Chinese publishers making wargames was inevitable because of this difference of focus, but had American publishers not been so foolishly standoffish, bizarrely telling CHINESE people there was no market for their games in CHINA, they could have had a good ten-year run, likely, of getting free money in co-publishing/translation deals.
Instead they threw it all away, and while *some* American games do get co-published now, they're in the minority. The horse has escaped the barn.
Because it's not just a matter of quality. DIY gamers were ardent fans of games with low quality pieces, after all. They *prefer*, naturally, to have attractive games, but in the end it's the games that count, right?
No, the real thing that has made American games irrelevant now is that Chinese publishers are publishing games on battles and events of interest to Chinese consumers. They're not just Chinese history (Kiev and Yugoslavia, recall), but they're China's worldview.
Components are of the highest quality for the genre (which is understandable: they're going to the same factories western companies go to for production). Game designs are getting more "modern" with area movement being favoured over hex movement for larger-scale games, and chit-pull favoured over phased turn for smaller-scale games.
The age of professional wargames publishers and designers has arrived, and it's too late for American publishers to have any meaningful impact any longer.
The spoiler warning at the end of my last toot stream is the clue that it didn't happen, however. The window snapped shut, finally, with the creation of at least half a dozen "design houses" at two or three game publishers.
These new publishers are pros. They publish attractive games with both in-house designs and designs purchased from external design houses.
Back in 2015 there was still a window for American and European wargames publishers to get a piece of China's market. Eurogames were showing that there was a hunger, and the DIY community plus the semi-pro publishers were showing that the interest was there. The window was closing, but it still could have been entered. American publications still had some residual "cool factor" and that could have been leveraged into free money.
In this toot we see the end of "amateur hour". From a humble beginning, we see component quality improving, we see custom packaging, we see more modern game designs (including unique features). This is the cusp of professionalism.
That's one prong of the twin threat.
The other prong is the subject matter. These games are, for the most part, on topics of interest to the **CHINESE**. Western publishers, if they want to remain relevant, need to wake up!
Spoiler alert: they don't.
Things are visibly improving more as this designer's first professional publication is put out: a supplement to a published history book about the Kiev encirclement.
In this same time frame a variety of other publishers are getting into the game, one of them a minigame about Yugoslavia in 1991, the other a full-on game of the Han-Chu Contention (the source of many military aphorisms in China).
The twin threat that should have been a source of alarm for wargames publishers was seen.
This particular designer/publisher's early works used standard industrial magnetic-clasp boxes which forces other components to get shoe-horned in. The playing pieces were sheet magnets with the tokens glued to them and then painstakingly laser-cut. The boards are sheet steel, making the pieces stick. (The large map in this toot is paper and the tokens don't stick, but the small map does.) The cards are a bit flimsy. But even here there's visible improvement from game to game.
This is not enough, however, for the real fans. They want better components. Better looks. Printed rule books with historical notes. The very things they fell in love with when studying abroad and encountering wargames.
So they start to make their own, semi-professional grade games.
This is about the stage that I first stumbled over Chinese wargames and, on a whim, picked one up for SO. He loved it.
The game rules are, reportedly, a bit pedestrian and 1980s in style.
There is a price to be paid when an entire (now-cottage) industry ignores a major market that is open to its product. Nature abhors a vacuum and fills it. So do economies.
As mentioned before the "DIY" crowd started the process by making affordable, home-made releases of games. The DIYers then, as they always do, started publishing their own designs (usually very derivative) in DIY form.
This, for example, is a DIY reskinning of a The Battle for Hill 218.
Ignoring a target market this big is, in a word, idiotic. Not just because you're losing free money (all the expense of translation and production would have been taken on by co-publishers) but because … well, I'll get to that in future toots in this series.
Let's just say that the outcome is not what American wargame publishers would have wanted.
This is three books of about a dozen I've spotted and that SO is slowly acquiring. There's enough of a wargames ecosystem here to support *scholarly study* of them. To have professionally-produced works on wargame design.
Pretty much every military officer in China studies wargames. Every university has a wargames club. In terms of market penetration, yes, wargames aren't a major player, but in sheer numbers I'd wager Chinese wargamers outnumber American ones 2:1.
Other publishers were at least a little more courteous and made (bullshit) excuses for why they weren't interested.
The big one was always "our market research (HAH!) shows that the Chinese don't play wargames".
In this toot I have three books from SO's library. The first is an introduction to wargaming concepts. The second is a scholarly (!) work on applications (!) of wargames. The third is a scholarly work on wargame design. As you can see they're not thin books either.
I hinted at the problems of getting games translated and co-published in China yesterday. Today I go into some details.
In trying to hook up American publishers to Chinese publishers I kept running into not just rejection but outright contempt. The worst offender by far was Victory Point Games who would immediately respond to *purchase queries*, but didn't respond **at all** to any overtures about actually co-publishing. Total radio silence.
If wargames publishers had been as smart in the '00s like the japanimation producers had been in the '80s, board wargaming wouldn't be an almost dead fringe hobby like it is today.
Having helped try to get local publishers into co-publishing deals with North American producers, however, I was faced with their utter, contemptuous dismissal many times. The result of this is something left for future infodumps. (Hint: Eurogames have taken off in China. Wargames... Stay tuned!)
As more wargames get published in China, there's fewer DIY wargames left to find. What's left are obscure ones, long out-of-print ones, and nicely-printed "print-and-play" games available for free on the web like these ones.
The scene is dying because it was planned to always die. The ethic of the DIY games crowd is "publish the DIY until the real game is available, then destroy the DIY stock". (It was generally sold POD, so this wasn't a huge loss.)
And before you judge this as theft, keep in mind that this is *EXACTLY* how japanimation spread into North America: fan-copies and fan-subs circulated at low cost until publishers caught on there was an actual market. Then the fan productions were removed.
DIY games are amateur republications of purchased wargames. Like this republication of Ancient Battles Deluxe. All of it (including all 5½ supplements).
Playing boards are ink-jet printed on what amounts to plastic tablecloth fabric. Playing pieces are laser-cut from thin foam or replaced with generic wooden tokens. They're not pretty, but they're functional.
There's hundreds of these DIY productions spread across dozens of Taobao shops. Or, rather, there WERE. The scene is dying.
The issue is that import were expensive to the scale of "a significant chunk of an average person's monthly salary". Imports aren't the answer.
There was, however, a complete intransigence on the part of wargames makers (especially American ones) when it came to licensing local companies for translated production.
The answer was so-called "DIY" games. The picture in the previous toot is a DIY publishing of Paul Koenig's D-Day line. This one is
Taiwan: Assassin's Mace, Scorpion Sting
One of the frustrating things about living in China was that it was almost impossible to get things from outside of China. Imports are painfully expensive, and companies tend not to want the hassles of licensing local production.
(China's sometimes-deserved reputation for theft of IP doesn't help.)
This was (and often still is) especially felt in the realm of games. SO fell in love with wargames, for example, when he studied in Canada. How could he introduce these to China?
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