Archive for Joe Heaney
Part III: The Journey Continues . . .
Minnesota, or at least the Twin Cities area, seems to be a hotbed of gamers. In the metro alone we have a small empire of FLGS's. Most notably, to me anyway, are The Source, I practically grew up in their Magic: the Gathering singles drawers, and the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center. The latter is a two floor mini gaming convention center with a dedicated community of gamers. On top of that, it's stocked to the brim with FFG stock as well as the best of other publishers. I've gamed there a couple times but what I really take pleasure in is their giant sales that take place twice a year. We're talking 75% off everything that isn't FFG.
Like many of you, I imagine, I keep a pretty good running stock in my mind of what my local stores have on their shelves. It's an obsessive and odd behavior that you'd think would lead to more impulse buys than it does. But it's exceptionally useful for cases like these. It was posted in our MN BGG commons (The linked thread above) that the Event center was having its annual spring sale. Boom. I was on top of it. From recent trips I knew that there was a large selection of Great Battles of History titles there, namely Samurai, the introduction to war gaming I had been mulling over for some time but had never bitten on the game do to its price point. Now it was $16. Resistance was futile. I ended up walking out of there with Samurai, RAN, and Caesar: Conquest of Gaul. Fearing I wouldn't dig the system or would find things too overwhelming I left Chandragupta, Devil Horsemen, Chariots of Fire and War Galley on the shelf. Still don't know whether or not that was the way to go. I've come to regret not picking up War Galley as it seems one of the more difficult entries to come by but such is life. I was young and naive.
Walking out with an additional small pile of euros I was terribly excited. I was finally going to crossover to the other side of the hobby proper. I was particularly excited about Conquest of Gaul. A major catalyst of my desire to jump into hexed combat was the podcast The History of Rome, an amazing and thorough work of historical compilation all wrapped up in approachable 15 minute increments. If you haven't given it a listen and you're a casual fan of ancient history, download the first five and prepare to be amazed. This guy is good.
Another item I picked up from the sale was a clearance priced copy of the Simple GBoH Battle Manual thinking I had found just what I had needed. Another great example of groggling naiveté.
Counter sheets are just the greatest thing ever, aren't they. So much in possibility in those numbered little squares. And I had picked up over dozen in one day. I gleefully unpacked the counters, the baggies, the d10's, the hefty rulebooks, scenario books and the beautiful full color maps. Not only that, but I unpacked the poster frame I had picked up from target to hold down my maps. Plexiglass would be preferable, but this poster frame snugly fits GMT maps and was only $10. I quite like it.
I broke open the Simple GBoH Battle Manual to take a look at all the scenarios I could eventually play. I didn't recognize any of them. That was weird. They seemed to be talking about stuff from c3i. Shit. Bought the wrong thing. I had really wanted to start playing with SGBoH that afternoon. I went to the forums of BGG and posted my question.
But here's the deal about posting questions to wargamers. It's a bit intimidating. It's the only subdomain forum that's active 24 hours a day and while a third of it might be Case Blue jokes here and there it seems pretty exclusive, at least to me. It always seemed like such a tight knit corner of the community with everyone involved having an encyclopedic knowledge of every war game of the past 50+ years and that knowledge seemed like a requirement. I imagined each vicious wargamer aged carefully in a man cave with 8 inch finger nails to help lift counter stacks.
Grognard: Artist's rendering
Looking back, that sentiment was very silly. Much to my surprise, one of the most active AAReporting grognards, hipshot and bgg admin and master of reviews, Roger, answered my cry for help. Both directed me in the right direction but it was hipshot who took up correspondance to give more than enough info to set me well on my way to taking on my first few scenarios. Thanks also to Wulf Corbett and Robert Grainger. Wargamers are a helpful folk. They take their hobby seriously but if you're willing to take it on they're more than happy to have you. In fact, in the last couple weeks there was a discussion the war gaming forums discussing what can be done to mitigate the declining interest in the wargaming hobby. It was borderline outreach work.
In the end, these old soldiers are certainly nothing to fear and in fact are far more generous then you might think. But more than that, I have to tip my hat to BoardGameGeek in general. Without the forum here, none of the events of this post would have taken place. Well, they might've. But not nearly as easily or as painlessly.
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Part II: The Journey Continues . . .
