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Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames
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Author:  KWhitehead [ Sun Mar 27, 2011 8:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

A recent article in "PC Gamer" (April 2011 edition) written by Troy Goodfellow in his "Tactical Advantage" column brought up some interesting points and problems with our genre of games. Mainly Civil War games like those published by HPS and Matrix. I thought I would quote some of the article here and see what people think about it's conclusions and the implications for our gaming future.

What started the article off was a reference to Gary Grigsby's new game "War in the East" and its price, $80. Add ten more if you want a box. He goes on to say that the price reflects supply and demand in these genre of games that focus on a small audience. He goes on to say "Matrix isn't alone - HPS Simulations sells its hex-based wargames for big-budget game prices, even though most of them have been using the same engine for years." He goes on to say "There are few wargame publishers, so if you want to play a wargame that treats history with respect, then you accept that you'll pay a premium for the privilege."

He then goes on to talk about the aggressive sales of big-name releases and how it affects the buying habits of PC gamers. The he touches on the problem we are seeing in the club with dwindling membership and lack of really new games.

"In a time where you can play strategy games from many different developers with little financial risk, the perils of pricing wargames for only the locked-in audience becomes apparent. The genre becomes a walled garden whose intimidating interfaces and somewhat archaic design philosophy already ward off casual observers and would-be buyers."

"The short-term economic rationale clashes with the long-term health of the genre. Wargames are now almost the exlusive province of serious, historically-minded gamers or military professionals, and targeting their tastes and price tolerance means that you rarely get the pressures that will help the genre progress with regards to design or UI. Through it is easy for the hardcore to dismiss dabblers or casual players, these are the people who can be converted to new genres because their tastes are so flexible."

And that pretty much sums up the problem we are having. I would hate to see what the average age of the ACWGC members is but I have a feeling it is steadily increasing.

What do you'll think?

Are the games getting to pricy?
To boring?
To high a learning curve?
To whatever?

Author:  MSeger [ Sun Mar 27, 2011 8:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

Years ago I used to play Fighter Ace, it's a WWII game that involved flying most fighters/bombers. it was very addicting and damn fun to play. I heard last summer it went out of business. They said the problem is most people are playing hand held devices now and computers games are becoming obsolete.
I'm betting with the 150th anniversary of the CW and it's battles coming will get some people interested in these games. But, people are used to graphics now and want to be enertained immediatley, so unless they are die hard CW fans, I can see this becoming a thing of the past too.

Author:  Ernie Sands [ Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

I do not think they are too pricey. The HPS/JTS games are a great value. For instance, I have been playing SOME games for the past TEN PLUS years, so it cost me for a game at the rate of about $3.50 PER YEAR! AND ALL HAVE had many FREE, yes FREE upgrades for those 10 Plus years.

Author:  cameronm [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 1:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

I do agree with the article, the HPS/Talonsoft type style games have been around in a hex format for at least 16+ years (longer if you count cardboard), the AI has got a bit smarter and the graphics a bit nicer, but that is about it. Do not get me wrong I love these games to bits, but there must be more. I think that HPS/JT and the boys need to come up with a new angle. There are some very powerful game engines out there that they could use.

I play Battlefield 2142 online with up to 64 players at a time, it is a blast, anyway the company that make the game - DICE has just put out its second game engine in 3 years. The difference in the games they made 6 years ago and now is huge.

It is very hard for a companies like HPS and JT, who have been working a successful formula for many years to see the need for change or work on new concepts that may or may not make money

Author:  Joe Meyer [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 2:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

It appears that Troy Goodfellow has been and is something of a fixture as far as computer gaming is concerned, having written more critiques and blogs than anyone else upon games of all types for many years. However, I would not count him as an experienced or even appreciative player of the ACW games we play...merely a distant observor. His gaming world is more attentively focused upon the bewitching world of the high-intensity, mega-graphical, slash-and-run fantasies that permeate the shelves these days; that is, the very games that he attempts to so assiduously push and which are gobbled up by the "players!"

Nonetheless, Ernie's comment is entirely a justified and reasonable response to this critic's main complaint about "high-end pricing." Furthermore, had Mr. Goodfellow shared the experience that General Sands so knowledgably states, I doubt he would have ever thought to have written in the manner he did.

But who am I to refute the exacting comments of such an emminent personage such as Mr. Goodfellow. I must be well outside of the accepted genre of satisfied gamers to do such a thing. It is a shameless and horrible thing to be labelled a "serious, historically-minded gamer!" I should be phased away because I don't play Dark Ranger from Epsilon 9.

