Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sunday Night Book of War

Last Sunday night we had some lovely friends over, whom we know from music projects, and who had never played any RPGs or wargames in their life. But they did notice the big stack of games that I've got in the closet (behind the coats), and they also noticed my display case of miniatures, especially the big war elephants on top -- not that they had any idea why anyone would have a bunch of miniature figures like that.

First of all we played a game of Clue, sort of as a test to see how they reacted to our serious gaming style -- and we were much enticed by the fact that were absolutely as wildly competitive and hard-core about it as we were (feeling the endgame approaching, I took a chancy accusation -- but I didn't have the right room, and that triggered a sequence of off-by-one accusations around the table until my girlfriend Isabelle won). That's still a great and unique game if you can find enough people to play. An aside: I'm playing on what is now a 50-year-old game set (older than me).

So then I took a chance and suggested bringing out Book of War, which everyone was game for. I split our little house party into two teams, with me refereeing and Isabelle giving strategy advice to both sides. Picking out the figures and setting up the terrain seemed to really excite everyone and fire their imaginations. The photo below is pretty hard to see, but the higher side picked War Elephants and Horse Archers (with a few Pikes); while the lower side picked Goblins, Wolf Riders, and Gnoll Archers.


Once play began, the upper side (horse archers and elephants) really suffered from a bunch of novice tactical choices. First, they had placed the Hill on the far side, which is of course was a gift that the opposition could take with their big longbow-wielding gnolls and use for a commanding position the rest of the game. Second, they ran their horse archers piecemeal into the big open space on the left-hand side of the board, where they were basically shot down mercilessly without the goblin player ever needing to move. The endgame saw the remaining figure of War Elephants stomp down the Wolf Riders and one of the units of gnolls, but once the space was cleared from that melee, it was a foregone conclusion that the longbows on the hill would make them die a heroic death.

So a couple of things, as I continue to introduce RPGs and wargaming to creative people who have never played them or known about them before (usually in their 30's and 40's). One is that if I start by asking their preferred genre choice of fantasy-scifi-or-superheroes, they usually ask for "science fiction" (which is partly why I'm giving that some emphasis in my SciFi Saturday posts at the moment). Two is, that being said, if you want to attract someone to the game, then having colorful and attractive miniature figures really does a great lure-them-in-job, before I even broach the subject of gaming myself -- especially War Elephants, 'cuz damn, who doesn't love some elephants? Three is that even my minimalist little 8-page BOW Basic Game counts as being "way too intense/complicated" for about half the people who try it out, which I think is something to keep in mind about how biased our expectations are as lifelong gamers, and how a game almost can't be "too simple" if your goal was to aim it at current non-gamers.

Although: That latter point could be emotionally correlated with the half who lose the game on their first encounter. The player running the goblin forces here (i.e., the rather stark winner in the conflict above), immediately picked up on a lot of the themes and strategy for the game -- and commented on the excitement and drama around morale checks, how it was generally realistic in regards to medieval warfare, delighted by how we could include fantastical elements like goblins and wolf riders, etc. So he wound up really excited at the end, and pointedly asked if he could come over again sometime and play some more, etc. I sent him off with a copy of the rules and I dare say that I have more fresh meat for my games. :-)


7 comments:

  1. Yup. The miniature display at Sword of the Phoenix (Atlanta) back in the 70's is probably what got me hooked on RPGs and gaming more generally. Iconoclasts of all varieties might or might not be "more pure," but objects of some sort sure are great for converting the heathens!

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  2. I've found that, when introducing new people to gaming, a little helpful advice is an exceptionally good idea. Someone might have noted the misplacement of the hill, perhaps by asking them why they wanted it there instead of somewhere else, and noting the obvious benefits of gaining the high ground.

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    1. That's a really good idea. The other thing I'm thinking currently is to maybe prohibit the pikes and horse archers from the initial game because of their special handling complications -- but the downside is that people seem uniquely drawn to those types due to their exotic descriptions and striking minis.

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  3. this is a great post comparing BOW to Clue! May we still be playing BOW 40 years from now. And hopefully by that time it will have its own box full of miniatures to go with book. The Box of War.

    I'm thinking it'd be easier and quicker to introduce people to the dnd world with the BOW. Why? No characters need to be rolled up. You just need points to grab your units an an elementary understanding of the rules to play. I don't think its that much harder than other boxed games out there.

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    1. Great comment, I agree with both those things. My bunch of stuff I keep in a single container that I totally labeled the "Box of War". And you're right that this does seem a bit less overwhelming; more like the "games" people are already accustomed to.

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  4. Yeah, my opponents totally be-gifted me! With much wine in hand, I felt like a regular US Grant. With a big head to boot. I daresay that when I return to take on the creator, my luck will not be as fortunate. I shall embrace the challenge though!

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    1. Ventilateblog, thanks for chiming in! :-)

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