What Comes Around

On October 13, 2009, in Games, by peterb

I used to play a lot of board games.

This was back when I actually lived near my friends, and hung out with a critical mass of people who enjoyed the hobby as well. I have a small collection of games from back then that I don’t play much any more.

The most valuable accessory, if you like board games, is a friend who is obsessed with them, because then you get to try all the games without spending money or, more importantly, storage space. That board games are physical objects, which can be looked at, touched, manipulated, and put away, is both their great attraction and their great drawback. And it’s inevitable if you play that you eventually collect more than you want to own. Boardgame fans revel in the frivolous, the unnecessary. You can play Sid Sackson’s classic game Can’t Stop with 4 dice, a sheet of paper, and some pennies, yet most people would rather have the big piece of plastic with all the little colored tokens instead. It’s ingrained in human nature, I’m convinced. I had a friend with the Infinite Collection of Boardgames, but then he moved to California, which meant that I was still interested in the games but suddenly with no access to them. This meant that I foolishly bought a few before realizing that I was rapidly running out of space. I dealt with this by sealing the games up in the basement and forgetting about playing them for a few years. But recently, the urge to play has reared its ugly head again.

I have a few issues that make board games a debilitating hobby for me personally. The first, of course, is that in order to play games I have to interact with and speak to other actual human beings, which is always a bad thing. But more problematic is that board gaming, as a hobby, is deeply subject to the desire for the latent object. The board game you don’t own is always better than the game you do own. Even when the one you are obsessing about sucks.

The best recent example of my personal latent object fetishism is that I can’t get Advanced Squad Leader out of my mind. ASL, as it is known, is a horrendously complex tangle of rules that no reasonable person will ever bother to learn. I think of it as less of a game than as a medical condition. I got to thinking about ASL because I had been playing Combat Mission on Windows, which is a turn-based computer wargame based loosely (very loosely) on ASL. I knew the full game was too involved for me, but when I discovered there was a Starter Kit with slightly simplified rules, I started having second thoughts. If you want to know what I mean when I say “slightly simplified,” feel free to peek at this 135 page PDF tutorial that covers some of the basics of the game.

The thing is, even if you gave me the Special Ed version of ASL, I would never play it. First, I would never find anyone to play it with. Second, the level of detail in the rules is, if not beyond my capabilities, certainly beyond my level of interest. I would stop playing the game before I had finished a single turn. I know this. Yet I still find myself idly thinking of picking up the starter kit, instead of getting a game more well-suited to my internal one-hour-limit game clock, such as Memoir ’44.

Apart from my small circle of friends, I’ve never really explored the wider boardgame geek culture. I don’t go to cons, hang out at game stores, or the like. Recently, however, I perused the forums at boardgamegeek.com, and discovered that the same sorts of geek one-upmanship that happens in computer game circles (“This new version of the game has been dumbed down because it’s not hard enough!”) happens there as well. The best example of this I’ve seen so far is this article, entitled “Why Memoir 44′ is not really a war game despite claims to the contrary”, written by the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. It really is a masterful exemplar of the fandom rant genre, and is not to be missed.

This shouldn’t surprise me, of course. As psu has observed, we live in a Dork Nation, and if you’re playing wargames you’re already a pretty serious outlier.

Anyway, I’ve tried to get my boardgame-collecting friend fired so he’ll move back to Pittsburgh, thus sparing me from acquiring any more games, but apparently his bosses trust him too much, so that plan has fallen through.

Maybe I can get psu addicted to boardgames, and then if I want to play them I’ll just go over to his house. It worked with the Xbox.


10 Responses to “What Comes Around”

  1. psu says:

    Can I play these on my Xbox or do I need to buy a new computer? Where can I get Madden?

  2. Jonathan Perret says:

    What we’ve got here is a ludothèque – think of a public library where books are replaced with board games. Of course it’s also a great place to meet other dorks^H^H^H^H^Hplayers.
    Who knows, you might be able to find somesuch in Pittsburgh ?
    In any case, you could always come take a look next time you’re in Paris.

  3. Andy P says:

    That Memoir ’44 review is frightening. “I’m a hardcore wargamer. I don’t like this game about war. Therefore it is not a wargame (despite being a game about war)”.

    Note to self: never play any games that guy likes…

  4. Jason says:

    Move to Boston. I can be your hookup.

    I’m having the same issue currently with Warmachine/Hordes. I know I’d never find time to assemble and paint all the figures, or find people to play with, or want to spend the stupid sums of money required, but for a while now I haven’t been able to get werewolves vs. magical steam mechs out of my head.

  5. Kerrie says:

    sigh… miss Jon’s endless supply of games and willingness to haul them around to our various game days. sigh. I wanna play Groo & drink good beer & not lose too badly. Keep working on ruining his life & making him return to Pittsburgh.

  6. Jon F says:

    Didn’t you hear? Both of my startups folded. I’m currently job searching. However, there’s still zero chance I will ever again live where it snows, so you’re still out of luck.

    Also, even at the time I played, ASL development had already been overrun by the crowd who felt that combined arms action wasn’t good enough unless every fricken tank in the entire war had a separate counter. The real problem with ASL is that it’s only slightly more complex than Magic: The Gathering except that the pieces don’t have room to put their special rules on, so you have to carry around two ringbinders to look up what they would say if they had the space.

    The correct answer is Combat Commander: Europe.

  7. peterb says:

    I’m considering “Conflict of Heroes” instead of Combat Commander. Any thoughts about that?

  8. Get both. But if you’re trying to restrict space or have financial considerations here’s a breakdown between the two…

    Scale wise CoH is bigger than CCE. CCE’s scenarios play out on small maps, in close quarters, while CoH can take place across several maps. Counter density is also much higher than CCE.

    CCE only has infantry. CoH includes all the usual suspects: infantry, guns, armor, half-tracks, aircraft. For some folks this is the biggest selling point when choosing between the two games: heavy metal.

    Both CCE and CoH are series games, but CCE (at the moment) will end up setting you back more if you get everything. There’s a North Africa set, a Pacific set, smaller sets for airborne and Russia, etc. CoH currently has two games. Additionally, CCE titles are not standalone while CoH titles are.

    Production-wise both look good, though I give an edge to CoH with its thick counters, although I will admit I’m not a big fan of using photos of painted miniatures for counter art, although overall they don’t look bad. CCE pretty much resembles your bog-standard ASL-clone.

    In the gameplay department both are about the same complexity, although CoH is probably a tad easier simply because it uses a fairly basic system of mechanics that are familiar. Movement points, rolling dice and adding them to your stats for combat, action points to activate units. CCE uses NO dice. Only cards. The timing of cards can get tricky, as you and your opponent are flipping cards to perform an action, then cards get flipped in response, and so on. It can be a little squirrely at times.

    Of course, there is also Tide of Iron, which is another tactical game of low complexity that is pretty good…

  9. Benoit says:

    Tigris & Euphrates is a war game you might like.