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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Let's You And Him Fight

I wrote a bit about 2-player gaming and how euros just don't do it for me in this regard compared to the multiplayer titles. I promised a comparison with wargames, and so here it is. Things are a bit frazzled right now for me (in fact, as Dave posts this I will be poring over accounting books from 12 different companies and shutting down one of them. My training is in computer engineering and music, so you can imagine how much I'm looking forward to 14 hours of this), so if I seem a bit scattered, it's because I am.

When I was growing up, most of my games were of the "King Oil" variety, and were played with a variety of friends. I discovered wargames through a copy of the original Anzio that my brother had left in the basement when I was 10. I was not quite ready for frequent division necessary for computing odds, but by age 12 I was (and was wondering why this had been so hard just a couple of years earlier). Still, while I knew literally nothing about WWII, much less where Italy was, the whole idea of a game of that complexity really grabbed me.

Through my secondary school years, my grade school friends moved on into the social upper echelons, while I remained behind (despite having the ability to play Elton John songs on the piano). I had a couple of new friends, mostly older than me, and it was with these friends that I really took off with wargames. The Russian Campaign, Afrika Korps, even Third Reich. I read the rules and figured out how things worked, and then my friends would beat me. Our multi-player games were things like Cosmic Encounter, but the bulk of my gaming at this time was definitely wargames.

In college, I suddenly had no opponents. A grand total of three other people from my high school went to the same college, even though it was in the same town, and everyone else either underwent religious conversions that required extended stays in such exotic locales as North Carolina or they went to school somewhere else. I did find friends who were into role playing games, but aside from an occasional foray into a game like Diplomacy, it was pretty slim pickings for boardgames.

Even after school, any wargaming I did was done solitaire. Once I finally started making enough money to have a little discretionary income, I started looking at games again, but they were still wargames. Sure, there were occasional titles like GW's Talisman (1st ed, wish I hadn't given that to my nephew), but playing with more than one other person was extremely rare.

Oddly, what kicked off my wargaming renaissance was starting a eurogaming group. The euros looked extremely cool, but they were essentially unplayable solitaire, while most wargames were (I stayed away from anything that couldn't be played solitaire up until this time, including games like Hannibal:Rome vs Carthage). They were so cool, I started Rip City Gamers with a couple of Usenet posts, and it's been a blast ever since. About half of the members are at least casual wargamers, and since I generally don't have space/time/patience for anything even approaching a monster game, that works out quite well.

OK, Doug, that's great, but this is supposed to be about why wargames are so much fun with two, but lighter games aren't. I guess that all of the above is supposed to show that wargames have historically been about the system for me rather than about the competition. When you play solitaire, social interaction doesn't exist. This is not to say that I don't enjoy the company of other gamers, and the tension definitely goes up considerably when you play face-to-face, but my previous experience prepared me for wargames to be a more cerebral activity.

Wargames also tend to have more of a story arc to them compared to euros. When most wargames play in over three hours and most euros play in well under this number, you have to play the long game. For me, that means less social interaction and more focus on play. This in turn means that having a socially-challenged opponent, while not the most pleasant experience in the world, is certainly not as bad as in a euro. On the other hand, a 10 hour game with a guy who hasn't bathed in a week is somewhere on the list under root canal and sexual reassignment surgery.

At WBC, which I attended for three or four years, I really enjoyed almost all of the 2-player wargames I played. I had a couple of opponents who were a bit, uhm, intense, but in general I was quite pleased to enjoy the company of everyone I played. James Pei, Bruno Sinigaglio, Jared Scarborough, Tim Miller, and many other gamers had great attitudes about playing (they weren't doing it for the award), and I really appreciated that. In comparison, the Successors tournament had its share of malcontents and Type AAA personalities that I can live without every seeing again, especially within the confines of a tournament. I love that game, and I enjoyed almost every game I played at WBC, but the metagames were just too much for me.

Now that there are more and more well-designed three-player games (as opposed to ETO strategic games where the Western Allies move three pieces until D-Day), not to mention four and five. Wellington, Sword of Rome, Nappy Wars, all of these work well with multiple players. The real problem is getting that many people together to play for that long. Sword of Rome is perhaps my favorite of these games, but eight hours is tough to pull off with four (and we found three players not to work so well in this title). Perhaps that is the real reason that 2-player wargames work so well: they have to. Finding one person to come over for the entire Saturday that knows the rules is much easier than four, especially here in the wargaming-deprived Pacific Northwest.

I also find it interesting that I will buy a wargame I have no intention of ever playing, but I won't buy a euro I have no intention of playing. Hmm.

That's all for now. Next week, I promise not to a) leak or b) submit a post on whatever our February Topic Du Mond is! Now all I need to do is think of a topic I can write on...


  • At 6:45 PM, Blogger stefanaccio said…

    Would like to hear more about the three player games you mention.
    Valle San Giovanni, Italy


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