Author:  Blake [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 3:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

Kennon did mention, as did the writer of the article, about the shrinking numbers of those that are interested in the HPS/JT games. I think this is something that bears the most attention. I am almost 30 and I can tell you that alot of people my age and younger look at these games as a relic of the past. Very few are interested in turn-based games anymore and people love graphics that are interactive and changing. I work with alot of computer gaming fanatics who spend hundreds of hours a year playing World of Warcraft or Call of Duty but ignore these much more challenging and fun games completely. These games will increasingly become the hobby of a very few diehard strategy fanatics and the introduction of these games to new audiences will be less and less if the trends continue.

How did I find these games? BEST BUY! At one point Best Buy sold the Battleground games and I stumbled upon them in the 90s when I was about 14. You cannot find these games at retail stores anymore and this is shutting out tens of millions of people from this gaming genre. The best idea I have heard came from a member who said these older games (old TS or HPS games) should be dropped in price to under 10 dollars and sold in Walmarts and Targets in the PC casual gaming section. This would help introduce the games to many more people and they would gladly pay higher prices for newer battlefield games once they were drawn into the genre.

Author:  nelmsm [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 5:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

By the way, I've got Grigsby's War in the East and think it was worth every penny.

Author:  MSeger [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

Very good point. I got started when I found these games in a "big box" store too. That's a huge part of the marketing picture that is gone.

Author:  Drex [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

I think the HPS format has proven its playability and will continue to be enjoyed as long as this Club is around. However, that doesn't mean it couldn't be improved. I would love to play the Civil War - Total War. I think the economy building portion could be modified to portray the actual historical problems faced by both sides and the graphics and 3D battlemaps would be to die for. With the extensive modding going on in the Total War world, that may happen. However, I am perfectly happy playing the HPS games with their occassional upgrades and will purchase any new games that come out.

Author:  KWhitehead [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

Ernie Sands wrote:
I do not think they are too pricey. The HPS/JTS games are a great value. For instance, I have been playing SOME games for the past TEN PLUS years, so it cost me for a game at the rate of about $3.50 PER YEAR! AND ALL HAVE had many FREE, yes FREE upgrades for those 10 Plus years.

I am not referring to what most members of the ACWGC would pay. I do think the games are worth the price considering there is no mass market for them. But then we are what HPS use to refer to as the "Grognards". We hardly wait for the next title and wish it was more complicated. But no one not familiar with say Grisby's games would ever consider buying an $80 game. I have his War in the Pacific and am still trying to figure out how to play it.

The problem is these prices and methods of sale (online only) pretty much lock out new people from our ranks. I really wish HPS would put out a stripped down game at a very low price and get it marketed through Target and Walmart to bring some new people in.

For example, they could take the game engine without editors or campaign portion and issue a limited scenario game on First Manasass, which aniversary is coming up soon. This could be just a dozen or less scenarios. They have everything already done other than the modification to lock the game engine to just those scenarios. The only cost would be the CD and the packaging. They need to price it at cost and let the retailers take the profit so they will be willing to put it on the shelves. It should cost less than $10, lower the better. It would be strictly a sale to bring people into the hobby not to make money. They will make money when these people decide they like the game and buy the full versions.

Author:  mihalik [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 11:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

First of all, I don't think the games are too pricey. I broke out an old Avalon Hill General from 1992 and they were offering Peloponnesian, a board game, for $35.00, and computer 3rd Reich for about the same. That was almost twenty years ago. I remember buying a lot of SPI games back in '74 and '75 for $7 a pop. I don't know what the conversion rate would be for 1974 dollars, but I think it would put these games in the ballpark of HPS prices.

I do think the small fan base is responsible for the lack of competition, which inhibits product improvement. There is no incentive to improve when you are the only game in town. Having said that, I think JT's heart is in the right place, as we have had some improvements, and free upgrades over the years. But I think he is overextended. No cure for that but other designers. I think if JT limited himself to just one period, it would probably be WWII, so in a way I thank God he is overextended.

Probably the main culprit, imho, is a change in what young people are interested in, which is not what I am interested in; first person shooters and RTS. This is a generation raised with computers and cell phones, who are comfortable clicking away. Probably good preparation for a high-tech military, but not conducive to our type of game.

I don't know how many of you got Hasbro's Axis and Allies-Iron Blitz a few years ago, but it was a pretty faithful conversion of a very popular, easy to play, turn-based wargame with few bugs, put out by a major game producer. Yet it must have been an economic failure, because it didn't last long. Not a good sign for the future.

