Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wargames, Role-play, and Expectations Unfulfilled.

For a long while I've been feeling that I'm not in sync with other players when it comes to Warhammer 40k and other games. It comes from how I view the game versus how others view it.

Warhammer 40,000
A lot of folks view it as just what is within the covers of the Warhammer 40,000 4th Edition Rulebook and that is what the game is, period, end of story. This means that the game is technically a set of rules to follow to the letter. Tactics mean using those rules to the greatest effect, not necessarily "using terrain and cover" because realistically, you only get one save, and so if you have a better armor save than cover will give you, then there is little point in using cover. There are innumerable similar analogies I can use here. I can't really argue that this view is incorrect.

From where I sit, I don't see this as tactics at all. I think this is because I come from a Role Playing background, and 40k to me is the Stories, Fluff, and novels written which very often bear little resemblance to the game. The stories and all tell of troops using cover, and using strategy and tactics as I recognize them. You don't ever hear of (in novels) Tau Fire Warriors shooting and not being able to be assaulted by a team RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM because a hover tank, positioned in front of them keeps them from being assaulted...then hopping back in to the APC/ Tank to move to the other side so they can shoot again. This is unheard of in the fluff, novels, and flavor text of the codices...but standard fare in the tabletop game.

I think part of it comes from a level of common sense on the battlefield, while set in a fantastical setting, and has at least the semblance of reality to it. The game system however has none of this. Most don't.

When I play 40k, I use my guys in a fashion that is consistent with the fluff, and novels, using common sense and the like. This of course makes no difference on the playing table when playing guys who simply min-max their rules lists to take combinations of weapons that while uncommon are technically legal...and ultimately devastating on the tabletop. The use of legalistic rules loopholes is the order of the day. Where in a Role-playing setting it would be completely metagame thinking, min-maxing and rules lawyering, on the tabletop minis game it is the order of the day and players such as me are rare, and ultimately outgunned.

Differences between Wargaming and RP
I think it comes down to the difference between Role-playing and Wargaming. Ultimately, in a war-game, the story, the motivations, fluff, and dozens of novels written about the same forces, written by the company that created the game, mean absolutely nothing next to using a certain number of troops and special weapons to gain a mathematical advantage on the tabletop. Players claim to use "fluffy" armies, but from what I've seen in lists from players from Europe to here, the fluff in general is used to allow them to min-max the way they want.

It's kind of sad really. Maybe it's just my expectations of playing what I've read in the novels and in the codices and in the flavor text of the rule books is unrealistic. I guess the flavor text is there to suck the guys in so they'll play in the first place.

I've never played a tabletop game "to win". I'm not there to compete. I want to play out battles like what is in the novels etc. I've found that the Warhammer 40k game isn't the place to do that. Warhammer 40k is a competitive game, made to have a winner and a loser. I really have no need to prove anything, or a need to stroke my ego by WINNING! Really, if we have a cool, fun close battle, I don't care who wins.

Honestly, at this point, I think I'm about finished with playing 40k. At least with most folks out there.
I've enjoyed playing with a few select people whose views are the same (these are really few and far between).

Different Games
I'm glad to be moving away from these sorts of systems. Flames of War seems cool...but now I'm seeing the same sort of issues in it which is not good. Play the game instead of play what makes tactical sense. Buy specialist units so they can make certain rolls instead of just using stock units. Here we go with another game that makes special characters rule the day. Maybe I'll have better luck with Fire and Fury (American Civil War rules).

Now I see why so many of the older more seriously tactically-minded gamers tend towards Historical Wargaming over games like Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40k. Flames of War is only barely considered in the same category as Historical Wargames due to the issues of truncated fast-play rules that oversimplify and the use of special characters which off-balance the game. You can see the difference in the crowds as well: Fantasy-type players tend to range from their teens to mid-thirties, and Historical Wargamers tend to average in their 40's. I'm starting to understand why. In a way, I believe it has to do with having to prove something through competition...younger guys need to, older guys don't.

Comparisons to SCA and RP/ regionalism?

In a way, it reminds me a lot of the SCA, Western Kingdoms versus the Midwest and Eastern Kingdoms.
In 18 or so years of playing in the SCA, I fought in literally hundreds of battles.
Out west, more often than not, we traded off guys and balanced the sides, and at the end of the day, the winner was unknown and everyone had a great time and drank beer together afterwards. Not a big deal. Everyone was there to have a battle, fight and have a good time. (Example: AnTir-West War.)

In the Midwest and East, winning is of utmost importance and a lot of effort and time is placed in training so they can go out and beat the hell out of the other guy. (Example: Pennsic).

