Herding Cats: Keeping a Home-Based “Monster” Game Going After the First Few Game Turns
In a previous post, I discussed a few important issues to consider when organizing the start of a home-based “monster” game. Take it from me; every one of these start-up experiences will be a little different. However, once you actually get your very own “monster” under way, there are still a few key issues to pay attention to: that is, if you want to have any chance of keeping the darn thing going past the first few turns. In this final post in the series, I will attempt to tie up a few of the loose ends that can sink your newly-started “monster” game before it really gets a chance to develop its own momentum.
First, although it seems like it should be simple, scheduling the times for making game moves can actually be much harder than it looks. The reason for this resides squarely with human nature. When a game first begins, player excitement is at its peak; no one even thinks to voice any concerns about committing their next consecutive one hundred and four Saturdays and Sundays to the “monster” game session in Merle’s basement. Unfortunately, this level of enthusiasm is unsustainable and will drop very quickly. Usually, by the third or fourth weekend at the latest, the complaints and excuses will begin to trickle in. “I’ve really got to work this weekend. Little Johnny has a recital, or a Little League game, or has to have a heart transplant. I’d like to come over to play, but my wife has taken to humming the theme from “Sweeney Todd” and she says that if I disappear one more weekend — she won’t be able to vouch for my safety when I finally do come home!”
These reactions are perfectly reasonable and should be planned for. After all, just because you are antisocial and self-absorbed enough to give up all of your weekends for the next two years, doesn’t mean that your wife and children are necessarily 100% on board with your gaming obsession. The answer to this problem, like most others in life, is for everyone to be flexible and creative. Vary the times for game sessions; give people time off from time to time; and generally try to keep the players interested and engaged without alienating their family and friends in the process. The one indispensible player is the person who is hosting the game. Of all of the “monster” game participants, the host is the one individual who must be kept on board if the game is to continue. This is also why the one hosting the game should be the most committed player at the table.
Second, the next most important player after the host is not the game’s actual owner or the original “monster” organizer; in fact this person does not even have a seat in the game, but they can certainly kill it if they decide to. I am, of course, speaking about the host’s “significant other.” A little courtesy and the odd “hostess gift” will go a long way towards keeping this critical bystander from spiking the game. However quiet and accommodating she may appear, don’t ever forget that the host’s “better half” is at least as important as he is to the future survival of the game.
Third, it is usually a good idea to be fairly flexible about move adjustments. If a team’s move has not been declared as being completed, then the moving players should be allowed to make legal changes in unit positions and combats until they are actually satisfied with their final deployments. I and a friend were once involved in a game of WAR IN THE EAST with a pair of opponents who insisted on the “contact rule.” That is: once a player removed his hand from a piece, the move could not be adjusted. Suffice to say that I and my friend were far more precise with our Russian unit positions than our opponents were with the Germans and the game ended after the first summer with a decisive Russian victory: the Germans failed to capture either Leningrad or Kharkov.
Fourth, rules problems are inevitable and should be planned for well in advance. Flexibility is again the key in these situations. No matter how many rules clarifications you have received from the game’s publisher, and no matter how carefully everyone has worked through the rule book and errata, if the game continues long enough, there are going to be genuine, difficult to resolve, disputes. In certain cases, these types of problems can probably be resolved with a simple die roll. However, in other instances, the opposing interpretations are so at odds that before any final resolution is even attempted, arrangements must be made to allow one or the other side to adjust that part of their move — and only that part of their move — that is directly affected so as to take into account the game rule’s newly-settled interpretation. This means, bluntly, that if there is a dispute about the effect of fortifications on armor around Leningrad, there should be no changes to unit positions or combats ANYWHERE ELSE on the map. The Black Sea, I hate to break it to you, is nowhere near Leningrad. Finally, if your side looks like it is winning, be generous! There is nothing that will sour your opposition faster than seeing their army getting clobbered and simultaneously being badgered by “rules lawyers.”
Fifth, if the game goes on long enough, another unexpected and obnoxious nuisance is certain to show itself: dust. From the first minute that the new “monster” game is laid out and play begins, dust starts to accumulate on the plastic map covers and counters. And while the gradual accumulation does not seem to be that much of an inconvenience at first, with time, it will become a very irritating problem. The longer the game sits, the dustier it gets. If you don’t want the game room to look more and more like the dining hall in “Great Expectations,” then there will finally come a point when something has to be done.
The bad news about dust is that there is no obvious or easy solution to the problem. Covering the game table with some type of suspended “drop cloth,” while a possibility, usually turns out to be a lot trickier than it first appears. Moreover, it just postpones the problem of dust accumulation, it doesn’t solve it. The second option is to simply put up with the dust as long as possible, and then to methodically record the position of EVERY counter on the playing surface before removing them so that the map covers and counters can be cleaned. You heard me correctly: along with the map covers, the little cardboard counters have to be wiped, one-by-one, with tissues. Personally I’m not certain, but I believe that this little job is typically found somewhere between the “second” and “third rings” of Hell. The best and most convenient solution that I and my friends finally stumbled onto was to attack the problem at its source. We introduced a large, two-stage “hepa” air filter into the room, and then kept the door closed. Even this won’t solve the problem indefinitely, but it does significantly retard the buildup of dust; because of the air scrubbing, a major clean-up often is not required for a year or more. It should be noted that, although these filters are noisy, players usually become accustomed to them surprisingly quickly.
And that’s finally it. If you follow these last few simple guidelines, I promise that your prospects for keeping a “monster” game running will probably improve dramatically. Of course, how long the game actually continues depends both on the different personalities of the players, and on their determination to see the project through. Speaking from my own experience, keeping a game going is as much a matter of sheer will as anything else; on more than one occasion, a game that started out with six or even seven players, gradually lost participants until it ended up with only one diehard left on each side of the map. Interestingly, when everything is said and done, that’s really all that it takes.