24 February 2010

Wednesday Wargaming

Today marks the anniversary of Pope Julius II’s Bull against dueling in the Council of Trent. Mostly the Council focused on things other than dueling, but they seemed to be on a roll and the inclusion of a ban wasn’t out of character.
Despite the prohibition dueling remained a popular pastime for many centuries to come. On the surface it might seem like there aren’t many games that take on the subject of dueling, but I’ll address that in a minute. The reasons for this apparent dearth aren’t perfectly clear, but anyone familiar with martial arts (and I don’t limit this to Asian styles of combat but rather include a broad swath of western fencing and boxing along with it) will immediately recognize that individual skill plays large role in resolving one on one melee. Several game systems have been created but each has inherent strengths and weaknesses. Today being the day for discussing wargames and the anniversary of the ban on dueling, I suppose now is as good a time as any to take a look at some of these systems.

Games to Set The Mood


It may be that ancient games simulating swordplay and the like have been created, but within my sphere of knowledge it has only been recently (the last four or so decades) that any games of substance have emerged.

To my knowledge the first game to attempt to replicate one-on-one knightly combat was Chainmail. Chainmail was originally conceived as a historical miniatures game system for battle between medieval armies. However, circa the mid-1970s (my 3rd Edition, 5th printing is dated 1978) A system was published that outlined rules for one-on-one combat. Right around that time period the same company (TSR) published a much better known system of combat set in a fantasy realm. That game was known as…

Dungeons & Dragons. Controversy surrounds the discussion of whether Chainmail is a direct antecedent of D&D or whether the two games were conceived independently. What is not in dispute is the fact that although D&D is a fantasy role-playing game, individual combat makes up a good portion of it. Calling it a simulation is a bit of a stretch, but if you’re looking for duals, there are at least four major versions (and myriad variants) in D&D.

I can’t say I have seen every game mechanic for simulating a duel, but I can say that of those I have seen, En Guarde! is the best. I know the game designer personally, and the reason why it is such a good system is simple: he used to fence in college. The system is slightly complicated to learn, but once you know it, it flows well. While there is an element of luck (and some tongue in cheek humor to lighten the mood), at its heart the game may be as good as we could ever expect a tabletop (card-driven, actually) game to simulate.

Now, as I stated above, there don’t appear to be many games that simulate dueling outright, but anyone familiar with RPGs (role-playing games, in this case folks – sorry for any confusion) will tell you that there are actually dozens of RPGs out there, almost all of which incorporate some form of melee mechanic. Simulations? Not exactly, but there are myriad examples of reasonable (and less reasonable) facsimiles.

By: GladiusMagnus

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had always been led to believe that the ultimate genesis of D&D was an expansion of the "fantasy" section of the rules to Chainmail, which included rules for magic spells and the like.