3 Founders of Conflict Simulation

Even so remote a relative as PT Boats: Knights of the Sea, a WWII naval simulation by Russian developer Akella, would have been unthinkable without its cardboard ancestors from the 1950s & 1960s. Modern real-time strategy is an electronic extension of board wargames, & of the old world domination game Risk – since for several decades there was little else for future game designers to play around with. (Image credit Akella/GameSpot.)

A young discipline like historical gaming needs foundations. I recently wrote wiki entries for BoardGameGeek on 3 foundational people: the developer of modern wargaming, the inventor of the mass-market strategy game Risk, & the inventor of the first & most influential geopolitical game Diplomacy. All 3 innovations date back to the 1950s.

I’m posting these pieces here, in single file & with little further editing, not only because they have to do with history, Europe in the world, & simulation gaming, but mainly because the 3 people portrayed make for an interesting story. Or judge for yourself:

1954

Charles S Roberts (1930-2010) is widely recognized within the gaming and wargaming community as the “Father” of modern board wargaming. He designed his first game Tactics in 1952, to strengthen his qualifications for a planned military career. From 1954 he began distributing and selling the game part-time, from Avalon, Maryland, as a business which four years later took the now celebrated name Avalon Hill.

That year 1958, he and Avalon Hill introduced Gettysburg, generally accepted as the first board game re-enacting an actual historical battle. This pioneering game met with relatively enduring success, undergoing multiple later revisions, or rather remakes, most recently in 1988.

Although Roberts went on to publish several more games at the head of Avalon Hill, he was not closely associated with the most prolific and flamboyant years of that game company, as Roberts transferred its ownership to the printing company Monarch (later Monarch Avalon) already in 1962. Monarch Avalon Printing then ran Avalon Hill for the following 36 years.

Roberts himself proceeded to a new career in publishing Catholic books, although by his own admission, “not a Catholic and not, shall we say, with a reputation of being over religious.” And yet, he adds in that same autobiography (see references below): “For the record, I love it.”

Since 1974, Roberts’s name has also been associated with the annual, multi-category Charles S. Roberts Awards or “Charlies”, given for excellence within historical wargaming.

1957

Although Albert Lamorisse (1922-1970) ranks among France’s most award-winning film directors, he is more relevant to board gamers for having invented the mass-market world conquest game Risk.

Lamorisse’s main career was in making elemental and exquisite short movies, such as the now classic films Crin-Blanc (White Mane, 1953), earning the Cannes Golden Palm, & Le Ballon rouge (The Red Balloon, 1956), given a second Cannes Golden Palm, plus an US Academy Award for screenplay. Yet around that very period he found time to conceive and develop a board game of “global conquest” (see La Conquête du monde). After publication in France in 1957, this game was proposed to Parker Brothers, revised somewhat, and from 1959 onward issued and identified as Risk.

Lamorisse’s luminous foray into board game design does not seem durably to have affected his main career. He proceeded to make films as before until 1970, when his life came to sad and abrupt end in a helicopter crash while he was filming in Iran.

1959

Allan B Calhamer (1931-2013) is the inventor and developer of the now classic game of negotiation, war, and geopolitics, Diplomacy.

Calhamer conceived of the game as a teenager in 1945, upon reading an article in Life magazine about the earlier, pre-World War I, balance of strength among the dominant European nations or “Great Powers”. Calhamer also claims influence from the group dynamics of the card game Hearts, which he played while at high school, and by the number of spaces and pieces, as well as the parsimony of the King’s move, in Chess. During the early 1950s, while an undergraduate and then law student at Harvard, he would perfect the scope and mechanism of his game, while his professors presented him with a further sequence of influential ideas on international relations and political thought.

A prototype of the game having been completed already by 1954, an even more definitive and tested version of Diplomacy was ready in 1958. This version is clearly recognizable by the modern gamer and has been little revised since. In 1959 Calhamer had Diplomacy self-published in 500 copies, after rejection by several game companies. From that time, the game would gradually but comfortably grow in popularity.

Calhamer is also listed on BGG as the designer of two considerably less exposed games, Hyperspace and Surigao Strait. Finally, he is the author of a book appreciated by seasoned players of his game: Calhamer on Diplomacy: The Boardgame “Diplomacy” and Diplomatic History (Bloomington IN: 1st Books Library, 1999).

Although this book is no longer in print, a series of articles by Calhamer is found at the diplomacy-archive under Articles by Allan B. Calhamer.

*

“Charles S Roberts: In his own Words”. Autobiographical article by Roberts, at the CSR Awards site. See this page.

“The Invention of Diplomacy”. Autobiographical account by Calhamer at the diplomacy-archive (see above). See this page.

Plus for general edutainment, my own list of 10 genre creating games developed or published by Avalon Hill, the company Charles S Roberts founded:

Gettysburg (1958, revised 1961, 1964, 1977, 1988). First board game ever simulating a historical battle.

PanzerBlitz (1970). First tactical-level board game. Another ancestor of WWII RTS.

Wooden Ships & Iron Men (1975). Naval board game of then unprecedented detail, and lasting popularity. Influenced several electronic versions.

Diplomacy (1959, Avalon Hill from 1976). First negotiation wargame – see the Calhamer bio above.

Acquire (1962, Avalon Hill from 1976). Pioneering economic board game, still a great favourite today.

Squad Leader (1977) and Advanced Squad Leader (1985) (now published by MMP). Launched the squad or platoon-level gaming trend.

Dragon Pass (1980). Its development spun off the early RPG Runequest and the almost as legendary game company Chaosium.

1830: The Game of Railroads & Robber Barons (1986). Triggered the genre of railroad speculation games. A popular & lasting electronic version is Railroad Tycoon.

We the People (1994). First card-driven wargame.

Axis & Allies (1981, Avalon Hill from 2004). Introduced wargaming tools and concepts to mass-market gaming. Younger game developers broke their teeth on that one as well as on Risk.



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