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Board Wargaming From My Table

By Keith Symcox

When I was first approached about writing this article about the state of board gaming in the OKC area, my response was: "I don't live in the OKC area." But Nic and Jeremy were persistent, so I will give you my two cents worth and then we can get on to the heated rebuttals.

Strategy board games are better in quality than ever before. Many innovative games are on the market, yet it is a rare day that you see many board games going on at a convention. Those that do get played are games such as Axis and Allies, Shogun and Talisman. These games are extremely easy to learn and play quickly. Ask the typical role player why they do not play strategic games and they will tell you it is because board wargames are "too hard to learn" or "take too long". This comes from people who own and have memorized all 314 AD&D supplements and consistently play in 12 hour campaign sessions!

If you were to look at the typical board wargame table, the first thing that you would notice is that the players are usually older than the run of the mill role playing crowd. Why is this? It seems to me that the main reason is the advent of the computer. During the time when most of us over 30 were growing up, the computer was a cool thing that few people had at home. Computer games were primitive and arcade-style (pong and pacman come to mind). Therefore, as kids we played board games such as Monopoly, Risk, Life, Checkers, Chess and etc. As we got older, many of us hit our army man stage of adolescence and started playing wargames as an outlet for our imaginary battles going on in the backyard. With no competition from other activities, it was usually pretty easy to convince someone to play a board game with you to wile away the afternoon.

But with the increasing sophistication of computer games, board games have taken a back seat. The passive thrill of computer animation is glitzy and easier for most people than the active thrill of strategy. While the computer usually plays a predictably poor game as an opponent, it is better than not playing at all (which is what many board gamers have to do) for lack of an opponent. One thing about board wargames is that they are tough. They are tough in that there are rules to learn and tough in the sense that you have a live opponent who is going to exploit your mistakes. They require you to really use your brain, to analyze your position, to predict you opponent's moves in advance, to plan your own strategy. All things that many people consider "work". With a board game there is no "Save" command, so that you can play over and over again different strategies until you find the one that works.

But for those of us who play board games, the real fun is the social side of the game, that dynamic competition that a computer game can never attain. In a face to face game, you deal with the unpredictability of humans, with body language, with diplomacy. This, to me, is the part of the game that I like the most. While a computer game will react according to its algorithm, a human opponent may do something that appears completely flaky and forces you to adapt. There are infinite possibilities strategically because you are playing against real people who adapt to your plans. So get those Axis and Allies boards out and party on!