Solitary Soundings

Musings of a solitary gamer. "The advantage of conversation is such that, for want of company, a man had better talk to a post than let his thoughts lie smoking and smothering." (Jeremy Collier) Comments welcome.
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You Mean I Can't Go Back in Time?

p55carroll
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Minnesota
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"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." --Emerson
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Sometimes I wonder about myself. My head's in the clouds, and I'm not at all sure my feet are planted firmly on the ground. Especially when it comes to dealing with time. In half a century of living on this planet, I don't think I've ever quite gotten the hang of it.

Gamewise, I'm always trying to either recapture something from my past or pick up a gaming dream or project where I left off years ago. And no matter how often I try it and end up disillusioned, I continue to try again and be surprised each time.

Around 1995, I realized I'd outgrown wargaming. I'd been into it for twenty-five years or so, but I simply could not set up or play one of those games anymore. I'd been mainly into ASL up to then, but I was sick of looking up rules. I looked at the other wargames on my shelves, and there was no way I could make myself open one of those 22-by-34-inch mapboards and start sorting unit-counters out onto setup sheets. Maybe I'd been spoiled by the home computer already; I don't know. But I was definitely through with wargames.

I made a last-ditch effort to hang on: I bought a couple of the Smithsonian Institute Series games. I figured very small, quick, simple wargames might still be playable. But it didn't take much experimenting to convince me that a wargame has to be bigger or more complex in order to have a real wargamey feel to it. If I was going to play a small, simple wargame, I might just as well play chess or something instead.

So, in 1999, the year before our last move, I sold a whole closet full of wargaming stuff--games and magazines I'd been collecting for years. It brought tears to my eyes to part with a few of those items, but in all honesty I had to admit that there was no way I'd ever use them again. They might just as well find a better home.

A few years later, I was browsing eBay, seeing images of some of those old wargames, and--well, they brought back memories. I didn't just want the games back, though; I wanted the old gaming experiences back. I wanted to set the calendar back to 1973 and start over from there.

The weird thing is, part of me was sure that must somehow be possible. The memories were so alive that surely, if I just had the game and could return to the old gaming spot and link up with an old gaming buddy, it'd be just like old times. I'd be eighteen again, and wargaming would be fresh and new and wonderful.

Yet, there was another part of me that knew it wasn't so. And that part of me refused to make any foolish purchases. When I looked at it from that angle, I could see that I'd only end up with another copy of a game I got rid of for a good reason--the fact that it'd never get played.

But in 2008, I started poking around BGG. And while I knew I wouldn't be able to get into an old wargame, I started wondering if I could maybe get into a new one. Maybe a new kind of game was being published now. Maybe a wargame could be small and short and yet feel like a real wargame.

And as it happened, Victory Point Games was just building up steam that year. I investigated, became intrigued, and decided to try a couple of their titles--Waterloo 20 and Ancient Battles Deluxe.

They were pretty good, and it was amusing to be doing something I hadn't done in about a decade and didn't think I'd ever do again. Waterloo 20 left something to be desired, though. But ABD clicked for me, at least a little. It gave me a clue that I might prefer tactical games, and it inspired me to search a little further.

Around that time, I discovered print-and-play demos for Lock 'n Load, and I tried a couple of those. Wow, did that ever bring back memories! It was like January 1980, when I tried Squad Leader for the first time. I didn't care for all the rules in LnL, or the fussiness of checking line of sight and all. But once I got past those little hurdles, what a game! Detailed and exciting. The best of what I used to enjoy about wargaming.

If it had ended right there, it would've been fine. But now that I felt I was back to 1980, I started acting that way. I ordered one LnL game, then another and another--and it soon got to where I just had to have them all. What I don't own, I've preordered.

The thing is, I'm acting as if I'm still twenty-five years old and can happily explore all these games. But I'm actually fifty-six and only rarely get around to playing an LnL scenario.

I hate to admit it, even to myself, but I've slowed down some. Inside, there's a part of me that still feels eighteen. But outside, I neither look nor act eighteen--or twenty-five either.

For one thing, I'm much less patient with reading game rules. The LnL rules are about my limit; and furthermore, I don't want another game with as many rules as LnL. One is enough.

For another thing, I don't play games as often as I used to. I've got more going on--a wife and cats and house and yard and cars to take care of, for instance, along with a full-time job. And I get fatigued more easily; so in my leisure time, I'd rather do something easy and comfortable than something that's going to strain my brain.

And for yet another thing, I'm practically a hermit these days. Even if I could find the time for it, I wouldn't be strongly motivated to find other gamers. I'd just as soon play solo or on the computer. Somehow, it's just too much of a hassle to arrange for a game and follow through.

