When I was a child, nay a teenager, and ‘old people’ (my parents’ friends) saw me playing wargames like Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader or Russian Campaign, or worse, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons (this was the early 1980s we’re talking here), they would almost invariably say “You’ll soon grow out of that nonsense.”
In the Bible (Google tells me it’s 1 Corinthians 13:11) there’s a passage that reads “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” I’ve always taken exception to this statement, because it seems to imply that childhood and all the thoughts and reasoning you have then are fatuous, redundant and to be discarded as soon as the first blossom of innocence gets stripped away.
I’m now in my mid-40s and still playing ‘childish’ games regularly, even though my main gaming partner unihead has made this geographically more challenging by moving to New Zealand. I’m no doubt extremely fortunate not to live in a society or economy that would make this impossible because I’d be working 20 hours a day just to get a crust of bread, but that’s not the point. The point is that nowadays, for us lucky people, there are more board games of every kind available than ever before, and they’re based on a huge range of historical, fantasy and sci-fi themes.
A site like boardgamegeek gives some sense of the truly immense number and scope of board games available today. Think of a theme and you can bet your life that there is already at least one, probably two games dealing with it. If your theme is killing endless hordes of zombies or aliens with big claws and lots of teeth, think hundreds of games. To me there’s no better way to get into the theme of a period of history than to play a really well-made game set in your period of interest. Furthermore, playing the game brings out all manner of things from your memory you’d forgotten you knew.
For example, I was playing Memoir ’44 recently, an absolutely superb WW2 game from Days of Wonder. It’s possibly the best wargame ever made (big call, but I’ll back it), and while choosing the scenario to play I realised I knew a lot of the background to that particular battle. It was part of the invasion of France in 1940, a famous bridgehead at a town called Sedan, where the Germans really broke through. While we were setting up the board and finding the necessary pieces, I regaled my fellow gamer with details about how the battle came about, what happened during it and the end result.
Now that might sound like a crashing bore, but when we played the game, the outcome was completely different from historical reality. Where the French defences were bombed to oblivion and overrun within 24 hours in real life, in our version of events they held out doggedly and eventually triumphed, destroying a German tank regiment as it tried to cross the river.
It all came down to a nail-biting finish with victory for either side hanging on a single die roll. Fantastic! Give up gaming? Never!
p.s. if you’re into gaming, make sure you visit the Esoteric Order of Gamers for a wealth of incredibly useful rules summaries and other excellent material.
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