I struggle sometimes to explain why I like the approach of some games that are not "serious" simulations. Its not that its "just" a good "game". I've often said or written that I like my games to be like a good historical film or novel, but I've never tried to elaborate since I've never really tried to pierce out why. Its certainly not romance, character development or sub-plots.
There tend to be 2 besetting sins to some of my favorite games..
1st. They don't adhere to one viewpoint. The gamer can feel like a general directing over all strategy, but is also in the midst of the gun smoke and the cut and thrust of every melee. He fiddles with deploying troops from column but can step back and enjoy an over view of the whole battle, a view many Generals would have dearly loved. So, its not realistic.
2nd. They tend to rely on simple, direct mechanisms that in some way evoke real things even though they are just a game mechanics. Take Charge! you control troops by writing out an order, they are just turn orders and there is no fuss about couriers or misunderstandings and blunders, but evokes all that. (and I've seen some blunders occur under the system, some even in my own handwriting!). Compare that to systems I have used/written where you draw cards or roll dice on a chart to activate units. They may give a more "realistic" result but they don't mimic any real process and I have seen too many occasions where the mechanism becomes larger in gamers' minds than what it is supposedly representing. In other words they start weighing odds, counting cards or indulging in similar irrelevant not to say inappropriate and un-general-like behaviors.
So where does the movie part come in? Well, I was thinking about a movie like Gettysburg. It includes us in discussions staged to show the thoughts of the General's and lay out their battle plans, it shows us over views of the battle so we get the feel of something big going on but then zooms in for a closer look at chosen incidents such as Little Round Top. More than that, it does it all without telling us what it is doing. The only background information is in the opening preamble or inserted in character's conversation or shown by the action on screen.
Is the result an academic examination of the battle, what happened in detail and why? Hardly. But do those who drop their critical eye, "suspend disbelief" and let them selves flow with the movie feel engaged, like they'd been there beside Chamberlain or that they had watched the battle unfold? Sure, for many of us, we do. For me, that's way the best games play out.
EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)
"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."
-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013
Monday, July 25, 2011
Born and raised in the suburbs of Montreal, 5 years in the Black Watch of Canada Cadets, 5 years at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean followed by 4 in the navy. 25 years with CPC in IT simultaneous with 23 years running a boarding kennel. Inherited my love of toy soldiers from my mother's father. Married with a Whippet, 10 Italian Greyhounds, 4 cats and a bird. Prematurely retired and looking forward to leisure to game, garden and sculpt in our 150 yr old farmhouse.