Recently I got involved in a discussion between SPI's BATTLE FOR STALINGRAD
by John Hill and AH's TURNING POINT: STALINGRAD
by Don Greenwood. I was a playtester for the latter and can be fairly accused of bias, but I really did prefer that game to Hill's effort for SPI. That said, I was also involved in L2's 3d Edition of STREETS OF STALINGRAD
, so I hope nobody will accuse me of being overly sold on area map/movement games.
But in the course of the discussion, I was asked about the pros and cons of area versus hex-based maps and movement/combat systems. So here's my take on that, for what it's worth.
First of all, I have to admit a bias against area movement games as a general concept. I have no rational basis for that, however. It's just that I always liked the fidelity of hex-based maps and movement/combat systems. Sure, I played RISK
areas seemed fine for those games given their strategic focus. But for operational and especially tactical level games, I preferred hexes. Even squares in certain circumstances.
So when I was asked to playtest TURNING POINT: STALINGRAD
, I was basically predisposed against it. I'd played SPI's BATTLE FOR STALINGRAD
and the older version of STREETS OF STALINGRAD
and didn't think I'd go for it.
But once I started getting into the game, I lost sight of my bias against area treatments. The game seemed to reflect so well the psychological perspectives of both combatants, better than any hex-based game I'd so far played. So I was sold. I've since lost my bias against area treatments.
It's worth trying to articulate why that is. I think strategic treatments are the easiest to defend, given the scale of these games. You don't need a lot of operational-level campaigning decisions regarding force allocation. So, given the choice between EUROPE: ENGULFED/ASIA: ENGULFED
and Avalanche Press's JOHN PRADOS' THIRD REICH/GREAT PACIFIC WAR
, I will naturally gravitate towards the former over the latter. Maybe this comes from too many playings of AH's EMPIRE IN ARMS
on the Napoleonic Wars. I don't know. All I will say is that given the scale of the simulation at the strategic level, area treatments work well.
At the operational level, things start to get trickier. Certainly there are good area-based/point-to-point based treatments that seem to work. But I must admit I tend to play these games as an exception rather than the rule. There has to be something that makes such games better than their hexagon map counterparts. And there aren't many games that can lay claim to this, in my opinion. MONTY'S GAMBLE
is one such game. It seems to work better than any hexagon-based game of comparable size for this particular operation. And I'd say the same thing about TURNING POINT: STALINGRAD and BEYOND NORMANDY
. This approach has attracted interest in their "improved" efforts by MMP, STORM OVER STALINGRAD
and STORM OVER NORMANDY
What makes this work for me at the tactical level is that you aren't confined by the hexgrid to show how terrain operates at the tactical level. Certain tactical areas can be made to dominate merely by how adjacent areas are positioned next to them. Some are key terrain because they have a lot of areas that connect to them; others are more defensible because they have so few. While I wouldn't advocate this approach for every game, it's worth considering as a designer and as a player. In some cases, it works far better than a hex grid or square grid.....
But I realize this is all a matter of taste. So I won't claim the superiority of one system over another. All I will say is that I'm open to whatever design approach seems to capture the essence of the situation--and I've found some area games that do that better than their hex-based brethren.
It's worth asking why this is. For me, the successful designs focus on the essence of campaigning--why, where, and when should I fight and why, where, and when should I not fight. I don't get lost in tactical minutae. It just seems to work for me given the level of command the player is asked to perform. For those who like to jump between levels of command--operational to tactical--it's not going to be satisfying.