Wednesday, July 1, 2009
If boardgame designers had their own religion, surely Tom Wham would be their god of mischief. Over the course of the last 30+ years, he's designed some of the most delightfully offbeat but playable games I've ever owned, including my personal favorite, 1980's The Awful Green Things from Outer Space.
TAGTFOS, like many Tom Wham efforts, appeared first in the pages of Dragon magazine, but, when TSR was looking to expand its product lines into the realm of family boardgames, it was one of several games chosen for this purpose. Since I never owned issue 28 of Dragon, the boxed version was my first encounter with the game and I loved it from the first. Much like Dungeon!, it very quickly became a staple of my gaming group, something we'd play when we were waiting for our friends to arrive for the RPG session or when we didn't have the time to run an adventure module or whatever.
I think what we liked about the game was that it wasn't just playable but re-playable. Much of the game play was pretty random, from the placement of starting positions to the effectiveness of various tactics, and that ensured that every game was different. A strategy that might work in one game wasn't guaranteed to work in another, because each game had its own unique starting conditions. Success in TAGTFOS was dependent on being a quick thinker who could roll with the random punches the dice threw at you.
Sometimes that was frustrating, I'll admit, and it wasn't uncommon to have victory snatched from your grasp because the canister of Zgwortz didn't work the "right" way this time around, but that was also part of the game's fun. Its loony unpredictability guaranteed that, even if you did find yourself overwhelmed by the Green Things, you had fun nonetheless. Indeed, sometimes it was more fun to lose the game spectacularly than it was to eke out a narrow victory against the odds. Perhaps there's a lesson here for us in the old school movement, as we try to convince our wayward brethren of the joys of random mayhem and death.