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Subject: Discuss: CNA is damaging for the hobby rss

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Brandon
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I preface this with a gigantic, soapbox-sized "IMO". Just some musing and not anything that I feel particularly emotional about.

Via Big Board Gaming, I saw this article on the video gaming site Kotaku about The Campaign for North Africa. This seems to be a bit of a trendy topic over the past year or two (that is, people have always joked about CNA, but it's popped up a lot over the past year in places like Reddit, even causing it to reach BGG's "Hotness" list at one point).

I have to wonder how much constantly holding up this nearly 40-year-old pinnacle of excess is harming to the life of the hobby[1]. If peoples' main point of reference for hex-and-counter wargaming is CNA, then surely that must act as a disincentive to finding out about what else the hobby has to offer, especially when it's held in contrast to modern game design trends towards simplicity and that hard-to-pin-down notion of elegance.

When I read the article, there was a distinct feeling that CNA was it: the culmination of a couple decades of design, and it's all just fizzled out since then. Why bother looking at any developments post 1979, since they're all just inferior to that ultimate achievement of complexity and "realism"?

The deeper issue at hand, however, is how this story spreads. I would almost guarantee that the author of this article heard about CNA through Reddit or maybe some other blog post which had, in turn, heard about it through Reddit (or possibly even more degrees of separation). The point is that stories like this spread quickly on the internet and become canonical knowledge of online culture. And, it seems that the way online culture works, there are just one or two main points that people learn about a topic before they file it away and move on to something else. Think about things outside your areas of interest and what you know about them from the internet. You primarily know about the extremes. And those extremes might dissuade you from looking closer at it (unless the extremes in particular appeal to you, as with a couple people in the article).

So, a person who has no inherent interest in wargames would learn about CNA from some source. A rational person would recognize that, as the extreme, of course the rest of the games in the hobby are simpler than CNA. But they would figure that CNA is still somehow representative, despite being 40 years old (or perhaps because it's from the "golden age"[2]), and thus the entire hobby is still somehow "silly". So if someone else comes along and says, "Hey, want to try out this new wargame I just bought?,", or the person sees a wargame on the shelves at a shop, they might think, "Hmm...so something like CNA? No thanks."


[1] Yes, I know there are still new, young players getting into wargaming. I'm one of them. I don't adhere to the absolute doom-and-gloom view of wargaming's fate. This is just about whether CNA nevertheless has a negative effect, not that it will outright kill the hobby.
[2] Yes, yes, I know. Some people consider us in fact to be in the "golden age" right now. That's a separate and irrelevant topic.
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Eddy Sterckx
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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
If peoples' main point of reference for hex-and-counter wargaming is CNA


The thousands of websites claiming that snooze-fest Citizen Kane is the best movie ever made does not seem to have a big effect on today's movie-going public whistle

The path to hex-and-counter wargaming today is not a direct one - there are many entry points to the hobby and I'm not seeing a shortage of gamers driving into wargame town from the suburbs, willing to explore all its strange quarters and not minding the existence of a couple of dead-ends.
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Derry Salewski
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I don't think the article is bad for most of it. Anyone who can't read between the lines or look for other sources isn't going to be remembering this article or getting into wargaming in the first place.

"TS not a wargame plebe!!!" is far more damaging a meme.

The end of the article is dumb though. Wargames aren't dying. They've already come back. German gamers are gen-xers, on average. Millennials were raised on magic and pokemon.
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Brandon
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eddy_sterckx wrote:
jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
If peoples' main point of reference for hex-and-counter wargaming is CNA


The thousands of websites claiming that snooze-fest Citizen Kane is the best movie ever made does not seem to have a big effect on today's movie-going public whistle

The path to hex-and-counter wargaming today is not a direct one - there are many entry points to the hobby and I'm not seeing a shortage of gamers driving into wargame town from the suburbs, willing to explore all its strange quarters and not minding the existence of a couple of dead-ends.


I don't think that's a good example though. Everyone knows about movies in general. They're a common part of human culture at this point and hardly constitute a hobby (unless it's something like you're going to film festivals and such).

As another example, let's take caving/spelunking. I know next to nothing about it as a hobby except that some of the more extreme cases have caused people to get into some pretty hairy situations, possibly even caused them to die. I know that that's just the extreme case and probably most people don't go to such extremes. Still, it's enough to make me think twice about considering it as a hobby. Of course, playing CNA doesn't cause you to risk death other than death-by-spreadsheet, but it might warp one's perceptions in the same way.

