The Tactical Wargamer's Journal Premier Issue--First Impressions

You can check out the announcement for this product here on CONSIMWORLD Social Website here.

You can order a copy of The Tactical Wargamer's Journal Issue 1 here.

$44.99, you think to yourself. That's pretty hefty. I could buy a good wargame for that chunk 'o change. Is this product worth it?

Physically, you get a glossy softcover book with 142 pages and no advertising. A "journal" it may call itself, but I think of it as more than that. It's a book to me, plain and simple. Is a relatively medium-to-large format softcover book worth that kind of price? Lots of illustrations, lots of color--so while I might pay $25 to $35 for something this size and with this page count in a non-discount bookstore, there's nothing like the kind of graphical treatment at that kind of price. So I'd say that the physical production alone makes shelling out the bucks worth it if that kind of thing matters to you.

But for a number of us, that's not what will cause us to pay this kind of money. It's what's included in the book that is of primary importance. Let's face it--this is a specialty topic within the specialty genre of historical board wargaming, so given the expected limited print run over the life of this publication (even given the Print On Demand model which doesn't tie up inventory sitting in warehouse shelves), the price is about what one can expect. And in terms of delivering the goods in print, this premier issue certainly does that. But here's my take on the articles:

"Kriegspiel: The History of Tactical Wargaming" by Michael Dorosh. Most of this I'd read in old S&T issues, wargame books, draft articles by Matt Caffrey, and elsewhere, but even as well read as I am on this topic, I learned quite a number of new things. Best of all, there are full color pictures (my favorite is of the old TACTICAL GAME 3, the predecessor of PANZERBLITZ, on page 23). Still, I'd argue there's a few errors that I caught in the article. On page 38 the author claims that field artillery has yet to be modelled well. I would argue that the original rules set for The Gamers' Tactical Combat Series (TCS), included in the first game BLOODY 110, had an extremely realistic depiction of artillery--in fact, it was too realistic and time consuming to implement in the game. Subsequent versions of the rules tremendously simplified the routines without a huge loss in effects in the game. On the same page, it says that the last time an actual artilleryman wrote a wargame was GRUNT in the 1970s--Pat Proctor is an Army "red leg" and is the designer of BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM: COMMANDER and ARMORED TASK FORCE series game for ProSim/Shrapnel Games.

"Containers: 20th Century Tactical Board Game Packaging" by Michael Dorosh. Possibly not nearly as interesting as the other articles save for the old grognards among us who still have all those early S&T games in their envelopes, the SPI "white box" packaging system, and remember the move to the "black box"/flat box SPI game packaging--this article sent waves of nostalgia through me. Very liberally illustrated. Oh, you won't find the "Plano versus other" counter storage controversies for ASL in here. No. And I, for one, am happy about that! There's pages of color illustrations of box art for the tactical games, starting with TACTICAL GAME 3 and PANZERBLITZ on page 52 through Critical Hit's COMBAT! NORMANDY and ORDEAL BEFORE SHURI on page 57. There's a few game boxes I could not find within, notably Omega Games's MAIN BATTLE AREA (1985) and DESERT VICTORY (1991). You will find others that are missing--mostly those published in the past several years such as COMBAT COMMANDER series games, recent PANZERGRENADIER games, LOCK 'N LOAD "Heroes" games and World At War series games, Bayonet Games' MANEUVER WARRIOR series, Lost Battalion's SERGEANTS! games, CONFLICT OF HEROES series, PANZERBLITZ: HILL OF DEATH, A LAS BARRICADAS, and much more. I was looking for some older games such as HIGHWAY TO THE REICH, PANZER COMMAND, TACAIR, and others--then I remembered the author pretty much draws the line for this journal at the platoon level and all scales below for ground games.

"Keeping Track: The Desperation Morale Website." Perhaps of interest only to ASL players--who presumably already know about this site and have heavily downloaded things off of it (as have). A little bit of additional background on Mark Pitcavage, the creator of the site, and the site's development. I'd bet ASL players already knew all this, however. And the ASL players who don't know--because they are new to the game--aren't going to be buying this journal, more than likely.

"The World of ASL" The master list of ASL products from the Desperation Morale website. As much as I love both this and the previous piece, I think we could have done without both of them as the die-hards already know where to find this online. Pages 59 through 67 could have been used for something else with a bit wider appeal. Hey, I'm an ASL player. Feel free to disagree with me.

"Frontovik: The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War in Tactical Wargames" by John Kosar. Lots of history in this piece before you get to how the Soviets are portrayed in the games. In fact, there's SO much history I probably would have renamed the piece: "Frontovik: The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War and Its Portrayal in Tactical Wargames." The history, maps, charts, diagrams are great--especially if you don't have most of this stuff in your home military history library. But we're a bit thin on the discussion of how they are portrayed in games. Good news is that we see both boardgames and computer games covered.

