Four wars in search of a wargame
One of the side-effects of being PC Gamer UK's Bloke-That-Reviews-Anything-With-Hexes-Or Sherman-Tanks-In-It is that I regularly receive correspondence from historical conflicts exasperated by the game industry's obsession with WW2. In my inbox right now I've got missives from the Zulu Wars, the Boxer Uprising, the Cod Wars and the Ice Cream Wars just to name a few. All these conflagrations feel they have the tactical colour, the strategic substance and the novelty to make great wargames. Are they right?
In the case of the Cod and Ice Cream Wars, probably not, but here are four petitioners that, I believe, do have good reason to feel aggrieved.
While the American Civil War sprouts PC wargames like a Louisiana cypress tree sprouts Spanish Moss, its Seventeenth Century English equivalent struggles to get even an expansion pack or level to itself. If it weren't for the odd Total War mod and dusty DOS museum piece, we'd have almost no opportunity to experience the finely-poised fury of Edgehill or the pivotal pandemonium of Naseby.
The usual excuses for neglect (no European/American involvement, insufficient research resources, imbalanced battles...) don't apply here, so how come we've been Rupert and Cromwell-less for so long? Personally, I suspect a shady conspiracy betwixt Queen, Tory Party and Creative Assembly. They've realised that the merest taste of regicide and New Model Army glory could make Diggers of us all.
WWI wasn't all mud, poppies and barbed wire. On the mountainous Italian Front Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger and Italian Alpini clashed in some of the most extraordinary engagements imaginable. Battling for snow-capped crags, ledges, and mountain peaks thousands of feet above sea level, every combatant needed the constitution of an ibex and the courage of a mountain lion.
To attempt to model this profoundly positional, near-vertical form of warfare without a 3D engine would be pure folly. To capture even a fraction of the flavour of 'Gebirgskrieg', a game would also need to model avalanches (over the course of the war more than 100,000 soldiers were swept to their deaths in the Alps) exposure, ricochets, and massive mines like the one the Italians detonated under the summit of Col di Lana on the night of the 17th April 1916.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are far too fresh for comfortable wargame-ification, but some of the issues that characterise them could feasibly be explored through thoughtful recreations of other conflicts. Throughout the 1950s, Commonwealth forces were engaged in anti-insurgency operations against a communist movement in Malaya. The tactics that eventually led to victory were a complex mix of military action, hearts and minds initiatives, propaganda, and forced relocation.
I love the idea that a strategy game could venture into similarly tangled territory, gently prodding the player to abandon crude combat ops in favour of subtler solutions. Also intriguing is the notion of playing as a faction like the MNLA where every action risks alienating the local populace or bringing swingeing retribution down on your head. War is about so much more than making sure your tanks and troops are in the right place at the right time. It would be nice if our games reflected this more often.
A well-made game based on the series of Nineteenth Century conflicts between New Zealand's indigenous and European populations would, I hazard, stir the blood of many a Panzer-weary PC wargamer. For starters such a title would involve one of History's finest fortification builders. The Maori could knock-up an elaborate cannon-resistant fort in a matter of days.
Picture campaign scraps preceded by a construction phase in which trenches are dug and palisades sunk with a flurry of costed mouse-clicks. Perhaps if your force includes engineer-generals as naturally talented as Titokowaru, you'd be able to build redoubts as impressive as the diamond-shaped Tauranga-ika. Stronghold meets Empire Total War amongst the damp Rata forests of Taranaki, or yet another game that lets me shepherd Shermans through Normandy? Hmm, let me think.
(Images courtesy of Wikipedia)