The first part of the title of this post is the topic of a discussion question for my publishers Home of the Wargamers 2015 event.
And in fact it is a very good question and one that should in my opinion be reflected upon by any wargame designer before starting any new project.
My instinctive first reply to the question is to say that there is no such thing as “the” wargame genre or “the” wargamer.
The ideal amount of complexity depends certainly on the personal tastes of the player. Some players are more casual or beer and pretzel lovers, some players are more hardcore wargamers or even grognards.
Reflecting on the complexity of wargames I can distinguish (at least) two important factors that determine the perceived complexity.
The amount of game pieces you have to move each turn is the first important factor. On one side of the spectrum here we find for example chess, while on the other side of the spectrum you would find monster hex-and-counter games like some HPS games or War in the East.
And the detail for the game pieces you control, affect you or that you affect is the second important factor. Does each unit have 2 or 3 variables like in Empire Deluxe, maybe 10-20 variables like in Panzer Corps, or maybe 100s of variables like in War in the East?
The amount of game pieces you have at your disposal should in general create more strategic and/or tactical options for the player. More permutations of game states. High permutation games are complex because they make it impossible to really calculate what is going to be the outcome of your moves, especially when trying to think a few turns into the future, you have to develop a “feel” or “intuition” to become a good player.
The detail of the stuff you have at your disposal can make each iteration of a piece of the game unique (12th Infantry division versus 45th Infantry division for example). These detailed games add a lot of complexity to the game and time-investment for the player, since everything should ideally be inspected before being utilized to achieve best results. On the other hand they add a lot of immersion, special strategies, management challenges and feel of “realism”.
My analysis here is that the [ level of simulation/detail * the ammount of stuff you control ] in a game results in that games complexity score. On the illustration I put for example Panzer Corps in the more casual wargame quadrant and Grigsby in the grognard quadrant. Panzer Corps has relatively low unit count and low detail, while Grigsby has defenitely high unit count and high detail.
So answering the question “does complexity define wargames?” I would really say yes, but the bar where a game becomes a “real” wargame differs from player to player depending on their preferred level of complexity.
In a way the term “casual” and “grognard” is actually not objective and betrays a bit my own sympathies. The term “casual” or “beer and pretzel” is definitely a term coined by players who prefer games to the high complexity side of the spectrum. My apologies if I offended any-one and feel free to replace “casual” with “strategy” and “grognard” with “I like looking at spreadsheets”. It really depends on your personal tastes and who you compare yourself too.
I think the interesting thing about putting turn based wargames on the two dimensions I chose is that I realized there are two design voids. There are no wargames I know of with very low detail per game piece but very large counts of them, nor are there any (non-tactical) wargames with very low game piece counts, but with immense details to each piece.
I know of other genres who have exploited these voids though… RPG’s for example excel in low unit count but with immense detail per unit (characters are of course the name for units there). And for example some RTS and Total War games field thousands of little soldiers on the battlefields but they often resemble a clone of their neighbor.
Personally I think these relative voids might hold the key to create some cross-genre and entry level games.
Thats it for my brainstorm on the subject for today. Correct me if I am wrong please.