"Diversity of Design: Modelling the Red Army's Armor Force" by Andrew Danyluk. This was one of my favorite articles because it was rich with data, especially providing the tables on tank models simulated in the various board and miniatures games. The article also covers the issues in modeling armored warfare in general, not just the Eastern Front--most notably the Lorrin Bird analyses. If I wished for anything in this piece, it was more about some of the design mistakes made in some games, such as the one the author quotes Lorrin Bird pointing out regarding the T-34 76mm main gun performance in certain designs (some apparently thought it was the Anti-Tank Gun version the Germans mounted in Marders that was built into the T-34/76 models). I also liked the "PANZERBLITZ" style armored vehicle diagrams and stats--and I'd love to compare the ASL Vehicle and Ordnance notes to these to see any significant differences.

"Red Armor: Soviet Tank Units: 1941-1945" by Steve Overton. This was pretty much a history piece with little tie-in to tactical wargaming. While I appreciated the historical treatment, I sorely missed the application in gaming.

"Platform Comparison: CMBB vs PCK" by Kevin Prouty. I don't play computer wargames much anymore, but this piece made me want to. Prouty does such a good job comparing and contrasting COMBAT MISSION: BARBAROSSA TO BERLIN with PANZER COMMAND: KHARKOV--complete with screen shots of similar terrain--that you'll want to play both games. Great piece and I'd love to see more like this for not only computer games, but also boardgames. Just think--comparing PANZERBLITZ: HILL OF DEATH with scenarios on Hill 112 in PANZERGRENADIER: BEYOND NORMANDY. Or various games on the battle for Stonne at the platoon level and squad level. And so on.

So was the journal worth the price? Like any anthology, which is how I looked at this "book," there are strong chapters and there are weaker ones. I was generally satisfied with this effort. But I will expect a little tighter editing and more focused coverage in future issues. I also hope to see coverage of tactical naval games, air games, and other than World War II treatments. In his introduction, Michael Dorosh seems to intend to limit himself to only land/ground games and some of us can only hope that won't be the case. Certainly there are more land tactical gamers out there than any other genre, but that doesn't mean that a publication that calls itself THE TACTICAL WARGAMER'S JOURNAL should limit itself in such a way.

Kudos to Michael Dorosh for initiating this venture and I can only hope it succeeds and we can see more than one or two future issues. Certainly there is a rich palette of tactical wargames and wargaming systems to paint from and quite wide-range of potential subject matter. I would hope a journal such as this would provide additional depth in comparing tactical game systems for those of us who have to choose between titles when spending our hard-earned dollars. And for those of us who generally tend to buy any and all tactical games, to help us understand the designer's intent (and biases) beyond what we read in interviews and the game designer notes.

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Comment by Gunnyhighway on November 9, 2009 at 11:36am
I received the magazine-book-journal last week and I noted that it is of equal quality as "Military Review".

I read a fasinating article about the design diversity of Russian Armors during WWII (obviously a thorough research work behind it).

Then, I really enjoyed the platform comparing article between Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin and Panzer Command: Kharkov PC games. That article was so honest and denied of politics that it was a pleasurable read without a critical perpsective as a normal Gamer to Gamer conversation would naturally occur.

Moreover, I also read an interesting persective about "The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War in Tactical Wargames". Writen in an angle I would not have thought about to the point it got me to revisit old writing from Charles C. Sharp.

There are more articles that I did not have time to cover during the week-end and I hope by the end of this week, I should be able to finish reading them so I will be able to use that publication as a reference data bank.

Finally, there is a sort of who's who of contributors in the creation of that issue #1, and I find it useful because next time I encounter those names in a forum, I won't risk to make a fool out of myself by an unappropriate remark!..;-)

In conclusion, it is a high quality publication without any advertisements which somehow insures absence of any politics and willful biased statement.

Awsome read!
Comment by John Kantor on November 8, 2009 at 7:18pm
Like most publications it has some things I'm interested in and some things I'm not. I certainly can't spend that kind of money right now - and the last thing I want is more paper. Let me buy each article separately as a pdf.
Comment by Michael Dorosh on November 8, 2009 at 3:28pm
Awesome review; thanks very much for that - and for the review on the publisher's site.
Comment by Roger Morley on November 8, 2009 at 3:25pm
Nice article Eric, maybe you should do a piece in the Tactical Wargamers Journal!
Although I am in 2 minds as to get a copy, I do hope it is a success and Michael Dorosh continues with many more issues, but I to hope he covers all types of warfare, not just land.ground warfare.

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