Despite COVID, the hobby boardgame industry is generally having a great time. ICv2 columnist Scott Thorne even noticed:
I find it rather strange that, in the midst of a pandemic, a large number of game and comic retailers have reported that March 2021 was their best March ever in terms of sales; with a number of them commenting it was their best month ever in terms of revenue.ROLLING FOR INITIATIVE — “BEST MONTH EVER”
There are hundreds—if not thousands—of new game titles being published each year. I partake just a corner of it, mostly in the niche wargame market. But like history my gaming interests runs in cycles and here in 2021 I feel like I’m at an inflection point. These days, the RockyMountainNavy Boys don’t have the same interest in gaming as I do and our weekly family game nights have basically ended. Call it COVID fatigue—we did so much gaming in the last year we sorta burned ourselves out. Further, though Mrs. RMN always indulges my hobby game spending habits she’s well within her rights to complain about it at times. In 2020 my game collection grew by ~8% to over 1000 items. For these reasons I needed to reconsider my hobby direction.
As I am a wargamer first the most dramatic changes are going to be in that part of my hobby. What I decided upon is to focus on what I like best – those games that I enjoy the most and keep me coming back – in effect, those games that form a “ZOC Bond” for me and make up the core of my War(gaming) Engine.
Wargaming – Investing in War Engines
I take the term “War Engine” from the excellent chapter “War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer” by Henry Lowood in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (MIT Press, 2016) which was edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum. Lowood calls games that combine a game system plus scenarios a “war engine” as contrasted with early wargames that were monographic (unique game system and one battle/campaign focus). The earliest example is PanzerBlitz of which Lowood writes,
“In contrast to monographic games, PanzerBlitz introduced the game system as a generator for multiple mini-games. Wargamers came to call these mini-games “scenarios,” possibly borrowing from the term’s currency among RAND’s Cold War gamers to describe synopses or imagined or hypothetical political crisis….Henceforth, I will call this combination of system + scenarios a “War Engine.”Lowood, Zones of Control, p. 93-94
In the most practical of terms, I see “war engines” as series-type games. Thus, I am going to focus more on certain series and less on “new” designs. Oh, I’m sure I’ll still buy a few non-War Engine titles, but I’m going to be more picky about it. The main draw with going to proven war engines is that my time investment to get into the game and enjoy it is usually less than a totally new title.
Here are a few of the War Engines that I enjoy the most and why I will maintain a focus on them. This list is not all-inclusive but a (fair?) start at what I’m trying to focus on:
- Admiralty Trilogy (Admiralty Trilogy Group) – Although these naval wargames tend towards the simulation-end of the spectrum of gaming they are my tactical go-to series for nearly 40 years now; I have no intention of changing that!
- Conflict of Heroes (Academy Games) – I discovered this series in 2016 and absolutely love the “new-age” mechanics in what outwardly appears to be standard hex & counter wargame; top-notch production quality is also a major draw as well as the innovative Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion (most incredible AI in any game).
- JD Webster’s Fighting Wings (Clash of Arms/Against the Odds) – My tactical air warfare counterpart to ATG naval warfare.
- Lee-Brimmicombe-Wood’s Air Raid series (GMT Games) – As a former strike planner in the US Navy I planned these types of mission in real life and enjoy the tabletop version.
- Next War (GMT Games) – Modern (or near-future) warfare is all speculation but this system uses a good framework to try to get at the problem in a reasonably playable manner.
- Panzer/MBT (GMT Games) – The 1979 Yaquinto Publishing edition of Panzer was my first wargame and this series is my tactical go-to system for ground warfare in World War II or the Cold War.
- South China Sea (Compass Games) – The modern day spiritual successor to the 1990’s Fleet Series from Victory Games; my operational level modern war at sea game (with some politics thrown in).
- Standard Combat Series (Multi-Man Publishing) – I don’t have (nor will buy) every game in the series but if the topic is right I know the base game is easy to learn and will have an interesting “gimmick” rule to represent an important element of the battle/campaign.
- Wing Leader (GMT Games) – While Fighting Wings is all about the dogfight, Wing Leader looks at the larger picture of why the dogfight is taking place, not the details of “turning & burning.”
If I had to point to a trend here it’s that I have grown leery of The Cult of the New. Which has advantages and disadvantages. There are some great one-off (or small series) wargames out there but my reality is I can’t play (nor afford) them all. A plan of focus is important.
The Rest of the Story
Wargames are just one part of my hobby (albeit the major portion). Boardgames and role-playing games also compete for my hobby time and will also see changes.
Boardgames – REDUCE
I must sadly face that the heady days of playing new boardgames almost every week with the RMN Boys is past. Instead I need to focus on fewer boardgames. This means that as much as I personally love games like Root (Leder Games) and the completionist in me wants all the new Marauder Expansion material, the truth is it will likely never get those items to the gaming table in any reasonable quantity. Instead I will commit to spending half the money and be satisfied with just the new factions and a taste of the hirelings rules. This same approach will be my driver of boardgame purchases in the near future.
Like wargames there are certain boardgame series that I like. I really enjoy Root (Leder Games), if for no other reason than it is incredible to play a design that somehow incorporates so many mechanics. It really is a design tour-de-force.
Another boardgame series I really enjoy is AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018). I love how this “adventure exploration” game starts as a railroad/resource grabbing Euro but evolves into a type of wargame as the Old Ones awaken. I like the core game so much I am going to jump in and support the Kickstarter campaign from Schmili Games for AuZtralia: TaZmania and AuZtralia: Revenge of the Old Ones.
I also recently enjoyed the history strategy game No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Dan Bullock, Compass Games, 2021). Dan has a new game on Kickstarter, 1979 Revolution in Iran about the Iranian Revolution being published by The Dietz Foundation. I already pledged and am anxiously looking forward to the experience of playing the game.
Role-Playing Games – FOCUS
This has actually been my approach for a few years now. I’ll be honest; I turned away from much of the role-playing industry because of the wave of political correctness that infects it. [Truth be told, the boardgame industry is going the same sad way] I am going to focus on the Traveller ruleset and especially Cepheus Engine materials. I also want to reexamine the various Traveller-related wargames (and several near-adjacent rules/settings like Twilight: 2000 or Traveller: 2300).
Shelves of Shame
I own many games I played a just few times (or not at all in the last decade). I need to get more games into a replay rotation. My collection is quite sufficient to keep me going for a long time. I need to look at selling more than a few too. There is a very decent local fleamarket listing on BGG that I use occasionally; maybe I need to be a seller instead of a buyer.
I really enjoy my recent combining of reading a book and playing a related wargame. I need to make this a normal thing. Of course, that may mean more trips to the local used book store.
My real shelf of shame is my plastic model collection. I really meant to get more built over the winter months but it didn’t happen. To clear that shelf will take real effort. Hmm…maybe I need to combine wargaming and plastic modeling….