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A wargame (also war game) is a strategy game that deals with military operations of various types, real or fictional. Wargaming is the hobby dedicated to the play of such games, which can also be called conflict simulations, or consims for short. When used professionally by the military to study warfare, "war game" may refer to a simple theoretical study or a full-scale military exercise. Hobby wargamers have traditionally used "wargame", while the military has generally used "war game"; however, this is not a hard and fast rule. Although there may be disagreements as to whether a particular game qualifies as a wargame or not, a general consensus exists that all such games must explore and illuminate or simulate some feature or aspect of human behaviour directly bearing on the conduct of war, even if the game subject itself does not concern organized violent conflict or warfare. The business wargames exists too, but in general they are only role-playing games based on market situations.
Wargames are generally categorized as historical, hypothetical, fantasy, or science fiction. Historical games by far form the largest group. These games are based upon real events and attempt to represent a reasonable approximation of the actual forces, terrain, and other material factors faced by the actual participants. Hypothetical games are games grounded in historical fact but concern battles or conflicts that did not (or have yet to) actually happen. Fantasy and science fiction wargames either draw their inspiration from works of fiction or provide their own imaginary setting. Highly stylized conflict games, most notably chess, are not generally considered wargames, although they are recognized as being related and were important precursors. Games involving conflict in other arenas than the battlefield, such as business, sports, or natural environment, are similarly usually excluded.
Drawing inspiration from chess, Hellwig, Master of Pages to the Duke of Brunswick created a battle emulation game in 1780. According to Max Boot's book War Made New (2006, pg 122), sometime between 1803 and 1809, the Prussian General Staff developed war games, with staff officers moving metal pieces around on a game table (with blue pieces representing their forces and red pieces those of the enemy), using dice rolls to indicate random chance and with a referee scoring the results. Increasingly realistic variations became part of military training in the 19th century in many nations, and were called "kriegspiel" or "wargames". Wargames or military exercises are still an important part of military training today.
Miniature wargaming typically involves the use of 6–54 mm painted metal or plastic miniatures for units, and model scenery placed on a tabletop or floor as a playing surface, although other open areas such as gardens and sandboxes are sometimes used. Games with miniatures are sometimes called tabletop games, tabletop wargames, miniature wargames, or simply wargames. Miniatures games generally measure distance for movement and range with a string or tape measure.
As in all aspects of modern life, personal computers have had a profound impact on wargaming. Computers allow gamers separated by many miles to play a game. They also handle many of the tedious aspects of wargaming, such as highly technical rules and record keeping. Finally, with the development of artificial intelligence, computers can actually serve as opponents, and thus provide opportunities for solitaire gaming.
In the video game industry, "wargames" are considered a subgenre of strategy game that emphasizes strategic or tactical warfare on a map. These wargames generally take one of four archetypal forms, depending on whether the game is turn-based or real-time and whether the game's focus is upon military strategy or tactics.
The genre of wargame video games is derived from earlier forms of wargames. The games thematically represent the wargame hobby, although they tend to be less realistic in order to increase accessibility for more casual players. The amount of realism varies between games as game designers balance an accurate simulation with playability.
The computer gaming industry generally evolved with minimal reference to board games, so the term "wargame" is not traditionally used in the context of computer games. However, the wargaming community saw the possibilities of computer gaming early and made attempts to break into the market, notably Avalon Hill's Microcomputer Games line, which lasted from 1980 to 1987 and covered a variety of topics (including simple adaptations of some of their wargames), and Koei's Nobunaga's Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which have continued from 1983 to the present day and are based on East Asian history.
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) and Strategic Studies Group (SSG) were computer game companies that continued the genre by specializing in games that borrowed from board and miniature wargames. The companies enjoyed a certain popularity throughout much of the 1980s and into the 1990s. TalonSoft started in 1995 with a similar focus, until purchased and later closed down by Take-Two Interactive in 2002.
The popular direction of the current market is towards real-time strategy games, exemplified by titles such as Herzog Zwei, StarCraft, and others. These games are strategic in the gaming sense, but tactical in the military sense. These are generally high-action games that include a number of conveniences that enhance gameplay, but ignore reality.