Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grumpy Tuesday

In a wargaming context, when does “hypothetical” go too far?

That’s a question likely to reveal quite a bit about the person answering it. Me? I’ll have to say I can’t define ‘too far’ through a set of solid guidelines – but I know what it looks like when I see it.

Some gamers draw the line at sci-fi theme games. Others can’t stomach “alternate history” – which might seem strange at first, as a wargame that allows you to create an outcome other than the historical is “alternate history” almost by definition.

But I understand that the line separating the passable from the indefensible is usually pretty fuzzy and very personal.

My personal tastes are a perfect example of the confusion. I’m a big fan of ‘moderns’ – games featuring Cold War-era tactical combat, mostly in Europe. I think I’ve discussed that previously, in fact. I also enjoy a number of sci-fi titles, and was a big fan of almost all of the SPI sci-fi games when they were first released back in the wayback.

Alt-history Hot War games like NATO, The Next War, Central Front Series and World War Three have all graced The Big Table at some point over the last 25 years or so.

Yet there are a number of alt-history games that I have no appreciation for whatsoever. Why? Usually for one of two reasons: either their premise is grounded in a near-history that seems impossible to me or the topic seems gratuitously goofy to me to the point that I feel the publisher is trying to make a quick buck instead of a quality gaming experience.

Truthfully, most publishers are smart enough to avoid impossible near-history. But many of them have published games that display gratuitous goofiness. The key, for me at least, is the orientation of the goofiness (is it humorous?) and, ultimately, the quality of the game play.

The current target for my ‘hypothetical’ grumpiness is “Cone of Fire” from Avalanche Press. As has been noted elsewhere in this blog, I’m a fan of both GWAS and SWWAS – but in general their ‘Plan’ games and, now, Cone of Fire, simply rub me the wrong way. Cone of Fire, I’ll grant, includes some historical scenarios but – frankly – for the price tag it sports it needs to offer more than a couple of ‘real’ battles in combination with a number of South American maritime wet dreams which feature ships that the great naval powers like Chile and Argentina COULD have bought, but didn’t.

Of the ‘Plan’ games, only US Navy Plan Orange seems even remotely plausible as alt-history. A 30s-era Pacific War was improbable, granted. Plan Orange also has the virtue of being very playable, rather interesting and a good introduction to the system’s rules for air warfare.

Plan Red (and its replacement, Sea of Troubles), Plan Black and Plan Gold strike me as games built on weakened keels (as it were). Truthfully, to me it seems that those games, along with Cone of Fire, were intended to cash in on the ‘completist’ gamers out there more than anything else. To an extent, that irritates me.

Grump, grump, grump.

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