Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I May Not Be a Wargamer ...

I readily admit that I'm not a wargamer. In general, I find wargames a bit too persnickety for my liking and, while I have a great deal of patience, I often find that playing most wargames taxes me greatly. That said, I still played wargames back in the day, mostly because my friend's Dad and older brother had lots of them and we often enjoyed a change of pace from our various roleplaying campaigns. Later, as my circle of gaming contacts expanded, I met a lot of other guys who really mixed wargaming and roleplaying much more easily than I ever did, leading to yet more dabbling in the field.

The games I remember most strongly were almost all Avalon Hill games, which, apropos of the discussion going on elsewhere in the comments, could all be bought at the local Toys R Us and Kaybee Toys shops. Here are a few of them:
  • 1776: I recall having a lot of fun playing the British.
  • Civilization: Not really wargame, I suppose, but it was published in the US by AH, so I'm going to throw it in here anyway. It's a pity I never owned a copy, because I had a lot of fun with it.
  • Diplomacy: One of the greatest games ever made in any genre, I played this game to death in high school. For some reason, I liked to play Austria-Hungary, which explains why I rarely ever won.
  • Dune: How I wish I owned a copy of this game! Many good times were had playing this.
  • Kingmaker: Like Diplomacy, I played the heck out of this game back in high school. It's a bit more formulaic than Diplomacy, but I loved it just the same.
  • Magic Realm: It was a bit like a more complex version of Dungeon!, except that it mostly took place outdoors. I remember it took a long time to set up and play, but we had a lot of time on our hands in those days.
  • NATO: The Next War in Europe: This was produced by Victory Games and I loved it to death. I think my friends and I enjoyed it mostly for the tactical nuclear weapons rules.
  • Rise and Decline of the Third Reich: I have no idea why I played this game. I don't think I ever really enjoyed it, but several of my friends loved it and so I suffered in the name of friendship.
  • Squad Leader: I never played ASL, but I did play the original. I liked it for what it was. I liked the hex maps even more and appropriated quite a few of them for use in my D&D wilderness adventures.
  • Starship Troopers: This was fun, especially if you got to play the Bugs.
  • Wooden Ships & Iron Men: I was never a big fan of naval games, but this one was enjoyable, even if it often felt very "game-y" at times rather than being a strict simulation.

32 comments:

  1. I consider myself a hardcore wargamer and have a collection of over 700 wargames including many that are rare and/or monster games. I play once or twice a week, including numerous attempts at old school wargames from the 1970s. Sometimes older is better.

    That said I thought it would interest you to know that as a grognard wargamer I have also taken up an interest in old school RPGs and D&D. It started around 2004-2005 and I now have a respectable collection of RPG items running the gammut from an original white box D&D to a set of 3.5 ed rules. My collection takes up an entire bookshelf and I am constantly playing with the idea of running a campaing and creating vast and exciting worlds to explore. Admittedly I don't play on anything approaching a regular basis and I don't currently have plans to do so, but the bug is in me and I consider myself a friend of the RPG world.

    I thought you might be interested to know that there are some of us who, though we consider ourselves wargamers, have an active kinship with your spectrum of the hobby.

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  2. My older brothers used to drag me into their games on the grounds that "We need someone to play France" or the like. We played Diplomacy and Kingmaker, but I also remember a board game called "Mandate of Heaven", set in China. I liked Kingmaker and MoH better than Diplomacy -- but then I was only about 12 at the time. Diplomacy always seemed to be about them ganging up on me -- bad, bad brothers!

    They even tried to rope me into SPI games -- the ones with hexes and "Zones of Control" -- but that was a bit more than I normally had the patience for.

    Then one day one of them brought home this odd game with a Dragon on the box...

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  3. There are pdfs available on boardgamegeek that make it a fairly straightforward process to create your own copy of Dune, including a newly designed board and cleaned up, corrected rules . Call it a retroclone.

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  4. By "newly designed" I mean simply that the art has changed, not the layout.

