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A History Of (Simulated) Violence

Before baseball, before rock music and other pleasures of the flesh, almost before science fiction, I was a wargamer. Today gaming is splintered into a number of subgroups: there are console gamers, PC gamers, people who fiddle with Angry Birds on their phones, card gamers, miniatures gamers (the oldest part of the gaming community) and boardgamers. Me, I was a boardgamer. I spent hours in junior high school playing PanzerBlitz and later PanzerLeader with divisions worth of counters on dozens of boards, and later moved up to SPI's War in the East, their very generic (and very HUGE) game about the Russian Front. This continued into high school, when I got a job and started buying my own games, and into community college where I was able to use other peoples' money to buy wargames. I had a brief flirtation with naval miniatures, a hangover from discovering Fletcher Pratt's wargame in the back of an old Sports Illustrated, but since I was a lousy painter and lead ships were expensive, I gave up on that; the same was true of armor miniatures.

Historical boardgaming was my thing until RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons came along, and stayed that way for quite a while, enjoying a resurgence while I was on active duty even though the hobby was beginning to crash and burn. I've linked before to Greg Costikyan's classic essay, "SPI Died For Your Sins", which describes how the premier wargaming company fumbled itself into a deep enough hole that its main competitor (D&D publisher TSR, not Avalon Hill) was able to buy it and in an utterly boneheaded move, kill the company and its reputation in one fell swoop. I've already blathered to excessive length about all this in this here LJ post and would prefer not to repeat myself...

So, now that I have time (if not space and money) on my hands, my thoughts are turning to wargames again, and it occurs to me after my misadventures playing Third World War with smitty1e last month that I have a lot of games I'm probably never going to play again. They're just too big, too complicated or both. I suppose I could go back to my monstergaming roots and spend some time at a local SF convention holed up in a conference room with Their Finest Hour, Wellington's Victory, Central America or one of the other dozen or so monstergames I still own, but first I'd have to find someone who already was familiar with the game...because the idea of trying to teach someone the Europa system from scratch makes me just want to go lay down until the feeling goes away. I mean, it was enough of a headache getting back up to speed on Third World War with smitty1e, and we were both familiar with the game...just hadn't played in twenty years or so*. Fortunately, that still leaves me with several dozen S&T issue games, stand-alone SPI games that aren't monsters, and a scattering of games from GDW, AH, Victory Games and other publishers that could theoretically be played of an evening. I just need to get them sorted out and organized, and once Plan C is in full, profitable effect, start looking for opponents.

*It wasn't quite as bad playing Empires of the Middle Ages with Mark last night, because despite its apparent complexity, EMA's basic mechanics are actually quite simple. You are applying the same routine whether you are conquering, fortifying, ruling, pillaging or doing diplomatic things, and all the other actions in the game are variations on those five actions or Grand Diplomacy, which doesn't come into play when there's just two players.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2012 12:02 am (UTC)
I've never been able to get into historical wargames, due possibly to the fact that you aren't allowed to steal the enemy's entire order of battle (1), give the better commander a slice of watermelon to cure his dysentery (2), or shoot the horses (3). It takes all the fun out of being smart.

1 - Nisei Richard Sakakida did this to the Japanese after faking his defection (and undergoing enough torture to convince them he meant it). My father, a historian, introduced me to him back in the 70s. Very quiet man. --We never lost a battle after Sakakida delivered that.

2 - Napoleon spent Waterloo in the privy. Wellington went to his grave still twitching about how narrow the victory was.

3 - This restriction did not apply Upon Saint Crispin's Day.

Edited at 2012-07-30 12:02 am (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2012 12:17 am (UTC)
1) If you're playing a wargame and don't know what the enemy OB is, you screwed up by not reading the rules and paying particular attention to the scenario setup instructions.

2) If you want that kind of pointless detail, the RPG and LARP types are over there. ----------------------->

3) Nonsense. There are a number of games about the siege of Bataan, and all of them that I'm familiar with specifically address the 26th Cavalry (PS) becoming dismounted. Rules that call for horse holders in Civil War games also imply horse-shooting, as do games that have separate limber counters for horse-drawn artillery. See also miniatures.
Jul. 30th, 2012 07:00 am (UTC)
2 ) Pointless? The man would have remained Emperor of Europe until his death in 1821. (And, given his-- and to be fair, practically any conqueror's-- harebrained notions of economics, the United States would include a hell of a lot more of Mexico. He'd have needed the money.)
Jul. 30th, 2012 07:18 am (UTC)
Pointless I said, and pointless I meant; in the context of the single battles most games cover, such long-term consequences are beyond the scope of the game. In most wargames, the entire point of the game is that you, not the historical generals/leaders, are in charge. This is why SPI's Agincourt is an excellent simulation but a horrible game: with 600 years of hindsight, it is nearly impossible to find somebody as dumb and arrogant as the French were historically. So in order to reproduce the historical results, you have to hamstring the French player with a lot of command and control rules which force him to act in a historical manner. Nobody has done a game on Cannae (that I'm aware of) for the same reason, and most games dealing with WW2 on a strategic level don't force players to deal with Hitler's craziness, because the whole point is to see what would happen if you were running the war.
Jul. 30th, 2012 08:44 am (UTC)
You are being deliberately reasonable. I am not certain you understand the point of the Internet.
Jul. 30th, 2012 09:10 am (UTC)
Contrary to some peoples' practice, I do use LJ as a sort of open diary and aide-memoire, with serious essays in between the fart jokes and silly memes.

I don't tend to joke about wargaming much.

Edited at 2012-07-30 09:11 am (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2012 09:14 am (UTC)

Didn't see your toes there. Sorry.
Jul. 30th, 2012 09:20 am (UTC)
No offense taken. Between being tired as hell last night and distracted this morning, it took me a while to figure out that you were being silly for the sake of being silly. I'm okay with being the straight man in a comedy routine, up to a point.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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