The Amsterdam Acid Test For Wargames – Part I: How Should It Look Like?

Just a thought. A whim. The preconception of a plan. A spermatozoa on his way out. 

An Acid Test is, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, “the true test of the value of something”. In my mother tongue Dutch I would call it the litmus test [lakmoesproef], but that is “any single factor that establishes the true character of something or causes it to be assigned to one category or another”. That sounds shallower than what I want.

What I aim to devise is a set of standards for a comparative review of different wargame rulesets. The reviews that I read are often based on one single battle, driven by fashion (I recently bought the new XXX by …). And written by fans, who bought the new system because the didn’t like their older books anymore (‘out with the old, in with the new’). They can’t hide how satisfied they are with their new rulebook. If I could find a set of factors that are more or less the same for every wargame, I can more systematically describe and review and compare a (historical) wargame ruleset with other sets. Not a single factor, but a combination thereof.

Obvious criteria are aspects as price, layout, basing, number of miniatures needed for a standard game. Other criteria should answer common questions like:

  • how are multiple attacks on one unit handled in the rules?
  • what is the shooting range? Is the shooting range too long/short in relation to the standard table size?
  • how much stronger than standard troops are elite soldiers? How is their skill and training reflected in the rules?
  • what if a units attacks a flank/suffers a flank attack?
  • what happens if a unit defends difficult terrain?
  • How can/must a player set priorities?
  • Fog of War/unexpected errors of subordinates. How are these events generated and how do they influence the game?
  • what is a victory/defeat?

Besides, you need specific criteria related to a specific age. An Ancient Wargaming review should for example say something about Greek pikes vs Roman shortswords, the power of elephants or Barbarian hordes vs Roman cohorts. And compare it to history and other gaming systems. Pike& Shot reviews must discuss the relative strength & mobility of cavalry vs infantry and the static and weak artillery. Napoleonic rules can be compared on aspects such as the artillery batteries, line vs columns, the mythical invincibility of the Old Guard, heavy cavalry vs the square. 20th century wargaming should include rules about air support, off-table bombardments, radio contact. To mention a few possibilities.

Just reading the rules is not enough. What I think of is a ‘standardized’ battle with a setup of ‘standardized’ battle situations to test the rules ‘in real life’. On a table. With dice. Shauns Wargaming with Miniatures played the same battle (Callinicum) with 10 different rulesets. I’d like to do the same, but with a fictional battle with pre-set game situations and other periods.

Just a first thought. Please comment. What would YOU think should be part of the Acid Test for Wargames?

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