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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My First Bucket-List Project

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"Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My word's but a whisper, your deafness a shout."
"If I were to hang my head, I'd miss all the rainbows. And I'd drown in raindrops instead."
For all I know, the end is still far off yet. But when you get past age sixty and have had a medical scare or two, you become more aware of your mortality. And that can make the idea of a "bucket list" a bit more real.

At first, though, I wasn't thinking about that when I fired up RealmSpeak a few days ago. Another BGGeek brought it back to my attention, so I decided to see if it'd still run in Windows 10. It did, so I played around with it a bit, even though I'd forgotten most of the Magic Realm rules.

I started a single-character game as the Berserker, and even with the unfamiliar interface and forgotten rules, I managed to get through four or five days of adventuring. Then I saved the game and quit, figuring I'd better hit the rule book again.

The next day, I started to move the rules file to Google Drive, where I'd be able to read some of it during breaks. But then I asked myself, "Why not just grab the printed rules?" Strange that I've come to think first of digital documents; it made me realize how much the world has changed, and my perceptions along with it. I pulled the Magic Realm box out of the stack in my closet, grabbed the rule book, and went to work.

I first bought MR around 1980, IIRC, when it was brand-new. I'd been buying The Avalon Hill Game Co games for years--mostly wargames--and I was especially fond of the more complex games. I had never gotten into RPGs, however--mainly because they required several players and I was already resorting to solitaire most of the time. MR looked like a good chance for me to experience something of the fantasy/RPG genre without having to form or join a D&D group.

I liked the look of the game. And I prejudged it to be excellent, just because it was from Avalon Hill. (Only years later would I come to realize even AH published a few duds in its time; in 1980 I still considered AH the Mount Olympus of the gaming world.) But MR was obviously such a complicated game that it'd be a chore to learn it.

That wasn't a problem; I welcomed "chores" like that. The problem for me was that I already had my hands full with Squad Leader. I spent all of 1980 working my way through the SL scenarios, learning and practicing all the rules in the book. And then, right away, I started into the expansions--Cross of Iron and Crescendo of Doom. I also bought G.I. Anvil of Victory when it came out, but I was still struggling with CoD. Then, in 1985, along came Advanced Squad Leader, and I was into that for the next ten years or so.

Hence, Magic Realm just sat in the closet, waiting its turn.

I got married in 1987, and my wife had played some D&D in college. She seemed somewhat interested in games, but she wasn't thrilled about wargames. One day I thought she might like MR, so I introduced her to it (while reintroducing it to myself). We set out to play a game, but we only got as far as the first combat encounter, as I recall. She didn't like the combat system at all, and she didn't want to play anymore. I got the impression the game was too structured for her; she had fond memories of RPG "storytelling sessions," and MR was not that.

Oh well. I just went back to playing ASL, solo. Then computer games arrived on the scene, and those became a huge distraction over time.

In 2008, I thought I had had my fill of computer games, so I took a shot at getting back into board wargaming. That's about when I joined BGG too. I had previously emptied my closet of games; now I started buying them again. Between curiosity about new games and nostalgic longings for old games, it wasn't long before I had a whole collection again. And Magic Realm became part of that collection.

I had abandoned ASL in the mid-1990s. And I wasn't hooked on any video games. So MR looked like it might be just the thing for me--a richly detailed game like ASL, but different and eminently well suited for solo play. I even liked the fantasy theme. One thing that had eventually turned me off about ASL was its shortcoming as a model of tactical warfare; but I'd never run into that disappointment with MR, since it only models the make-believe.

As evidenced by a few past blog posts, I delved enthusiastically into MR from time to time. But for some reason, I never followed through. My attention always shifted to something else, and MR got left behind.

Part of it, I guess, was just being out of practice at dealing with complicated games. I worked for years to learn SL and ASL, but then I found I had to keep playing regularly or else start forgetting rules. That was another turn-off; I preferred games whose rules I could keep in my head. Now, as I pored over the MR rules, I found myself back in that old situation again. And it was even worse now, because I had played a lot of computer games in the meantime; and in computer games, you don't necessarily have to learn the rules at all--you just play.

Another thing I ran into was MR fans talking about how much more wonderful the game is when played by several people at a table. Sure, it can be played solitaire, they'd say, but you don't get the full experience of it that way; you miss out on the best part. I figured they were probably right about that. And I didn't want to join a group and play that way. So I wondered if it'd even be worth it to learn how to play the game and then only ever play it solo.

RealmSpeak came to my attention, but it seemed like a mixed blessing. At that time I was trying to get away from computer games and back to tabletop games; but RealmSpeak would send me back to the computer again. On the plus side, however, it'd save me a LOT of setup time, and it would also help ensure that I was getting the rules right.

It took a while to get it installed and running, but I did it. And I was impressed at first glance. But then I found myself in a weird place. Having been spoiled by computer games for years, I expected RS to run automatically. I mean, I knew it wouldn't; I knew what I was getting into. But once I had a game up on my computer screen, my whole being--mind and body--was expecting music, sound effects, an AI, animation, and the works. Without those things, what I was faced with looked pretty stark and lifeless.

I played around with it for a while, but I never really got the hang of the interface or controls. Nor did I ever learn how to play MR. I went back to thinking it was something I might try again someday.

Now it looks like "someday" has finally arrived.

I'm well into rereading the MR rules (I have them beside me right now), and I've started into Jay Richardson's "Book of Learning" too. Also, for a couple days in a row I've played on RealmSpeak. Last night I started--and completed--a very short game as the White Knight. After trading for a better weapon, I ventured into a cave tile, where I was beset by a horde of goblins. Earlier in the day I had read that swarms of weaker creatures are the White Knight's greatest danger, and I had a chance to experience that firsthand. Without knowing what I was doing half the time, I managed to kill about three or four goblins, but then all my chits were fatigued or wounded, and soon I was dead.

I was very pleased, though! In the process, I had discovered the Combat Round Results button, which opened a screen showing the details of combat. Though I hadn't reread the combat rules, this screen clued me in on what had happened and why. I learned a thing or two.

So, some thirty or thirty-five years after first buying Magic Realm, I'm finally getting around to learning and playing it. Doing so reminds me of all the times I've put it off over the years. And it feels pretty good to be actually doing something I always meant to do.
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