Why I Love (PC) Wargames

May 19, 2008

Wargaming to me is about history coming alive.  That’s the main fascination for me, being able to see and actually manipulate an historical event and in doing so gain insight as to why it happened the way it did, and maybe even a better understanding of how such an event was brought about to happen in the first place.

My fascination with history really started back in 1995, when I was 12 years old.  I bought a game for my old Mac called “Red Baron”, which I now consider my favorite game of all time, and was almost solely responsible for the passionate interest I have today. The game was a flight simulator based in World War I, allowing you to fly a full career through the course of the war for either Great Britain or Germany, and to this day has the most top notch dynamic campaign ever to be seen.  I also spent loads of my time reading the wealth of WWI air combat history included in the game manual and game itself.  I was the only 6th grader I’ve ever known who had heard of a “Fokker Eindecker”, or names such as “Manfred von Ricthofen”, “Albert Ball”, “Frank Luke”, and etc.  By the end of that school year I hadn’t actually learned a thing in class, but could give a brief history of how and when wars began to be fought in the skies.

Immortal

This of course led to an obession with historical flight sims, which is what I spent virtually every free moment of my “fat kid” days (roughly from the 6th grade through the 8th) doing. From Red Baron to Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat to even Microsoft Flight Sim 4.0, I played the hell out of them all and would get up the next day just to do the same.  The Yeager game also had a well-written manual with loads of historical info in it, and it wasn’t long until I could tell the differences in performance between a P-51 and Focke-Wulf 190 (the 2 main WWII aircraft featured), and learned about everything from B-17s to Messerschimdt 262s.  Now to fast-forward a few years…

It must have been some time in 1998 or 99 when I first bought a game titled “West Front”.  This was produced by the late, great Talonsoft company, and I really had no idea what I was getting into with it but was on a major WWII kick after seeing Saving Private Ryan.  Conveniently, the back of the game box displayed a full-spread screenshot of a scenario map of Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast, so I bought the game.  I’d played some turn based wargames before, Allied General and similar “lite” stuff, but this one would be my introduction into the realm of “hardcore” PC wargames. 

At first, I couldn’t figure out how to do anything right in the damned game.  I was trying to play it like the less advanced but similar looking games I’d played before, was failing miserably, and had no idea why, until I was finally wised up by an article written by Glenn Saunders (of wargaming fame) on “Reconnaisance in Talonsoft’s West Front”.  I simply hadn’t understood how the whole game system worked, or even realized the complexity of it all, and after this article and the scenario that came along, I was playing the game in a whole new way.  Granted, I still sucked at it, but was at least able to do some damage to the programmed opponent instead of just getting slaughtered without any idea of why.  I wound up playing this game, and further games in the same series, fanatically throughout my high school years, and through them gained at least a basic understanding of the tactical doctrines of various nations during WWII and why they either worked, failed, or worked at one point and failed at another.  I also learned how to identify unit counters marked with NATO symbols thanks to this game, which would really come in handy on some upcoming games I would get into.

No matter how many I bought, I just kept finding more and more, and will probably be nostalgic toward the majority of my wargame collection until the end of my days.  Talonsoft’s Battleground series and The Operational Art of War, Combat Mission 1-3, the HPS Squad Battles series, MadMinute Games’ Take Command series, and even Europa Univeralis II have all been motivators in my desire to learn about the history that the games were based upon.

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