Saturday, 14 March 2015

The reasons for a hiatus


Hello dear reader,

IF you're reading this, you're probably wondering why (or, I've shamelessly advertised to you about it because I'm a view monger) I've had such a lengthy hiatus from writing anything serious about wargaming. I had a long list of Bolt-action related topics to write about, with four or five months of world war history resources planned. I intended to get into some of the seventh edition codexes, citing the success of my review of the Space Marine Codex for my reason for this.

Unfortunately, none of this panned out. I'm a bastard. I know. My mother told me so.

In the time since my last post, I've had a turbulent relationship with my once strongly held hobby. Like a theist falling out of faith, I fell out of interest pretty heavily with warhammer and other well established wargames like Bolt Action, eventually becoming something of a pessimist about the hobby as a whole.

I specify established wargames for a reason. My hiatus gave me a chance to realize why it really was that I didn't like wargaming: It was a shock. I didn't dislike wargaming. I fucking loved it. I loved rolling lots of dice. I loved watching my opponent roll lots of dice. I loved moving miniatures around a table like the neck bearded armchair general that I am. It made me realize something else. I didn't feel burned out because wargaming was losing its place in my spare time, I felt burned out because I never got to play something that reflected what I felt about the genres.

The Ancients Wargame Phase

I had a look at some of the lesser established or 'retro' wargames. A local store owner and wargamer, (the owner of Emperor's Legions in Brisbane, Australia) introduced me to Warhammer Ancients. (for full disclosure purposes, I've never played the game. I've read the rules though.) This got me to realise that I really liked ancients as a wargaming concept. It figured, I played wargames on my PC religiously. Games such as the Total War Series, any turn based game I could get my hands on and even the thoroughly despised Jagged Alliance: Back in Action game. I realised that I really liked these games because I could play them at least partially to my own rules, with nobody else's input forcing me to do anything. So I did what any sane person who hadn't found his niche wargame would do: I made my own game. My parents, as caring and supportive as they pretend to be of my irritating hobby, had a great comment on the matter of rules made by me. They said that "It didn't matter what the rules are, just so long as I win because of them."  Affectionately titled Marches of Rome, then Shield of Rome and using a working title of ANCIENT BATTLES GAME DO NOT DELETE YOU ARSEHOLE.doc, this game became my first fully fledged gaming product that I managed to dupe one of my friends into playing.

It doesn't matter what the rules are, just so long as I win.
We had a blast, being completely confused by how the rules forced spearmen to outperform swordsmen in a charge, watching with dismay as many units crumbled after just a few hundred dice were rolled. I got to writing supplements, codexes so that my friends could play factions that they liked. In fact, when asked about the codex I promised him a friend said "Look dude, I just want my ancient Spanish." The game had some phenomenally unique mechanics, such as literally hundreds of dice being rolled to cause the death of just one man, battle lines being drawn and then shifted, seemingly at random, units breaking from an engagement only to be chased down and then emerge victorious after being charged in their rear, and the resource management that was the per-unit dice pool. 

The game shamelessly stole elements from Hail Caesar from Warlord Games, expanding on the command system in that game  to include the chance that the messenger got shot on the way there. IT stole points costing from SAGA From tomahawk Studios, as well as something resembling the points and fatigue systems from that game to create something of a grand battlefield strategy game with the most micromanagement one could possibly include in a four hour wargame. It was glorious, and I loved it like a son. Then, I realized it still wasn't what I wanted.

After that, I underwent a period of vacuousness. I played no wargames and tried to create nothing. I had truly burnt out. After a few weeks, one of my wargaming buddies organised a fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Campaign. I was immediately taken in by the "do whatever you want" attitude my DM took and I was excited by the prospect of doing stupid shit like swearing at my opponent rather than actually acting. IT occurred to me that this is what my wargames lacked: a player input system. Wargames differ from pen and paper RPGs in that they tend to have very well defined rulesets with no holes in them, (we speak in ideal terms as wargamers). RPGs tend to have well written rules, but have a different goal. They don't give players a direct route from A to B to resolution, but a framework for players to define what A and B are, and the GM as their only opponent to this. I thought "I could do this shit" and so I tried. I felt a pang of discomfort at relinquishing control unto some grubby-fingered player, but I realised that that's what I was looking for in a games system, and if nobody was going to write it, I might as well have a crack at my stupid dream. 


The end result was a counter-terrorism and hostage situation game, focused on not forcing the GM to follow some strict rules, and allowing lateral or "out of the box" thinking by the players and the GM. I did a lot of research about domestic gun fighting, researched dozens of hostage situations and SWAT-equivalent tactics and equipment to decide on my rules sets.  I often felt paranoid that ASIO (Australia's CIA) Was watching me and just waiting for me to ask a question about going to the Levant.)

The game took me into a new scale, and a new idea of how wargames should happen. Rather than being a turn based simulation of battle, the game I Created [Codename: GREY AREAS] was a cross between a wargame and an RPG. Players had set missions, distances and weapons like in a wargame, but the ability to think laterally, characterfully and interactively like an RPG. A big focus was on making a negotiation system that allowed players to do more than roll a dodecahedron and hope for the best. The final system I Developed left a lot of the details up to the GM: You, as the GM decide  whether your player makes a fitting argument based on a few pieces of information provided by the character sheet of the boss or organisation you're negotiating as. Combat was designed to be quick, unforgiving and brutal, but was eventually scaled back with the inclusion of an HP bar. It remained uncomplicated and designed so that when well planned, players could execute their mission without ever having a single shot fired at them. The game was mechanically like a ballerina or gymnast; it was flexible and graceful. I was happy with what I had done. 

After a while I began to focus on how to bring the project to life. Miniatures are the heart of any wargame, but RPGs care much less. Rather than settle on whiteboards and circles, I decided to go the whole hog and use setpiece terrain designed to immerse the player in a specific location. 4ground terrain was fantastic for this, and my friend at The Last Stand in Brisbane was very generous with his discounting of the products so that I could actually afford it. This left me with a lot of buildings with intricate, doll-house like levels that were accessible from the top down. I built doors into them and walls so that I could make specific rooms. Most of all I needed good miniatures to support my game with, and I found some fantastic generic yet so specific it hurt 15mm miniatures from a company in America called Rebel Minis. It gave me some simple, miniatures reminiscent of the people that supplemented the tanks of the micromachines franchise to play around with. 

I have played but one game of this system, but I thoroughly enjoyed being the villain, and I hope that through a subsequent campaign I can create a game where my friends and I can play imaginatively, with rules designed to give form rather than structure, while still being stiff enough to play like a wargame. 

It'd be cliche to call myself a madman now, wouldn't it?

The Future

For the time being, my future is uncertain in wargaming. I will definitely continue to go and play wargames, although I am still very much on hiatus from competitive wargames. I've spelled my time with card and board games (I am fiendishly fond of Coup, which is a great card game reminiscent of bullshit), computer games and Pokemon. (Yeah, Competitive fucking Pokemon.) I've even been tossing up starting my own youtube channel, although I'm doubtful I have the presence of mind to do 15-20 minute videos like some of the great youtubers I waste too much time on. Whatever happens in the future, I Can only draw three certainties: 

  1. I will continue to make broken rules that suit my creative needs as a gaming butterfly
  2. I will continue to play wargames. 
  3. I will continue to use this blog to augment my own hobby and bring it to new heights. 

I appreciate your reading this, fair-weathered reader. Your view means as much to me as my quirky sense of humour must mean to you, and that's not boding well for ether of us.