handled in a simple enough way that people could really concentrate on the cryptography. My musings on this topic usually center on imaginative ways to use the omni-available Travel Mastermind set as the crypto part of the game.


[1] Heckman's book on the war in North Africa contains the comment that despite all the talk of maneuver and strategy, most of the seesaw movement of the front can be explained in terms of the available guns and armor. This would be an interesting analysis to perform.

[2] The reference to U-boats may spark in some readers a recognition of the connection to my professional work, part of which has been to connect the overall course of the U-boat campaign to specific changes in hardware and doctrine.

[3] Re-released by Excalibre with ridiculous side-view counters.

[4] Such as AH Jutland, SPI Flight of the Goeben, Clash of Arms's The Great War at Sea, West End Imperium Romanum, and the CD-ROM version of AH Wooden Ships and Iron Men.

[5] Such as FASA Centurion and Prefect, GW Mighty Empires and Warhammer Fantasy Battle, 3W Imperator and Ancients, and Task Force Games's various Starfire products.

[6] Such as the strategic boardgame for the WRG Empire Napoleonic miniatures rules, the strategic movement portion of Shipbase (which has various problems, alas) and the very-interesting-sounding ACW computer game that gives you three ways of resolving tactical encounters, of which one is a printout of what to fight in a miniatures game.

[7] Like those of AH Midway ('64), AH/Smithsonian Midway and Guadalcanal, AH/Columbia Games Napoleon, and AH Titan, a semi-abstract two-level game dressed up in fantasy trappings.

[8] AH's supplement that mates Napoleon's Battles into Empires in Arms, a local group's use of AH Kingmaker and home-brew miniatures rules, and my own numerous attempts, such as Tsushima/Battlefleet Miniatures, Stellar Conquest/Triplanetary, East Front/Panzerblitz, Dark Crusade/Blood and Thunder, Afrika Korps/Tobruk, and Flat Top/Shipbase, to name only ones that have been played. (My own post-facto land two-level games have also used a modified version of the "bathtub" idea, discussed below.)

[9] Or perhaps I should just combine SPI's solitaire U-boat campaign game Wolfpack with the solitaire convoy-defense scenario of AH's Submarine, and stop bothering everybody else.

[10] This game is also attractive for another reason: its system of missions and orders forces players to do much of their planning before the game, so that they could do so at home, show up on game day, quickly play out the GWAS action, and then turn to the miniatures to fight out the ensuing battles.

[11] Lacking the second set needed for doubleblind play, one can inject some realism into 88 and its sister games by secretly writing down the first eight or ten moves and then pushing the units through them until contact is made, whereupon remaining unenacted moves are erased and normal face-to-face play begins. This is sufficiently double-vision-impaired to make the scout cars useful, but true doubleblind play is far preferable.

[12] A contributing factor to my loss of interest in design-a-thing games may have been that in my professional capacity I stopped working on matters relating to the defense industry and finally undertook a serious project involving search theory, resulting in my book U-Boats in the Bay of Biscay and continuing, with the addition of signals intelligence to the search theory, in the book I am now writing, tentatively entitled U-Boats on the Airwaves. I got interested in the relationship between cryptography and searches, and did a lot of work on the topic for a chapter of the latter book that I will probably wind up dropping simply because it doesn't get anywhere surprising.[Back]

Brian McCue can be reached at