3a. The Origins of WWII

The Origins of World War II playing board

The Wargame
The Origins of World War II is a board game published by Avalon Hill.  The action of the game takes place in the years leading up to World War II.  Players take the roles of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia.  The action of the game is highly abstract.  Players place political factor markers on their countries, their opponents' countries, and the non-player countries.  Placing five factors in any country can create an understanding or a control power in that country, if a country is allowed by the rules to have that power.  (The United States, in the standard game, is not allowed to have either understanding or control of any other country, reflecting isolationist sentiments and a relative lack of influence in European politics).  The amount of political factors allotted to the country varies according to the country (in the standard game, the US has the least and Germany the most) and the phase of the game (in the later year, all players receive more political factors, reflecting heightening tensions).  Players win or lose based on an individualized scoring system that gives the various countries points for either having a control or understanding in a specific country, or preventing other countries from having controls or understandings.

Players seem to assume the roles of the collective leadership of a country.  Little role-simulation or information limitation is involved.  This points to a game model better attuned to facilitating educational and historical engagement than providing simulation training.

Subjective Evaluation by Purposes 
(on a to scale)

Model Exploration:  
Strategic Skill Development:   
Simulation Immersion:  
Policy Formation:  

The highly abstract nature of Origins of World War II is its greatest asset as well as its most serious design flaw.  Understanding the dynamics of how we get into wars is a complicated task.  Creating a model of those dynamics that is easily learned and played as a game is even more challenging.  In order to simplify game play, the game uses political factors that seem to aggregate military invasion, treaties, and informal alliances.  To direct the flow of the game play, Origins of World War II creates game objectives that force players into conflict.  While these models succeed, to a certain extent, in re-creating the unfolding of history, they seem to do so only by hard-wiring historical outcomes into the model of play itself.  Ultimately, the game does a nice job of walking a player through the tangle of politics that preceded World War II, but a poor job of explaining why World War II was structurally inevitable.  Still, for a beginning student of interwar history, the game does provide an enjoyable way of exploring the Origins of World War II, and in offering a novel and provocative abstract model of political dynamics.

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