But in spite of all that, I got overly enthusiastic about LnL and invested in all the games. Now, as long as I continue to like the system, I'm set for life.

That's not the end of it, though. I'm set for more than one life, because LnL isn't all I've invested in.

Once I got that feeling that it's 1980 all over again, I bought a wargame that was new and popular that year: The Ironclads. In the late 1970s, I used to love Wooden Ships & Iron Men, but the American Civil War was always my main period of interest. So here, I thought, was a chance to get into a wargame I'd missed out on years before.

Even before playing the game, though, I got swept up in the old youthful enthusiasm: I just had to have the other two games in The Ironclads Series. So I went out of my way to get those too.

I did get around to playing Ironclads, and I liked it well enough. But after playing three or four scenarios, I put it away, and I haven't taken it out since.

At this point, I started rationalizing my purchases. I knew I was going overboard, so I sought to set a limit. I had gotten into Ancient Battles Deluxe, which covered history up to AD 1600 or so, and LnL, which covered WW2 to the present. Ironclads touched upon the period in between and added variety by virtue of being a naval wargame.

Unfortunately, that line of thinking led me to buy even more games. As a land-warfare counterpart to Ironclads, I picked up Battles & Leaders. Then, for the sake of comparison, Rebel Yell. (For further comparison, there's the land-warfare system in Shot and Shell.) I haven't played any of those yet. I don't know when I'll ever find time for them.

But with so many tactical wargames, I felt I needed a strategy-level game. And I'd had my eye on A House Divided: War Between the States 1861-65 ever since it was first published. Back then, I thought it was probably too simple for my liking, but now I was into simpler wargames. So I bought a copy and played a few games--and really enjoyed them. I liked them so much that, just out of curiosity, I bought the first and second editions of the game as well. Now I have all three. And since everyone says it's the best ACW wargame around, I bought a copy of The Civil War also, to replace the copy I sold years ago.

That's only part of the story. I also traded some games, fell for some deals on eBay, and ended up with even more wargames. Right now, for example, The Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BC sits on my gaming table, ready to be set up, learned, and played.

But somehow, I just haven't been able to get into it. I read the rules once through, but every time I look at the game, I go do something else instead. Part of it is that I really don't want to have to learn yet another new game. I've had my fill of learning for the time being; I'd rather just play a game I already know. So, I'm half tempted to put PW away and set up another LnL or ABD scenario.

The real problem isn't with PW or any other game, though. It's with me. I've changed. It's not 1980 anymore.

Maybe I can still do anything today that I did in 1980. But not with the same carefree abandon. Not with the same youthful exuberance. Not without being called away by a dozen other things and asking myself, Is this really what I want to be doing now?

On top of that, I've got my inner critic to contend with. That has more to do with my personality type than my age, I think. All my life I've had what Freud might've called a pesky superego: I'm always asking myself what I ought to be doing. If I take too long a break from doing things that are useful or productive, I start feeling guilty. Hence, I'm conflicted over game playing: it's OK as an occasional respite, but I can't let it take up too much of my life.

So--what the hell am I doing with well over a hundred games in my collection? I've never liked collecting things. Anytime I ever bought a game, it was with the intention of playing it--repeatedly. Often it was with the hope that it'd become a "lifestyle" game--a game that could be a hobby in itself (that's especially the case with the classic games I keep trying to stick to and study--Chess, Checkers, Go, etc.). But here I am with a huge overload of games. Again.

Yes, this has happened before--three or four times. I'd look at my game closet and shake my head, wondering what I'd been thinking. Then, somehow or other, I'd pack it all up and ship it off to some lucky buyer.

I think I'm getting too old to let that happen many more times. Somehow, I've got to get my dreams or gaming desires lined up with reality. (If I pull that off, I'm sure the rest of my life will benefit as well.)

Right now, I'm into the self-flagellation phase. I'm not in a hurry to get rid of games; on the contrary, I'm telling myself that this time I'll make a point of keeping them all--and maybe even buying more. I'll be like the kid who, after being caught smoking, is made to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes as punishment. Let this overload of games weigh on me and crowd my space and time awhile. Maybe I'll finally learn my lesson.

Part of the lesson is that you simply can't go back. I knew I couldn't go back to 1973, so I shot for 1980 instead. Couldn't get there either.

I wonder if 2011 is an OK place to be. Maybe I could adjust if I tried. Maybe if I took a good look in the mirror, I'd see that it's tolerable to be just who I am. And then maybe I could build a lifestyle that fits. Maybe gaming would fit into that lifestyle somewhere, even if it doesn't fit the way it used to.
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