17 Jan 2014

Random musings #1 - The Rise of the Consumer-Games

So having passed the dreaded seventh day mark of any blogger I figured I'd better get going and write something again. Not so much because I fear for losing whatever audience I have, but rather because I made myself a promise (or resolution, if you will) that I should really write more in this new year - there's only one way to get better at something, sheer repetition.

However, luck would also have it that I've been mulling over a topic as of late that I'd like to present to you - the wargamers out there - the rise of the Consumer Game!

What do I mean by a Consumer Game? To me it is a very specific method of promoting your wargame wherein you actively encourage people to always buy new miniatures, new books, new stuff and even more stuff for them to have an equal footing with their peers down at the club where they are usually played. Some also refer to them as Boutique Games, because of the beautifully sculpted but extremely expensive miniatures; I've also seen them referenced as Coffee-table games as they can usually be played on an area similar to a coffee table.

But, to me, these classifications both miss the mark of what I feel these games really are - Magic the Gathering with Miniatures; a collectable game that you need to do all the work for yourself, with only a single driving force - money. They are wargames, as such, but are driven by corporate entities whose sole purpose is to create games that can be sold as a complete package for maximum profit. Games Workshop is the worst such example, but the wargaming community is slowly flooded by the likes, with their overly specialized miniatures, set-piece-combo-rules and what have you. It's not a hobby, it's a product disguised as a hobby.

I'm not going to argue it that much; money makes the world go 'round and if you want to make it in this world of ours then you need to make some yourself. I'm fine with these companies trying to earn a buck or two - but I do feel that in their drive towards earning said buck, then they make games that are ultimately soulless and neither fowl nor fish. They have all the trappings (miniatures, terrain and dice) of a normal wargame, sure! And they do look fancy and great on display - but when you actually start to play the damn thing then it all goes wrong.

There's little joy to be had from a game that you lost before you even got to deployment. In my eyes, almost all of these games could be played on a squared off board, 8 by 8 squares and that would have all of the effect of what the miniatures and terrain actually do in these games. Manouvering and tactics are out the window as soon as you deploy your troops; at the very instance the deployment phase is over you know whether or not the game is lost - and the rest is just going through the motions.

But why is there then such a surge of these games? I mean, except for it being rather like printing money, then there must be something there that the hobbyist would like to get in on. I'm guessing that it is because of the percieved low buy-in on said game; Warmachine had long claimed that you could buy a starter box and be able to play the game and have fun - which is similar to saying that you could by a squad of Space Marines and have fun playing Warhammer 40.000; a highly theoretical kind of fun because there's little tension in having two squads of Space Marines fight each other. It mainly comes down to the luck of the dice. Even though I don't mind a bit of luck to win the day, then there's a time and place for everything. And without "access" to the rest of the miniature catalouge then how much fun is a game of Warmachine then? If all you have is the starterbox, then you're disadvantaged before you've even started the bloody game!

It would appear that the main selling point of these games is the fact that you have fewer miniatures to paint in order to get a game in - which is perfectly understandable, but also a bit of a false promise. Because people seem to think (or at least a lot of the people I've talked with seem to think) that if they can't paint to the Golden Demon standard of the packaging of these miniatures, then they're not going to paint them at all. I've lost count of the number of Consumer-Skirmish-Games that I've seen being played with unpainted miniatures with the justification always being "I'm just going to try..."

And who can blame them? If time is at such a premium, then why are you going to spend your minimal spare time on painting up miniatures that are going to be out in the next edition or just won't work at all in the current edition? But then, why keep playing a game where you can't just use any miniature that you'd like and still have a fun game?

I guess I just don't get it, mainly because I'm much more of a story-telling gamer or an old-school wargamer that thinks wargaming should be about gaming war. But when all that is available for skirmish games are these overly specialized combo-building game, where you are looking to utilize specific synergy combos in your armylist to win; it becomes a game of mechanics and thus, in my opinion, it loses its soul as a wargame.

Personally I find this trend rather disheartening. Which incidently coincides with my other resolution - make more games. If you don't care for a trend, then try to buck it. So that's what I'm going to do; buck the trend and make logically progressing skirmish and battle games for science fiction and fantasy. Fingers crossed!