(Note that I’m not necessarily looking for a wargame, but rather the following describes a combination of dynamics that I think might make an interesting game, and I’m wondering if there are games that capture something similar.) I find the naval arms races of the early 20th century interesting for the following reasons:
- There was asymmetry in the goals of various nations. Britain was dependent on overseas trade and so had to protect its ocean lifelines, both home waters and distant territories. The German fleet-in-being challenging that dominance was diplomatic leverage. The US had fleets in two oceans that couldn’t quickly support each other, so the Japanese could get away with a fleet that was only ~70% their size. Likewise, smaller nations only had to worry about protecting local waters. (Lots of games with asymmetrical player goals. Root is a recent example.)
- There was a variety of viable naval strategies, and thus ships and fleets were designed around certain strategies, such as fast commerce raiders, convoy escorts, submarine commerce raiders, anti-submarine warfare, fleets designed to secure supremacy in decisive battles (pushing the development of stronger battleships and later aircraft carriers), and fleets-in-being intended to tie down and threaten larger fleets. Ships and fleets can’t be the best at everything, so there is a trade-off between specialization and covering a wider range of situations. (Lots of games have a variety of viable strategies, but the key to player interaction here is the sort of rock-paper-scissors asymmetry.)
- A component of different nations picking different strategies is that this influences where they put their technology development. (Lots of games, especially Euros, involve investing to make a particular strategy work better.)
- Because ships took a long time to build relative to the rate of technological innovation, it was quite possible for ships to have obsolete technology by the time they launched, necessitating countries to constantly produce bigger, better ships to match what other countries were putting out. This also meant countries could not change naval strategy quickly. (Power Grid is a good example of technological progression. To stay competitive, players need to repeatedly invest in better plants. The naval arms race just makes it a constant worry, not allowing powers to sit on their fleet of obsolete ships.)
- Nations had to split their naval budgets between maintaining their current fleet, building new ships, and developing new technology. Naval budgets were limited by the nation’s economy and how much the public was willing to allocate, which was driven down by economic troubles and driven up by nationalism and international tensions. (Lots of games involve allocating limited resources.)
- In retrospect, now it’s clear that the system of treaties and alliances designed to deter war meant that eventually one of the international crises that flared up would ignite a world war. (Not sure if there’s any game that captures the alliance structure that triggered WW1, but the alliance systems in games like Dune and Fief are interesting in that making a breaking alliances are key to winning those games.)
The result was a naval arms race whose tension contributed to the start of WW1 and, during the interwar years, a series of treaties to limit fleet sizes. The treatries did limit expenditures for ship construction but also tried to codify the current hierarchy of world powers, which some countries weren’t happy with.
Note that there already is a computer wargame called Rule the Waves on this topic. However, it looks like a spreadsheet and, I suspect, has a lot of micromanagement busy work.
Some of the aspects of real-time strategy games remind me of the above, specifically there are a range of strategies and builds a player can pursue, and a lot of the game is figuring out what your opponent’s strategy is and adapting the buildings and units you’ve invested in to beat them.