I'm an actor/comedian/playwright by trade. I graduated in 2011 and hit the midwest audition scene hard. Soon I found myself in the company of a children's theater group that sent two-actor troupes around the country performing comedy shows about renewable resources and such. At the end of the year I was shipped out to the south eastern corner of the US for two months. I toured at over 200 elementary and middle schools and performed for thousands of kids. A fun little gig that paid well.
It was made all the more fun that I was on tour with my roommate from college who probably played 90 of the over 100 games of Last Night on Earth I mentioned in my last post. I was touring all over the south with nothing but a suitcase full of the basic necessities . . . meaning about a dozen games packed into one medium sized plastic box.
Well, what games do you bring on such a tour? Portabilty. That's the key. Card games that played like board games were key. Caylus Magna Carta, Jambo, and Odin's Ravens were automatic selections. Carcassonne and Aton came along as well.
Who says this isn't thematic? Animals are always taking mine and my friends stuff and making us draft it back.
But those were all euro games. Don't get me wrong, I love each of them dearly. Except Aton. Which I sold. Happily. What I was missing was a fantastic two player thematic game. I had sold Last Night on Earth and there would have been no way to bring it anyway because it's totally not portable at all and I'm sick to death of it. So what else?
I perused the aisles of the Source (my FLGS) with my friend Dan, the actor who would tour with me, looking for something that could fill the gap. At the Source there is a begrudgingly centered Steve Jackson Games shelf with piles and piles of Munchkin junk and his single releases below. I was staring at the hideous display of games I hate describing to Dan how much I loathe Frag when he pointed out an odd little game called The Awful Green Things From Outer Space. I scoffed. Jackson published it. I must hate it.
It'd be nice if he at least tried.
Gamers can be so snooty. I have found that elitism only leads to ignorance. Try anything . . . once.
At Dan's encouragement I took a closer look despite my preconceptions. "Huh," I thought, "this game isn't by Steve Jackson at all . . . It's a Tom Wham game." I read the description and thought that sounds kinda fun. Running a desperate crew into hand to hand combat aboard a cartoony interstellar spaceship against an awful foe. Neat. But it's Steve Jackson. It's gotta be stupid. Ah well, Dan loved the idea of playing it and if he wanted to try it that meant more gaming on our road trip. I picked it up.
Whatever, I guess I can play a game about green meatball eye people vs the banana and weird bird.
We were gone for 12 weeks. The Awful Green things didn't even hit the table until about week 6 when we were sick of card games. I read the rules and I had to admit I was intrigued. Could actually be fun, a bit random but fun. Doubting the presence of any real strategy, I setup the first game. But looking at the little numbers on the three out of four corners of the little chits I thought to myself, "Haha this kinda looks like the wimpiest of wargames."
The game went off. I played the awful green things, Dan the luckless crew. And luckless they were. If you know the game, you know that fragmenting aliens is bad. Well, that happened . . . like a lot. He complained that the game was too random, that he lost due to poor weapon result draws. That might have been the case, but after he left the counter of our Residence Inn I examined the board. I thought about how if I played the crew I would have done this or that and I could have seen how there was a chance. There were tactics. This game had something to it. It was light, and you shouldn't take it too seriously but there was some thought to be had in a play of it. In fact, I consider it my first tactical war game. That might be generous but that's how I look at it.
After the initial play Dan oddly turned off by it, but I, the nay-sayer, was very intrigued by it. Two weeks went by. Dan unwilling to play and me itching to get it to the table. Then one evening while Dan was playing one of his computer games where you fire guns at stuff that moves I decided to take matters into my own hands. "The green things play pretty simply, I could play both sides pretty well . . . "
That night I solo'd a game for the first time. Enjoyable, but honestly I couldn't help but feel a bit pathetic. Aren't games meant to be enjoyed by multiple, flesh and blood players seated around a table? The thought ignited and was extinguished a moment later when I glanced over at Dan who was still wrapped up in his video game. There's no real difference, I realized. It's just how we fill our time with the things we take pleasure in. And so the solo bug had bitten me and I was glad of it.
In the coming weeks, I solo'd it a few more times and had my fun. When I returned home I decided that I deserved to treat myself to a new game after not buying one for the entirety of the tour. Once again I found myself admiring the video series Calandale had completed on Space Empires: 4X. I was also waist deep in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at the time. If that show doesn't make you crave a space fleet combat simulation I don't know what will. Worked myself up about it completely. Totally ready to buy it. But watching Calandale's review once again something stuck out to me that hadn't before. The bookkeeping. That looked complicated. Looked like accounting. Surely my friends would think it had more in common with doing taxes than it did with playing a game of Ghost Stories, something we all agreed was a great game.
