As of this semester I have withdrawn from my PhD program, and so am shutting-down this blog, which I never used as much as I thought I would.
I had some pretty remarkably terrible experiences at the university, to the extent that people tend not to believe me when I relate the things that happened, and I decided I would rather not have a PhD at all than have one from there.
So I'm moving forward, focusing on my freelance book indexing business (www.jasonbegy.com) and still playing tons of train games. I hope you've enjoyed the few posts I've written over the past few years, and I'm hoping to make Chattanooga in 2019. Maybe I'll see you there!
A research blog for my Ph.D. dissertation on train gaming. Posts will be brainstorms, article and chapter drafts, and whatever relevant ideas are floating around in my head.
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What follows is a few pages I wrote-up on train games and genre, for my dissertation proposal. I eventually dropped this categorization for being unnecessary, but I still think it is interesting.
This short text was never published anywhere. I am posting it because I think the BGG community in general would benefit from thinking about genre in this way.
I have not included a bibliography for the sake of brevity. If enough people request it I will update the post to include it.
In this project I will be distinguishing between two categories of games: “train games” generally and “Train Games” as a specific generic subcategory of the former. Although both are of interest to answering my research questions, they do different cultural work and so it is necessary to be able to distinguish between them.
The first category, “train games,” generally corresponds to the “trains” category on BoardGameGeek as cited above. The description of this category reads simply: “Train games often involve gameplay and imagery related to railroads and rail vehicles. Many of the most popular Train games are set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (although some games, like Lunar Rails, are set in the future).” The key defining concepts here are “gameplay” and “imagery,” which are general enough to be widely applicable. Thus in this category one can find everything from complex historical simulations such as 1830: Railways and Robber Barons to simple card games that are loosely framed as being about the railroads, such as Take the Train (Uncredited 2007), to everything in-between.
For the purposes of this project “train game” is any game that has a railroading fiction. However, among the board gaming community “train game” tends to refer to a specific subset of these games that could be considered a genre in the sense put forth by Jason Mittell. I will be referring to this category as “Train Games” to signify their greater (at present) status in the hobbyist board gamer culture. It should be noted here that most board gamers do not make this distinction, but to treat all train games as equal is to overlook the efforts of groups such as the Train Gamer’s Association and the writers behind Rail Gamer Magazine who have directly shaped what “train game” means to the average board gamer. Thus the common term “train game” excludes many more games than it includes. The distinction I make here enables the following genre analysis and distinctions.
Media scholar Jason Mittell argues that what causes a text to be included in a given genre is not a property of the text itself, but rather the result of various cultural processes. With regards to television he writes: “television genre is best understood as a process of categorization that is not found within media texts, but operates across the cultural realms of media industries, audiences, policy, critics, and historical contexts” (2004, xii). What causes a show to be referred to as “science fiction,” for example, depends less on any given properties of that show than on how producers and audiences decide to categorize it, decisions which themselves are historically situated. Although Mittell argues for medium-specific genre theory (2), his theories demonstrate the current meaning of “train game” in the community; other game genres may not be described by Mittell’s approach as well as train games, but that question is beyond the scope of the present work.
“Train game,” as the term is generally used, refers to a variety of games that may, in actuality, have little in common beyond their fictional (Juul 2005) representations. For example, Locomotive Werks (Danziger 2002) and Transamerica (Delonge 2002) would both be called train games (both belong to the “trains” family on BGG), but their rules are very different and were it not for their common fiction it is unlikely they would ever be associated. Cultural practice, however, does link these games (and many others) together, which for Mittell is paramount to understanding genre:
"The members of any given category do not create, define, or constitute the category itself. Categories link a number of discreet elements together under a label for cultural convenience. While the members constituting a category might all possess some inherent trait binding them into the category…there is nothing intrinsic about the category itself" (2004, 7).
In train games it is the fiction that leads to their grouping together generically, but this is about as loose of a common element as possible because there are countless aspects of trains/railroading that games could potentially represent, leading to their inclusion in the genre. There are also certain games that will be labeled a ‘train game’ by players but do not have a railroading fiction, such as Power Grid (Friese 2004). For Mittell, “Genres only exist through the creation, circulation, and consumption of texts within cultural contexts” (11), which means that that they are inherently intertextual. This intertextuality extends beyond the medium in question to all media where the cultural practices of sorting and categorizing play out; Mittell argues that genres are best understood as “discursive practices” (12). In the case of train games and Train Games there are many arenas where this discourse plays out (such as online message boards, conventions, mailing lists, and game clubs) but there are three sites that have been particularly influential.
