Although I have, in previous posts, already detailed my reasons for believing that the best games from the "Golden Age" of wargaming, the so-called 'classics', continue to have relevance and value today — both to the broader hobby, and to individual gamers — I thought that I would revisit this topic again; especially since my recent essays on STALINGRAD bring to light precisely those "historical" issues that — in my view, at least — are most worth discussing. This time, however, I have chosen to take a slightly different approach to my subject and to stress, not just the appeal of these early titles as the highly playable, yet challenging games that they are, but also to point to the large body of expert lore — in the form of countless articles on strategy, tactics, and player psychology, among other things — that have attached to them since their first appearance, decades ago. No contemporary design, because of the present-day glut of new game releases will, I believe, ever be able to match the 'classics' when it comes to the quantity and quality of the analysis that has been lavished on them (often by some very smart people) over the years. And this factor alone, I submit, makes them unique among all of the many, many titles currently available to gamers today.
THE CASE FOR THE CLASSICS
New Games versus Old 'Standbys'
So, Who Still Plays the Classics, Anyway?
If You Play the Same Game Over and Over Again, You're Bound to Get Better, Right?
No Pain, No Gain
Why Settle for Being a 1-1-6, When You Could Be a 7-7-10?One fundamental difference that I believe separates at least some newer players from the grognard community, is the mistrust and even distaste that this group of younger gamers tends to show for game lore and for published articles on game analysis and theory. Games, these newer voices say, are supposed to be fun, and formal discussions on strategy, on tactics, or on efective lines of play, in their view, completely take the fun out of gaming. This attitude among younger players, by the way, is not nearly as unusual as one might think, and it crops up in the most unexpected situations. I remember, for example, an early-round AFRIKA KORPS tournament game at the annual WBC convention some years ago; this particular match has stayed with me because I think that it perfectly illustrates this all too common attitude among some (but, certainly not all) of the younger players in the hobby. My college-age opponent, who I had not met prior to our match, but who seemed amiable enough, volunteered, as we were getting started, that AFRIKA KORPS was his favorite game and that this was his first tournament ever. Given the gap in our repective experience levels, I suggested that we skip the regular "bidding" for sides and that he could just have his choice. This was a big relief, he explained as he picked the Axis, because he wasn't really sure how the "bidding" process even worked. With sides selected, each of us took our respective seats, and since the game board had been set-up in advance, we were able to start play almost immediately.
My young adversary opened by dispatching his Italians tramping up the Coast Road, while the 21st Panzer Division, along with Rommel and his single supply counter, were all sent racing due east across the desert. This, he informed me, was a new opening move for the Germans that he had only recently hit upon. As gently as I could, I explained that his opening move actually wasn't all that new, and that there was even a name for it: the "DAK". "After all," I continued, "the game has been around almost fifty years; it only makes sense that, in all that time, there has probably been very little that hasn't been tried by somebody, somewhere, at some time or other." He seemed genuinely surprised by this but — once I had completed my part of the first turn — reacted with seeming unconcern to the Commonwealth countermove, which was to send units both to seal the pass at N19 and to block the Italians on the Via Balbia. Although this British move is usually enough to force the German's to abandon the "DAK", my opponent seemed oblivious to the difficulties he was getting into and, leaving the Italians to await help from the incoming 15th Panzer Division, continued his run east with Rommel, the 21st Panzer, and what was now his second supply counter. This, as those who are familiar with the game will know, was a mistake. Although both quite intimidating at first glance, the threats posed by a single unsupported panzer division (with or without supply) and by the "recce down and out" are both comparatively easy for the Commonwealth player to thwart. So, it was not surprising that within a turn or two, the Germans' eastern drive sputtered to a halt. Unfortunately for Rommel, by the time he had decided to give up on the raid against the Allied Home Base, the British June reinforcements had arrived, and the July reinforcements (with their single dangerous "recce") were just around the corner. It was pretty much all downhill from there for the Axis; and the game, much to my dismay, was pretty quickly over.
I use the word "dismay" because, much as I enjoy the prospect of beating one of my fellow grognards like a "rented mule", I actually hate to trounce a younger classics player: new "recruits" that show an inclination to join the grognard ranks are hard to find, and I really don't like to turn an interested player off one of the classics before they have really even had a chance to learn it properly. In any case, as we went about the process of returning the game pieces to their starting positions, I complimented him on the game and then suggested that he might find it useful to consult some of the many excellent articles on different aspects of AFRIKA KORPS play that have appeared, over the years, in past issues of The General. His response to this, however, took me completely by surprise.
"Naw," my opponent replied, "I never read those kinds of "perfect plan" strategy articles; I think they're lame. Besides," he continued, "using that kind of 'how to' stuff from other people would really take the fun out of the game for me: I like to use my own ideas and intuition rather than borrow someone else's." I was momentarily speechless and after shaking hands good-bye, glanced over at one of my friends (another old-timer) who was still involved in his own AK game a couple of feet away; he looked back at me, and, without saying a word, briefly rolled back his eyes. A few minutes later, having completed his move, my friend motioned for me to join him outside. As soon as we got outdoors, he looked at me and shook his head; it was clear that he was still thinking about my young opponent. "Why," he asked rhetorically, "would anyone want to be a 1-1-6 in a tournament world full of 7-7-10's?" I had no ready answer for him then, and I still don't. Why indeed?
|The author mulls over an Afrika Korps move at WBC 2008|
while a smiling (and winning) Bert
Schoose looks on