Wargames Developments

A group for those interested in games design

A brief introduction by Tim Cockitt

Wargames Developments (WD) is an association of a little over 100 wargamers, mostly resident in the UK, who share an interest in games design and innovation. There is an occasional newsletter, but the highpoint of the year is the annual conference (known as COW, 'Conference of Wargamers') which takes place in July, near Northampton. The annual conference report, giving details of the games and workshops by those who presented/attended, is published later in the year, and always contains a good selection of thought-provoking ideas and articles.

WD games cover a wide, and expanding, variety of forms. As one of the main aims of WD is to encourage innovation, there are always new ideas being tried out. At the more 'traditional' end of the WD spectrum are figure games, but WD members tend to move away from commercial or competition sets of rules towards their own designs, which typically emphasise command control, limited intelligence, and morale. Other game formats are somewhat more 'experimental' in nature. The following summary of some of these game formats will give a better picture of WD.

'Simulators': a form of role-playing, where the players act out the tasks of a combat group. Examples would include the 'Lancaster Bomber Raid', with players arranged as pilot, bomber, navigator etc. in a confined space. The 'Zeppelin Raid' involves the gondola crew (players) trying to handle and navigate their airship, however only the umpires know the windspeed and wind direction. The umpires calculate the actual location of the Zeppelin as the raid progresses. The players are dependant on sightings of landmarks, as supplied by the umpires, to confirm the location of the Zeppelin, as calculated by the navigator player.

'Disguised Scenarios': military history is full of examples of commanders making decisions which appeared perfectly reasonable at the time, but very foolish with the benefit of hindsight. When attempting to re-create a historic event, any gamer with knowledge of the event will be keen to avoid the mistakes of history. One technique attempting to overcome this problem is to disguise the scenario; the players are told they are fighting a particular event, with date, location, and forces involved, once they have determined their plans, the real situation is revealed to them. One example is 'The Hunt for Osman Digna', where players were told they were British officers hunting down the native leader following Omdurman. Once the commands were committed to pursuing independent objectives on the table, the umpire revealed the situation to be The Little Big Horn, and Custer was caught in the open, facing uncomfortably huge numbers of hostiles, which he was not expecting.

'Free Kriegspiel': there are no written rules, the game is run by an umpire on the basis of his knowledge of the period. Some situations may be resolved by the umpire mentally assessing probabilities, the player then rolls dice, and the umpire accordingly applies a favourable or unfavourable result. One such game, run at COW '91, was a WWI East Front game; the players had some control over the movement of their troops, but unlike in conventional games, the firing or morale calculations were not available for the players to make informed plans with. They were obliged to use their troops as their knowledge of the period best advised them.

'Megagames': a game involving anything from 15 to 70 players! These events require a team of umpires, and are generally arranged for a Saturday at an appropriately large venue. Games have tended to cover events and campaigns in WWI, WWII, and Modern periods. One particularly successful Megagame, held in London, was the 'Blood and Thunder' pirate game. [MS: It should be noted that this form of gaming is most likely to appeal to non-WD gamers, being more 'general' in approach, and has included subjects like the Battle of Britain, the 1813 campaign and a successful Star Trek-type situation with Klingons and so on.]

Anyone wishing to know more about WD is welcome to write to me; 9, Tenby Ave, Withington, Manchester, M20 9DU. If you are keen to join, on the strength of this article, send £12 to the Treasurer; Bob Cordery, 84 Eglinton Hill, Shooters Hill, Plumstead, London, SE18 3DY. I am intending to run a workshop on 'Ideas and innovations worth nicking from boardgames', at the next COW (July 1992). I would be very pleased to see any fellow Sumo reader at that event, and any offers of assistance with the workshop would be very gratefully received.

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