In the case of train games, the major discursive site is BoardGameGeek. Since the majority of game data is crowd sourced, how games are categorized (for example, as train games) is a concrete example of genre as discursive practice. Users who add games to the database must select a category for the game, and so nearly any game that has a fiction connected to railroading will be added to the “trains” category. The categories that a game already in the database belongs to can be changed as well; such changes are made by moderators, often at the behest of users. Furthermore, that BGG even has a “trains” category, which then prompts users to place games into it, is a discursive practice.
As for Train Games, one discursive site is the Train Gamer’s Association, a group of train game aficionados loosely affiliated with Illinois-based game publisher Mayfair Games. The TGA’s mission is to “facilitate and promote the play of train games” (Train Gamer’s Association 2015), and they primarily do so by organizing Puffing Billy tournaments at the largest American board gaming conventions, including Origins, Gencon, and the train game-specific Railcon. The Puffing Billy tournaments are a concrete example of how discourse defines genre: the TGA has defined nine categories of train games, and during a tournament players will play many different games from many different categories. Their overall tournament score is derived from their best performance in each of the nine categories. The categories themselves are curious in their diversity: categories 1, 2, and 3 all contain a single game and its derivatives (Ticket to Ride (Moon 2004) and variants; Empire Builder (Bromley and Fawcett 1982) and variants; 1830 (Tresham 1986) and variants), thus marking those games as exceptionally interesting and important: one must be good at each of these three specific game series in order to do well in the tournament. The other categories are much more diverse: category 6, for example, includes both Brass (Wallace 2007) and Mexican Train Dominoes, which are extremely different games. These categories implicitly mark some games as more important to the Train Game genre in that a successful player must be good at Ticket to Ride but not necessarily Brass. What is also clear from the Puffing Billy categories is that the TGA is expressly interested in promoting a small subset of train games (not many of which, it should be noted, are published by Mayfair Games), which is hardly surprising given the vast number of train games, but this does illustrate Mittell’s principle of genre as social construction.
The second discursive site that has shaped the Train Game genre was Rail Gamer Magazine, a semi-professional fanzine that saw 17 issues from 1997 through 2002. Rail Gamer Magazine maintained a list of “train games” that was certainly incomplete (by a few hundred titles) but doubtlessly focused on games considered to be of interest to its subscriber base. It is clear that the editor, David Metheny, was aware of the TGA and ran in the same circles: his “Yardmaster’s Report” in the second issue includes an open letter to the then-head of the TGA expressing his apologies regarding a recent tournament scheduling mix-up (1997, 2). This lack of formal connection seems a likely reason for the magazine’s name being “Rail Gamer,” as opposed to the known phrase “Train Gamer.” Although the magazine was short-lived, its nature was such that a game’s inclusion or coverage was a form of validation in that said game was now implicitly a Train Game. Rail Gamer Magazine frequently included small expansions or add-ons for popular games, and its final issue included an entire game, thus further shaping the current conception of Train Games.
The final discursive site is Winsome Games, a small publisher that only prints train games because as the owner, John Bohrer puts it, “Look, I like trains. Most men like trains; I know some women who like trains. Don't you like trains? Of course, you do” (Vasel 2005). Although Winsome only publishes a handful of each of its titles, the more popular games are often licensed by bigger publishers and then receive much larger print runs. Examples of this include Locomotive Werks (Danziger 2002), TransAmerica (Delonge 2002), and Baltimore & Ohio (Robbins 2010). Winsome’s efforts help to keep the genre active by ensuring a steady supply of new train games to the hobbyist market.
The distinction between Train Game and train game is significant for several reasons. The former is the outcome of the concerted efforts of enthusiasts, which has lead to a canon of games that defines the genre. That canon is of course subject to change as new games are released and slide automatically into the TGA’s three “all variants” categories, but there is clearly an interest in what is and is not a Train Game. The latter, “train games,” however, represents the ongoing interest in the railroad as a fictional setting, or reference point, for all manner of games. In this way the broader category connects more directly to my research questions.
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18 Jan 2016
Greetings all! My apologies for the extended radio silence here. Rest assured I have been plugging away on this project, and I'm happy to share with you all the first publication stemming from this project. My article Board Games and the Construction of Cultural Memory was (semi-)recently published in the online journal Games & Culture.
This article argues that we should study games about the past from a "cultural memory" perspective, instead of from a normal historical perspective, because cultural memory more accurately describes how these games - which necessarily introduce counterfactuals via interactivity - shape our shared understanding of the past. It then shows how board games should be considered a type of "material culture," meaning that the ideas and values of the culture that created them are embedded in them. Lastly, it shows how Wolfgang Schivelbusch's ideas about the railroad's cultural impact are preserved - and thus kept alive in cultural memory - in three games: 1830: Railways and Robber Barons, Age of Steam, and Empire Builder.
If you don't have access to SAGE academic journals, you can also download a .pdf from my website.
Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!
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20 Mar 2014
For the past few months I've been participating in a forum for doctoral students in the Joint Ph.D. in Communication Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. The word "joint" refers to the fact that this Ph.D. program is a combined effort between Concordia, L'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), and Université de Montréal (UdeM).
Part of this forum is periodically writing short (5 - 7 page) papers about how your work is progressing. Today I'm posting the second of these papers that I wrote (the first was primarily a condensation of the initial proposal, which I posted on this blog soon after I started it). This work will gradually be folded into a formal dissertation proposal over the next few weeks. As it stands it is quite obviously incomplete. The main stuff of interest here is regarding material culture and cultural memory.
(Apologies for the following wall of text - I've been meaning to post this for a long time and had some spare time today, but I don't have the time right now to dig out and deal with images. Besides, works can create pictures in your mind.)
This project seeks to understand the particular affinity between board games and the railroads. Board games are a particularly popular medium for representations of trains: at the time of this writing BoardGameGeek lists 814 games in the “trains” category, up from 660 at the end of 2011. This is particularly curious in light of the fact that there is no corresponding category for corresponding technologies: cars, boats, planes, rockets, none have nearly the degree of presence in board games, despite the fact that all of these are quite available (alongside trains) in miniature and as toys. How can this state of affairs be explained? What does it say about games as representational media, and the evolution of North American values and ideologies associated with the railroad?
For the purposes of this project, I mean “train games” to refer to any game that represents some aspect of the railroad, either through its rules or fiction. These terms I mean in the sense given to them by Juul: the rules of a game are how it works and what a player can do, while the fiction includes elements such as characters, settings, and narrative (2005). Rules function as representations via simulation, which Frasca defines as “to model a (source) system through a different system which maintains (for somebody) some of the behaviors of the original system” (2003, p. 233). The fiction of a game is representational in a semiotic sense and is conveyed through text, art, and the form of the pieces used in the game.
This study will consist of three parts. The first will be primary research in archives and museums, complemented by interviews with train game designers and developers. The second part will be a material culture analysis of the games themselves, with a focus on understanding how they relate to, and construct, the past. The final part will be a player study that aims to discover how players relate to these games and what they mean to them. This last part will be informed by my own conclusions from the second part.
Part 1: Archival Work
In this part I will seek to write a history of train games. Train-themed games have existed since at least 1830, shortly after the onset of commercial railroading—Wolmar cites 1830 as the year the Liverpool and Manchester line opened, notable for being powered “entirely by steam” and as the first line constructed to carry both passengers and freight (2009, 1). Despite this long heritage nothing has been written about train games specifically, and most board game histories only treat pre-industrial folk games (Bell 2008, Murray 1952, Parlett 1999), the exceptions being Peterson’s work on Dungeons & Dragons (2012) and Woods’ work on “eurogames” (2012).
I have already conducted significant archival work thanks to a fellowship at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, and this coming April I am scheduled to visit the personal archives of Darwin Bromley, a noted train game designer and founding member of the Train Gamer’s Association. My goal with the archival research has been to catalog and photograph as much information as possible, paying particular attention to how trains are represented in the game’s fiction. In this regard it is not only the components that are valuable sources of information, but the box and any other available paratexts (Genette 1980) such as magazine reviews or publisher catalogs. I also have been recording the rules of the game so I can go back to it and understand how it was meant to be played. This is particularly important for reasons discussed in the next section.
This work will be complemented by designer interviews. My goal with the interviews is to understand the designer’s interviews and where they see their work fitting in to the genre, thus adding an oral history element to the overall history. This work will also generate the material for the next part of the project.
Part 2: Material Culture and Making the Past
In addition to writing a history of train games I will analyze the games themselves with the aim of understanding how they reflect ideologies surrounding the railroad, and how they relate to and construct the past. To do so I will offer a refinement of Prown’s material culture method to make it more suitable for games.
My method for this analysis will be based on material culture which Prown defines as “the study through artifacts of the beliefs—values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions—of a particular community or a society at a given time,” and is based on “the proposition that artifacts are primary data” and therefore “can be used actively as evidence rather than passively as illustrations” (1982, 1). From this perspective train games can be seen as evidence for cultural attitudes towards, and ideologies surrounding, the railroad at the time of their design, and the archival work will enable me to chart changes in these over time. To date there is little work applying material culture to board games, although some scholars have applied the method to children’s toys. Norcia’s work connecting early British jigsaw puzzles to imperialism is a noteworthy example (2009). For Prown objects which were not made with the intention of expressing a viewpoint or idea (as opposed to artistic works) are particularly valuable for study: “in some ways artifacts that express culture unconsciously are more useful as objective cultural indexes” (1982, 2). From this perspective games are ideal subject matter. Material culture thus finds its theoretical grounding in structuralism and semiotics. It is structuralist in “its premise that the configurations or properties of an artifact correspond to patterns in the mind of the individual producer or producers and of the society of which he or they were a part” (6). Material culture treats its objects of study as signs that signify something about their original construction and use, and further, analyzes said objects as semiotically encoded themselves.
Because the range of potential objects that material culture could be applied to, Prown describes six classes of objects which range from the entirely aesthetic to the entirely utilitarian. Starting with the aesthetic, these are Art, followed by Diversions (which includes toys and games), and then Adornment, Landscape Modifications, Applied Arts, and lastly Devices (machines, vehicles, instruments) are the most utilitarian (3). Prown argues that each of these categories requires specific techniques and methodologies for analysis, and offers some insights into how to approach each category, with the exception of Diversions. About this category he merely writes: “These objects share the quality of giving pleasure, or entertainment to the mind and body, and the category has an affinity with, although separate from, art. This is a category in the process of definition and further discussion of it must be deferred” (13). With regards to games, the “process of definition” has been moved forward by game studies since the time of Prown’s writing, and so I propose to synthesize key theories from game studies with the methods of material culture to develop a method for studying board games as cultural artifacts.
It is a commonly held perspective in game studies that in order to properly analyze or critique a game the researcher or critic must play the game (Aarseth 2003, Leino 2012). As with theater, games have a performative element (Fernandez-Vara 2009) and merely reading the script does not give one sufficient understanding of how it works or how it is meant to be experienced. In order to be fruitfully applied to games, then, a material culture analysis needs to include how the game is played: what are the rules? What are players expected to do? Is the game trying to simulate something, and if so, how? As researchers such as Bogost (2006, 2007) and Frasca (2003) have shown, rules and processes can be expressive representations in the same way the art on the box or the board is. In the case of train games, these questions are salient because they point to what the key elements of the railroad were understood to be at the time of the game’s creation. For example, my archival research so far has shown that early railroad games, such as The Amusing Game of Innocence Abroad (Parker, 1888) and Across the Continent (1890) emphasize speed and travel, which as Schivelbusch has explored in detail were considered the most revolutionary aspects of the railroad early in its history (1986). This emphasis manifests in the rules of these games by requiring players to move their playing piece the greatest number of spaces in the least amount of time. These games deal with the railroad as a contemporary phenomenon: players could travel on the railroad in real life just as they do in the game. Train games set in the present continue until around 1980, after which point the games that have been the most influential in the genre, namely Empire Builder (Bromley 1980) and 1830: Railways and Robber Barons (Tresham 1986) (both set in the United States and Southern Canada) become set in the early-mid 1800s. These games emphasize aspects of the railroad that we tend to emphasize now: building track across the continent, unifying the country, transporting goods to market, and making key players fabulously wealthy. This trend has continued, as current train games are nearly always set in the same historical period of building and expansion. To examine these games as material culture, then, it is essential to consider this now ubiquitous element of engagement with the past.
What does it mean for a game to engage with the past? There are several theoretical frameworks for thinking about the role of media in representing and creating the past. Chapman has studied games specifically as a type of historiography that can represent the past in two different modes. “Realist simulations” attempt to depict the past accurately using a “realistic” style (whatever that means for a given culture and time period) and as a result tend to focus on the local (2013, 49). “Conceptual simulations,” on the other hand, operate at a higher level of abstraction and are focused on larger narratives of events on a bigger scale (56). However, these categories are not meant to describe board games and thus do not transfer over well: Chapman built this model on the kinds of historical videogames that have been produced so far, and the games Chapman uses as illustrations are heavily informed by market forces and genre conventions. Some train games fall into these categories relatively neatly, but many do not. The enormously successful Ticket to Ride (Moon, 2004), for example, does not simulate history in either of these modes (or at all). However it does situate itself historically through the art evocative of 19th century America on the box, rules, cards and board. Further, Chapman argues that “Creating a complex set of rules in a historical game entails creating a web of theories about how the past works and this is inevitably at least partially drawn from the overarching theoretical logics we apply to history every day, after all such logics are only rules for the past” (72). But as Ticket to Ride shows a game can have a historical setting via its rules but not its fiction.
Given that Chapman's framework was built around different kinds of artifacts than what I am studying here, I instead turn to Erll’s work on media as preserving (and creating) “cultural memory,” which she defines as “the interplay of present and past in socio-cultural contexts” (2008, 2). Building on the work of Jan Assmann, Erll notes that cultural memory “does therefore not describe all manifestations of ‘memory in culture’; rather it represents a subset of this: the societal construction of normative and formative versions of the past” (2011, 30). This construction depends on media: “Cultural memory is constituted by a host of different media, operating within various symbolic systems: religious texts, historical painting, historiography, TV documentaries, monuments, and commemorative rituals, for example. Each of these media has its specific way of remembering and will leave its trace on the memory it creates” (2008, 389), and further, “Whenever the past is remembered, the choice of media and forms has an effect on the kind of memory that is created” (2008, 390). This is not to set history and memory opposed to each other: “historiography is one medium of cultural memory alongside other media” (2011, 45) but rather to expand the possibilities for thinking about how the past is constructed in a cultural context. While many train games simulate history, many others do not but still contribute to cultural memory of the railroad. The question this raises, then, is what is the effect of train games and their associated materiality on cultural memory, as opposed to other media representations or simulations of the railroads, and how does this difference account for their continued popularity?
One possible answer lies with nostalgia. Lowenthal writes that what is actually pleasing about nostalgia is “not so much the past itself as its supposed aspirations, less the memory of what actually was than of what was once thought possible” (cited in Erll 2011, 52). The notion of past potential resonates with many train games, particularly those that focus on track building and economic growth. At this point pore research into nostalgia studies is required, however.
Lastly, one topic not discussed by Erll is how a media artifact’s relationship to the past changes over time. Appadurai has described how objects move from one state to another, and how the passage of time transforms them into historical objects (2006). Sontag has described a similar phenomenon with respect to photographs (1977). What role does a game from 150 years ago about the then-present play in constructing cultural memory, and how does that contribution differ from that of a game from 40 years ago about 175 years ago? Unpacking different modes and ways games engage with the past will be essential to this project.
3. Player Study
Lastly this project will include an online, qualitative player survey. The goal of this last part will be to learn more about how train gamers think about the objects they play with. Are they interested in the railroads outside of games? And more importantly, in what ways does a game’s engagement with the past matter to them? Train games may appear to contribute to collective memory in a variety of ways, but investigating how players think about this and to what extent it matters to them will shed additional insight on this process.
Aarseth, Espen. Playing Research: Methodological Approaches to Game Analysis. Game Approaches / Spil-veje. Papers from spilforskning.dk Conference, august 28.-29. 2003.
Appadurai, Arjun. The Thing Itself. Public Culture 18.1: 15-21. 2006.
Bell, R.C. Discovering Old Board Games. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2008.
Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.
Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006.
Bromley, Darwin. Empire Builder. Mayfair Games, 1980.
Chapman, Adam. The Great Game of History: An Analytical Approach to and Analysis of the Videogame as a Historical Form. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Hull. 2013.
Erll, Astrid. Memory in Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Erll, Astrid. “Cultural Memory Studies: An Introduction” and “Literature, Film and the Mediality of Cultural Memory.” In Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook. Erll, Astrid and Nünning, Ansgar eds. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.
Fernandez-Vara, Clara. Play’s the Thing: A Framework to Study Videogames as Performance. Proceedings of DiGRA 2009: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory. 2009.
Frasca, Gonzalo. “Simulation versus Narrative: An Introduction to Ludology.” The Video Game Theory Reader. Wolf, Mark J. P. and Perron, Bernard eds. New York: Routledge, 2003. 221-235.
Genette, Gerard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Juul, Jesper. Half-Real. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005
Leino, Olli. Death Loop as Feature. Game Studies, vol. 12 issue 2. December 2012.
Moon, Alan. Ticket to Ride. Days of Wonder, 2004.
Murray, H. J. R. A History of Board-Games Other than Chess. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952.
Norcia, Megan A. Puzzling Empire: Early Puzzles and Dissected Maps as Imperial Heuristics. Children's Literature, Volume 37, 2009, pp. 1-32.
Parker, George S. and Mrs. Shephard. The Amusing Game of Innocence Abroad. Parker Brothers, 1888.
Parker Brothers. Across the Continent. 1890. (Designer uncredited.)
Parlett, David. The Oxford History of Board Games. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Peterson, Jon. Playing at the World. San Diego: Unreason Press, 2012.
Prown, Jules David. Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method. Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), pp. 1-19.
Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. The Railway Journey. 2nd English edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1986.
Sontag, Susan. On Photography. Macmillan, 1977.
Tresham, Francis. 1830: Railways and Robber Barons. Mayfair Games, 2011.
Wolmar, Christian. Blood, Iron and Gold. New York: Public Affairs, 2010.
Woods, Stewart. Eurogames. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012.
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12 Mar 2013
I was recently fortunate to have been awarded a research fellowship at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. This meant I was able to spend a week in February at the museum, studying and documenting a plethora of train games (board games, cards games and video games), and other cool materials like old issues of Computer Gaming World. The museum has an enormous collection of board games dating back to the 19th century, as well as a plethora of more contemporary board games, particularly from Avalon Hill. They also collect and preserve video games through the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), which includes thousands of game console and computer games, and a few hundred arcade cabinets to boot. Simply put, I love this place, and I was very excited to be able to study there, even if for just a week.
The purpose of this trip was collecting materials and increasing my familiarity with the genre. I spent the first two days searching through the museum's database and archives with the board game curator, reading rule books, and taking literally hundreds of photographs. One of the highlights was the museum's copy of Innocence Abroad, from 1888. I've already uploaded many pictures of the game, which was in remarkably good shape, to the game's gallery on BGG.
I also got to look through and photograph copies of the considerably less rare, but very interesting, Dispatcher and C&O / B&O. I'll be writing more about these two games and their rhetorics of simulation in the near future.
Another interesting find was in the rule book of the museum's copy of Express. Historians and archivists love marginalia, and I have to admit I was pretty thrilled to find this. If it's not immediately obvious I'm sure you can puzzle it out:
After that I spent two days with the wonderful people at ICHEG, playing a variety of train video games. Of particular note was Densha de Go! 2, a Japanese PlayStation 1 game about driving a train. It was much more game-like than contemporary PC sims like Trainz or Train Simulator in that you were constantly having to adjust your speed and blow the whistle. You would start each mission with a set amount of points, and every time you failed to do what you were supposed to points were deducted. You also had to get to the next stop under a certain time, and were penalized points for every second you went over. Lose too many points and you fail the mission. The game was brutally hard, but featured a rather nifty controller:
The last day was back to board games, and spent looking through a few war games that featured railroads for troop movement and supply. In the final hour, however, my host pointed me to the museum's collection of an old Swiss fanzine called Europa. The first issue we opened featured several short reviews of 1829, collated from other publications. One of these was Steve Jackson's review from Games & Puzzles Magazine:
(Sorry for the shadows on this one, I understandably could not use my flash when taking photographs, and the lighting the library was not always ideal.)
Overall it was a fascinating and wonderful experience, and I am still sorting through all of the data. Much of this work will be going into a paper on the history of train games that I will be presenting at the First International History of Games Conference, happening this coming June here in Montreal.
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It has been a busy past couple of months. In August my wife and I moved from Boston to Montreal, and now my first semester at Concordia is hurtling towards a close. The first year is largely about coursework so my train games research has been inching along a bit more slowly than I would like.
However, I did recently acquire a copy of The General, issue 23 #6 which has Bruce Shelly's development notes for 1830, and it was incredibly useful. At this point I am looking for similar sources: designer notes, development and playtest notes, or any other kinds of reflections on the design process of train games. If anyone out there happens to know of any offhand, please post in the comments so I can check them out. In the mean time I will be digging through BGG looking for such materials.
Look here for more updates soon!
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This is a modified form of the research proposal I submitted to Concordia University with my application. I've cut out some of the stuff that is unimportant to readers here, to focus on the stuff that will be of the most interest. Do note that this was originally written for a lay, non-train-gamer audience.
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20 Jul 2012
This blog is going to be a research blog for my Ph.D. dissertation, which will be a study of train games and their players. This particular post gives some context into who I am and why I am doing what I am doing, so that in later posts I won't feel it necessary to explain these things again.
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