Solitary Soundings

Musings of a solitary gamer. "The advantage of conversation is such that, for want of company, a man had better talk to a post than let his thoughts lie smoking and smothering." (Jeremy Collier) Comments welcome.
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While the Duel Is Pending . . . God Games and Hero Games

p55carroll
United States
Minnesota
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"‘Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said—’ the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep. ‘After that,’ continued the Hatter, ‘I cut some more bread-and-butter—’"
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"‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I can’t remember,’ said the Hatter."
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No need to rush into the demolition derby of games I have too many of. What's on my mind today is tactics versus strategy.

I just got an e-mail about a newly published game, Space Infantry. (Well, it had been available before, I guess, but now Lock 'n Load Publishing, LLC. is publishing it.) It immediately piqued my interest, even though I've been telling myself for days, weeks, and months that I have plenty of games already--too many.

Why would this one grab me? Well, because it's about ultra-tactical combat missions. That up-close-and-personal story is just the kind I can get into. I guess it's because I'm a man myself, so it's easiest to relate to individual human characters in games. When the game "zooms out" to where I'm commanding entire armies and fleets, I find myself more in the role of a god or a politico-military leader and a huge staff with a vast support network. That can be cool too, but in a different way.

Sometimes when my mind wanders to this place, I declare that there are basically two kinds of games: God Games and Hero Games. God Games are those where you hover over the board as if you're a deity on Mount Olympus manipulating humanity below. Hero Games are those where you're in the role of Hercules undertaking one of his adventures. Chess is basically a God Game; poker is a Hero Game. The more open and deterministic a game is, the more of a God Game it is. The more hidden information or chance there is in a game, the more of a Hero Game it is.

Actually, I like both--or features of each. Generally speaking, my taste leans toward open information and chance. The former is a God Game feature, the latter a Hero Game feature. Which just goes to show that all combinations and all kinds of overlaps are possible.

Series: Lock 'n Load is such a game. The spotting rules simulate ducking and hiding, but everything in the game is known to the players. Yet it's a dicey game; the best-laid plans may go up in smoke if Lady Luck frowns on you.

On the strategic level, A House Divided: War Between the States 1861-65 is also such a game, and it's another of my favorites. Information is all open to both players, but there are a lot of dice rolls most every turn. Yet what's being simulated here is a big, long war, not just a tactical skirmish.

When it comes to abstracts, backgammon is usually my choice. That or something like it--a game of open information and chance. With hidden information, or without a randomizer, a game feels too much like work to me; it's not as much fun anymore.

But I've digressed (maybe several times by now). I started out by considering strategy versus tactics--meaning "panoramic" versus "telephoto" simulations. A strategy wargame covers a lot of time and space, while a tactical wargame zooms in on a small portion of time and space. (Wargames in between those scales are often called "operational.")

The joy of playing a tactical game--like the new Space Infantry--is that you get right into the nitty-gritty detail. Each character has his strengths and weaknesses and is armed with unique equipment. Terrain includes individual buildings (sometimes individual rooms within buildings), hills, and patches of woods. The game portrays a scene that could stimulate all your senses. When you're engaged in such a game, you're right there like a hero on an adventure.

A strategy-level game offers a different sort of joy. There's very little detail; it's all more abstract. But what's portrayed is something vast and spectacular--maybe a world war or even a galactic crusade. Each game event may be relatively abstract, but it represents something huge and power-packed--e.g., a major battle or the takeover of a city or country or planet. In essence, it gives you a chance to play God, if only in a make-believe realm.

When I sat down to write this, I was hoping to conclude by stating a clear preference for one kind of game over another. Instead, I find myself torn. I like both kinds of games. Each has its appeal.

Because of that, when I get around to this pending "death match," I believe Series: Lock 'n Load and A House Divided: War Between the States 1861-65 will both survive.

What will go--and why--remains to be seen.
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