Cardboard Games Made Digital

Lately I’ve had three games on my mind. Two are firmly in the digital space and one is in the cardboard space. War in the East 2, Pavlov’s House, and No Retreat. Comparing and contrasting has made me look at boardgames of years past, what the future may hold, and does a black box of stats engage one more than transparent gameplay?

The first, and biggest, is War in the East 2. Not only big in scale, but in scope, and in time commitment. Though I’m happy to see a healthy heap of scenarios so one can engage in an evening and not in a life time! I’m working on getting a good understanding of the game before I write a review or any guides.

It is a big game. With it comes some hefty detail and digital granularity. A game like this could not have existed in the cardboard realm. It is what those monster games of age yonder aspire to be, a distillation of the war game.

Image Source : BoardGameGeek

Above is the iconic image of Case Blue. At one time games like this were the peak of human wargaming. And, going from this to War in the East, one can see how Grigsby’s product is a much simpler affair. Yes, it does seem odd to say simpler. But it creates an issue, a human being can no longer know “all” the factors.

You may have a great idea, but at a certain level you begin to lose touch with what is happening. This is the type of thing that really sets players apart, those that understand the impact of a depot at 3 hexes instead of 2 and what impact that has during mud on an armored support group for example.

If you don’t understand why you lost, when you thought you should have won, then the game designer is not giving you a detailed accounting of the game. Even if the answer is “Your generals are just big dumb Nazi’s and don’t recognize the failure,” at least it’s an answer! What good is a million points of detail if you can’t pin down what caused you to fail?

Even a complex game like CMO can be remarkably transparent when a missile is evaded. The log will show you the exact percentage and just how close you were to death.

Which brings me to the next game on my list, Pavlov’s House. Originally a boardgame and ported quite well into the digital realm. It’s refreshing to see quality boardgame ports and not some of the hacks of a few years ago that looked like utter shit and played even worse. You know who you are…

The real beauty here is it is a guided experience. You, the player, are shepherded along and offered a structured path through the boardgame. Just as you’d have in real life, there are phases, but instead of poring over a rulebook and wondering what section 7.1.1 really means, you just have a few things you can click.

It’s fast. It’s elegant. It’s damned difficult.

You get a limited amount of actions to help alleviate the above situation. One more unit in column 6 and I’ve lost.

Actually, scratch that, I did lose.

But it was a fun loss. It was quick. I could see my dice rolls. The bombing runs were in front of me and their impacts immediately relevant. In a single turn I could see how me readying an anti-aircraft gun could save a headquarters from being knocked out.

Boardgame ports are becoming more popular. Root is a great example along with Terraforming Mars. Both exceptional games with fairly good digital ports. Root is, if you haven’t played it, a ruthless wargame with woodland creatures. Players of COIN games will immediately recognize some core mechanics.

Even more useful is you can play a competent AI and you don’t need to track down a friend with a CCCP shirt to hang out in your gaming dungeon room.

I’ve played exactly one game of No Retreat with a human being. I’d love to play more but the rules are on the upper end of what I can tolerate. Above is the Vassal Mod, which facilitates online play, but does nothing to help you play the actual game. You need a rulebook.

This is a game that begs for a quality port. I would pay good money to get a distilled MonsterGame experience all wrapped up into a single board without menus, OOB’s, air maneuvers, depots, etc.

I want GMT to lock the guys who made Pavlov’s House in the GMT basement, feed them cheetos and Mountain Dew, and let them out when it’s done.

Avalon Digital is doing it. Dan Verssen Games did it with Pavlov’s House and in a roundabout way with Warfighter and Tabletop Simulator. Tabletop Simulator has a ridiculous quantity of games, some scripted very well, but I’d pay good money for a quality port of a good boardgame.

Just look at the history we have with boardgames. 40 years of titles, battles, and history all sitting in a carboard box on a shelf. I recently read about Jack Radey’s boardgame Black Sea Black Death. Someone said it had “unique game play elements”. Except I can’t find a copy, a PDF, nothing. I’d love to give the only Communist in the game design industry money to see it. Even more, I’d like to play it and see how it actually works. (Edit : Jack Radey informed me that Winston Hamilton was also a Communist boardgame designer.)

Because as much as I love the idea of cardboard wargames, and I have a bowing shelf to show it, I live in the middle of nowhere and my opportunity to play these games are thin. But I’ll gladly give you boardgame prices to play it on my PC.

Which is exactly why I’ll play War in the East 2 and enjoy it.

But give me more quality boardgame ports… and we all get victory.

Note : Pass word to boardgame folks you may know to look into this. Pester boardgame designers. Publishers. Get them to talk to people who do this. If you see Jack Radey first tell him he has a wicked beard, then tell him to get his shit online! I’d pay money at Wargame Vault or Steam to see what exactly this is all about.

Gamer, Author, Engineer, Dad.

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