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  5. Kingmaker is to me the best wargame ever. Not too complex, not too simple, and every game was different. Played endless hours in college and still have a copy, a truly priceless game.

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  6. I have very fond memories of sitting in classes in high school with one of the paper mini Diplomacy maps lobbying other players as the day went on, setting up for the "two-plays-per-day-at-lunch" games we ran. There was some serious diplomatic manueverings going on - probably learned more from that than some of my classes!

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  7. I still have copies of AH's Starship Troopers and Magic Realm, though I never managed to successfully play the latter.

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  8. James, you should look into snagging a copy of the old Judges Guild game City State Warfare. It is a tactical wargame suitable for "medieval" warfare or fantasy warfare. It has rules to integrate with your RPG game, including rules for recruiting mercenary units. The random results are hilariously awesome, because I remember (note: my memory may be a bit faulty) being able to have monsters like owlbears and gelatinous cubes answer your posted ads looking for soldiers. I have no idea how that would actually work, but I would love to try to RP it out one day.

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  9. When I started gaming as a kid, I knew the wargamers as the smelliest, fattest, most balding of all geeks at the game table. Not hatin', just sayin'.

    John Carter of Mars was my fave. Jetting all over the world map, chit to chit combat on the detailed palace maps.

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  10. I have always considered wargamers to be my "elder brothers" in the hobby. Wargamers taught me a lot back when I was a young kid getting started.

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  11. There are pdfs available on boardgamegeek that make it a fairly straightforward process to create your own copy of Dune, including a newly designed board and cleaned up, corrected rules . Call it a retroclone.

    Oh, I must check this out!

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  12. James, you should look into snagging a copy of the old Judges Guild game City State Warfare. It is a tactical wargame suitable for "medieval" warfare or fantasy warfare. It has rules to integrate with your RPG game, including rules for recruiting mercenary units. The random results are hilariously awesome, because I remember (note: my memory may be a bit faulty) being able to have monsters like owlbears and gelatinous cubes answer your posted ads looking for soldiers. I have no idea how that would actually work, but I would love to try to RP it out one day.

    I never even heard of this before. That sounds awesome.

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  13. Oh you just *knew* I'd be all over this post, James. Did you get that button yet, btw? It went out last weekend.

    I am a HUGE Dune fan, and will in fact be running a game at this year's Dexcon (hopefully-- I've not heard yet from the con committee). I wish I still had my copy of Kingmaker; it's blasted expensive to get in the after-market, and a wonderful game.

    Diplomacy, naturally, is a classic. My wife, a middle-school teacher, has my copy in her classroom (along with a bunch of other games including Elfenlands and many others). I should really make time to set up a game with the kids.

    I, like you, never got into ASL, but enjoyed the original game. Starfleet Battles was the same way; I liked it at first, but WOW did it ever get too intricate for even my taste. And I played SPI's War in the Pacific a half-dozen times (and War in Europe more than that).

    Advanced Civilization was a favorite in college (along with Titan!). We'd play D&D till dawn, and then start playing Civ. Ugh... was I ever that young?

    I could've sworn that NATO was originally an SPI game, but my memory might be fading. I had hundreds of the old SPI titles back in the day, now almost all lost, alas (I envy you, Jason Pipes, and if you're anywhere near NJ please email me!).

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  14. It was a truly great time when hobby games could be found in mainstream outlets. My first D&D set (Holmes) came from a drugstore, my later material from a general interest bookstore, and my copy of Starship Troopers from the shelf of something along the lines of a Best Buy.

    However our biggest source of chit pushing fun came from the many minigames then published by Metagaming and Steve Jackson (and a few others), which could be had for the cost of two or three kids' pooled lunch money.

    Ogre/GEV was a mainstay, along with Car Wars. I even ran a full RPG campaign at one point using just the standard Car Wars rules plus a few house rules to give characters more depth. No GURPs necessary thank you.

