I love history. I especially love the history of conflict and the wars that have had a hand in shaping our world. I also love games and their strategic goodness as I try to best my opponent in head to head combat. When these two elements are merged, they create a very engaging and interesting type of game that I enjoy quite a lot. I love to take a look at historical battles to see if I can make a different outcome after pushing cardboard counters around a map and rolling dice for a few hours.
I love the fact that in a good conflict simulation, players are given the opportunity to try their hand at history to see if they can possibly do better than their historical counterparts in the modeled conflict. I love having to survey the battlefield and come up with some novel approach to attacking the enemy. In these conflict simulations, we already know the historical outcome, and even have a very good idea about why things turned out the way that they did. With this knowledge, I really enjoy studying the terrain as well as the enemy force capabilities and their locations, trying to come up with a tactic or some novel strategy that will allow me to gain an advantage that wasn’t found or exploited in the historical conflict.
Recently, I have been playing Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden from GMT Games solo and have really enjoyed trying to figure out various strategies for both the Allies and the Germans. As we know historically, the operation was not an Allied success as various factors, including weather, traffic congestion, lack of understanding regarding the terrain (polder) and poor decisions, led to a failed operation with nearly 17,000 Allied casualties. In my solo play, I have struggled mostly with the three Airborne divisions (the 101st and 82nd American and the British 1st Airborne division) in having them succeed with their landings and their ability to guard and defend so many different roads into each of their sectors. Historically, the 1st Airborne was simply decimated as they struggled to capture Arnhem Bridge. I have experienced this difficulty as well, as the SS units in this sector are pretty darned good and have not given much ground.
I have though had really great success with the 82nd Airborne near Arnhem Bridge where they have been able to hold the line and keep the Germans out but the 101st Airborne have really struggled in their assignment. They have had the worst luck with their Air Landing Phase rolls and seem to have taken an inordinate amount of casualties as they are trying to land, both in the form of reductions as well as in being Scattered, which makes their movement and Combat Factors worse during the first round after they land. The Germans also blew many of the bridges that they were trying to capture and it has caused significant backup of XXX Corps as they have tried to press up Hell’s Highway to relieve the beleaguered Airborne troops. So, I have experienced some of the same problems that the Allies did historically, and at this point in my play, the outcome appears that it will most likely replicate the historical one.
But, I have seen others on social media doing much better than I have and their Allied forces are taking and keeping their objectives and pushing the Germans to the breaking point. I love this about conflict simulations. Trying my hand at replicating history is such a great experience.
It is no secret that I don’t like to lose. Just ask Alexander. In fact, I despise losing. I have great confidence in myself and my choices and feel that I have a good grasp on strategy and tactics and understand how certain units should perform in combat. But in conflict simulations, the main thing that I hate about the playing out of history is the pre-planned losing. What I mean by this is when a game is designed to model a historical battle, this typically means that the conditions that caused the historical outcome are in place. For example, in the picture below showing the initial setup of the game during The Battle of Stalingrad from Turning Point Simulations, you can see that the poor Russian forces are not only outnumbered but outgunned. This means that the first 4-5 rounds of the game, as was the case historically, will be nothing more than defeat after embarrassing defeat for the Russians as the German warmachine and their Blitzkrieg tactics simply run them over pushing them all the way to Stalingrad before the Russians can stiffen and provide enough units to put up a fight. And that was the case in our game. No matter how I tried to use my units. No matter when and where I was able to move reinforcements up to plug holes. Or utilize terrain to my advantage. The outcome simply was the same with loss after bloody loss. Even when I rolled well, my odds were such that it still meant I really lost, as I would lose units and be pushed back. For this reason, I typically am not a fan of playing the Soviets in any East Front game (I have played The Battle of Stalingrad, No Retreat: The Russian Front from GMT Games, Case Blue from C3i Magazine among a few others) as they typically lose the first few rounds. This doesn’t sit well with me and maybe shows my style in wargaming. But on the bright side, I have learned that this losing means that there is an opportunity for winning. In my example above, I mentioned that even on good rolls, I lost. Well, I lost the individual battle, but as you know, the Soviets main strength was in their numbers. Even when I lost units, there are more replacement units on their way. But for the Germans, there are no units on the way as they pretty much have only what they start the game with. So, this type of game simply requires me to have a paradigm shift with regards to my thoughts on losing. In losing, I am actually getting closer to victory as long as I take one or two of his units with me, or even if I only reduce him. Or, I can focus on how I should best strategically fall back and reposition myself to take advantage of terrain or to allow my reinforcements more time to build up their defenses. In this way, managing losing becomes a game within the game and is something to actually challenge me rather than to focus only on the losing of the individual battles. I still hate it but with this attitude, I am able to enjoy even the dreadful and despair inducing losses experienced on the Eastern Front by the Russians. That is why I both love and hate conflict simulations and will continue to play the underdog side, even if I have next to no chance of winning. The challenge is like the breath in my lungs (but I still hate losing)!