In this discussion thread we hope to cover a few of the older board wargames that still do a terrific job of teaching maneuver warfare.  Some of these can be had for relatively cheaply on the secondary market (Ebay and the like) while others are still considered sought-after collectors items commanding high prices.  

For the grognards who want to interest Marine Maneuver Warfare Wargamers in the "golden oldies," here is your place to do it!

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Napoleon At Bay: Defend the Games of Paris, designed by Kevin Zucker (various editions from Operational Studies Group and Avalon Hill Game Company--all are good!)

When this game was first published by OSG in 1978 it rocket the Napoleonic wargaming aficionados as it was the first to portray operational-level campaigning in a way that seemed to fit what players read in their history books.  What made it so special was its treatment of competing OODA Loops--and after many games made in this "Napoleonic Campaigns" system, this title nevertheless remains the best of all of them.  

Here, Napoleon is the proverbial little Dutch boy with not enough fingers to plug all the holes in his front, trying to stave off defeat at the hands of the Sixth Coalition armies made up of Austrians, Prussians, Russians, Swedes, and number of other minor states.  He's got an army that is a shadow of its former self but he has the capability to dash hither and yon, to and fro, to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.  His superior operational tempo just might make that possible. The Sixth Coalition has its hands full trying to coordinate their armies to pose multiple threats to create complementary force dilemmas at the operational level in a way that Napoleon cannot counter.

The 1983 Avalon Hill edition (basically the second edition of this title) is the most affordable on the secondary market and many say is the cleanest version.

Frederick the Great (Avalon Hill Edition) showcases the entire Seven Years' War in Europe in seven digestible scenarios, each on playable in an afternoon.  The thesis of the game rests on leadership--the Prussians had better ones (particularly in King Frederick II himself) and on the geographic situation facing Prussia--it and it's Hanoverian ally get the advantages of interior lines while its foes (Austria, Russia, and France) are forced to cope with operating on exterior lines, making it difficult to spatially support each other.  From a temporal sense, however, they can do a good job cooperating/coordinating against Frederick.  

The focus here is on campaigning with battles and sieges abstracted.  Logistics is everything as armies must leave a trail of magazines/depots every so many miles to sustain them, and this becomes a potential vulnerability.  Friction is high as players are never sure how far they will move from turn to turn, but the Prussians enjoy higher probabilities...yet nothing is guaranteed.  

The AH edition is extremely cheap on the secondary market as of this writing--well worth taking the trouble to locate a copy.  The earlier SPI Strategy and Tactics magazine edition doesn't cover every year and the leader counters are more generally presented but is worth it if the price is right!

Panzer Command (1984) by Victory Games.  Forgive this title its horrible box art.  Inside is a terrific game on the Chir River battles fought between Hermann Balck's 11th Panzer Division and elements of the Fifth Tank Army.  These were pivotal conflicts in the larger Stalingrad campaign as the Soviets hoped to break out past this battlefield and negate any possibility of a German relief of the Stalingrad pocket.  Historically, Balck ran a masterful mobile defense while significantly outnumbered, stabilizing the front well enough so that a relief attempt could be mounted.

The games does an excellent job in highlighting the OODA Loop competition--the Germans dance like a butterfly but stings like a bee.  This system was the basis for the Grand Tactical Series (GTS) published by MMP, which it very much resembles in play.  Headquarters have Command Points and Dispatch Points to replicate historical command and control performance.  These points must be spent to activate single units (Command Points, representing direct commander intervention on the field) or formations of units (Dispatch Points, representing staffs drafting and issuing written orders).  Better headquarters generate more of both these points, which translates into doing more in a specific period of time.  The Germans, naturally, have the better headquarters.  An added feature of this system is that Dispatch Points purchase formation chits that go into a mug, along with a free "Direct Command" chit and an overall force chit.  Players pick these chits blindly out of the mug so that neither knows who will get the next action--or which formation/units will get the chance to move and/or fight. 

While long out of print, copies are still available on the secondary market and are relatively inexpensive given what you get in the game.


