Tuesday, August 26, 2008

D&D is not a board game

My first experience with any sort of tabletop game was probably checkers. It’s an easy game for first-graders to learn. Perhaps in second or third grade, I was introduced to chess. Down through the years I played Monopoly, Clue, Stratego, and Battleship. But from there, I did not graduate directly to D&D like many of the fellow gamers my age.

I have two siblings in my family. My two older brothers are almost ten years older than me. They were into the strategic war games that became popular during the late 1960s and through the ‘70s. My older brothers and my father used to play a popular strategy war game called Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. I was a little kid and the rules were too complicated for me to completely understand. But they did let me play and helped me along with managing the game mechanics. They usually let me play Russia.

One of the minor problems with playing these strategy war games is the size of the map. Like most strategy war games of the time, it uses a cardboard fold-out hex map. This one is of the European theater during the second world war. It uses small cardboard chits to represent military units. And each hex is just large enough to place one of these square unit chits. The problem is with stacking. When big battles start lining up along fronts, the units begin stacking up into piles. It makes it difficult to know exactly which units are in what pile.

The men in my family were so enthusiastic about the game that they decided to design and draw up a larger version of the map that allowed four stacks of chits in each hex. This new map wasn’t drawn up on pieces of paper taped together. No, sir! After calculating the proper size, they purchased a large sheet of drywall for the game board. With a yardstick, they carefully drew the hex grid in ink, colored it in with watercolor paint, and labeled the cities with permanent markers. They even framed it with a varnished wooden frame they made themselves. The thing was massive. We placed it on an old ping-pong table in the basement. The games would sometimes last an entire week.

Our family still has this massive game board that we made in the 1980s. Unfortunately, we haven’t brought it out for game play in over 20 years. Recently we have been talking about playing it again on the computer over the internet. My brothers sometimes ask me if I could design an online version of the game. I’ve been toying with the idea ever since but that is a subject for another article.

As a Christmas present in 1981, I received from my parents the Dungeons & Dragons boxed "Basic Set". I described in my previous article how I was introduced to D&D by my friends and even went so far as to draw up my own dungeon without the help of any rules. I was so happy to get this game that I dove right into it. Flipping through the rule book, I discovered the cross section of the “Stone Mountain” dungeon complex on page 39 and the example dungeon on page 42. Squares! Graph paper! Skull-shaped mountains! Cool!

One of my older brothers, the one who was the most enthused about playing strategy war games, had heard about D&D but had never played it before. Shortly after I got the game, he picked up the blue rule book, sat down in a recliner chair and he declared, “I’m going to read this and learn this game.”

But he didn’t.

I think my brother realized that D&D was not a board game. Also, the rules of the game are completely open-ended by design. The game asks for improvisational role-playing and I don’t think he was all that interested in playing something like that.

So it was only I, the youngest of a family of strategy war gamers, that became a life-long D&D gamer. However, my mother was a theater director and she thought D&D was pretty neat. But that’s the subject of another article.


Private Idaho said...

I think Charlie and I each purchased a copy of a computer-based axis-and-allies game a couple of years ago. We intended to see if we could get some of that old enthusiasm again, but I don't think it ever took off with us a second time. We used to play Axis and Allies for days and it was brutal. Not a game for the meek. Diplomacy and Risk caused similar problems.

M.gunnerQuist said...

I saw Sully at the class reunion. We joked about getting on a game of Risk. Perhaps it might happen this fall.

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