@Dimitris raises a very good question for game and UI/UX design. Spreadsheets (ah, remember Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc of yore?) evolved as literal replacements for ledger books, which in turn evolved as a way to visually structure data to facilitate specific manipulations and make certain relationships easy to discern. Skeuomorphism at its best perhaps.
Early wargames tried to emulate, exactly, the hex-grid and counter style gameplay of tabletop games. Early home computer tech wasn’t always up to the task, but by the time people like Atomic Games were launching their stuff on the (color) Mac in the early 1990s, we had reached a point where increasingly you could, if you took the time and had the inclination, deliver on-screen displays that looked very much like physical games. Sometimes better, as board wargaming didn’t start to move more or less universally upstream in terms of quality for a decade or so.
In both cases, spreadsheets and wargames, people began to ask the question, “is our understanding of how these things are done shaped by what is actually the best approach, or is it shaped by the limits of the technology under which we operated initially?” In spreadsheets, the answer was pretty much “yeah, except for specific use cases,” and Excel became the standard spreadsheet app, retaining pretty much the same look as every other previous spreadsheet program, only with over the years a mind-numbing variety of options.
In the case of wargames though, on the computer and to some extent in physical games too, we began to see a lot of innovative ways to display information. Maps without grids, maps that were replicas of CIC displays, maps that were not maps at all. Unit display expanded from traditional chits to 3D models, photos, symbols, and different combinations of these. The traditional charts and matrices persisted, as they worked, but we also got things like one to one comparisons, pop-up odds calculations, all that.
In both cases, use cases determined the evolution of the applications. Spreadsheets are as they war because users use them to manipulate numbers. That’s pretty much all users want, though today spreadsheet is sort of a misnomer other than as a vague descriptor. These programs are powerful. And because they are, well, apps on a device, they are easily paired with other apps to do even more cool things (stats programs, for example, or modeling and visualization software) . The use case–apps on a computer–makes the use of multiple programs manipulating the same data easy to understand and fairly natural.
Wargames, though, have a more complex use case scenario in some ways. While some players will approach a wargame much as an accountant might a spreadsheet, others will approach the same game with a radically different mindset. Instead of needing to min/max all the things, they want a more impressionistic experience, where the fun comes from abstracting a lot of data and making more intuitive or at least more conceptual/doctrinal sorts of decisions. Many games have tried to bridge this gap by having relatively “clean” displays as a default with more data available “underneath” for players who want to dig down into the sausage making.
Other games have doubled down on highlighting the numbers at the core of the simulation. In some cases, like for example CMO, the use case (emulation of modern combat information system displays, a userbase known for being very data-hungry and not being number-averse) it works well. In CMO’s case, too, the fact that the visuals are emulating real-world systems that are designed to convey a lot of complex data quickly doesn’t hurt. For most products, though, you run into things like RtW. Here, you get a literal translation of rows and columns straight out of Excel (or 1-2-3 or VisiCalc, even). It’s a clear presentation of relevant information, from one point of view, sure.
But, it does nothing to help the user make sense of or use that data. Modern spreadsheet apps have many tools for reordering, representing, graphing, formatting, manipulating, and displaying information. Lacking those tools, reduced to rudimentary data sorting capabilities, and with an audience that is going to be split between the rivet-counters and the armchair admirals, a game like RtW sort of shoots itself in the foot.
A lot of the often-grumbled about increase in graphical quality and complexity of wargames on the computer may well be about prettying them up in the hopes of more sales, but I think most of this stuff comes from the realization that you have to make data accessible, even for grogs. The less you gamer has to work at finding and using the information in the game, the more they can focus on the game itself perhaps.