Wednesday, January 11, 2012
When I remember things like Alfred Leonardi's Lost World game books, first published by Nova Game Designs in 1983, I'm reminded of Indian Summers. Lost Worlds was descended from an earlier game, Ace of Aces (also by Leonardi) and published a few years earlier. Ace of Aces was a wargame about aerial combat during World War I. What made the game so memorable was that it included a couple of flip books filled with illustrations depicting what the pilot of a fighter plane saw as he was dogfighting. Each player flipped back and forth based on the maneuvers of his opponent and the books helped to adjudicate combat. It was really a brilliant little game and I wish I owned a copy.
Lost Worlds applied the same basic design to fantasy combat. Each book included a single opponent, so two books were needed to play. The ones I remember most vividly were "Man in Chainmail with Sword and Shield" and "Skeleton with Scimitar and Shield," since these were the ones Nova Game Design included in their advertisements most often. There were other entries in the series, though, including "Giant Goblin with Mace and Shield," "Woman in Scale with Sword and Shield," and "Dwarf in Chainmail with Two-Handed Ax." Over time, many, many were added to the line, often by later publishers. As I understand it, Lost Worlds has been through an extremely large number of publishers over the years and, while largely compatible, each new publisher added wrinkles to the original system that make books by earlier publishers less usable than one might wish.
The reason Lost Worlds reminds me of Indian Summer is that I have a hard time imagining books like this being written, let alone selling well, in an age of cheap and reliable computer games. Back in 1983, video games existed, certainly, but they were primitive and expensive and most people into fantasy gaming I knew scoffed at the notion of playing them as anything other curiosities. At the very least, no one seriously felt that computer gaming was the mass market future of the hobby. For us, there was nothing at all odd about sitting down with a couple of books and calling out page numbers to one another as we simulated a combat between a dwarf and a goblin. Flipping back and forth to look at illustrations and making our decisions based on what we saw was the most natural thing in the world back then. Nowadays? I don't know.
Regardless, for their time, Lost Worlds were pretty impressive products. They gave some of us a sense that combat could be more than rolling dice and tallying the results. More importantly, they reminded us of how important visualizing combat can be. Unfortunately, in doing so, I fear that they may have also readied a lot of gamers for the notion that aids to visualization are essential to the hobby, a road that would eventually lead to its increasing ghettoization as the preserve of old weirdos like me. As a friend of mine once said, "Why would I play D&D when [video game X] has better graphics than my imagination?" He regrets that comment now, of course, and rightly so, but I suspect a lot of gamers think similarly, at least some of the time.