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Thursday, 1 July 2010
What is a CDG?
Topic: Wargame Design Musings

 <Based on a long and now acrimonious thread on what is a CDG? I wrote this response>


I continue to note high levels of hostility over how one group wants to define something and another groups desire that this is anathema or somehow wrong. It is clear why war is part and parcel to the human experience.


When I designed WTP I was going for a strategic level political military wargame and that is what I produced. I used the GO mechanic as a metaphor for the political struggle that was part and parcel to representing the American Revolution. See my articles in c3i and ATO on this topic. I stand by my description in my Washington's War design notes on what I think a CDG is and I am happy for others to have their definition. I was not designing a CDG or a card driven game, I was designing and publishing  an American Revolution wargame, which I have successfully accomplished over forty times. The game had many fans, although I would note that the design never won any awards. But it did generate a new interest in competitive play amongst wargamers that was formerly not a critical element in the culture. 


When WTP came out I was approached by several gamers who are patent attorneys. They wanted to help me patent the concept. With several patents pending I was aware of the process and chose consciously not to pursue this option. Whether the patent office would or would not have agreed will never be known, but at the time, veteran wargamers and more importantly wargame designers saw WTP as a new design concept. Peer review from the likes of CV, Mark Simonitch, and Ted Raicer to name a few is what created the genre.


Mark Simonitch in Hannibal and Ted Raicer in Paths of Glory both acknowledge in their credits and design notes borrowing many of their primary systems from We The People. They did not have to do that but as they are quality individuals and very talented designers this had a powerful influence on opinion. I would also note that both games are much more popular than We The People according to the BGG ratings and the opinion of about everyone I know in wargaming. I then brought out For The People, the fourth in the group, and somewhere amongst all of this the term CDG was coined and it stuck. Was it the perfect term, seemed to work for the last fifteen years or so, and since people who buy CDGs wanted to buy more of them the game companies branded as many games  with the term as they seemed to boost sales.


Why are CDGs popular with many wargamers? One aspect is they seem to generate a great deal of enthusiasm for competitive play. Consequently play balance in CDGs is an important feature. But what is a CDG that makes them unique? Basically they borrow heavily from the We The People design. What are those features? If you have not played WTP or any of the other CDGs then this can be argued to death, which is what has been happening. So my advice is try playing one before you tell those of us who are immersed in them what they are or are not.


CDGs continue to evolve as noted by me in my Washington's War design notes. We The People does not have the common feature that keeps getting put forward as a unique CDG feature, the card choice of ops or event. We The People had this concept based on a hand of cards, but not around each card. That innovation occurred in Hannibal and was a Mark Simonitch improvement. When I did Washington's War I chose to keep the original concept for the reasons I articulated in my design notes and a nod here to Unhappy King Charles for being the closest of the CDGs to the original concept and why it is my favorite of the recent CDG offerings.


The main division in CDGs these days is between the one deck unscripted designs (WTP, FTP, WWR, Hannibal) and the scripted two deck temporally segmented concept (a PoG innovation ala Twilight Struggle, Shifting Sands, BtB, Stalin's War, UKC). Only WTP and Hannibal used the strong GO mechanic whereas the others morphed into using control for supply and territory control icons. What is clear is the wargame community sees a clear genre of games that are recognizable as a group whatever you call them. Literally parsing the term CDG is kind of useless as it is a symbolic term that is based on a collective group agreement. You don't agree then you do not have to, but it is a branded term that works for the publishers and the buyers. The main distinction in my mind is the designers of these games and others in the CDG family claimed they were related to We The People and consequently all branches and sequels thereafter carry the same label. I had nothing to do with their decisions or their professional courtesy in acknowledging the design heritage, but it is hard to argue with.


Those are the facts as I experienced them and I am very happy the way things have evolved as I now have lots of CDGs to play that continue to bring new innovations to the hobby. For the record my CDG of choice is Empire of the Sun and it has only a modest relationship to my original WTP design. I suspect that as CV opined with a few more nudges a new genre will break off and coin a new term that everyone will argue about.



Posted by markherman at 9:01 PM EDT
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