Getting all nostalgic

21 June, 2010

Our visit to Germany is coming to an end, and we’re on trains travelling back to Britain. A question from my daughter got me thinking about other trips, and I ended up thinking of my first overseas trip, to North America in 1979. The highlights for me consisted of games, no doubt to the frustration of my parents, a frustration I can sympathize with now that I’m travelling with kids of my own! These were games not available in New Zealand then.  My brother got the then.new SPI game Swords and Sorcery. It was our first board wargame and held an enduring fascination for me, despite its rather quirky names. I played quite a number of solo games with a more powerful New Oc Empire (Chairman Naskhund and his lackey were too lame, so I generated some new leaders).

 The games that I got were some of the Metagaming Microgames: GEV and Ogre, Chitin and a few others whose names I forget. It’s a reflexion of a different age when foreign exchange was hard to get and mail orders were more complicated that I was haunted for quite a long time by the desire to get some of the games advertised in the back of these. Steve got a number of them later; and Sticks and Stones, stone age skirmishing, in particular, didn’t live up to expectations, though The Fantasy Trip (TFT), the advanced version of Melee and Wizard, was a lot of fun.

 A number of these games were really enjoyable to play. One, from memory, involved Boppers, which were post-apocalyptic robotic weapons factories that churned out rather thick and cheap robot tanks to fight each other.

 Another was Ice War, a futuristic Russian attack on the US’s Alaskan oil fields. It had a fun hidden movement system for the Russians.

 Chitin, harvest wars of the Hymenoptera, was a game that had some very neat giant insects. It came with a promise of an expansion that was sadly never fulfilled. The insect types were given stats for TFT, but I doubt any figures were made of them, a pity as they’d make a great HOTT army.

 For a long time board games seemed more attractive to me, as they held the potential to fight larger scale actions, and I couldn’t afford many figures. I had some Airfix figures, but not enough to satisfy my grandious schemes for refighting Napoleonic battles. I also lost interest in these after painting them without any undercoat nor knowing about protective varnishes, only to see the paint all peel off.

 Eventually I found some boardgame rules by SPI in an issue of their magazine for refighting Quatre Bras. However, back then I didn’t have the technology for making new counters, so plans to use these rules to refight Napoleonic battles.eventually got shelved, not, however, before I got Avalon Hill’s War and Peace second-hand. I never really played it, though a friend, Chris, played it solo a lot. He commented that Napoleon’s army ablated in action, which seemed a fairly accurate reflection of attrition.

 In that period, I played quite a lot of role-playing. Gamma World and The Fantasy Trip were the systems that got the most actual use. Gamma World was heavily modified, with a colourful critical hit system and encounters drawn from the Sci-Fi films of the time, particularly Terminator. However, the system I looked at a lot without ever getting a campaign going was Chivalry and Sorcery. It had a marvellous amount of detail for generating feudal holding: the number of knights, sergeants, yeomen and peasants in a barony, as well as land area and the size of the castle! It also had a really interesting character generation system and combat system, but they were a little too involved to play easily. As for the magic system, it took this complexity to another level again.

 Board games that actually got played were generally multiplayer Avalon Hill ones. We played Dune quite a few times. Steve remembers a memorable win in which as the Bene Gesserit he successfully predicted that I would win and on what turn. I don’t think I saw the funny side at the time! We also played Civilisation fairly regularly, despite the results being a bit predictable for anyone held back a turn by missing a civilisation advance.

 Kingmaker was less fun, as it tended to degenerate into people sitting in power bases, North Wales, the North of England or around London and battles only occurring if a random event took someone away from these places.

 Down with the King was a game I remember fondly. There was something nice about having the Minister of Justice and both judges in your faction, concocting a rival’s execution, and then swearing vengeance at his funeral (on a random table)! However, when I bought a copy some years back I found it much  more complex than I had remembered. I think Chris had done all the thinking for us, or computer games had made us soft!

 To bring this all back closer to the present, computers have changed the nature of boardgames hugely. The ones that still have appeal are ones that are playable. Avalon Hill ones were generally better in this than SPI ones. Similarly the rational for figure gaming has probably shifted a little too; computers, in theory, can create more detailed simulations. In practice, I think they tend to emphasize flashy graphics for kids. Again, playability, for the same reasons, ought to be a priority, and it certainly is for me. However, the visual appeal of figure games give them an appeal that boardgames to a fair degree lack. Having said that, the construction quality of boardgames, perhaps in response to this situation, has improved.

 Anyway, hopefully today I’ll get to see Decline and Fall. How much I’ll ever play it is another matter, Similarly I don’t know if I’ll act on nostalgia to get Swords and Sorcery. I got Britannia and Medieval last year and have not had a chance to play either of them other than solo.

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2 Responses to “Getting all nostalgic”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Not to forget D&D – the campaign that you ran in that spare classroom at school!

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Very true, until that degenerated into fights with rolled up newspaper swords! Back then we also played a fair bit of Panzer Leader and PanzerBlitz. Somehow the rules never seemed as complex back then!


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