    Ice War, Raid on Iran, and Kung Fu 2100 were also great favorites, and I made several aborted attempts to expand the last into an RPG. Even SJG claimed they were working on such a thing at one time.

    As rich as the hobby is today with intriguing new products, I'm sad that it is now firmly ghettoized into hobby shops and corners of the internet where the kids of today are unlikely happen across it, without being specifically introduced.

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  15. It is intersting to note though that some of my fellow grognards feel that D&D helped seal the fate of wargaming in the early 80s. I don't really agree though they make some interesting points.

    Regarding City State Warfare by Judges Guild, not to shill for myself but I have a copy available for sale in my pile of spare Judges Guild items. It's a fantastic old school RPG/wargame hybrid of the most excellent sort. The cover is classc old school Judges Guild.

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  16. IIRC, NATO had a rule to the effect of "This game has rules for Tactical Nuclear Weapons. If you want to simulate the effect of Strategic Nuclear Weapons, dose the map in lighter fluid and set fire to it."

    I knew the son of the guy who designed Kingmaker at college. Fantastic game ruined by AH's "advanced" rules. Thank goodness they didn't do that with Britannia, which gets my vote for Best Wargame (although Best Boardgame goes to a French game called Aristo, which was simply fantastic, with rules that could be adapted for En Garde-style postal play).

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  17. I fondly recall playing Diplomacy at lunch in 3rd grade. I played it about 2 years ago and it was still good.

    I was bequeathed a number of wargames a couple of years ago. Panzer Leader (I think), Something Fleet (Maybe First Fleet?), Dune, some others... I should really take a good look.

    Civilization was always an exercise. I have never come close to winning that game.

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  18. Ah... Civilization! One of the best games ever made! I loved how wars were fought only when territorial carrying capacity was exceeded, and ceased as soon as the carrying capacity was satisfied. I like it when a game has something substantive to say, regardless of whether I agree. Very philosophical game, that one.

    Dune is pretty amazing, too. My favorite part is how the Bene Gesserit can secretly predict the winner and the turn of victory, and if they're right then they steal the win. So they help a guy and the others jump on him because they think he's the chosen... but in doing so they play right into the witches' hands, etc. Too much fun.

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  19. To tie wargaming back to the origins of D&D:

    As I left work tonight after reading this thread, I happened to be listening to this podcast from BoardGameGeek, featuring an interview with Jason Matthews (designer of such games as a Twilight Struggle and 1960) and Tom Lehmann (Race for the Galaxy, among others). The subject came up regarding the philosophical difference between the design of wargames, and other styles of strategy games. Jason Matthews maintained that a central focus of wargaming is seeking to "tell a story" though the play of the game, and that a central part of the wargame designer's job is to come to grips with a (often historical) narrative so they can translate that into the game design. Whereas more modern "eurostyle" strategy games are not that interested in narrative, and mainly focused on mechanics to the exclusion of theme.

    Now I found that statement very fascinating, since the traditional summation of the emergence of D&D from the wargaming culture of its time is that D&D began to diverge from wargaming when its players began to "place greater emphasis on story". But by Mr. Matthews analysis (and it's one that rings true to me), story and narrative were a primary feature of the wargaming experience all along.

    As a further aside, as I was listening to this podcast, I was on my way to play Juno Beach from Victory Point Games, a small DTP driven wargames company that is putting out little games that feature simple mechanics yet great depth of play... Much like the microgames of my youth I cited above, and the same kind of return to essentials and small publisher creativity that the OSR in RPGs is engendering. It seems that some wargamers too are seeking to return to the roots of their hobby.

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  20. Hey Jason, would you be so kind as to email me? I might be interested in some of that JG stuff you mentioned. Joseph at josephbloch dot com.

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  21. Rafial, it is ironic that you linked NATO: The Next War in Europe. I've been playing that periodically for the last six months with a friend of mine who is also joining my new D&D campaign this weekend. He is a true Grognard in the old sense and has finally "broken down" sufficiently to try out D&D.

    There is a lot of overlap between wargaming and roleplaying, IMO (note I refused to use the word "synergy."

