Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Allure of Skirmish Wargaming

If I had to more specificlaly classify my dabblings with miniature wargaming I suppose I’d have to really call it “skirmish wargaming.” Although I enjoy the spectacle of massive wargames depicting the vast scope of a full battle – or even a small yet turbulent portion of one – as a gamer I don’t have the resources and time to buy, paint, and base such seemingly endless ranks of figures, let alone craft the numerous terrain features to cover such a large battlefield. Skirmish wargaming allows me to explore historical periods of interest without the greater investment in game components.

While Merriam-Webster defines “skirmish” as “a minor fight in war usually incidental to larger movements,” most gamers believe skirmish wargaming consists of small engagements on the man-to-man level, where one figure represents one soldier (or one vehicle/gun unit). This differs from many other wargames where each piece represents multiples of soldiers (at a ration of 1:5 or 1:10, for instance), even those where figures are based together to represent entire companies and regiments. Skirmish wargaming isn’t always quite the impressive spectacle of vast games with ranks of based figures recreating vast historical battles across several tabletops; but it’s the aspect of miniature wargaming that’s most accessible to me. I find several elements particularly appealing:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Winnowing Out the RPG Shelves

I’m a notorious pack rat. I’m not quite at hoarding levels, but I have huge collections of books, games, miniatures, and beloved personal memorabilia that I can’t quite let go. Many remain relevant to my current life and work, particularly the games and books. Lately, however, I’ve been perusing my shelves of roleplaying game materials and wondering why I’m hanging on to some of them.

I don’t tend to do this with board and wargames, despite the fact that they take up much more space. Unlike roleplaying games they don’t require the time and immersion to prepare. Their components are often unique to the game. The game experience each offers isn’t easily replicated, especially without the specialty components. Given the higher cost of board and wargames, I don’t buy into them lightly; they have some value to me in theme or system and I can generally check beforehand (through online reviews and PDF rules) to better judge whether they’re right for me and my family.

In culling out unwanted roleplaying games I thought about different criteria that mattered to me for the games I would keep. Most of these titles fall into one of several categories:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Playing at the World: An Essential Gaming History

I’ve finally finished reading the almost 700-page dissertation-sized masterpiece Playing at the World, Jon Peterson’s expansive examination of the earliest days of roleplaying games – centered on Dungeons & Dragons – and the long history of varied elements that coalesced in the 1960s and 1970s to enable its creation and sustain its popularity. The book stands as perhaps the most comprehensive, scholarly history of the birth of roleplaying games. If you’re interested in the background behind the roleplaying game hobby in its formative years, I highly recommend you read Playing at the World.

That said, this tome and its all-encompassing stroll through gaming history isn’t for everyone. It’s an amazingly comprehensive work, complete with a detailed table of contents, long list of sources, and helpful index. The subject matter at times might seem tedious, particularly when it explores issues that might not engage some roleplaying gamers’ interests, such as the early history of German Kriegsspiele and wargames in general, the various fiction genres that inspired game designers, the imaginative endeavors of sci-fi fandom, and the origins and development of various roleplaying game mechanics. Some readers might not care for the numerous footnotes scattered across nearly every page; but I found in them interesting tangents, coincidental bits of information, and overall tertiary details enhancing the historical narrative. Peterson sometimes encourages readers to skip the deeper analysis he offers to reach more appealing subjects, though slogging through more difficult portions provides an appreciation for the numerous element that helped D&D and the fledgling roleplaying game hobby emerge.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Thoughts on Game Design for Kids

My cousin is an educator in France – the equivalent of an elementary school teacher here in the United States – who knows of my endeavors in the adventure gaming hobby (having been subjected to more than a few of them when we were younger). Frequent readers might recall that introducing kids to games is one of my pursuits; I’ve had plenty of opportunities both while working on the popular Star Wars game license in my West End Games years and recently raising my son, the now-five year-old Little Guy. During a recent visit my cousin lamented the lack of any resources for teaching younger kids how to create their own games. While families and game manufacturers are just now making great strides in games geared specifically for kids (such as the inspiring Robot Turtles), I’m not sure we’ve done a whole lot in channeling youthful enthusiasms into exploring the process of creating their own games.

When do I get to design
a game, Daddy?
Many gamer parents enjoy sharing their hobby with their kids. We love to get them involved in existing games we already own and enjoy, but how do we impart to them the more complicated and nuanced core gaming elements like balance and turn sequence, distilling design rationales from a seemingly infinite number of different rule sets? How do we introduce concepts like merging mechanics with theme? How do we impart to them the critical thinking and organizational skills necessary to craft an enjoyable and meaningful game experience ?