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This section contains a few of my thoughts on various gaming topics, as well as things that won't fit in anywhere else. Feel free to email me with discussion points and reactions.
©1999-2004. All rights reserved.
Realism and Tactics

Does realism matter?
Wargames rules differ widely in how faithfully they simulate reality, some are careful reconstructions of scenarios, whereas in others the battle is more of a backdrop for an abstract game with cards or counters. Some would question whether it is important for wargames rules to mimic reality at all, particularly if they are set in a fantasy universe where its all just made up. The same question could also be asked to books, a topic on which Tolkien published an essay. He described story telling as the creation of a secondary world (as opposed to the primary world that we all live in). This other world, he believed, needed an 'inner consistency of reality'. For example although dragons don't exist in this world they do in the world of the story, and should form a convincing part of it with their presence having a realistic impact.

Wargaming is also the creation of a secondary world, for if it were just an abstract game then cards and tiddlywinks could be substituted for the scenery and figures without loss. The creation of a consistent and believable world, therefore, is an important part of the wargame.

Reality, however, is certainly not the only goal of a good set of wargames rules. It is a simulation, but it is also a game, and the level of realism is irrelevant if the rules are so cumbersome that they are never played. All the best rules combine a system which is quick and workable, with a background that evokes another world.

How realistic can you get?
In some sense all game mechanics are an abstraction, in a real battle there are no dice, turns, hit points, or command points, but some game mechanics mirror reality more closely than others. The difficulty comes when trying to split all the smoothly flowing events and properties of reality into a few discrete game elements which must occur in a fixed sequence.

Realism isnít just about including every little detail. Particularly with modern periods it can be tempting to delve into the minutiae of Ďrealí weapons details which in reality have little impact on the course of the battle. Rules that improve realism can still be very abstract. An example is the 'command points' system used by a number of games, which are generally either be used in the player's own turn to increase movement and actions, and sometimes can be reserved in order to improve the player's response to his opponent's actions. Command points and their usage have no direct real equivalent, but by simulating an officer's limited ability to command and varying levels of troop training/discipline, a real situation can be mimicked more realistically than if they were not included in the rules.

Game tactics - the enemy of realism?
When learning to play a game, they are two kinds of tactics which can be learnt. Real tactics are one type - tactics which would also work in reality. A typical example would be to use some models to give covering fire while another moves. The other type is Gameplay tactics - tactics which use the game mechanism and have no real world parallel, such as using the turn order in which models are moved for some advantage. These can be very destructive to realism. In my days of rules-lawyering Warhammer III, I discovered two particular rules to abuse. The first was that firing a longbow did not stop a reserve move (although previously we had assumed that it did), and the second that if miniatures were further than 1" to a hedge/wall then it blocked line of sight but closer than that it didn't. Together this resulted in the rather absurd situation where my archers would move up to the wall, fire and then retreat every turn. This allowed me to fire (albeit with a movement penalty) without the archers ever being available as a target. This made a handy way to win battles, but it didn't really contribute either to the enjoyment of the game or to a realistic simulation of real battle.
Common sense vs Rules
This all leads to that old chestnut of wargaming arguments "But in reality." which is generally countered with "The rules state that.."

The possible combinations are endless:

"But in reality native horse would never break a formed regular line etc."
"The rules state that this applies to all cavalry".

Both arguments have a certain amount of merit. It is a battle, so ought to function as such. On the other hand if the rules are altered (re-interpreted) halfway through a game then this is somewhat unfair on the other player, who might have assumed that the game would be played by the book. As the realism argument can be a valid criticism of the rules or just sour grapes, whether to uphold it or not depends on sentiment within the group. This is the remit of a good umpire, but if you don't have that luxury then you generally have to stick with the letter of the rules, for better or for worse.

©2003. All rights reserved.