    Thanks for the invite.  Just got back from sea transit and amphibious landings on Coco Cay and Nassau, Bahamas via Royal Caribbean.  Let me ask you this -- did the Japanese ask to see our passports at Tarawa?  Jeez, modern-day bureaucracy is gonna kill us!  (Well actually, losses were low, even by cruise ship standards.)

    Anyway, reflecting on the developmental history of board wargaming, the early AH games were quintessential studies in Firepower/Attrition theory.  I think the greatest advance in introducing maneuver warfare into board wargaming came with SPI's mech movement phase, efforts to depict asymmetric force attributes, and attempts at hidden movement (dummy counters, non-inspection of stacks).  Ironically, as part of my strategy gaming club for youths, I find AH games useful (easy rules), and have just finished a set of mods for Afrika Korps that adds in some of those mechanics.  Other important innovations included fluid zones of control (or none) and overruns.  Columbia's later block-game innovation, now adopted by GMT and others, dramatically improved the state of the art for FTF maneuver gaming.

    By way of background and to explicate the foundational theory, maneuver warfare is a zen philosophy best captured in the West by General Systems/Complexity Theory.  SunTzu's Art of War ('Sunzi Bin Fa' to be properly pretentious) is, for instance, a work in the Taoist canon.  Victory and defeat come via nonlinear dynamics, synergy vs. entropy, and cascading effects.  Its best translation into the Western idiom was thru BHLH's Strategy and the later works of Robert R. Leonhard (but read, alongside, Bertalanffy or Waldrop to better understand the universal underlying framework theory). One of the most important tenets in maneuver warfare is surprise, produced generally either through systemic innovation (e.g., Blitzkrieg), security/concealment, or rapid movement/optempo, producing SunTzuian 'formlessness' and general mystification.

    People think about the speed of maneuver warfare, which is perfectly legit, but the real dynamic lies in asymmetric advantage in optempo: the ability to out-OODA-loop the foe, at whatever speed-over-ground might be possible in any given era of transportation.  The Great Captains achieve their victories against adversaries whose armies also walk and ride; what they do, however, is find a way, often through C4ISR or logistic advances, to sustain higher levels of activity than the enemy can within the same physical constraints (hour & steps per day; miles per gallon).  Maneuver commanders move while attritionists wrack their brains/staffs trying to figure out what's going on.

    In this regard, some of the games that best capture the causal dynamics of maneuver warfare take more time to play than simple move-attack/let-the-Clausewitzian-CRT-&-die-win-your-battles-for-you games.  SPI (generally James F. Dunnigan) was uniquely gifted in being able to capture some of these dynamics abstractly through simple rules.  Several seminal designs in this regard include Panzerarmee Afrika, Panzergruppe Guderian, La Grande Armee, and , as you note, Frederick the Great (the latter with my mods - see BGG/CSW).  These games are 'easy to learn but difficult to master' because their depth of play requires exploiting non-apparent capabilities embedded in the mechanics.  Only by mastering these, which requires study and multiple play-throughs, can players exploit the asymmetries.  (My high-school-age club lads are not quite there yet, although my son is showing real aptitude.)

   I will leave it to others to comment on the power of block gaming for achieving surprise.

   Let me end with a note on naval games: notwithstanding the prodigious efforts of designers to introduce operational uncertainty into naval games (viz. Avalanche Press), only hidden movement supervised by a game master really works.  That requires Naval War College-style implementation, by which I mean 'Blue' and 'Red' (or 'Black' or 'Orange') gamer cells and a White Cell for adjudication -- especially adjudicating reconnaissance reporting.  I do this in training naval analysts at work and in the club, using two maps, two sets of counters (actually, plastic pieces -- Axis and Allies works great for training that focuses on operational decision-making under intel uncertainty), and a lot of running back and forth!

    All hail Chris Carlson as the master of this fine art (Admiralty series naval wargames).

         Thanks for the thought-provoking question, Eric!

               Best in everything, Tim Smith


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