This is the one hundredth blog post that we have published since founding Wargame Design Studio, so we needed a meaty topic to dive into!
I was struggling for an appropriate subject when this post was put up on a Facebook thread recently:
“You can play the full Panzer Campaign Series also here (editor: another game series) - but with much better Graphics and fewer military historical errors - John Tiller was a major game producer Unfortunately, but he relied on a team of military history amateurs - read only secondary anglo-saxonian literature without any insights in german and soviet sources”
“I mean military historical errors - for example deployments in Gary Grigsby Barbarossa scenarios - there are so many wrong positions and names for soviet ans also german troops. HPS Series is alo incorrect for the soviet deployment - for example wrong air groups in Stalingrad 42 or complety fantasy deployments in Smolensk 41. This guys read Osprey magazins - but nore more. I worked with a german book library of the most divisional histories wrote in the 60th to 70th years and have also entry to the army library and magazin of Freiburg - I am a real historian on the university and I am a hobby wargamer. And I speak and understand russian and can read the most of the standard literature from the soviet time frame and todays internet resources in russian language.”
All text is left as written, but please note the author is not a native English speaker.
These are pretty strong opinions and are counter to what has been mooted as one of the ‘strengths’ of JTS/WDS games - the research and historicity. So, who is right? And what are the factors considered when creating a title?
We covered a lot of what is involved in creating a game in a series of ten blog posts starting here: (So you want to design a Wargame), but it is interesting that the titles held up as examples are Smolensk ’41 and Stalingrad ’42. These were released in 1999 and 2006 respectively. Smolensk ’41 was actually the first game that John Tiller Software ever released and was created by Greg Smith, Jim Dunnam and John Tiller. I have no knowledge of the sources that were used but Mike Avanzini subsequently helped create the Smolensk ’41 expansion packs which included an extended map, revised order of battles and new scenarios at company level. I mention Mike as he is one of our resident order of battle expert and he has previously posted blog posts such as the following to explain his approach: (example Soviet Order of Battle). Please note, Mike has been using sources that have come direct from the Russian archives (when open) and we had even paid for our contacts in Russia to photograph records that were not available when we needed them. David Glantz’ (a very well-known Eastern Front scholar) Smolensk day by day atlas was the basis for much of the unit deployments in the later revision of the Smolensk scenarios.
The ’wrong air groups’ comment in Stalingrad ’42 is also a little perplexing as a review of both the German and Soviet air units confirm that the included air formations align with Christer Bergstrom’s Black Cross Red Star volume 3. This book was not even the source for the air units as it was only published in 2006 after the Stalingrad ’42 OOB was created. Possibly the writer was calling out the lack of fighter units, a type that is not included in Panzer Campaigns as air superiority is modelled abstractly. Usually, only bomber and recon aircraft types are physically available to a player.
The point here is twofold – we welcome commentary and queries regarding the accuracy of our work. Many times, natives of these conflict countries can help us to find sources not easily available to us foreigners. The second point is that research continues to unearth new information and debunk prior research. It would not be surprising that inaccuracies could be found in games that were published in 1999 and 2006 and research sourced before those dates. We have tried to update titles where possible to reflect new findings but that can become a lot of work. A final comment to our friendly poster. We are also adept at using Russian sources and research websites as evidenced in this particular article: KV-85 Tanks and Rabbit Holes and we are trying to look at as many sources as possible, including the material from Osprey!
Another example of revised work is Panzer Campaigns Scheldt ’44. This title was created by Mike Prucha and Dave Michas as a follow-on to their large expansion for Panzer Campaigns France ’40. This is the first title where we have included a game situation that had been published previously: Operation Market-Garden. The time elapsed between the original Panzer Campaigns Market-Garden ’44 (2003) and the large campaign scenario included in Scheldt ’44 (2020) was seventeen years. The included scenario in Scheldt ’44 was both larger in scope and more detailed, primarily due to the availability of more information and improved research sources. Changes in the game code also allowed us to include more features such as resistance fighters using the new irregular unit type that were not available in the original title. It was also important to include this new version to put the rest of the Scheldt campaign in perspective.
We have plans to revisit other published titles as evidenced by the recent call for play testers for Panzer Campaigns Japan ’45. This title ultimately was impacted as we decided to realign the recommended optional rules across the whole game series. This change skewed the balance of the scenarios and with the assistance of the testers who volunteered we will be updating many of that title’s scenarios. We have plans to look at other non-standard titles to see what can be done to improve them but that is dependent on the resources available and the community’s assistance in testing.
Another potential conflict with reality is ‘fun’. When Scheldt ’44 was released Julio ‘JC’ Cabrero over at Real and Simulated Wars was a little more critical in his review, concerned that ‘less playability can lead to a shortage of realism’. Essentially it is very hard to make some historical situations fun to play. Scheldt ‘44 is primarily fought in mud conditions with low quality troops on both sides and highlighted why very few games on this campaign had been done previously. We never want to shy away from doing ‘more difficult’ titles, but we need to make certain that there is sufficient ‘fun’ factor in each situation that players choose to play the scenario again. That’s not to say that is missing from this title, but we need to highlight that a player’s previous experience with the game series may not be as applicable when playing some of these ‘different to the norm’ scenarios.
With all the above in mind we are trying to improve both our scenario testing methodology and focus on playability. We want to specifically ensure that each scenario is ‘fun’ to play where fun is both enjoyment or understanding the goal or challenge behind each scenario. We want to continue to improve items as mundane as the scenario briefing through to relevant objectives and victory conditions.
We want to keep bringing you the best researched, most historical titles we can, and we welcome all feedback, supportive or otherwise. It is also just as important that you want to play our titles for the sheer enjoyment of them and we will continue to make that a key focus.
It is exciting to have reached a century of blog posts, with everything going on, we expect to reach the next century very soon!