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  22. I am definitely NOT a wargamer. I have no patience or brain for strategy. But a few got under my skin:

    Star Fleet Battle Manual was my first love. Star Fleet Battles was nice, and didn't require an entire room to play in, but I couldn't get anyone to play it with me until I'd written a program to automate the movement and damage systems! Once the time for "The Duel" came down under an hour, it was playable. :-)

    Diplomacy is the prettiest game I can't play.

    But my utter favorite among AH was B-17: Queen of the Skies. Fine for solo play, fun in groups of 2 or 3 where the process is shared out ... yeah, more tables than you can shake a stick at, but it felt right.

    VerWord: "aftsi" == oppposite of "starboardsi"

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  23. FFG is re-skinning the Dune boardgame to their Twilight Imperium universe (because the Dune license isn't available). I'm looking forward to it, although it's apparently got purists up in arms because they're re-skinning a game that was, itself, a re-skinning of a different game (Tribute).

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  24. >Kung Fu 2100 were also great favorites, and I made several aborted attempts to expand the last into an RPG<

    This was the game that came in a White Dwarf issue, right? I don't know how it could pan into an rpg -
    I would think that after an hour of buffed-out, Conan-looking karate dudes killing scientists amidst computer mainframes (and occasionally taking a serving tray to the back of the head from a slave girl) people would be "OK, any other rpg we could play. One with a little depth?"

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  25. Yup, that's the one. I believe it was originally in Spacegamer, but SJG also had a microgame version in a baggy.

    I suppose it's a matter of taste ;) Some folks never seem to get tired of killing orcs of hours amidst crumbling tunnels, and occasionally falling down a pit ;)

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  26. Hang on.
    Dune?
    As in like spice must flow, I must not fear fear is the little death Dune?

    There was a wargame?
    Why the hellassballs has nobody told me about this?

    Verification word: Guoltud
    Definition: A South American spiny slug, famous for its poisonous slime.

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  27. Regarding City State Warfare by Judges Guild, not to shill for myself but I have a copy available for sale in my pile of spare Judges Guild items. It's a fantastic old school RPG/wargame hybrid of the most excellent sort. The cover is classc old school Judges Guild.

    If by some chance, one of my commenters hasn't snapped it up yet, drop me an email. I'd be interested in buying a copy from you.

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  28. IIRC, NATO had a rule to the effect of "This game has rules for Tactical Nuclear Weapons. If you want to simulate the effect of Strategic Nuclear Weapons, dose the map in lighter fluid and set fire to it."

    Indeed it did -- one of the things I still remember about it.

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  29. There is a lot of overlap between wargaming and roleplaying, IMO (note I refused to use the word "synergy."

    There is and it's a pity that there's not as much of it as there used to be.

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  30. FFG is re-skinning the Dune boardgame to their Twilight Imperium universe (because the Dune license isn't available). I'm looking forward to it, although it's apparently got purists up in arms because they're re-skinning a game that was, itself, a re-skinning of a different game (Tribute).

    Honestly, I'd have loved to have seen the original Roman game for which the rules were designed, but then I'm a sucker for anything Roman.

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  31. Civilization, Diplomacy, Magic Realm, Outdoor Survival, and Source of the Nile are just a few examples showing that wargaming was more than just “war” “games”.

    Sure, you can use a term like “hobby games” or something else, but we ought to just recognize that terms take on meanings beyond the sum of their parts. Just like “role-playing game”, by the way.

    As Rafial talked about: The more I learn about the early days of role-playing games, the more I think that the bulk of the differences between wargames and role-playing games were already present among wargamers.

    I actually discovered Heinlien because my dad had bought the Starship Troopers game, which was a lot of fun.

    Kingmaker and Magic Realm are still two of my favorite games.

    I keep hoping that Richard Hamblen will get a chance to publish a new edition of Magic Realm with some of the additional ideas that didn’t make the cut. And with the revised rules compiled by the fans.

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