BTW, Citizen Kane was fantastic.
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...there are just one or two main points that people learn about a topic before they file it away and move on to something else.


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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
eddy_sterckx wrote:
The thousands of websites claiming that snooze-fest Citizen Kane is the best movie ever made does not seem to have a big effect on today's movie-going public whistle

BTW, Citizen Kane was fantastic.

And huge numbers of people have personally seen Citizen Kane and enjoyed it, compared to the very small number of people who have personally played Campaign for North Africa, as opposed to merely reading forum posts about it.

===

Re: original post. I suppose that CNA is technically in some sense damaging in a PR kind of way as you describe, but I suspect that this damage is trivial and insignificant.
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Neal Durando
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The sheer quantity of indifferently developed/designed games is far more directly damaging. Half-ass games are driving out the good. CNA might be damaging for the *image* of the hobby. But it has to be remembered that it will also draw in a certain type of intelligence who wonders "Whatever. That's Kotaku for you. But WTF is really going on with that game?" Say what you might, but I think the hobby is mostly composed of that sort of intelligence. I welcome their future company.
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Eddy Sterckx
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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
Still, it's enough to make me think twice about considering it as a hobby.


If there's one thing I realized about the media a long time ago is that only the extreme stuff gets reported on / the most obnoxious cretins get on reality tv - it's all entertainment, not information.

I think the hobby could do worse than only/majorly attract those who have the ability to dig a bit deeper (ahum) when they're interested in a particular subject.

Besides, have you looked at the other BGG forums lately ? Not intending to sound snobbish or elitist but I thank Zeus that at least with wargames there's a little barrier to entry.
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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:


I have to wonder how much constantly holding up this nearly 40-year-old pinnacle of excess is harming to the life of the hobby If peoples' main point of reference for hex-and-counter wargaming is CNA, then surely that must act as a disincentive to finding out about what else the hobby has to offer, especially when it's held in contrast to modern game design trends towards simplicity and that hard-to-pin-down notion of elegance.


Doesn't harm the hobby at all. If anything it enhances the hobby by helping to weed out the weak.
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Brandon
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Defense Linguistics wrote:
The sheer quantity of indifferently developed/designed games is far more directly damaging. Half-ass games are driving out the good. CNA might be damaging for the *image* of the hobby. But it has to be remembered that it will also draw in a certain type of intelligence who wonders "Whatever. That's Kotaku for you. But WTF is really going on with that game?" Say what you might, but I think the hobby is mostly composed of that sort of intelligence. I welcome their future company.


Excellent points all around.
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Ivor Bolakov
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The rather declinist narrative around wargames, as if the fall of Avalon Hill sent the hobby into a death spiral, is the problematic thing. More wargames are being sold, attendance at cons is increasing, etc. But you wouldn't know it.
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Brandon
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Ironically, I of course recognize the major contribution that the internet has had in reviving the wargame hobby.
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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
As another example, let's take caving/spelunking. I know next to nothing about it as a hobby except that some of the more extreme cases have caused people to get into some pretty hairy situations, possibly even caused them to die.


The popular press *always* gets caving wrong. Always.

The author of this piece took the easy road, choosing ridicule for easy laughs, and was rewarded accordingly in the comments. Not a surprise.

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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
Ironically, I of course recognize the major contribution that the internet has had in reviving the wargame hobby.


I just marvel at the way a lot of old grogs - both designers and gamers - have embraced things like Facebook. A local wargame con in November has 382 people marked as "going" already. The visibility of the hobby is higher than it ever was.
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In 1979, I was a lot thinner, I was getting into wearing more fashionable clothing for work and dating, work took me all over the country. Times have changed though! In 1979, I had a bit less interest in military history (although the interest never, ever died, obviously). As a society in the summer of 1979, we were still a couple months away from the Iran hostage crisis that was so all-consuming that it spawned a whole new genre in late night TV - the news following the news (aka Nightline). In 1979, cable TV was first coming about, as was VHS and Sony Beta tapes, I was still listening to eight tracks, Ted Nugent was a great rocker (and not yet one of my favorite political pundits). The PC was in its infancy - forget about laptops, tablets, the internet. And back then, if you were on the road and needed to make a phone call, look for a hotel or a gas station. Nowadays the only place you'll find a phonebooth is on reruns of Person of Interest, or Superman. Nowadays, you not only carry your own little phone, but it's also a camera to take pics of your new wargame to send to BGG or CSW, or take pics of a game in progress. It also comes in handy as a carrier of rules errata w/o taking up table space.