By the way, my attitude toward many of the new turn-based wargames is that I no longer have the patience to figure them out. This includes the three strategic ACW games currently on the market. Probably a function of old age, or ADD. Or both.

Author:  JRBIGGS [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

I am new to the club and currently under the guidance of Gen. Danner at West Point. I too read the article in PC Gamer and agree with the overall tone of it. The lack of Civil War titles frustrates me too. I understand that a new title "Brother against Brother" is under development with Matrix. It's apparently based upon the tactical game engine included with FOF, but it's a little unclear as to when it is to be released. The first game is supposed to include 1st Bull Run, Wilson's Creek, Mill Springs, Williamsburg and others. I prefer turn based strategy games, but Scourge of War is also a game I play occasionally. It's considered real time, but the pause button allows you to catch your breath. I realize that the AI in the HPS series leaves a bit to be desired so I am looking forward to some real person action.

I do play the Grisby titles, Europa Universalis, AGEOD titles, and the three operational Civil war games but I most enjoy the strategic/tatical level of the HPS Civil War series.

Author:  Digglyda [ Wed Mar 30, 2011 3:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

There just aren't enough people (young people) interested in History generally or the ACW in particular to expect any viable market for these type of games to continue on a large scale and in the long term, at least not in the connexion we would understand which is the excellence of these games in furthering our interest & knowledge of history.

I bet the vast majority of the members here have a broad based "serious" interest in military history and the subjects that go with it (leaders, weapons, famous battles, tactics etc, etc) and had that interest before any particular interest in computer war-gaming was developed? Many of the members came here from board war-gaming, miniatures gaming and we were lucky to catch the moment where reliable affordable PC's became available and presented us with a chance to play traditional games using the wonderful new facilty of PBEM. I chanced across a copy of BG Gettysburg about 15 years ago and was hooked into the gaming fraternity almost by accident. My interest in military history was the important fact war-gaming was an adjunct to that.
I hate to be so negative but I don't see this club, or any other similar organisation, remaining open for longer than the remaining active years of the present membership. If everyone set to encouraging their children & grand-children to get interested in any period of military history then this problem would probably take care of itself, with just enough new recruits coming to our door to make the genre of "serious" PC war-gaming sustainable in the long term. There just isn't a large enough pool of potential players available to swell our ranks. Look at current gaming trends and preferences and expecting anyone to spend $50 on one of "our" type of games just isn't realistic.

To answer Kennons questions:

1. I don't think the games are too pricey. It's a "specialist" product for a limited market.

2. Personally I think the games have become "boring". There is no particualr benefit to owning all 11 HPS civil war titles as they all do basically the same thing. Arguable point I guess and not a major concern for the "die-hards" amongst us but for example, if I was going to recommend a game for my 10 year old son to buy, I doubt it would be an ACW war-game, not given the alternatives available. He can find much more fun on a multitude of titles within other game genres and FUN is the crucial factor here. It MUST be. That's why those of us that have other hobbies and interests and pastimes bother with all those pursuits whatever they are ...because they are FUN. We might fool ourselves into believing that we've achieved some great degree of "realism" in our war-gaming efforts but it's a nonsense really. The main return I get from playing these games now is frustration to be honest and that in itself is perhaps actually a compliment to HPS because command of forces in the ACW time period WAS frustrating for the commanders, as potential nearly always far out-weighed actual results.

3. The learning curve of the games isn't too bad as far as the mechanics of the user interface goes. In depth understanding of the game engine is no worse than most game controls ...which can be very complicated in some cases nowadays. Again though, the necessary requirement is an interest in the time period (understanding of the weapons & tactics involved especially). i.e: a person with an interest in the ACW generally will take to these games far more readly than trying to entice a person with no historical interest. Again, the games are damned by being "specialist" products.

4. Too "whatever"? Yes, I think maybe so. All of us here were in the right place at the right time to catch the tail end of traditional war-gamings brief swansong via the medium of PBEM. But it's all starting to look a bit long-in-the-tooth now?

Author:  mihalik [ Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

Check out the link in the New Civil War Movie thread. It would be nice if the abiding interest Americans feel in the Civil War could be channeled into ACW gaming. If even 1% of the folks who saw the Ken Burns series would buy an HPS ACW game, I think it would ensure the viability of the company, and maybe encourage other game designers to address ACW games.

Author:  KWhitehead [ Thu Mar 31, 2011 6:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Civil War Games and the Future of Wargames

I agree. While Civil War games will never be mainstream all we need is a very small percentage of the population to take an interest to multiply our numbers ten fold. Even my sun, a WoW fanatic, liked to play Axis and Allies and the Total War series.

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