Why there are no wargames in Germany

by Moritz Eggert

Transcript of our podcast from 23 Apr 2006

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Well, you might remember a certain German history that involved not only being the aggressors in the horrible war that was WWII but also being the perpetrators of a holocaust of until then unequalled proportions. You can imagine that the generation that grew up in the bombed up remains of the "Reich" didn't have "Kriegsspiele" on their mind when they became rebellious teenagers.

The Americans did a great job of educating the Germans about their crimes, something that is still considered a turning point in self-awareness in German history and which formed the basis of a lasting US/German friendship that even though it is often under pressure from the differences in world policy views, is still very strong. But some of the leading criminals or agitators of the Third Reich had survived the war in Germany, sometimes in posts that were still influencing politics or education. This is why the so called "generation of '68", a year that equalled, perhaps even exceeded the great American anti-war hippie movement in intensity, were strongly opposed against any kind of remnants of military thinking and tried to expose fascist tendencies wherever they could find them, in universities or political parties. When I grew up (I was born 1965), giving children any kind of toy guns or games that involved war was considered extremely bad taste and generally avoided. Of course we found other solutions as kids, and I remember somehow fondly the war games we used to play with Lego toys. We also built toy planes, but when we built a German fighter plane for example all Swastika's were removed and replaced by Iron Crosses, which were deemed more harmless.

Many foreigners don't know that the use of Swastikas or Nazi symbolry is highly forbidden in Germany, as is publicly denying the holocaust, an act that can be punished with years, even decades in prison. It often happens that game companies travelling to Germany underestimate this, as Harry Rowland, designer of World in Flames and a known pacifist, had to experience the hard way when all copies of his new educational game "Days of Decision III" were confiscated and actually destroyed, because there was one single Hitler counter that featured a tiny Swastika.

This also meant that game stores carrying American wargames were sometimes teetering on the edge of doing something illegal. I remember that games like "The Fulda Gap", which some may remember, were so controversial that they were publicly discussed on TV. Any store who sold such a game would be shunned like a leper colony. Being a wargamer wasn't easy these days, and usually the hobby kept itself out-of-sight and low-profile.

The big wargame of my youth was Risk, which many think of being a harmless stupid dicefest. But can you imagine that even Risk was deemed so controversial that the specially created German version explained on the cover "liberate the world"" instead of "conquer the world"". The rulebook said that the entire world was under a horrible dictatorship and that the players' goal was to free the poor people in Australia for example. I guess you never thought of Risk like that, and you probably weren't thinking very pacifistically when you played it, but there you go.

This history might explain why there is no real tradition of wargames in Germany, and why most Eurogames are rather pacifist in nature and use harmless inoffensive themes like "Hare and Tortoise", "Hoity Toity" or "Scotland Yard". Of course this handicap became one of the strengths in Eurogame design and formed the basis of the Eurogame revolution. Even if many listeners of the Dice Tower disagree, the American obsession with conflict oriented war- and sportsgames somewhat hindered the development of the game mechanics themselves, which was something European and especially German designers were concentrating their efforts on. Their thematic constriction became their biggest strength, something that often happens. This is why often German games are considered "themeless", because the emphasis is always so strongly on abstract mechanics which tend to concentrate on competitive but essentially peaceful play.

Of course now the whole theme has lost some of it's urgency, and the German market is ripe for more wargame-like games like "Wallenstein" or "Friedrich", which now seem fresh and interesting here, while the American designers use Euro-Game mechanics to make better and deeper games. The future is certainly in the hybrid games, wargames using interesting card mechanics for example, and I think the German market will be increasingly tolerant for that development, we will see.

But this is why there are not many wargames in Germany, and I think rightfully so. Wouldn't you have been scared if Germans had been obsessed with wargames after the war, like the Japanese?


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