Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 30/04/2010

innovative game mechanics and conflict/development simulation

I’ve just posted this set of questions over at ConsimWorld, but I’ll post it here too in case Paxsims readers who are also gamers have any reflections to share on the issue:

I’ve been reflecting recently on the last 30 years or so of wargaming–miniatures, boardgames, and electronics alike–and the important innovations over that period. Has gaming become qualitatively better, or are we reinventing the wheel? With regard to the latter, there’s no value judgement implied. It might be that the “wheel” already works well enough, and certainly no reason to innovate for innovation’s sake alone!

Regards miniature gaming, there was a shift away from a complex focus on the supposed performance of slightly different weapons systems in the 1970s and 1980s, to greater attention to command and control issues thereafter. This was exemplified, for example, by the transition in Ancients from WRG’s 6th and 7th editions to DBA/DBM. In some ways these simplifications led to much more realistic battles, characterized by friction and decided by generalship. In other cases, however, the effect was to render games even less realistic. I’m thinking here of many sets of modern company/battalion level wargame rules, where the failure to make a command rolls can result (for example) in a platoon suddenly halting in the middle of an open field, and where the quite important differences between modern weapons systems seem to vanish. (I have to say, I haven’t really found a set of modern rules that I think get the playability/detail/command/weapons-performance balance right, and I still use a set of 30 year old WRG 1950-85 rules with house updates for newer weapons systems).

In boardgames, we’ve certainly seen dramatic structural changes in an industry that was dominated in its heyday by SPI and AH, and where now smaller game companies, CAD for maps, counters, and professional-looking rules production, and internet-based ordering/distribution have become commonplace. However, have there been any major innovations in game mechanics and play? If so, what games have changed the way we thing about simulations?

Finally, what can we say about computer wargames? (I’m on less firm experiential ground here, since I use a Mac and most computer wargames are never ported outside a PC platform.) Obviously, technological advances in processor power (driving better AI and more complexity) and graphics capability have had major effects. But have we seen design innovations that have or will change the way we wargame?

The issue arises in part because I’ve been thinking about game mechanics and their potential usefulness for the sort of conflict and development simulations that we deal with here on the blog. That question, of course, is a broader one than just looking to wargame design for inspiration: it applies to to role-playing games, and there may even be some aspects of customizable card games and even other game formats that could be usefully adapted for teaching and training on fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Thoughts, anyone?

(Image at right with apologies to Magic: The Gathering. I am sorely tempted, however, to develop a humorous development assistance CCG just for the fun of it…)

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