Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back Into Battle

[I posted this to BoardGameGeek earlier and decided to crosspost it here.]

Back in my high school and college days, I used to play some D&D games and a few Avalon Hill hex-and-counter wargames. I fell out of that crowd, and haven't played in twenty years.

At the start of 2005, though, my friend Mark was looking for a regular opponent for the table-top miniatures game Epic: Armageddon so he introduced me and bought me a starter pack. I've really taken to the game -- I went from total unfamiliarity with the Warhammer 40K universe to regularly beating Mark in one year -- and it has sparked a regeneration of interest in gaming in general.

First, I tracked down an old AH favorite game, Afrika Korps, on eBay and bought it, though I haven't played it yet. Then I found the Memphis gaming group this month and got together with some of them. We only had time for Ra, but I found myself really enjoying the game and the people. I'll be going back when I can.

I've also restarted playing chess, to sharpen my analytical skills. So far I'm only playing a computer program until I can get decent again.

Today, Mark and I... well, we went directly into the deep end of the pool. He found a copy of Flat Top, an old favorite of his, another AH hex-and-counter game about WWII naval battles in the South Pacific. He'd already made a copy of the rule book for me to study, so we just dived in. We began with a scenario (remember that), a shorter, simplified, "game within a game," called "East Solomons."

Set up alone took nearly two hours, though some of that time did include tracking down loose chits. Running through the rules, making sure everything was correctly ready, and fixing my plane errors took another hour. (When the rules called for "34" planes, I took thirty-four chits, not thirty-four points worth. Oops!)

We managed to make it through the game from 1AM until 11AM in about 6 hours. Ten turns of a 66 turn scenario. We made a lot of mistakes, and unevenly applied the rules we remembered to apply when we remembered; we also inadvertantly or not left out a lot of rules and procedures, but we did it!

Yeah, we bit off a lot to chew but we definitely had fun, in that "my brain hurts" kind of way that wargamers experience until one day the game just clicks and play suddenly becomes transparent. Or as transparent as a chart, counter and "formation box" heavy wargame like Flat Top can become.

First lesson? Start small. This game may have been the wrong place to start, but Mark's an old Navy man so he "gets" the theme and we both like wargames. We were smart to begin with a scenario and not the whole enchilada here. Even so, we joked about why admirals need staffs.

Second lesson? We need more tables! It takes three: one for the game boards; one each for our "formation box" charts and all the other charts and rules we need. Both our apartments are small and cramped, and mine has a friendly, inquisitive cat, so we might need to find some public space that will let us take it over for a day. (Hah! Maybe we just need to clean up the clutter in our apartments.) Any ideas?

Lastly, I had forgotten how absorbing hex-and-counter wargaming can be. I've already had that sensation of utterly losing myself in play with Epic and I like it. This one will take some work to master, but wandering around the Pacific, looking for carriers, watching for his aircraft, was a lot of fun.

Now I need to take that Afrika Korps box down and get all the pieces ready. Maybe we can try that one as a joint-unstiffener before we wade back into Flat Top again.

Yeah, my brain hurts right now, but I'm a happy guy. I was pretty dumb to not be gaming all these years.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Mark has posted his thoughts on the grueling endurance test that was Flat Top.

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