Out west I had a lot of fun playing 40k and Fantasy. We put our guys out and just had fun.
Out's a totally different world.
Competitive guys are everywhere; I don't want to lead anyone in to thinking otherwise because it simply isn't so. I know folks who are GT players who are the most cut-throat bastards you've ever played, and that is in Washington.

I dunno.
I guess in a way, I really don't fit in here.
What to do?

I dunno.
Essentially, I can't play many games with folks here. Not board games, not wargames, and even RP is different. It's like my interests are too different from everyone else’s.
In board games I just want to have a good time, and play a game. I'm not interested in winning. Just a good time.
In wargames I want to use tactics. Not using the rules to the best advantage. Sorry, too many years as a soldier get in the way of things. I want to play people who want to play a fun game and recreate tactical situations in history or in novels. Competition isn't a concern. Winning isn't a concern. Reliving and recreating memorable scenes in history and in other books is the goal.
In Role-playing I like to have fun. I want to have an immersive experience with dramatic scenes and situations. Dungeon crawls are handled more efficiently on a console system or on a PC. What I can't get on a console system or PC is in-depth character interaction. Getting in to character, thinking from the perspective of the character...not from the perspective of the ruleset and the +2 synergy bonus, and the bull rush maneuver.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that these things are unattainable. What I want ...I can't have, and how I play is incongruent to how others play.

Where does the problem lie?

I think it's just me. In a way I think I may be a dinosaur.

Social Contract

A while back a concept passed my way called "Social Contract" and I've really grabbed a hold of it as the single most important concept in gaming. In a nutshell (and I'm paraphrasing a lot and simplifying the concept from the forge-baked, ultra specific version) it means that the players of any game are up-front about their expectations and their preferences of play. Before any game starts, any game group begins, and group gathers, the interested parties talk about what they like and dislike, and what they want to see and not see in whatever they are planning on doing. Then, once everyone who is in agreement...agrees and then they play...according to the agreed-upon preferences of those involved. Social Contract can be simple or complicated, but I think that in some fashion it should be used in every game.

For example
, a group gets together to play Shadowrun. My preferences are for a serious game, with intrigue and plot twists, with combat...but combat as a garnish, not the whole meal. Less overt weapon play and more covert. Threats of violence over shooting up a bar. Your preferences could be a variety of things, but in the end, we come to an agreement (or not, nobody says everyone has to agree. There are other games out there. If I'm not digging where everyone else wants to go in a game, I'll go hard feelings, maybe some other time).

This would apply to all sorts of games: RPGs to board games, to Wargames. I think it would apply in the SCA as well. Hang out with those who play that game the same way as you...don't play with those who play in ways you don't like.

Thing is, I don't think I'll get what I want.
In the past few years I've dropped out of the SCA entirely due to irreconcilable differences with some of the local crew. It's too much time, effort and money to justify playing anymore.

Gaming (wargames and RPGs) is almost non-existent. I've played in a few good games, but I've never found a group I really gelled with. Maybe a couple people from all the groups to make one UBER GROUP...but it'll never happen. Everyone else’s interests are different from mine. Social Contract is a nice idea, but unless others jump on that bandwagon, I'm on my own.

That and available time for play is limited for everyone, which is a HUGE factor.

Those are my two big hobbies.
What I love. What I've spent several tens of thousands of dollars on in the past decade.

Where does the problem lie?

With me.

The issue is that when I play a game like 40k, I'm thinking in terms of a Space Marine Codicier, or Tau Shas'O, or Eldar Farseer...move and shoot, use cover. I don't think of moving back 1/2 an inch to deny my opponant a charge, or using Terminator Honors to get an extra attack, or butting up two squads so neither can be assaulted (because you'd be within an inch of a squad you didn't intend on assaulting...because the base size is just shy of one full inch). I don't think that way. In these games, that way of thinking is called "using tactics", and without it, you'll simply get snuffed by players using "tactics". Right or wrong, that's within the rules, and that is the game being played. It's my choice to not play that way, and in doing so, it means I'll not be fighting a "fun battle with friends" I'll be getting steamrolled by someone who wants to win. It's not their problem or fault. I chose to play. If I don't like it, then I shouldn't play the game...because that's what the game really is. It's just disheartening...that's all.

What am I left with?
Lots of game books I'll never use, minis that'll gather dust, and SCA armor and garb that I'll likely never wear again.

What now?
Start something new?
What? Take up macramé? Get in to NASCAR or sports?
I don't know. I'm at an impasse. No clear roads before me.
I have no answers. Only more questions.

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