Just a beautiful box of awesome.
Off to the Source I went to find something to splurge on. I had a few games on my mind but was open browsing. I looked around and around but couldn't find any Euro worth adding to my collection. Nothing seemed different enough. Then I walked by the wargames shelf. There it was. In all it's shrinkwrapped, GMT armored boxed glory. A second edition printing of Space Empires: 4X with thicker counters. Something came over me. I bought it immediately. When I got home, I unpacked the glory as quickly as I could. The board was laid out, the pieces were punched, heck I even clipped the counters!
I solo'd a four player game immediately. It was fantastic. There was resource management like a euro, but there was theme like an ameritrash! The mechanics were so married to the theme! What an experience it was. As hard as it was to admit, the euro's were going to have to share their shelf space. This gamer found a new way to play.
Pictured above: Wargaming's gateway drug.
I accepted my quest. There would be war and lots of it. I would hit an impressive streak almost right off the cuff . . . but not without a little Supernatural Aid . . .
Thanks for reading
Photo credits: binraix, burbidge, W Eric Martin, Goodsound, haslo
Part I: Back to where it all started . . .
I think I seriously began my gaming habit five years ago. It was Last Night on Earth that brought me to the hobby I've come to love in the capacity that I do. I no longer own my copy but I probably played it over 100 times and am glad it's seeing some play in another happy gamer home. But what LNOE did was bring me here, to the vast and confusing forum displays of BGG.
Like anyone else I'm sure, it probably took me a year of browsing and exploring to really get a grip on the expansive features of Board Game Geek. In that year I also discovered what I really liked in my games. A good amount of strategy with a healthy dose of theme and interaction maintaining a certain level of simplicity so that it doesn't intimidate new players. My best example of this is "Caylus Magna Carta." A perfect post gateway game in my opinion.
Dry as bone, but that don't stop me from loving it.
I'm the type of person that doesn't do anything halfway. If I pick up a hobby, I must know everything about it. Yes, I'm that student that often corrected the film history teacher on editors, release dates, screen writers, foreign influences and a variety of other arguably trivial information. And so I went on an info binge learning everything I could about games. In doing so, I became fascinated with the various videographers who post those reviews that we all enjoy so much. First I took Tom's word as Gospel. Then, as I began to love euro type games, I hovered around Joel's Drive Thru Reviews. This has to be a relatively common progression that many of us would find familiar.
Then I came to Calandale's video's. And what a character he is. Wildly thoughtful reviews coming from clearly what must be at the very least the best case of someone knowing a little about a lot all wrapped up in a disheveled looking loner. I suspect that doesn't do him justice though and it might betray the respect I have for him. Anyway, I remember watching him move around those little square counters across paper maps and at first thinking,"How needlessly complex?! How dry?! Who even really plays these things?! I enjoy watching this Calandale guy but these games are not for me! Give me a mounted board with wooden bits, meeples, and Michael Menzel paintings!" I stood at the brink and looked in though, still. Something kept me coming back. Probably his quirky presentation and persona and probably that more than 3/4's of the game he reported on I had never even heard of before.
Gaming went on for a couple years and I found a few euros that really scratched the euro itch that had so plagued my cube gripping fingers. Belfort, Ghost Stories, Pandemic, Glen More. Great games and fantastic good times.
And the rabbit hole went deeper. I wanted something more complex but I knew my friends would never go for it. It would be too much. They would be too deterred from playing games in general and I didn't want that. So by the sidelines I would stay watching Calandalic session after session show up in that video box. Samurai, Infidel, American Megafauna and many others. Some wargames, some not.
WHAT ARE YOU???!!!
Eventually I realized there was a hole in my collection that must need be filled. I am a first class sci fi addict. I love my Star Wars with a side of Star Trek and an Asimovian chaser. There was nothing of the genre in my collection. So I picked up Eminent Domain. Didn't fix anything. I needed more theme. Eminent Domain is great but it just won't satiate a hardcore scifi player's needs.
Colorific tuck boxes help . . .
Around the same time Space Empires 4x was released. I was fascinated by the title. Calandale's video sessions of the game were my favorite yet. This one had to be on my shelf. That was the call . . . But as those beginning journey often do, I refused it . . .
In my next post, I'll discuss the course that lead me back to the path that had perhaps already been chosen for me by an unlikely goofy little classic that would serve as a gateway into tactical war gaming.
Thanks for reading