On Board #826 Aug 2006 0
Unicorns, a Balanced Budget, and the True Gateway Wargame
Myths, myths?one and all! Sorta, anyway. I still hold out hope for unicorns.
What do we mean when we talk about gateway wargames? When you strip away the implied hopefulness, the answer is a simple and engaging wargame that?s easy to teach new players. It?s an introductory game. Many titles fit the bill, and some darn good ones at that, but where do we go from there? After all a gateway implies that something lies beyond, something greater, right?
The problem is that many of us?we, the established tabletop wargamers?harbor an ulterior motive. We want opponents for the tough stuff, which may be our favorite rules set for naval minis, a regimental-level ACW game, or, worse yet, Advanced Squad Leader. Shame, shame on us! We are indeed the pushers, not just of lead and cardboard, but of a demanding hobby that requires the spiritual guidance of one already woefully addicted. In a fit of enthusiasm we rush to show a fresh face the heights of our hobby, but in so doing often introduce something too hard, too soon.
It could be worse. We might be advocating the drinking of light beer. And that?d be a real crime.
The more I observe what gamers and publishers are foisting on us as introductory or gateway games, the more dead ends I see. Where?s the path? Where?s the clear set of steps that take one deeper and deeper into wargaming? Right now, the paths we cobble together are informed by our tastes as pushers and whatever we think our newly found opponents might be able to tolerate next. In other words, it?s one big crapshoot. That our hobby can spin off in umpteen directions from Tanga to Borodino and from Tsushima to Shiloh is part of its unique beauty. But the multitude of opportunities also present a multitude of ways to lose someone along the path.
What I want is for publishers to think things through before they market a title as a gateway game. It?d be a real help if they organized games by subject matter and mapped out a path that players might follow?starting with the gateway offering and ending with the most challenging title. This way, rather than hunting and pecking through dozens of game listings for ?what?s next,? a new wargamer with an interest in World War II tactical ground combat could plot out a whole string of games to try. This simple exercise in taxonomy would save gamers a lot of time and money when it comes to building a collection of games they like to play.
The gold medal goes to the publisher who creates a core game that features a number of entry points of increasing complexity and historical validity. Imagine a naval warfare game?a single game mind you?that you can play with your eight-year-old and with your old fart of a longtime opponent who can quote Morison verbatim. Pick your point of entry and play.
This is similar to the approach Avalon Hill used to take back in the day with games like Submarine and Bismarck, yet I?m talking about something a bit deeper. This involves a core set of gaming components with three different and self-contained rules sets of increasing detail. They would share common scenarios, each with set-ups for basic, intermediate, and advanced play. This would alleviate the issues inherent in the old Squad Leader programmed approach, where one had to read just three or so pages to play Scenario 1 but the entire rulebook to play Scenario 12. With this approach you could play any scenario with any opponent at any time?or simply play a lighter version of the rules when you?re up for a wargaming experience with lower overhead.
This is what I was hoping today?s Avalon Hill would do with its Axis & Allies Miniatures line, but alas they?re largely focused on aping the deckbuilding ethos Wizards of the Coast instilled in its customers with Magic: The Gathering?rather than creating a light and ripping wargame that remains faithful to an historical framework. Oddly though, a recent poll on the official A&AM forums, (albeit with a modest 165 respondents,) revealed that roughly 60% of current players say they are older than 30 and that only about 15% of say they are under 20 years of age. Given more than an anectdotal number of A&AM forum members who claim ownership of "classic" board wargames from the AH and SPI lines, one could reasonably infer that a lot of old wargamers have traded in their cardboard for some fast-playing plastic. Granted the data here are incomplete, and whether or not these folks have a couple 21st Panzer Division chits between their couch cushions is somewhat beside the point. I'm making a greater assumption here that is colored by surveys of the wargaming market. Older players are typically well-versed in historical subject matter and have a disposable income that supports the purchase of games and other media that feed their passion for military history. Now, imagine if people such as this had an upgrade path that used the same core set of miniatures throughout?and if they could simply buy the units they wanted instead of fiddling with "collectibles?"
So I?m not just talking about a gold medal, I?m talking about a goldmine.
The next publisher that touts a great gateway game might want to think about that.