Friday, January 20, 2012

General Gaming Postulation - Gamers or Wargamers

My old man continues to bail me out, this time with an interesting discussion regarding the nature and the various flavors of gamers. Personally, I prefer cookies n' cream, but at the same time, I try not to lick gamers, unless they are very attractive females, and even then my wife strongly disapproves. But when they do taste like cookies n' cream, then either they're absolute keepers, or they need to wash their hands.

Oh, yeah, the article.

There are gamers, . . . and then there are wargamers.

I’m a wargamer heart and soul, both by nature and nurture. I discovered games when I was 14, with Monopoly and Risk. I rarely played Monopoly, but I used to ditch school with friends so we could play Risk. When I was 16 I bought my first Avalon Hill game, Afrika Korps, and from that defining moment I’ve been a wargamer ever since.

Unfortunately, I live in Reno, NV, where there is only one true game store, and for some odd reason in the flux of the universe there are almost no wargamers in this city. So a couple of months ago I began going to a Saturday afternoon group of gamers hoping I could find someone who would oblige me in playing a wargame now and then – and they have. Several Saturdays ago only Denis showed up and he and I played one game of Up Front (I taught him) and one of Memoir 44 (he taught me). A very positive experience. But the next Saturday there were four of us. We played a game about building towers in the Middle Ages – it was OK, then a card game that had as much theme as white rice, and then closed with Nefarious. Nice components, but I was a bit lost the entire game. (Every week I have to learn a new game with a new mechanic – I often feel like a newbie gamer.) We talked about possible games for next week, and a couple of the guys suggested Pret-a-Porter. Now I don’t know much French, so as far as I knew it could have meant The Decisive Napoleonic Battle for Pret. I asked, “What’s the theme?” and was told, “Fashion.” It was one of those “deer in the headlights” moments for me. Dumbstruck could describe my reaction, and in total honesty I replied, “You’re kidding me.” I really meant it – they were kidding me, right? Four American guys playing a game on fashion?!? (Now as sure as I’ve ever submitted a post on this site, someone’s going to come to the defense of Pret-a-Porter. I can hear it now – it’s just as violent a game as any wargame, but this is fought with needles instead of bullets.)

Well, I’ve begun contemplating the differences between “gamers” and “wargamers.” As I mentioned last Saturday to the group, as a wargamer, theme and historical context are important to me in a game. Then I suggested to these guys that theme wasn’t important to them, and they all agreed. In fact, one guy responded, “Absolutely not at all.” So after some reflection I’ve decided to make a list of some of the differences I’ve found between “gamers” and “wargamers”. After reading the list, I’d very much appreciate feedback and more contrasts to add to the list.

Love history.
Theme is important.
Game balance isn’t very important; historical accuracy of the game is the issue.
Have a great imagination – they can picture the game in their mind as they play (like watching a movie).

History was a boring subject in school.
Theme is not that important. The game mechanic is more important than how it relates to theme.
Game balance is critical.
Possibly more analytical – I suspect they don’t have as great an imagination.

This is just a starter list. Please add more and let the discussion begin.

OK, you heard the man, discuss. And remember to keep it clean.

Ha! No, you don't have to keep it clean. That was a joke. But if you are going to make it dirty, I would appreciate it if it tasted like cookies n' cream.


Steve said...

Theme has nothing to do with the distinction you make.. maybe wargamers like to picture a story in their head and tie their dice rolls to history, but you don't see "gamers" flocking to chess and Go, because the theme sucks. Having a theme that fits and is exciting adds to any game.

Also. Wargamers are hairy. Fact.

Sue said...

I suspect the Ameritrash crowd would say that the second list is more properly euro gamers, at least as far as theme goes.

David Hassell said...

What a great topic! I used to play Avalon Hill games as well (my fave: Gladiator). Wasn't able to play the advanced games (e.g.. Third Reich, ASL). Due to age, I've migrated to the Gamer side.

> Attention to detail is more important than abstraction.
> Have bad teeth due to using dental floss for checking line of sight between hexes. (hee!)
> Have bad eyesight. Prefer as much information crammed onto tiny counters as possible. (double hee!)
> Will tolerate inferior components. Many wargames were printed on folded paper maps and cardboard counters, placed in a plastic bag, and included in wargaming magazines.
> More = better. The more counters you can stack in a single hex, the better (Ever play Caesar's Legions?) The more map sections you can connect, the better. The more phases you can cram into a single turn, the better.
> Prefer referencing numerous charts and tables to resolve combat.

> Abstraction preferred over detail.
> Prefer flashy components over substance.
> Less = better. The fewer symbols and stats one has to track, the better. The fewer unit types, the better.
> Aversion to reference the rule book or charts. Prefer combat resolved via dice or cards with results printed directly on the components rather than looking up the results in a chart or table.

Time is short at the moment, so I could probably add more. Matt, as much as you've been through in your life, at least life gave you an awesome father and amazing wife.

Jason said...

Wargamers do not mind in-your-face confrontation (in fact expect it, by definition), player elimination, and a bit (or lot) of luck tossed in with their hardcore strategy.

Gamers would like more subtle conflict, victory points over elimination, and as minimal randomness as possible.

As long as we're generalizing here (and to borrow the dessert reference) - Wargamers like heavy double caramel turtle cheesecake; Gamers like wobbly Jell-O... :-)

Wind Lane said...

I think the importance of the history/source material is usually more important to war gamers.

