Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Favorite Things: Thrilling Locations

 I don’t regard James Bond precisely as a hero, but at least he does get on and do his duty, in an extremely corny way.”

Ian Fleming

I recently spent an evening watching You Only Live Twice in our makeshift basement home theater: big screen, stereo speakers, quality projector, and sustenance from our “Space Bar.” I used to enjoy all the James Bond films, but in my more discerning older age I prefer to occasionally indulge in a handful of personal favorites. Yes, the plots are convoluted, the characters clichéd, the action over-the-top; but these films embodied an exotic, exciting sense of juvenile adventure that appealed to me in my younger days when a cinematic roller coaster ride mattered more than deep plot and characters. (Alas, I no longer have an appetite for more modern Bond films and their far too convoluted plots and impossible CGI-crammed action sequences that make my head spin.) It reminded me of my occasional dabbling with the espionage genre in roleplaying games, starting with TSR’s Top Secret and further enhanced by Victory Games’ James Bond 007 Game...which I first discovered through one of the supplements that still inspires me today, Thrilling Locations.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Schweig’s B/X D&D Notebook

I’ve had hopes recently about introducing my son and a handful of his school friends to Dungeons & Dragons. (Granted I’m ignoring the inherent stigma D&D arouses in these regressive regions, but, ever the naïve optimist, I want to trust most parents these days would see the benefits of roleplaying games rather than assume they’re tools of Satan....) Unfortunately 18 months of the covid-19 pandemic – with its requisite precautions of social distancing, avoiding gatherings, wearing masks, plus an entire year of school online – put those aspirations on indefinite hold. But I can still dream and prepare. Besides, I sometime dabble in solitaire D&D play, reveling in rules, procedures, and imaginary action that once inspired me in my long-ago nostalgic youth. These urges lead to the inevitably inflammable question of “Which edition of D&D are you going to run?” Well, my own edition, of course.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

WEG Memoirs: Hosting Uncommon Visitors

Some odd coincidences recently reminded me of a few, rare visitors we hosted at West End Games’ headquarters in the remote wilderness north of Honesdale, PA. (And it seemed appropriate after my recent post about behind-the-scenes revelations of game companies.) A friend sent me a photo when he discovered a pack of bratwurst from the Alpine Wurst & Meat House in his local grocery store. My son and I watched A Bridge Too Far to commemorate Operation Market-Garden Sept. 17-25, 1944. Both incidents – however odd and seemingly unrelated – stirred my foggy memories of three rare yet notable occasions I entertained illustrious visitors at West End’s offices.

Some gamers might aspire to visit their favorite game company’s headquarters, but it’s quite disappointing to discover it’s primarily a business – offices, warehouses, shipping facilities – with only minimalist trappings that betray the game product’s inspiration. They’re usually little more than offices and warehouses with a few geeky mementos on desks and perhaps a display with some distinctive product or awards. (Though I fondly recall a Phil and Dixie comic strip in Dragon Magazine that pictured TSR’s headquarters as a giant six-sided die....)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Behind the Publishing Curtain

 I hate and love. And why, perhaps you’ll ask. I don’t know: but I feel, and I’m tormented.”


History of gaming scholar Jon Peterson’s latest book releases in October. Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons, from The MIT Press, promises to turn Peterson’s meticulous research onto the early years of TSR, up to Gary Gygax’s forced departure from the company in 1985. I’ve read several books claiming to document the history of the game industry and the evolution of games, including Peterson’s groundbreaking Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games. I enjoy reading behind-the-scenes accounts of my favorite game companies – having worked professionally full-time and freelance in the hobby – but I also loathe them for their constant, often explosive struggles between creative personalities and ruthless business motives.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Gaming the Covid Crisis

 Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”


Occasionally I joke when people ask what games I’ve been playing lately: why, live-action Pandemic, of course, just like everyone else. Perhaps if more people had played Pandemic the board game they might have had a better understanding of the covid-19 crisis and more seriously considered some of the unexpected threats it poses to our society. Looking back over the last 18 months, however, I sometimes wonder how different, hopefully more effective, our response might have been if people and institutions at all levels had taken the time beforehand to learn to assess situations, form possible action and contingency plans, and explore possible outcomes through game-like exercises centered on pandemic response.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Another Pandemic Summer

 One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”


We’ve managed through another pandemic summer, not quite as difficult as last year – when covid-19 ravaged our populations amid political tensions and an inconsistent response at various levels of government – but challenging nonetheless. We managed to engage in some of our geeky pursuits, learning about history, watching movies, trying some new games, and making a few careful day trips. And I’m happy to report the wargaming programs I’d hoped to run at the local museum finally got a tentative start. But overall it was another summer of getting by without many of the entertaining activities we’d normally enjoy during this season.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Games as Puzzles

 Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”


I love sitting down with a new game and trying to figure it out. Certainly I have numerous “how to play” videos to consult – though I usually do this before purchasing a game that’s tempted me with rave reviews or an engaging theme – but sitting down to sort through the components and then figure out how to actually play it is just part of the fun. For some games I enjoy repeat plays where I can try different strategies for winning. With the exception of solitaire games, each one provides a chance to get to know the people gathered to play it. Summarized in three questions – How does it work? How do I master this game? and Who are these other players? – these puzzles cross the boundaries of the adventure gaming hobby – board games, roleplaying games, miniature and board wargames, card games – and can consume participants to varying degrees based on the game and the player.