CRISIS Strategic Wargaming System

by DrewW on November 15, 2005 · 2 comments

Operational scale Civil War wargames for the PC are about as rare as you can get. CRISIS, a game system designed by Dutch Owen in the 1990s, is probably as close as you can get. The URL is:

http://museum.sysun.com/crisis/index.html

Although the game appears primitive at first glance (note the early 1990s graphics!) and the interface takes a bit of work to master, there is actually a fairly deep simulation under the surface. The game system weds tactics with logistics and intelligence in a nice way. Although other eras are represented, for our purposes here, CRISIS has scenarios for the CW Peninsula (including naval aspects) and Atlanta campaigns.

In the designer’s own words:

What is CRISIS?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CRISIS is a wargame, but it is much more than that. It is a sophisticated, comprehensive, strategic wargaming system that is based on the realities of classic military strategy that have held true from 500 BC to the present day.

It is purely a computer game, it’s design has not been dominated by influence from board wargames. It takes full advantage of the computer to implement critical intelligence and logistics rules that are far beyond what is practical in a board wargame, and thus far more realistic than is possible when all calculations must be done manually.

It also takes advantage of the computer’s ability to relieve the player of detailed work, allowing concentration on strategy rather than a mass of details.

The game covers every aspect of military art and science: maneuver, combat, logistics, intelligence, engineering, production, training and readiness, and weather. It realistically simulates these operations on land, sea, and in the air; with a rules system flexible enough to apply to any strategic situation from 500 BC to the present.

It is a highly flexible construction set, with a mapmaker program which allows large-scale, realistic implementations of historical campaigns in great detail. You can not only design your scenario, but you also design the military units that operate on it, and have control over hundreds of variables that control the simulation engine.

The CRISIS mapmaker and the game itself are easy to use. A standard GUI allows an easy, intuitive, drag and drop interface. But beyond the mechanics, the design of the game itself is consistent, accurate, and natural. The rules, while quite complex to realistically simulate the causes and effects of true-to-life military operations, are all based on common sense.

*

All this is nice, but it has been done before (although the CRISIS design tries hard to do it better than it ever has been). What is it about this game that makes it unique, and advances the state of the art in wargaming?

The answer is: “Strategic Realism”.

The wargames of the past and present, board and computer, have developed accurate and realistic methods of simulating tactics — the art of fighting. But by and large they have failed to be very realistic when it comes to strategy — the art of putting your forces in a position to win the fight.

This has not been because the designers don’t understand how military operations really work, but because board games (and too often their computer counterparts) do not (and in the case of board games, can not) do an accurate job of simulating two of the three most important aspects of strategy: logistics and intelligence (the third aspect, manuever, has been done quite well).

Of the two, intelligence has traditionally been done better. Successful strategy always includes elements of deception and surprize, and strategy can’t be realistic unless the system by which intelligence is gathered and reported in the game is also accurate. Computer wargames generally follow a system whereby some enemy units are detected and seen, and others not. At best, you see on the map some units and not others. This is all right as far as it goes, but it does not truly simulate the data that a commander knows and doesn’t know about his enemy’s order of battle, strength, position, and intentions. CRISIS
does simulate all the classic information sources: unit reports, scouts, air reconnaisance, spies, and signals intelligence. But it goes beyond this, also simulating the way in which this information is filtered and sorted by the intelligence staff to present a picture of enemy strength, organization, and intentions to the commander.

Logistics, on the other hand, has a bad name in the wargaming world. Many players shy away from it, viewing it as boring and too much work. Yet, nothing is more important to real (as opposed to game) military strategy than logistics: “Amateurs think strategy, professionals think logistics” the old saw goes. There is a reason for this. Reading military history, you are struck by the fact that all successful campaigns have been dominated, yes dominated, by logistics. Most
campaigns that have failed have failed for logistic reasons.

Control of logistics is the vital key to victory in a strategic campaign. It always has been, is now, and always will be. This is a real world fact, regardless of whether the wargaming genre ignores it or not.

What a wargame needs most to achieve a realistic simulation of strategy is an accurate, but painless, simulation of the logistics of real armies. CRISIS offers such a simulation, implemented automatically so that a player does not have to manage it in detail, but must understand and control it to impose his will upon his opponent.

In these implementations of realistic intelligence and logistics, as well as a host of other details, CRISIS moves beyond what has been done so far in PC-based strategic wargames. For perhaps the first time, wargamers and those who are interested in military operations past, present, and future have a wargaming system that truly provides “Strategic Realism”.

CRISIS is very challenging to play, but it does not achieve this by creating artificial difficulties, such as the need to micromanage a vast array of military details. Every effort is made, instead, to simplify anything and everything that can be simplified. CRISIS is challenging because understanding, developing, and executing winning military strategy is challenging; and the game faithfully reproduces this truth. Great generals have been the exception, not the rule in
history — playing CRISIS will help you understand why.

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Will you like it? I did and I wish I could write a detailed review but I haven’t played it in years, so my advice would be to download it yourself (the file is small and it is free!) and toy with it. Although it was originally intended for retail sale, the game site hasn’t been updated in years, so it looks like further improvements are highly unlikely. Quite frankly, I am pleasantly surprised the link still works!.

Drew W.
November 15, 2005

*****

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dev November 21, 2005 at 2:12 am

I found Crisis earlier this year (2005) while looking for a user-configurable wargame. The Mapmaker program let you design your own scenarios, which is cool, but the whole thing keeps crashing when you play against the computer. Have tried e-mailing the designer (Dutch) but no reply, so I guess Crisis is well and truly abandonware. Shame.

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Drew Wagenhoffer November 21, 2005 at 11:59 am

Yes. Getting hold of Dutch even back then was a bit of a crapshoot with the email link to his website. I don’t have his alternate email addresses anymore.

I didn’t have any consistent crashing problems, but then again I didn’t utilize all the features of the game either.

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