Theme can be just as important to either side.

War gamers tend to be much more interested in accurate simulation than board gamers do, but certain game genres tend to be of the same mind - train games for instance. The 18XX games always seem way to involved in the simulation to me.

War gamers are more about the rules since components are almost expected to be highly functional whereas board games like the components to be a selling point of the game.

War gamers are certainly more accepting of an imbalanced game, which as you said, is because the wars they're simulating were usually imbalanced.

Both groups find what they're doing fun, so it's not like one group is a bunch of brainiacs while the other is more leisurely.

But really it's a difference of war gamers like war reenactment through games while board gamers are the people who don't. Everything else can pretty much be said about either group at times.

Matt Drake said...

Gamers like to master the game.
Wargamers like to beat the hell out of their friends.

Gamers prefer to play balanced, even games that end with scoring.
Wargamers prefer to play bloody games that end with stacking bodies like firewood.

I can't say I fit into either side of this spectrum. I once played a wargame with my old man that was a simulation of the entire European Theater of WWII. It took several days, and was awesome. I also used to have this great game called Ringgz, which was made of out wood, and you put wooden rings around other wooden rings. I'll play anything, if it's fun.

While I can certainly see a distinction between the games different nerds like to play, I don't think it's an either/or thing. It's especially interesting because there are almost always dramatic exceptions - I love Agricola, but I absolutely hate Puerto Rico.

And if there's a spectrum, where do you put roleplayers? Or do we just shove them under the sofa and try to forget they're in there, and just feed them dice, books and cold pizza every now and then?

Anonymous said...

Point 3 about balance is the only point in the first list that is more uniquely wargamer. All the others could be used to describe Ameritrash gamers. And i agree with the posters below, your second list best describes euro players

Anonymous said...

This highlights, again, that your dad is incredibly awesome, and that makes you a very lucky boy. My father in contrast literally hates every kind of game there is. Oh well.

Jacob said...

You've played and liked other eurogames that lead me to believe you'd like Pret-a-Porter as well. I like what I've heard about your new gaming group.

NuclearLunchbox said...

Wargamers are a hairy lot (true, Steve) to whom gaming involves consuming copious quantities of either dark beer, cider, or hard spirits; involving themselves in extended arguments as to whether the 'armor column shift' is an appropriate game mechanic, usually with the aide of graphs or statistical analysis; and placing wagers which involve the winner being allowed to full-on punch the loser in the diaphragm.

Gamers generally sit in small huddled groups in a desperate attempt keep their frail, hairless bodies warm while quaffing a weak tea and having polite discussions as the the optimum placement of wooden men to mine sheep or somesuch nonsense.

The hairy wargamers generally scoff at the gamers as they quietly finish their games in an hour and go home to be with their wives and children while the wargamers stay way too long into the night and are forced to sleep on the couch in the basement with the dog...

Anonymous said...

Football is a wargame. Baseball is a Eurogame...

Matt Drake said...

Jacob, just to be clear - the only other reviews my dad has written here are the Thunderstone reviews. Most of those Euros were me.

And I can get behind almost anything, but I think I would draw the line at a game about fashion.

Anonymous said...

Wargamers - belt and suspenders, neckbeards.

NuclearLunchbox said...

The neckbeards go along with the 'hairy'...

(I don't personally have one [anymore] but know plenty who do)

Wiz-War said...

This entire premise sounds eerily like the ameritrash vs. eurotrash debates.

Theme vs. mechanics
Context vs. abstraction

Eurotrash is in kind of funky place though when compared to fans of abstract games.

I prefer on or the other. If it is thematic, then by god I want to be immersed in the tactics like a felon being tar and feathered. I want to smell the cooking flesh.

If it is abstract, I want it to be clever and simple yet deep and satisfying to my sense of strategy.

Eurotrash is just a halfassed attempt to look cool while playing cool. Philistines.

Parduz said...

"Game balance isn’t very important; historical accuracy of the game is the issue."
Imho this is the only true wargamer identifier, but only if the game is about a true combat.
If the wargame just let you fight a war and it is "open-ended", then wargamers wants balance as any other gamer.

The second traits is History, but a lot of ppl love history. Me too. I just can't stand to "study" it.
A true wargamer not only love history, but know almost everything about armies strenghts and flaws, weapons, organization and battles outcomes and "trivia" about commanders of every civilizations that have walked on the Earth.

For these reasons, i think that a true Wargamer does not care about replayability: if the game is good in simulating the battle, then the wargamers will play it again and again just to see every "what if..." possibility.

About complexity, i don't know. I have been a constant Car Wars and Battletech player (which i think as complex game) and i still don't think i'm a wargamer.

Still, the theme is often crucial, for me (i still have to have fun with anything about Chtulu, no matter if what i've played is RpG or a boardgame) and i'm one of that players that have more satisfaction when the board drip blood instead of, say, farming products :)

Michael Shea said...

On the theme of balance, only in a wargamer will you find a willingness to play something like the Alamo or the Fords of Isen or Stalingrad. One side is going to be wiped out. The only balance is how long to does the losing side last. If I survive 3 hours it is a tactical defeat, 4 hours draw, 5 hours tactical victory, 6 hours strategic, etc.

Look at Blood Reef Tarawa for ASL. There company after company of marines march over a coral reef, being machine-gunned by the Japanese. Part of the game is the willingness to loose half your force just to get on the beach. I have yet to see a Eurogame handle that kind of subject.