So the author's perspective is that the world changed, but wargaming stood still? He couldn't have possibly considered that time changes almost everything. My grade on his article was, at best, Incomplete! If he did any research, it should have taken him to the Operational Combat Series and more specifically DAK which was born out of Dean Essig's frustration with CNA. And DAK even spawned DAK2!

In the 38 years since CNA, warfighting has changed, why wouldn't modeling it have changed.

So by my calculation, the author either has an agenda (wargamers are a bunch of dinosaurs), or he never considered the most obvious thing of all! Everything changes over time. And does what say about his targeted reading audience? They can't think for themselves about all this? If I were part of that audience, my next endeavor would be to google "wargaming", not accepting the author's word as gospel.
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I read the article...kind of, then stopped because it was not very interesting. the best part I got out of it was asking my wife if she wanted to play it...she said no. I understand that CNA is an extreme case but a lot of people that I game with, who aren't wargames, just have no interest or do not want to play because 90+% of the games are just too long.
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Brandon
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Some comments from the article:

Quote:
YEAH! When it comes to board games, I always show people what a hideous beast this is. The photographs on Board Game Geek of the board in comparison with a child... amazing.


Quote:
There is a very good reason they don’t produce many of these “Hex and Counter” titles anymore... unless you are the type of person who likes reading excel spreadsheets for fun, they are very very dry and boring.


Quote:
Count me out.

This game sounds terrible. Even the article about it was too long and I couldn’t finish it.
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Brandon
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TDMD wrote:
If he did any research, it should have taken him to the Operational Combat Series and more specifically DAK which was born out of Dean Essig's frustration with CNA. And DAK even spawned DAK2!


Fortunately, at least a commenter mentioned DAK2: http://kotaku.com/1818514321

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jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
Some comments from the article:
Quote:
There is a very good reason they don’t produce many of these “Hex and Counter” titles anymore... unless you are the type of person who likes reading excel spreadsheets for fun, they are very very dry and boring.

Somehow "spreadsheets" became a popular metaphor for "games I personally find boring". I similarly see eurogames described as "spreadsheets" by people who don't like euros... yet euros seem to be doing fine in popularity. I wouldn't worry too much about someone saying a game looks like a "spreadsheet".
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Brandon
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russ wrote:
jakobcreutzfeldt wrote:
Some comments from the article:
Quote:
There is a very good reason they don’t produce many of these “Hex and Counter” titles anymore... unless you are the type of person who likes reading excel spreadsheets for fun, they are very very dry and boring.

Somehow "spreadsheets" became a popular metaphor for "games I personally find boring". I similarly see eurogames described as "spreadsheets" by people who don't like euros... yet euros seem to be doing fine in popularity. I wouldn't worry too much about someone saying a game looks like a "spreadsheet".


Oh, I'm not really worried about it. I just thought it was a fine example of the reinforcement of preconceived notions.
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If it wasn't CNA, it would be some other bloated monster.

Like Case Blue.
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The article I thought was clear enough that CNA was an outlier; a black swan, not typical. I don't think it hurts.

I'm wishing Jake in Minnesota good luck with completing his game before he graduates from high school!
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wifwendell wrote:
The article I thought was clear enough that CNA was an outlier; a black swan, not typical. I don't think it hurts.

I'm wishing Jake in Minnesota good luck with completing his game before he graduates from high school!


True! The article describes the extreme cumbersome detailed nature of the specific game CNA, which he clearly notes is an unusual exception, but indeed I didn't read the article as particularly damaging to wargaming as a whole, except near the end when he wrote

the article wrote:
Perhaps someday war-gaming will make a comeback


as if he doesn't realize that wargames are still being made and bought and played, and that there are many more publishers and titles now than back then.
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Well if you want to talk about an article that made me think twice about stepping into wargames look there:

https://boardgamegeek.com/article/11580887#11580887

It is well written, fantastic piece of literature - it was a blast to read about year and half ago, but also it made me scare of stepping into wargames. Little did I know then that there are wargames and monster wargames. And difference between them is like a difference between night and day.
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scifiantihero wrote:
"TS not a wargame plebe!!!" is far more damaging a meme.

QFT.


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