World War II Wargames for Educators

Any educator looking for wargames for the classroom will discover that it is difficult to find an appropriate one. Most wargames are too complex for college students and it can be expensive to purchase sufficient copies for even a small class. In addition, most class periods run fifty to seventy-five minutes and few games, even with experienced players, will fit into that timeframe. Games designed for classroom use must be easy to learn and set up, playable within standard class periods, balanced, and inexpensive. In addition, they should have supporting historical information and the potential to encourage further educational exploration. The following games all fit these criteria.

The first two games are by Louis R. Coatney who has designed seven World War II Eastern Front simulations, and one on Guadacanal. 1st Alamein: July 1942 represents his first efforts on North Africa. This is a fairly simple game, billed as the 'Beginner’s Edition' for The Battles of Alamein, also available from him. It features a 13 by 12 hex-sized map, 31 units, 5 pages of rules, and 3 pages of charts and tables. Coatney provides ample designer’s notes and historical commentary, as well as an annotated ludography of North African games.

1st Alamein plays fairly quickly (an hour or so) and would be manageable in two fifty-minute class periods (including setup). There is one scenario covering Rommel’s July offensive. Each of the ten turns has reinforcement, airstrike marker placement, movement, combat, unit recovery, and victory determination phases. The game is balanced and the designer includes information and materials for running a tournament.

1st Alamein can be obtained at Coatney’s site. He allows free reproduction for personal, educational, and library use. The website includes instructions for downloading Alamein, reviews of Stalingrad and 1941, comments on his other games, naval modeling information including plans for an introductory destroyer model, Civil War naval rules, and a Pascal subprogram for World War II naval wargaming. In short, his website is a good way to introduce students to wargaming and history on the Internet. The game has also been reprinted in the January, February, and April issues of the Strategist, the newsletter of the Strategy Gaming Society. These issues are available for $3.75 total from George Phillies.

The second Coatney game is German Eagle vs. Russian Bear: A World War II Russian Front Boardgame Kit [GERB]. This particular game is more complex than Alamein with about fifteen pages of rules. The game’s relative complexity is alleviated by its logical flow, a comprehensive example of play, and its small size (12 by 8 hex-sized map, 39 units on the board to start. Coatney believes that GERB is appropriate for grades 8 and up, but it seems more suited to the college level.

The sequence of play includes weather, reinforcements/replacements/fortification, movement and combat, undispersement/refit, and victory determination phases. GERB includes five scenarios, with the Barbarossa one playable in about an hour. Overall, the game captures the major aspects of the Russo-German struggle nicely. A review and designer’s notes can be found in Fire & Movement 81 (July/August 1992). The game is available from Louis Coatney, 626 Western Avenue, Macomb, IL 61455, in kit form for $17 or for $27 assembled.

GERB can also be obtained from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service [(800) 443-3742 or by e-mail]. ERIC is a massive collection of educational materials on microfiche sponsored by the Department of Education. Most large libraries have the collection or can obtain a specific microfiche for you. Otherwise you can order a copy directly from EDRS, usually for about $2. The website has their current prices. GERB has two editions on ERIC (1st edition: ED 287786, 2nd edition: 361256). Coatney allows free educational reproduction of the 2nd edition. ERIC also has Coatney’s interesting paper on libraries and simulations (ED 330339). Thus, using GERB could also serve to introduce students to the useful ERIC system.

In 1986, rather than whine about the decline of historical boardgaming, Game Designers Workshop attempted to make boardgaming accessible to newcomers with their introductory game The Battle for Moscow [BFM]. The simulation came in booklet form, complete with essays on learning wargaming, the hobby, GDW, and Operation Typhoon (the scenario covered in BFM). The game was ideally suited for beginners with only 4 pages of rules, 1 page of charts, a 10 by 14 hex-sized map, and 36 units. BFM was balanced and played in a short amount of time. Best of all, it was free, being available at conventions, by mail from GDW in exchange for postage, or with purchase of Great Patriotic War. GDW later followed this experiment with the Battle of Basra, a tactical game based on the First Battle system.

Sadly, GDW folded in 1996, leaving BFM homeless and out of print. Frank Chadwick, GDW patriarch and the game’s designer, subsequently gave permission to post the game at the Web-Grognards site on the Internet. This site is by far the most comprehensive source of historical boardgaming information on the Web, with links to just about every other wargaming site. The BFM section also has Thomas Lane’s game extension published originally in Battleplan #7.

The text of James Dunnigan’s The Complete Wargames Handbook can be found at his Hundred Years War site. Any instructor seeking to use wargames in the classroom, or anyone simply interested in learning about them, should start here. The book includes the introductory game The Drive on Metz: September, 1944. Also covering a Western Front campaign is Udo Grebe Gamedesign's Assault on Belgium, a minigame on the German invasion of Belgium in 1940.

My own desire for a fast-playing wargame appropriate for classroom use led to the design of Stratagem, which has two World War II scenarios, both available in this issue. This game is ultrasimple with only two pages of rules, one page of optional rules, and a sample turn. Each scenario has an objectives chart, a game chart, and a chronology. A moderator records the players’ moves on the game chart, and combat is resolved by a simple exchange. The system is derived from Origins of World War II, but it is greatly simplified. Generally, the other players are doomed unless they can ally against Germany. Stratagem works well in a large class, and the students enjoy it enough so that its use should not harm the hobby to any great extent.

Finally, instructors interested in using military miniatures can start with Paul Roberts' Microarmour Rules: Low Tech 20th Century Conflicts, 1930-1970, available at the Web-Grognards site. Also worth visiting is The Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers which offers a wealth of miniatures information for the Second World War and other modern conflicts.

Peter L. de Rosa


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