Next War: Lebanon; Topological Differences

Next, some impressions of playing Next War: Lebanon, the Decision Games’s version of 3LW, published in Modern Warfare, issue 13

Starting a magazine game by first having to overlook rules ambiguities is both familiar and annoying. I have no nostalgia for the feeling. Before getting to the confusing cross references, rendered incoherent by subsequent revisions (there are no “Disrupted” markers in NWL; setup instructions can’t be executed with provided counter mix), you have to get past the map. For some mysterious reason a hex grid has been imposed over the terrain. Since I’m a cartographer by trade, I must remark the topology between the two versions is different. True, wargames often succeed or fail by close attention to such detail, but the game-stopping problem is the ambiguity of Israel’s depiction. There is no differentiation, as there is in 3LW, with Israel’s reserve area or between named border areas.

Relative topologies with the number of paths to and from each node. 3LW (left) NWL (right). While it is still three spaces to Tyre, the Shaqra area and Tyre itself are richer nodes, favoring the defender by making freedom of movement harder to control. Similar constraining/expanding effects can be seen in northern Lebanon and along the Syrian border.

 

 

The internationally recognized border, so visible on the 3LW map is completely absent on the NWL one. This doesn’t seem like an improvement on the original and has caused experienced wargamers to reject playing it out of hand. So, on balance, pleasing readership with a cosmetic and unnecessary hex grid doesn’t seem like much of a win. A more careful development of the original map would have been to make the line of the Litani river explicit, adding a few cosmetic touches (with no game effect) to edify the reader.

I think I can anticipate a commercial logic behind the hex grid – a gridded map is what wargamers expect to see. Yet why use it and then have an undivided Syria, an ambiguously divided Israel, featuring both hexes on the regular grid, an attached ambiguous space, and two place names labelling a contiguous space? This is just the first of trivial seeming changes which, in the ensemble, weaken the story the designer was trying to tell.

If changes like the hex grid are so trivial, why make them in the first place? Especially if they come at cost of introducing confusion that did not exist before?

 

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