Tuesday, May 21, 2024

“Mind Your Manners”

Always be tactful and well-mannered.... Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”

General Erwin Rommel

I don’t remember why I was paging through my copy of Panzer Kids Deluxe recently, but among all the tank stats, optional rules, and scenarios I noticed the “Mind Your Manners” page. My Skirmish Kids rules, perpetually nearing imminent completion, also include a similar section. Both offer these guidelines to set a baseline of behavior at the game table. We often expect certain courteous and helpful behaviors when we get together with strangers or friends to play games; unwritten rules to help everyone get along a little more clearly. It reminded me of the important role these concepts play in helping young gamers – and even more adult gamers – navigate the emotions that accompany winning and losing. They’re also good maxims to keep in mind as we interact with each other, strangers and friends, in person and online, in our everyday encounters.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Twilight of Print Magazines

 I don’t expect to live forever, but I do intend to hang on as long as possible.”

Isaac Asimov

I’m rearranging some shelves in the office — a periodic activity, given the volume of books I have and continue adding to my collection — and I’ve come across some racks with old copies of WWII History magazine. I decided to peruse them one more time, extract any articles that interest me to arrange in a binder, and recycle the rest. The process reminded me why I like (and miss) magazines along with a few other observations.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Peaceful Protester Scenario

 There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel

Once again I’m distraught seeing militarized police using brutal force against peaceful, unarmed protesters. Certainly my sensitive imagination and unfettered anxiety makes it easier to empathize with those speaking out against oppression (as if I ever had the immense courage to do so). I recognize the gross injustice deploying such heavily armed forces against those peacefully protesting for liberal and humanitarian causes while police sit back and tolerate right-wing fascist demonstrators equipped for potential violence (however unrealistically). Maybe it’s because I come from a field that values freedom of expression, free speech, and civil discussion to address the problems we collectively face. Perhaps I’m discouraged that I’ve seen forces of the militarized state used against otherwise peaceful or powerless populations before, both in my time and in barbarous episodes of our history. When I process these events, deal with the emotions and hopelessness they evoke, I often turn to games...usually as an escape, but in this case to reflect on the issue through the lens of gaming.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Modern Crisis Wargaming

 Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”

David Bowie

I don’t usually promote Kickstarter campaigns for games, even ones I admire or back. A recent entry, however, demonstrates the value of wargames as tools to explore real-world issues. Usually we look back in time, examining conflicts from history with lots of established (and sometimes debated) research from which to draw information when crafting these simulation models. Professionals in the political/military sphere employ wargames to explore existing, developing, and future situations and possible outcomes. Sebastian Bae — a USMC veteran, wargaming consultant, and adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University stands as one of the more visible designers at the forefront of this movement. Catastrophe Games is running a Kickstarter to produce BaeCrisis in Korea, a set of two “micro games” allowing players to examine the heightening tensions in that region. Both KTO Crisis and Loose Nukes promise to introduce current-issue wargames to a wider audience, from hobby wargamers and students to military and political professionals.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

French & Indian War: Road Trip & Games

 My mission is in jeopardy as my Indian allies have murdered a captured French officer in my care, violating Articles of War. Plus, the French are quickly closing in on our position, so it is a ‘necessity’ that a fort is quickly constructed to shield us from attack....”

George Washington

View from Fort Ligonier with
fortifications and cannon.
Last week my son was off from school for spring break, so we planned a short overnight trip to some sights within driving distance that interested us: Fort Ligonier, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and Fort Necessity...two of which catered to our interest in the French and Indian War. Last summer we visited Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York state; we’ve also seen skirmish reenactments at Fort Frederick. So we wanted to round out our exploration of the period with two more locations that broadened our understanding of the overall conflict. It reminded me of numerous wargames covering the Seven Years War in America, many of which serve as good introductions for kids and newcomers to the hobby.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Willing to Wait for sha-Arthan

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Those who’ve followed James Maliszewski’s for a while know he’s quite knowledgeable about M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel setting, having run a continuous campaign for nearly a decade and published a host of wonderful fanzines about the esoteric roleplaying game setting. But Barker’s creation — and its host of different game editions — carries the stain of his anti-Semitic novel Serpent’s Walk, published under a pseudonym in 1991 (as discovered through research by the Tékumel Foundation established to perpetuate his creative legacy). Fans have had to wrestle with this unearthed reality, some walking away from Tékumel, others continuing to embrace it, and many in between trying to find some acceptable balance between the creator and his creation. Maliszewski has discussed his betrayal at learning about Barker’s shocking past before, making many points no doubt shared with Tékumel fans grappling with this issue. Maliszewski has since channeled his creative energies into developing Secrets of sha-Arthan, a game evocative of Tékumel with his own interpretations and embellishments into a wholly original, more accessible setting. Who knows when it will be ready for release? All good things take time...and I am willing to keep my embers of enthusiasm burning as I wait however long to see it published.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Rules as Written, Game as Played

 The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience.”

Gary Gygax

Chevy Chase's character from
Community prepares to run D&D....
After last week’s missive about “rigid” and “free” rules I started thinking about the flexibility roleplaying games have always offered and the variable experience they provide when mixing a rules system with a setting, a particular gamemaster, and a certain group of individual players. Sure, all games provide some variability with different participants within the more rigid structure rules impose. But roleplaying games offer a lot of room for interpretation to suit different play styles: which rules a gamemaster relies on and which they use infrequently or even ignore completely; to what degree the participants focus on rules, character roles, or setting; where an adventure moves and how it involves players and their characters. Roleplaying games give us lots of freedom between the rules as written and how we run them, subject to interpretation and collaboration between everyone at the table. All these variables sometimes lead to inconsistent quality. Sometimes game sessions can be terrible; but with the right combinations, the experience can seem magical. Each person at the table and their interpretation of a game (internally as a mindset and externally through play) represents a wide-ranging variable...all of which can affect the course of the game and the satisfaction each person finds in it.