War is a highly sensitive subject for anyone of any persuasion. Often times, it gets boiled down to slogans and a severe lack of analysis. When diving into the details, people that some of us know and love will give their lives through injury and something far more grim. It is a topic that can be difficult to discuss in such a way that does not tend towards being disrespectful.
For myself personally, the idea is one that I have reservations about. What I mean is that as an American, war is a fixture in our daily pop culture lives. It is something that is inescapable. If you are an avid reader, bookstores are lined with spec ops thrillers from writers like Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy. Video games are dominated by Battlefield and Call Of Duty. Movies and TV are top loaded with numerous NCIS spinoffs, The Last Ship, Hacksaw Ridge and more.
Tabletop games are also no stranger to adaptations of war, both real and fictionalized. In the realm of tabletop games, the main styles seem to be generically broken into two camps: Eurogames and Ameritrash. European games tend more towards historical eras featuring harvesting, trading and building. By contrast, a good amount of American designer games lean heavily on combat and conflict.
War gaming is a dedicated sect of the tabletop culture. Games in the Commands and Colors series of games, Twilight Struggle and popular titles like Axis & Allies utilize war events to give players a history lesson through strategic gameplay. The deeper into the genre on goes, the more specific and strategic the games can become.
As an enthusiastic gamer myself, I consider myself a smorgasbord gamer. I like something from all genres and styles. I can easily play a few light rounds of Sushi Go, move into a peaceful round of point salad goodness with Five Tribes and finish the day with a romp through Terrinoth in Runewars. If the game provides interesting choices, unique theme and gameplay that keeps all players engaged, I am in. But up until now, I have had some difficulty wrapping my head around the war game.
As I mentioned, I have reservations about war. The entire idea is not one that I generally find enjoyable to celebrate or trivialize. My reservations aside, I have never served and have no experience to draw from. But if one can empathize with another person on a human level, there should be a straight line drawn towards understanding why someone that has seen the horrors of war in real life might not appreciate seeing the danger that they have lived through reduced to plastic pieces and dice.
Today, I had the chance to play Richard Borg’s Days Of Wonder war game Memoir ‘44. Using the Commands and Colors system, two players engage in recreation of actual World War II battles. While each scenario is treated with reverence by explaining the details of what took place during said actual event, players then place their pieces and attempt to manufacture a different outcome in game form. The idea on its face is troubling. That said, I cannot lie – I found Memoir ‘44 to be a fantastically developed game.
I could dive into the game mechanics of how the game plays and so forth, but I won’t because it isn’t the point. If going strictly off of my purported moral code, I should find a game like Memoir ‘44 to be abhorrent. When I factor in my love of friendly strategic competition based upon the game’s design with the theme removed, it has the elements that make a two player experience that I can dig into for hours at a time. So, taking this all in, how does one justify these conflicting feelings?
To tell the truth, I really do not have a good answer to this question. Nothing about playing Memoir ‘44 has changed my thoughts on sending innocent people to war. It still remains a genre of gaming that feels inappropriate, but it’s commonplace position in our pop culture universe has nearly rendered the buying public into unanimous approval. But if one is strictly operating based on the idea of socially conscious decision making, how does one find a workaround if the gameplay sounds appealing?
As it happens, a game in the Terrinoth universe steps in to fill that void. Battlelore, the premier Commands and Colors game system set in the Runebound series, pits one army of fictional warriors against another. Lay out the board, set out the various terrain hexes and send your War Beasts out to fight Wood Elves. You can also get yourself a copy of Summoner Wars and use your fictional race’s Wizard to control orcs, goblins and other fantasy beasts. War is not an easy subject to breach, but one can still do battle across their tables by swapping reality for the realms of fiction.