Playing NWL

Now that’s what I call freedom of movement!

The first turn saw deep penetrations of HZB space, the IDF task force rolling into Tyre without so much as the possibility of interference. The rocket forces there, units which can directly produce victory points for HZB, were lucky and evaded. The rules seem to suggest that they can evade to another zone, but this isn’t explicit. I left them in the zone.  Bringing an opponent to battle is much more straightforward than in 3LW because the intelligence function has been simplified, become much more powerful; battle is no longer a function of chit expenditure, just proximity to the enemy.

Rather than fire them on Israel, I dispersed the rocket forces in Tyre elsewhere, but the initial chit draw was such that I could do little else but strengthen a militia unit. Since, In NWL battle happens everywhere both sides occupy a hex, Operations chits (J3) are freed up for risk-free maneuver. This is much more in the vein of traditional small-scale wargaming where the temporal and spatial scales are such that “everyone moves; everyone fights.” The actual function of real-world J3 is coordinating fire and movement to  carry out command’s intent. Something larger than a change in the designer’s intent seemed afoot.

The IDF escalated through random event. I made up the task forces and pushed some more counters. The first battle was a fiddly affair of matching up forces off the table (a signature feature of a Miranda game) and repeated single die rolls. As unwieldy as 3LW’s bucket-of-dice resolution might be (not very), NWL is at least as much bother and fiddle. The new game is much more procedural. The timing of when battle happens is important but confused: it is unclear whether they are all conducted at one time, at the end of operations, or whether one may wait and conduct subsequent operations. I shrugged and soldiered on through the fog.

A subsequent turn had the IDF securing the border to Nahariyya although Nahariyya is linked to another region. The difference matters quite a lot to HZB as raids, always successful in NWL (presumably, to eliminate a die roll), are important for victory. Raids can be launched from either four hexes or two, depending on the deals you make with your opponent. The graphical link between Nahariyya and Quryat Shemona is perhaps just a detail — and perhaps it is pedantic to bring up. Good wargames are made with attention to detail. The assumption that players work it out among themselves can only contribute to player indifference. “Meh, just another magazine game.” Trying to learn the rules, I felt like I was being asked to love the design far more than the publisher did. For I was surely doing the publisher’s work. This kind of publishing is brain damaged and has been going on for far too long. Nostalgia besotted indifference amounts to a negative standard without which the industry would be better off. Damaged and bad games continue to drive out the good in the competition for gamers’ time.

Is it safe? Whether the border is secured from HZB raids depends on your ability to read the developer’s mind. Note the playing card, top left. For the uninitiated “playing cards” are traditional household game materials that, apparently, the publisher thought necessary to represent in the counter mix!

The rest was a knife fight in the phone booth of the scenario’s eleven hexes. Soloing is a real disadvantage, but one that applies to both my playtests. The decision cycle seemed much less characterized by hard choices than in 3LW. HZB evades often only to fall into automatic battles once the IDF is sufficiently dispersed. Battles just happen wherever there is contact. J3 chits fly much more freely and so does combat air support. Collateral effects and negative outcomes occur more logarithmically rather than linearly in relation to volume of fire. It is unclear topographically whether HZB may enter the IDF’s sanctuary, although the rules seem to prohibit it — something which is also true for HZB’s sanctuaries in Northern Lebanon and Syria. I played the short scenario through, finishing with such a sense of fatigue that the long scenario was not an option.

On close inspection, much nuance present in 3LW has been leached out of NWL; even basic procedures have changed, and not for the better.  Initial setups don’t have to be much thought out (aside from puzzling over the cartographic ambiguities) as the general tendency of NWL to give the IDF a great deal more freedom than in 3LW. Players are deprotagonized, to borrow some jargon from role-playing game theory — chit selection is now half random, half player selection. Worse, command and control capacities are fixed in NWL. Denying HZB the tactical objective of temporarily impeding the IDF’s superior planning by disrupting task forces removes important nuance from the model.

Leaving aside the numerous errors introduced during 3LW/NWL’s sloppy development, the elimination of variable C2 levels (among others) actually counts as eliminating news the designer seemed at pains to deliver about the real conflict. It prompts re-examination of the 2006 war: did HZB consider degrading IDF C2? If not, why? If so, how? Decision Games apparently has, ahem, decided that such nuance doesn’t belong in the pages of Modern Warfare. But if there was ever an audience which delights in nuance it is long-time wargamers. For whom in the wide, wide world of sports is Modern Warfare published?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *