Boardgames To Go

Mark Johnson's occasional and opinionated podcast, Boardgames To Go, now has its own blog on Boardgamegeek.
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Solo wargaming

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
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The podcast that will come out next is one with Davebo and I discussing the seasonal topic of playing games outdoors. I'll edit it down a little bit and post on Tuesday. (Sometimes it actually goes on iTunes sooner, but the start of the week is when I announce it.)

After that, I think it will be a solo show talking about wargames...which I've coincidentally(?) been playing solo. This isn't unusual when it comes to wargames. Statistics taken many years ago revealed that the majority of wargames were being played solo. That is, a 2-player game where one player took turns playing both sides. While that's nearly meaningless in a euro that's all about balance, competition, and mechanics, it's entirely reasonable for wargames where an objective is to learn what this little model made of cardboard counters and a hexmap can tell you about a historic battle. Often, they can tell you a fair bit, and who wins is a lot less important that seeing how they win.

Board Game: Waterloo 20
From gallery of MarkEJohnson
I've always liked light and/or short historical wargames, but I haven't played any in a long while. In April my son & I went on a spring break trip to some military history sites in Europe, and I did a lot of research beforehand. Besides books, films, and websites, some of that research took the form of historic wargames on battlefields we would visit. Although I already own two good boxed wargames on Napoleon's Battle of Waterloo (and some magazine wargames, too), I purchased Waterloo 20 from Victory Point Games. VPG's offerings strongly remind me of the classic microgames that got me into this hobby in the late 1970s. Now, though, the same low price (adjusted for inflation) covers color, mounted counters and a sturdier (still paper) map.

The components aren't what these games are about, however. Nor do they matter if the game underneath isn't compelling. Fortunately, Waterloo 20 is compelling. A few weeks after returning from our trip--where I got to walk the perimeter of the Hougoumont farmouse!--I played a solo game. I thoroughly enjoyed it! The rules are simple, but with a little chrome for cavalry pursuits and whatnot. The unit density and amount of movement are just about perfect for me (low and moderate, respectively). The real fun, however, came from the event cards that are turned on each player's turn. For someone that had recently studied the battle, these injected quite a lot of historical flavor and consequence at negligible additional complexity. A real design success, in my book.

Board Game: The Drive on Metz (Second Edition)
Board Game: The Drive on Metz

Unfortunately, my other two experiences were mixed (plus one more I'm still contemplating). The one wargame I played before the trip was The Drive on Metz. I played the second edition, a nice graphic update by Victory Point Games (again) of an introductory wargame presented by legendary designer Jim Dunnigan in one of his books about wargaming. This had a lot of emotional significance for me. When I was about the age my kids are now, I went to the local public library and was thrilled to find a couple books about the hobby of wargaming I'd just discovered. One of these was Dunnigan's book, and I remember looking at the black & white WW2 wargame printed in the pages of the book. I never played it, but read the rules and especially the instructional replay Dunnigan included that helped teach the game as well as some lessons about military history and strategy.

From gallery of MarkEJohnson
Now fast-forward thirty years, and I'm finally playing a nicer version of the game, about the visit the cities shown on the map with my son. How cool is that?! Incredibly. The game, however, was underwelming. I don't think there's anything actually wrong with it, just that it's primary purpose is a teaching aid, rather than a tense competition that could go either way. I'm still glad I bought it, spent the time clipping counters, and tried a solo play. Almost against my better judgment (I should hold out for a better game), I think I'm still going to get my son to play it with me.

I'll write about my other wargame experiences in a future post.

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