I have finished Phil Sabin’s book Simulating War, and a worthwhile book it is too. Not that I agree with some of it, but it is a good and interesting read. Professor Sabin’s specialities are a slightly odd mix of ancient warfare and world war two, and most of the simulations described relate to the latter. This got me thinking as to why I do not tend to wargame the modern period.
Another slightly odd thing which I encountered, on pages 185-6 of the book, is in the discussion of the Korsun Pocket game. Here, the outcome of the battle is discussed, and the suggestion made (presumably as an outcome of the simulation, I don’t think it is particularly clear) that the number of German and allied troops who escaped from the pocket was less than half of that claimed by German sources.
This is followed by a slightly, to me anyway, odd sentence: “This is a very telling corrective to any suspicion that wargamers are closet Nazi sympathisers, blind to the moral aspects of the conflicts they seek to model”.
This to me raises more questions than it claims to answer. Firstly, there is the issue of why wargaming Nazi forces in World War Two should even slightly make you a sympathiser. Without wishing to turn this post into yet another one on wargame ethics, I suppose the argument is something like:
Wargamers are more likely to sympathise with the armies they select to game with.
Some wargamers may be Nazi sympathisers.
Therefore, wargamers who choose to use WW2 German forces are more likely to be Nazi sympathisers.
I am not sure, here, that the conclusion follows from the premises, and even if it is a valid argument, it only shows a probability of a given wargamer being a closet Nazi sympathiser, not that every wargamer who games with WW2 Germans is one.
As I said, I am trying not to turn this into another ethics post, but I might come back to the point another time.
All that being said, I still do not wargame WW2, and not, I confess, am I particularly interested in doing so. In the interests of disclosure, I do (or did) have a few micro-tanks around somewhere, from the days when I was just starting up, but I think that their existence points up why I do not tend to game WW2.
The problem for me is this: the scale of World War 2 operations is vast, and the ranges were relatively vast as well. While the battles had considerable amounts of courage, self-sacrifice, tactical interest and so on, they are extremely difficult to reconstruct in a meaningful manner on the wargame table.
I saw, fairly recently, a demonstration game of the battle of Beda Fomm. I am sure I am about to show my ignorance here, but I think it was in the Western Desert in 1941 or thereabouts (I dare say someone will correct me if I am wrong). It was a very striking demonstration game, with excellent terrain, beautifully painted vehicles and troops, defensive trenches and barbed wire and so on.
So why did I not like it?
The scale was 15 mm (I think), and the result of this was that, as I recall, a bunch of British armoured cars were deployed hub to hub on the near side of the table. My problem here is that any such vehicle concentration in daylight hours would be asking for a bomb or an artillery stonk. In order to make the game playable, scale has to be sacrificed to table space.
And that, I think, is the key problem. You can either play a WW2 skirmish game or you can try a battle but with a battlefield table which is even more ridiculously skewed than usual. In my view, this makes WW2 figure wargames practically unplayable. Even in a skirmish game, the ranges of the weapons are such that they reach across the table anyway.
Now, I am sure that there are many fine WW2 wargames out there, and I will get jumped upon by people giving me examples of such. I have, in fact, seen Crossfire, which seems to me to be about as good as it gets for WW2 skirmish level games (I mean 1:1 figure scale). However, it only works if there is a lot of terrain on the table for troops to hide in. Many, perhaps most, WW2 battles were held in such areas, but some were not and I fear that Crossfire might struggle with that (but then, so did the troops in real life). However, as I recall weapons have no range on the table and so one, at least of the problems is avoided, while compromising other things to make the game playable.
So, the reason that I do not play World War Two games is, therefore, nothing to do with the ethics and morality of representing the forces of an evil regime on the table. It is much more to do with the limitations of the possibilities of the wargame representation of the troops and, particularly, the weaponry, as well as the fact that battles were usually decided by the broad sweep of logistics and reinforcement rather than on the area depicted by the wargame table itself.
Finally, I do recall a number of amusing accounts of WW2 wargames by Charles Grant in his Table Top Teasers articles. His book ‘Battle’ is one of the best I recall on wargaming in general and WW2 in particular. I think, though, that it does go for a more ‘Hollywood’ style of wargame. One beach landing scenario he described had all the officers named after actors in the file The Longest Day and, as I recall, off table artillery and air strikes were not included. They may have been excellent games, but I am not sure whether they really count as World War Two any more…
To summarise, I do not play World War Two wargames. However, this is not because I fear being labelled a Nazi sympathiser for painting the Afrika Corps, but because I really cannot see how, except in very limited circumstances, a interesting game can be played which has some relevance to reality.
And also, of course, I would have to buy a lot more books, which is where, I fear, we really do start to see Nazi apologists coming out.