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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Monday, 27 June 2011
Historical Justification in Game Design
Topic: For The People Material
"FTP is an outstanding game that is very, very well balanced and has wonderfully inventive and absolutely elegant systems, but in game play will generally not yield a narrative that is familiar to anyone with any knowledge of the actual Civil War." 

I appreciate the kind words on the design, but you raise an interesting point about the narrative value of any wargame. I would first offer my Clio Corner #1 where I cover your point directly. 

The question that I always face when designing a game is how to capture the strategic situation with all of the considered strategic choices, while factoring in player hindsight. Unless you deeply study any particular historical set of events the narrative history, that which happened, is the standard for judging the historical path. Although this should be a starting point there is a basic view that the historical narrative is the baseline and the most probable path. In my mind that is a false assumption to make about any historical situation. All one can say is that this is what happened and the objective standard that any book must meet. 

Wargames in a way have to meet a higher standard. Once you consider 'what if' history you have to research deeply enough to understand what the historical participants thought was possible. One of the biggest 'historical' critiques of FTP is the unrealistic way in which forces can raid off of their supply lines. I have commented on this before and would ask anyone interested to find those posts, but just last night reading in the OR I found a letter from Lee to Davis during the Gettysburg campaign that he (Lee) intended to maintain his army in the North into the Autumn without a rail connection. Clearly Lee is not worried about the unrealistic tactic of maintaining his army on his opponents resources. Then of course there is the ultimate raid, Sherman's March to the Sea. 

My point being is the kindly worded comment reflects the writers tolerance for historical 'what if', which we all possess in greater or lesser degrees. All I can say is all parts of the FTP narrative have a basis in the historical narrative that did not happen, but was considered. 

FTP requires some skill to play well. I make no excuses for that since I believe that is why we are having this type of discussion over a decade after publication with an ongoing tournament adding to our collective understanding. The net result is in any unique game play situation if a player gambles or does not correctly anticipate how things might evolve the historical paths not taken can create for some interesting game play and for some the perception that the game has gone down an unreasonable path. Given my earlier comments I firmly believe that everything in the game follows a reasonable 'what if' but we all have a different tolerance for what that would be. 


Posted by markherman at 9:33 AM EDT
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