Most of the things I have written about so far have been about miniature gaming. Don’t get me wrong, the 1200+ painted minis on the shelf and God knows how many in the boxes waiting to be painted. That is not what is on my mind today. No, today I want to talk about the Cardboard battlefields that I have seen.
In the mid to late 60s to the later 80’s the ‘hobby’ was dominated by ‘beer and pretzel’ games. Operational/Strategic games of Corps and Divisions fighting it out on a large area battlefield. In 1970, James (Jimmy) Dunnigan worked for AH and HE wanted a more tactical game that dealt with platoons and squadrons (tank and/or cavalry). So Tactical Game 3 was developed and would become ‘Panzerblitz’. Avalon Hill (the original, not the HASBRO imprint) took that and published it in a ‘bookshelf’ format with a number of counter sheets (covering the Russian and German orders of battle) and three mapboards. It would go on to spawn Panzer Leader (William Richardson and I played it a lot) and Arab Israeli Wars (I bought two copies over the years). Look at the wiki entry for more data on the history these games if you want.
The next step was John Hill’s “Squad Leader”, also printed by Avalon Hill, still in print as ‘Advanced Squad Leader’ by MMP, which took an even more ‘micro’ look at tactical simulations. Where the ‘Tactical Game 3’ was about platoons and batteries, SL is about the squads as the largest unit. It is, to me, the best simulation of tactical warfare for the understanding of J.W. Thomason described as ‘the point of contact, where war is girt with horrors. And common men endure these horrors and overcome them, along with the insistent yearnings of the belly and the reasonable promptings of fear; and in this, I think, is glory.’
The rules are pretty straight forward, you base your attacks on the inherent firepower of the given units, consider the defense of the target as well as terrain and, in the ‘advanced’ game, weather affects and so on. The game is a turn based “I go, you go” system but the non-turn player gets to do some things during his opponent’s turn. Consult the combat results table and take casualties. There are a number of pre-generated scenarios included and rules and commentary to create your own. Yes, you do learn about the armies that fought in WWII in Europe and to a lesser extent the PTO.
Jump to now. I am in a sort of obsession about getting these games back on the table in front of me. The original rules are available online as well as the old commentaries and amendments in ‘The General’ magazine that AH put out for about 30 years. There are also sites, like The Imaginative Gamer, that have updated counter mixes and map sheets. Got access to a good printer, some heavy card stock and some time? Make your own counters!
So, what’s the ‘so what’? This series of games can take you from the early war years of ‘39/’40 to modern times as there are places that you can get counter sheets for Cold War Soviet, American military and other forces into the 90’s. Looking at the counters you can see the increase in combat power and effectiveness. Yep, they’re darn entertaining…