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A Paradox Resolved:
On the Attraction of SWWaS

By Brian McCue
July 2014

We think in generalities, but we live in detail.
Alfred North Whitehead

In her Ode To SWWAS (Avalanche’s Second World War At Sea series),  Kristin Ann High writes, "Although it is an operational-level wargame, SWWAS is structured to encompass tactical combat and propagate the results of that combat into the scenario. The clash of ships and planes directly effects the outcome of the scenario, even when what is desired is the avoidance of such a clash."

These tactical combats, as the Ode goes on to explain, entail a good deal of abstraction, in lieu of detail. To meet the operational game's needs, the realism requirement for the tactical game is that it must produce a believable spectrum of outcomes. How it gets them is, from the standpoint of the operational game, irrelevant. And so is the larger strategic context.
From the standpoint of the players, though, it might be a different story. A big part of the fascination of naval warfare (and thus of the appeal of naval wargaming) is the degree to which individual physical details and events (the armored decks of British carriers, or the supposed rudder hit on Bismarck) lead to major consequences. An abstraction-driven combat system may give reasonable outcomes, but without explicit details they are not as believable - or as much fun. Conversely, players reaching the end of an operational scenario often ask "So what?" They want to see the larger implications of the operation they have just conducted (or defeated), and for that they need a campaign game of some kind, such as that presented in the brand-new Great War at Sea: Dutch East Indies.

Regarding such people (of which I am surely one), Kristin asks an interesting question, phrased as a complaint: “For some reason, the folks who tear their hair out over the details . . . always demand a ‘campaign game.’ I've never really understood this . . . ”

I think I do: in fact, I can see two separate reasons:

1) These are people who have become tired of wargames that are fought as if there is no tomorrow. They want a game that rewards consideration of "living again to fight another day," and the best way to get that is to embed the whole thing in something larger. Such people may well have started off as tactical naval players, and adopted Second World War at Sea and Great War at Sea as ready-made operational overgames. (That's what I did.) Little wonder, then, that they want more tactical detail; they are used to a lot more, in their miniatures games. And after a few operational-level Second World War at Sea or Great War at Sea games, they begin to notice that they are again fighting as if there is no tomorrow (or at least, no next week), and the clamor for a campaign game begins.

Thus these people want three levels of game: a fully developed tactical system, the operational system offered by Second World War at Sea and Great War at Sea, and a campaign game.

2) They desire to connect the observable and the important. The history books are filled with statements about "offensives," "collapses," and so on, but these, too, are abstractions. Moreover, some of them contain important elements of hindsight - as far as I can tell, the main difference between a "thrust" and a "foray" is that the former worked and the latter didn't. Like scientists, wargamers want to start with what was observable, and under the control of the decision-makers at the time: the movements of the forces, and their composition. In the case of navies, force "composition" includes what Winston S. Churchill called (in the context of the Dreadnoughts) "the romance of design." And like anybody, wargamers want to end up with what was important - the outcomes of wars, the fates of empires, etc. It is the unique nature of naval warfare that an individual unit (or even an individual hit on an individual unit, like that rudder hit on Bismarck) can have consequences for a whole battle and therefore, arguably, for history. Historians constantly make or deny assertions along these lines (for example, Clay Blair's claim that earlier introduction of the Type XXI U-boat would not have made much of a difference in the World War Two Battle of the Atlantic (and thus to the conflict as a whole), vs. nearly everybody else's claim that it would have made a huge difference), and wargamers want to test such claims for themselves.

It takes three levels of game to encompass the span of causality asserted by historians: the tactical level at which the causal hardware factors can be seen in relatively non-abstract form, a top-level campaign-game level at which the strategic effects are observed, and something in between to make the connection. The Second World War at Sea (and Great War at Sea) games are the "something in between," and therefore a reasonable place to start. But when people realize that they are not getting the full picture that they want, they begin to push the boundaries in both directions - more hardware-level detail, and more history-level scope.

So these people, too, become the people to whom Kristin alludes.

You're one of "those people?" Great War at Sea: Dutch East Indies has what you need. Order it today.