There's been a renaissance in the last 5 years in square-based games. The "Red Square" games produced by Richard Brooks & Ian Drury, together with the work done by Bob Cordery has influenced quite a bit of what I've done in the last few years. Similarly Kalistra's "Hexon" terrain system encourages the use of zone-based rules systems. Personally I'm more a fan of squares (even off set squares) than hexes, as at least it makes the table look like a map rather than a hex grid.
Squares give you a number of advantages, - no need to measure, clear definition of what is fighting what, and freedom to use any basing system you want for your figures. On the other hand, I can't get away from thinking why don't I just design board games instead? Then I'm left with thinking that I like the aesthetics of the figures and the tactile nature of pushing them around, so I'll just go with the squares.
Recently I've been trying to have it both ways. I've been using Richard Brooks' English Civil War square based rules (published in WD's "Nugget" journal), called "Victory Without Quarter". However I play them without squares. Cunningly, I call my version "Victory Without Squares". (That only really works as a joke if you know the name of the original set of rules).
Any how, I achieved the non-squareness element of my version by substituting 4 inches for "square" everywhere it appeared in the rules. The first playtest was a complete shambles, but I have a working set now and have dealt with most of the problems that popped up because stuff was nolonger lined up. If anyone is interested in how I solved the problems, post me a comment and I'll e-mail them to you or something similar.
Which brings me to the BBC4 TV series "Games Britannia" presented by some chap called Benjamin Woolley. I caught up with the first one on i-Player. Woolley is a man who rhapsodises about being trapped in the house at Christmas and having to play boardgames.
Now it is traditional these days to regard that as totally horrific (same as you're not supposed to enjoy Christmas anymore), but actually it sounds brilliant to me. I've loved boardgames from small, despite having an older brother who always made sure I lost (he's paying for it now, - hasn't beaten me at a game for years). Anyway, what it means is you have a presenter who loves the subject, and that always helps.
The first episode covered medieval games (backgammon, nine men's morris, chess etc) up to about the mid Victorian era when chess pieces were formalised and snakes and ladders type games appeared. I found it interesting , - even if his belief that a game was unique because each side had different victory conditions struck me as odd. Has he never played "Escape from Colditz"??
I recommend a look if you haven't seen it, - there's another one on tonight at 9pm. However, it did remind me how much I don't like chess. As ever it was described as the "ultimate game", and one of the best wargames.
No it isn't. It's not even remotely realistic as a wargame. Where are the hills? What about the odd river or forest? Why can't I deploy the pieces where I want? Why put my cavalry behind my infantry?
The Great Commanders of history beat their opponents by how they deployed as much as how they handled their troops in combat. Ever seen offset deployment on a chess board? I don't think so.
Humph. It'll never catch on, I tell you.