Saturday, 5 February 2011

The portable wargame: Why confine yourself to the eight squares by eight squares of chessboard?

I recently received an email from a blog reader who was very interested in the development of my portable wargame. In his email he posed a particularly thought-provoking question; Although he could see why I had started with the otherwise disused and discarded chessboard as the basis for my game and rules at the beginning of the process, he wanted to know why I had continued to confine myself to the eight squares by eight squares of a chessboard as I had developed the concept. This question started me thinking … and here are my thoughts.

Firstly, it is a challenge to design something that will fit – and work – within a confined space. I must admit that when I started, I thought that it would be a simple matter to use Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’ wargames rules ‘as is’ for my portable wargame. After all, they had been written for a tabletop divided into a twelve square by twelve square grid of 3-inch squares. Admittedly, the chessboard only had 64 squares as opposed to the 144 squares of the original, but I thought that I could work with that restriction … and I found that it was possible … just. When I then decided to give Units armed with firearms the ability to engage enemy Units that were not in orthogonally adjacent squares, the necessary changes did require a bit more developmental work than I had expected, but the end result still worked.

Secondly, if you can develop a games system that will work within the confines of a small eight squares by eight squares grid, it should work with a grid that has a larger number of squares. All the larger space adds to the game is either more space to manoeuvre within or the ability to field more Units.

Thirdly, I already had some experience – albeit limited – of developing wargames that worked within the confines of an eight squares by eight squares chessboard. I gained this experience when I assisted Richard Brooks in the creation of SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES. Richard used a chessboard to develop his game mechanisms – with a bit of assistance from me – and I turned his design ideas into public participation game that was put on by Wargame Developments at SALUTE in 2009.

A photograph of Richard Brooks' SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES game under development ... using a chessboard for the playing area.

6 comments:

  1. I would suggest that 4thly, the larger the game, the harder it is to travel with it. If it was easy to pack up a 4x4 table with minis and scenery, and set it up on a train or in a hotel room then there would be no need for a traveling game.

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  2. Ross Mac,

    You are quite right. That should be the fourth reason for keeping the game within the bounds of an 8 x 8 grid.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. Bob,
    I agree with all the points made.

    Fifthly, chessboards are widely available in a variety of materials, and will be already familiar to non-wargamers whom you might wish to introduce to the hobby by way of your game.

    Did not Morschauser himself comment that playing wargames on the sort of squared board familiar from family boardgames would make wargames more acceptable as an adult hobby?

    On the other hand, the easily rolled vinyl chessboards do offer the possibility of laying two such boards side by side, so as to extend the frontage of the battlefield and avoid having barriers to movement &c. so close to each flank, without increasing the weight of the equipment as much as two rigid, folding boards would do.

    And one could create alternative grids on the backs of such boards using water-soluble marker pens...

    Arthur

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  4. Bob,
    Yet another possibility - freeing yourself entirely from the restrictions of chessboards, but making terrain somewhat more bulky and slower to set up - would be to adapt an idea I saw in a set of WWI air combat rules in the Wargames Journal: to have numerous separate terrain squares [in the style of those in Featherstone's Advanced Wargames map generator discussed in an earlier entry] and lay them down as the need arose. The 'board' moves along with the focus of the action. If one side suddenly decides to make a flank march - no problem! just lay squares out as it proceeds, placing a number of squares ahead of the main body to represent either local knowledge if operating in its own territory, or a smaller number to portray results of reconnaissance by cavalry scouts.
    I can see numerous variants on the portable wargame concept developing to suit individuals' circumstances and aesthetic requirements...
    Arthur

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  5. Arthur1815,

    You are absolutely right! Your suggestion that 'chessboards are widely available in a variety of materials, and will be already familiar to non-wargamers whom you might wish to introduce to the hobby by way of your game' ought to have been on the list.

    In a way, my portable wargame could be used to introduce non-wargaming gamers to the joys of the hobby, even though that was not the intention when I began the process of developing it.

    In addition, I had forgotten Morschauser's comment! Thanks for reminding me; it is very relevant.

    Likewise your reminder that the larger playing area can easily be created by the use of two or more vinyl chessboard placed side-to-side is very apposite, as is your comment about their lightness and portability.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Arthur1815,

    I like the idea of an 'unfolding' terrain, although I am not sure how it would fit onto a smallish wargames table. That said, it would be worth trying, just to find out if it could be done.

    I think that Andy Grainger (or was it Jim Wallman?) had something similar in mind when they developed 'Rollbahn' ... or is my memory playing tricks on me?

    As I was reading your comment, I was struck by the fact that this would be an ideal way to simulate battles in jungle/forest areas, and my mind immediately went to the Chaco War. During that war, each side seemed to spend a large part of its time trying to turn the other side's flank by marching their way through unmapped terrain, often with air reconnaissance to help them find their way through.

    More food for thought.

    All the best,

    Bob

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