Historical terrain (shown here in the mapsheet for the HASL VALOR OF THE GUARDS on the left)? Or geomorphic generic terrain (shown on the right in ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER STARTER KIT #1)?
"In the Beginning," there were generic maps to tactical land games--we saw these in the earliest Poultron Press/Simulations Publications Incorporated titles ranging from ancient combat to mechanized warfare. When Avalon Hill published PANZERBLITZ (1970),
geomorphic maps with generic terrain quickly became the staple for many tactical games. SPI kept on producing full-sized generic terrain mapsheets with their games such as PANZER '44
, MECH WAR '77
, and OCTOBER WAR
--the closest they got for platoon level games were the two full sized mapsheets that could be fitted together in numerous ways in MECH WAR 2: RED STAR/WHITE STAR
(1974) man-to-man combat game was the notable exception to SPI's avoidance of geomorphic maps for its tactical land warfare games. Avalon Hill pressed on with geomorphic maps in PANZER LEADER
and ARAB-ISRAELI WARS
, and then in FIREPOWER
. Jim Day's armored warfare designs for Yaquinto (PANZER, "88,"
) had geomorphic maps, as did his games for Avalon Hill's MBT
. Of course, Avalon Hill's SQUAD LEADER
, its progeny, ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER
and its modules all have geomorphic maps. We see a lot of this still going on today with CONFLICT OF HEROES
, the COMBAT COMMANDER
series, Lock 'N Load's "HEROES
" series, its WORLD AT WAR
series, and now the WWII NATIONS AT WAR
Miniaturists had long modeled their playing boards on historical maps for the battles they sought to simulate and that was one (of many) draws to that aspect of tactical ground simulation. It wasn't long before board wargames attempted this--Martial Enterprise's LA BATTAILE DE LA MOSKOWA
(1975) was the first major success, quickly followed by a number of tactical warfare "monstergames," including SPI's TERRIBLE SWIFT SWORD
(1976), WELLINGTON'S VICTORY
(1976), but it was HIGHWAY TO THE REICH
( 1977), showing tactical combat at the company and platoon level, that can be fairly labelled as pioneering. The next major breakthrough was Victory Games' PANZER COMMAND
(1984), a company level WWII armored warfare wargame with scenarios played on a map of the Chir River area, showcasing the defensive operations of 11th Panzer Division under Hermann Balck. Five years later, Dean Essig began his still popular (and intensive) Tactical Combat Series (TCS) with The Gamers' BLOODY 110
(1989), a two map monster tactical game with infantry platoons and sections and individual vehicles on an extremely detailed map of the actual terrain the 110th U.S. Infantry Regiment fought against the German 2nd Panzer Division over on the road to Clervaux in December, 1944. Every game in the TCS series has dealt with one tactical action (even if there are a number of tactical scenarios for each)--and that was a milestone in tactical gaming. Now board wargamers could take one system and use it for as many historical tactical actions as there were titles in that system covering it.
ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER
(1985) system series was the next to pick up on this, which proved a departure from the usual geomorphic mapboard treatments in the "core modules" covering nationalities in this very popular tactical ground combat system. RED BARRICADES
(1990) was the first Historical ASL (HASL) module, detailing the struggle for the Red October factory complex in Stalingrad using the ASL system, and others soon followed.
A slew of "Third Party Products" for ASL subsequently were published that provided mapsheets based on historical terrain, but it was one of those purveyors, Critical Hit!, that transformed its COMBAT! series into the ADVANCED TOBRUK SYSTEM (a.k.a. ADVANCED TACTICAL SYSTEM or ATS) that is almost completely based on historical/"real" terrain depictions. Only the first game, ADVANCED TOBRUK
(2002), has generic and geomorphic terrain mapsheets. While earlier efforts, such as COMBAT STALINGRAD
(1998) and COMBAT! NORMANDY
(1999), were self-contained, stand-alone games in a single tactical WWII ground combat system that nevertheless focused on actual historical battlefields--much like Essig's TCS was doing--it was not until the ATS refined this system to its current form that this approach caught on as a more appealing alternative to ASL for many players.
Avalanche Press's PanzerGrenadier series has seemingly followed a hybrid path, providing self-contained games based on nationalities with generic terrain (for the most part) yet also publishing self-contained, stand alone titles based on actual battles (their most recent, CASSINO '44, is perhaps one of the most appealing).
MMP has practically all the bases covered--publishing ASL (geomorphic/generic terrain), HASL (historical terrain), ASL STARTER KIT (geomorphic/generic), the TACTICAL COMBAT SERIES (historical terrain), PANZERBLITZ: HILL OF DEATH (historical terrain), and the Spanish "War Storm" series (generic terrain). Perhaps most interesting, the company returned to the the game ideas that started it all with HIGHWAY TO THE REICH--a game that combined the system of PANZER COMMAND with the subject of Operation MARKET-GARDEN, Adam Starkweather's mammoth monstergame THE DEVIL'S CAULDRON. Once WHERE EAGLES DARE gets published, gamers can do all of the MARKET-GARDEN terrain in loving tactical detail, on a scale never before seen in a commercially published tactical board wargame.
Three maps to storm Omaha Beach with: (1) above left--WHITE STAR RISING (2010), (2) above right--TCS game series OMAHA (1991), and (3) bottom--ATS series game BLOODY OMAHA, D-DAY 1944 (2009)
What are your preferences for generic/geomorphic terrain versus historical treatments of the battlefields? Which games do this best and which ones do it poorly? Why?