Sunday, 1 August 2010

First Session Free

Beasts of War have been running a Mantic Games weekend.

And Alessio Cavatore has been outlining his plans for their dull.... sorry... forthcoming ruleset, Kings of War. I was amused to see a comment on a forum saying that if you like chess and you like wargames then this is just for you. Which kind of reminded me of a line Kramer might have come out with when outlining his latest scheme on Seinfeld.

Quite what chess has a got to do with wargaming is not clear to me. The developement of wargaming has got nothing to do with logical problems - indeed the origin of the modern wargame is generally agreed to be a game played by the Prussian/German general staff, which was more like D&D than it was chess.

But seemingly we are supposed to be believe that chess is the highest form of tactical game, and therefore in order to be a genuine wargamer - and a competative gamer (for some reason this link is also made) - that you have to like chess. And you are expected at the same time to ignore Napolean who prefered lucky generals and believed that the force of will was what decided battles. Oh and that chess has no rules for terrain and supply, and that it is a pretty poor comparison of a wargame because in a battle half of the pieces - the castles, bishops and Queen in particular - are not present - and generally if they are it is a siege and therefore not something that can be gamed in an afternoon.

Suffice to say I don't like chess.


Come and lay on the couch for a moment.

It got me thinking: as I mentioned previously it may or may not be of significance that Mr Cavatore revealed in an interview on podhammer that when he played toy soldiers he did so on a chequered carpet.

Which in turn led me to cast my mind back to the games of toy soldiers I used to play in my bedroom. These were played with 1/72nd Airfix figures. I had loads of different types, ranging from the Robin Hood Playset, through the Napoleonics to most of the WWII figures.

What I also remember about these games was the way in which I divided up the forces.

Obviously the battles essentially boiled down to the British fighting the Germans - Sunday afternoon war films and the excellent World at War series saw to that - but I had enormous dilemmas about some of the troops. The Romans were no problem, because they fought the Ancient Britons and therefore had to be the Germans. And the Napoleanic French likewise. But what about the Cowboys? And later the NATO Germans?

And don't get the idea that the British always won.

In part this was a function of the figures in the boxes. All of the kits had casualty figures, but some of them had very bizarre figures and poses. For instance the WWI British had two men running along with a hoop, and the WWI Germans had figures surrendering - which made them perfect for supporters when I played subutteo (colour in a paper scarf and they wouldn't have looked out of place on the Kop). These ancillary figures would often decide how the game would play out. If the German's were left with the surrendering figure, or the strecther bearer team when the marble had come to rest, or the imaginery machine gun had been fired by the tank, then that meant the unit had surrendered.

And this kind of reasoning wasn't just in solo play.

When I played toy soldiers with my friends it was a collaborative affair of the imagination in which reasoned arguement and consensus was the order of the day. And there was no point cheating - by claiming that a particular figure with a machine gun could see when the British Commandos in their canoe, when he was quite clearly facing the other way and behind the gun emplacement

Of course all of this sort of thing was before our balls dropped.

It was around this time - when my balls went south - that I happened to find in the local library a copy of rules for wargames. It was either by Don Featherstone or Charles Grant. And what was noticable was that a mixture of testosterone and fixed rules, soon meant that the negotiation and fair play stopped. If the rules said you could do it, then no amount of reason could shake that belief that you couldn't - or it would be better for the game if you didn't. And indeed that both sides had to be equal, and that before even attempting to play it was often necessary to offer an advantage to the other player or they would take their figures home.

Gone was the notion of playing for the sake of playing.

Which I guess might go some way to explain why I prefer rule sets in which both players have as much interaction as possible - or indeed play on the same side. And that the game is as important as who wins and loses.

Ok session over - next week we'll talk about how much you cuddled your mother.

Which in a sense is why I find it so odd that Beasts of War were so unquestioning in their interviews with the guys from Mantic. Not that I am saying they should have done a Paxman on them - or heaven for fend a John Humphreys - or indeed that I have anything against Mantic.

It's just when they were discussing the release of 8th ed, Warren in particular was keen on using the rule system and expanding on it with stuff like random magic item drops, and using the GM. Yet was completely unquestioning when Mr Cavatore was laying out his vision of a game in which when it isn't your turn you might as well not be there. Which is the antithesis of what he had been so excited about the week before.

And in a sense the antithisis of my childhood experiences wasting time playing with toy soldiers. And perhaps what lies at the root of why as adults we play toy soldiers.


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