Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Breaking the Bubble

Is a zebra black skinned with white stripes, or white skinned with black stripes?

One of the things I have been mulling over whilst painting my Union cavalry is why wargaming, which is ostensibly an interactive hobby, is in fact such a solo activity.

I'm not talking here about the obvious solo activities involved - painting, list building, reading the rules etc - but the actual playing of the game.

The spark for this mind game was the realization that it is a very long time since I have played a game in which the middle section of the game was more important than the start or the end. And how often I have been involved in games in which the person I am playing seeks to shut down this middle section by attempting to lay out a series of terms and conditions before the game starts.

I think perhaps the last game I played that had a decent middle section was when I played Blackpowder for the first time against Dean and his Zulus. In 'pure' gaming terms I cocked it up and ended up recreating Zulu Dawn but no matter. The point was that rather than lining up and going through a ritualized battle in which both players sought to emulate the battle plan they had devised before the game even began, the game we played was generated by events within the game.

It could be argued that this happens in every game, but the problem with this argument is that it whilst it is true that elements may arise to change the narrative, they essentially do not change the linear nature of the narrative in any real sense.

The real irony is that often actual solo games end up being more interactive.

If you have ever played solo games, even if it is just rolling marbles at Airfix soldiers, you will know that frequently you are willing to bend the rules to favour one side or another in order to make a better game. But then if you are solo gaming the chances are you are less concerned about the end game and the result. Added to which there is usually a scenario, and certainly if the scenario is apparently 'imbalanced' you do not face the problem of psychological pressure from the side fighting at a disadvantage, because they want to 'win'.

Of course this is Corinthian idealism in a way - play up, play up and play the game and all that - and many games do not lend themselves to this kind of gaming isolationism; for instance there are games in which it is possible for both players to 'win' because of the scenario and mechanics.

But it is worth keeping in mind the next time you find yourself wasting two hours of your life across the table from someone locked in their own little bubble. Heck! just for fun, why not suggest that you change the game and start playing on the same side and randomly generate the enemy - after all the rules and the stated objectives of winning and losing are only guidelines. And the last time I looked no one won a row of houses.


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