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Games That Need to Be Made: Part One

Every time I see the announcement of another World War II, American Civil War or Napoleonic game, I wonder just how many ruts these roads can hold. Sure, these periods are important and rich in nuance but so are others. To say that games on these topics are the only ones that sell is circular logic: They are the only ones that gamers see regularly. The hobby’s horizons cannot be expanded unless developers make a determined effort to illustrate that other conflicts and periods are as interesting and important as the Big Three. To date, only AGEOD, Hussar Games, Paradox and HPS have left the beaten path and even they haven’t covered all scales.

Not all of these periods have been totally neglected; some aspects have been touched on in one way or another Yet, the choice of game scale or mechanics have omitted other important themes. So large is this lacunae that more than one column will list the periods with descriptions as to what parts are important and why. Using my editorial prerogative, I’ll start with my favorite, one which I would up front development money – if I had any.

Wars of Italian and German Unification

Of all the events of the 19th century, the unification of Germany and Italy has had incredible impacts on the world that are still being felt. Have we had computer games dedicated to either? No! Victoria can touch on them strategically and Age of Rifles had a few wrong-headed tactical scenarios while a few user-made The Operational Art of War scenarios exist but none of these touch on many important points.

The Magenta and Solferino Campaign

In 1859, Piedmontese and French forces conducted a campaign against the Austrians across northern Italy. Faulty French mobilization and rugged terrain make for a nice operational opportunity but the tactical level is where the interesting points lie. Austrian doctrine relied on fire power derived from their fine muzzle-loading rifles. However, poor training offset this advantage. The French were shot to shreds at long and medium range but found they could press bayonet charges home while the Austrians slowly reloaded. The battles of Magenta and Solferino could easily have gone the other way. Equally important is that the Austrians drew the wrong lesson from the fire/combat debate and would pay dearly for that error.

A strategic game of this period would be fascinating. The major feature would be Garibaldi’s many campaigns.

The Schleswig-Holstein Wars

Denmark and the German Confederation went at it twice. The first time was in 1848-1851 when the Danes won handily on both land and sea. Operationally, this campaign would be a good way to inspect the command and control problems of coalition warfare. Tactically, the Prussians were struggling with poor leadership while figuring out how to handle the new Dreyse breechloader.

In 1864, Denmark did lose on land to the Confederation led by Austrian and Prussian forces, but her regular army held out longer than the Austrian and French field armies in later wars. An operational game component would again deal with coalition war and show how leadership would change when Moltke was put in charge. Tactically, battles should show the developed fire tactics of the Prussians as opposed to the casualty-heavy yet glorious Austrian bayonet charges.

Austro-Prussian (Seven Weeks) War

This war actually had two fronts for Austria: the famous Bohemian one and one in Italy. A strategic game would show both along with Prussia’s almost comic campaign in western Germany. The army in Italy was victorious quickly and was marching north when the roof crashed down in Bohemia.

The operations in Bohemia are rife with opportunities. The Prussian deployment by rail was almost spoiled by Wilhelm I’s reluctance to mobilize. The Austrians could easily have foiled Moltke’s high-risk movement across the border with a slight adjustment to their initial deployment. Although the Dreyse dominated the early battles, the rifle proved vulnerable to the Austrian supurb, well-sited batteries at Koenniggraetz. Had the fool commanding the right flank there obeyed orders, the Austrians could have at least won a draw, retreating in order to join the forces moving up from Italy. Such events would have allowed French armed mediation.

The Franco-Prussian War

Operationally, the first stage of this war is a mirror image of the Austro-Prussian War. Wilhelm equivocated about mobilization but the French threw away their initial advantage. The interesting tactical question is the superiority of the Chassepot rifle over the Dreyse. The frontier battles saw the French breaking German attacks repeatedly but unimaginative field officers ordered no counter-attacks, allowing the Germans to bring up their improved artillery and find an open flank. A few French victories could have avoided Sedan.

A very interesting portion of this conflict happened after Sedan. Bismarck spent several months trying to find a French government that could legally surrender. Paris was besieged, giving the Germans a long supply line and garrison duties they had not prepared for. Small local offensives and guerrilla warfare would add spice to a strategic game.

This series of wars hold tactical, operational and tactical nuances that shaped 20th century war. Why the industry hasn’t taken them seriously is beyond me.