Beginner’s Wargames = Low Complexity Wargames?
Really? Do all wargames for beginners lack complexity? Is complexity the only discriminating factor? What if a beginner is looking for something with more depth? Are there wargames on the market that do not fit the stereotypical bill of low complexity and yet can still be considered as gateway wargames?
In this column I’d like to introduce games that I think are suitable for beginners but have enough depth that even non-beginners won’t get bored too quickly.
Disclaimer: This post is not a review. Plenty of excellent reviews have been already written elsewhere.
There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.Niels Bohr
Let’s get some things out of the way.
What are beginners?
If you have never played a boardgame, then feel free to continue reading but you might not get the most out of this post.
If you are familiar with boardgames and have wrestled with games that are a little ‘meatier’, and now you want to try a wargame, this article might be for you.
If you have already played a wargame and now you look for something more challenging, welcome!
What do I mean when I say suitable for beginners?
By suitable for beginners I do not mean these titles are easy to learn. Being complex and being complicated doesn’t have to go hand in hand. By suitable for beginners I mean that you don’t need to be an expert to figure out the game. No prior knowledge is required to tackle the rules. As long as you are committed, you can learn the game.
Tunisia II is the 2016 reimplementation of the 1995 title Tunisia. It’s the 15th game in the Operational Combat Series (OCS) designed by Dean Essig and nowadays published by Multi-Man Publishing. The game simulates the campaign in Northwest Africa from November 1942 until May 1943.
A total of six scenarios are included in the game:
- Race for Tunis
- Tunisia Campaign
- Battle for Kasserine
- Kasserine Campaign
- The Mareth Line
- The End in Africa
Only two of those require the two map sheets that come in the box. Everything else can be played on a smaller table.
Why is it Suitable for Beginners?
Are you nuts? I can hear some of you screaming at the screen. OCS is not for beginners! Well, you might be right. This is not a game you can learn in an hour and then play in two hours. But it wouldn’t be fair to assume that all beginners look for games that can be learned and played during a rainy afternoon.
Some players might have been pacing around OCS for quite some time now. It’s intriguing. There’s a gazillion of pictures on various social media outlets. It seems that every other wargame-related thread on BGG ends up with at least a reference to OCS. But OCS isn’t this that monolithic monster of a wargame system. You will need years of wargaming expertise to break into it. Right?
Most of the OCS titles are probably not meant for gamers who want to dip their toes into OCS waters. Too unwieldy, too big, too massive, too expensive, too everything. But Tunisia II is different. It has a small footprint. The counter density is rather low, which is tremendously helpful for not losing the overview. It has almost no additional special rules. And to some extend, if feels like a sandbox version of the bigger OCS titles.
Yes, with 56 pages (version 4.3) the rulebook is hefty. But then, it’s a straight forward set of rules. There are no ambiguities, no second-guessing. Everything you need to know is there. The rules have been optimized and polished over the years (or should I say decades?). Will you understand everything at the first read? Probably not! But then, think abut how often you had to read and re-read the Mage Knight rules! Will you really have to read the complete rulebook several times? I’d be surprised if you needed more than just a skimming through the rules the second time around.
Not all six scenarios are useful for a first game. But the smaller ones give you already a taste of OCS without watering down the experience. And when you feel comfortable enough, try to scale up and play the campaign. In the end there’s a scenario for everyone in the box. Plus, most scenarios are absolutely worth to be played more than once. There are so many things to discover.
Still not convinced? Even if everything fails, there’s a huge OCS community out there and everybody is more than happy to help. BGG and consimworld have a ton of threads helping players. It’s hard to imagine you have a question that hasn’t been answered somewhere.
If you are willing to commit the time, then there’s no reason why Tunisia II can’t be a gateway wargame for you!
What is the single most intriguing feature of every OCS game? One word: supply (I swear no more talking about supply for at least a few weeks.). Yes, OCS is known for it’s handling of supply. In OCS, supply is more than tracing a supply path to a supply source. Supply is genuinely simulated by counters. Those counters need to be physically moved over the map. The players have to use trains, ships, trucks or planes to bring supply to the front line. Because without supply you can’t move, let alone fight.
And thus you have to carefully plan and run a supply network. Supply is limited, so usually there’s not enough supply to do everything you want to do. What will you do first? Have you taken into account that the track gauge might change when crossing a country border and your supply trains can’t continue? Don’t forget to protect your supply lines. It would be too bad if that nice supply dump you created there is caught by the enemy.
Supply is probably not the only part of OCS that attracts fans but it’s definitely one of the bigger ones.
Why Didn’t You Suggest XYZ?
While the game is perfectly fine to start an OCS collection, it lacks ‘replayability’. I feel that for what comes in the box, Tunisia II is more ‘future-proof’ and the better investment for beginners.
To my mind Sicily II would be the perfect introduction to OCS. It comes with the OCS Guide which quite useful for beginners. That being said, it wouldn’t be my first suggestion for an OCS beginner. The additional amphibious landing procedure rules feel tedious and add confusion. I’m not sure beginners appreciate them.
Smolensk: Barbarossa Derailed
This one has a small foot-print (It’s a one-mapper.). It was just published last year and represents the latest evolution in OCS. Everything I said about Tunisia II is also true for Smolensk. And it should work also for beginners, although the slightly higher counter density might feel a little overwhelming or claustrophobic in the beginning.
I think for someone who just wants to get a feeling for OCS, Tunisia II is better suited. Two reasons: The price tag for Tunisia II is a little lower. And, since Tunisia II was my entrance into the world of OCS, I know that it worked for me.
In the end every player is different and every player has to decide for themself what they are after in a new game. For some it’s enough to know what’s inside the box, others have to see a complete play-through before they can make a decision. Still other need to hear what they can expect. And maybe this post was helpful for those. If you want to try OCS and you are not sure, check out Tunisia II. It won’t be a picnic, but if you are willing to invest some time, it will be a very rewarding experience.
In his How to Wargame video series Ardwulf from Ardwulf’s Lair started to introduce OCS:
- 2020-02-25 added a link to Ardwulf’s video