A few weeks ago, I began what has already turned into a very challenging online tournament match with an old adversary: Bert Schoose. Bert beat me like a “rented mule” in the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) Convention AFRIKA KORPS Tournament quarterfinals in 2008. Now I am facing him again in the current AFRIKA KORPS PBeM Tournament finals, and after only twelve game turns (April – September ’41), he already has my Commonwealth forces scrambling to hold onto their Home Base long enough for the British November reinforcements to finally limp onto the map, three turns hence. The toughness of this finals match with Bert, of course, was to be expected. Both of us had to fight our way through four earlier rounds, so — even ignoring our past tournament history — it was a contest that we were both looking forward to. However, the formal start of this PBeM match also got me to thinking about present-day wargaming, and about online competition, in particular. On the whole, I like what I see. It strikes me that, although traditional wargaming may have contracted a bit because of the growth in popularity of computer and “role playing” games, today’s hobby nonetheless offers more to the typical player than at any time that I can think of in the past. And for that, of course, we should all thank the growth and spread of the PC and the internet.
Bert Schoose plays Joe Beard in the WBC 2008 Quarter Finals. Photo courtesy BPA.
Currently, there are an amazing number of different competitive venues open to the online gaming community. A brief visit to the BPA, ‘Boardgamegeek’, 'Consim.world.com',or ‘grognard.com’ websites, for example, will quickly provide interested players with access to different PBeM tournaments and ongoing game ‘ladders’ that cover a wide selection of both popular and obscure titles. Moreover, online gaming platforms like ‘Vassal’, 'Zun Tzu', and ‘Cyberboard’ (just to name a few) have made recording and exchanging moves more accurate and less time-consuming; and subscription gaming sites like ‘Hexwars’ have made finding opponents more convenient and faster than ever before. In fact, it has probably never been easier for those players who are interested in year-around traditional wargaming to find worthwhile competition. Just as importantly, these online venues have opened up opportunities for newer players to try older titles that they might never otherwise have had either the inclination or the chance to play. This online resurrection of older classic titles, I can’t help but believe, is all to the good.
Of course, when it comes to old versus new games, I may be a little biased. As most regular visitors to this blog already know, I am an erstwhile defender of quite a few of the traditional — admittedly, now out of print and largely out of favor — Avalon Hill, GDW, OSG, RGA and SPI games from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. However, despite my genuine fondness for many of the titles from the so-called “golden era” of wargaming, my current support for these aging classics has very little to do with nostalgia. Instead, I like these older titles because they have, for the most part, stood the test of time; they still offer interesting, clearly-defined, and usually very balanced game situations. And these are design features that seem, all too often, to be in short supply when it comes to a large percentage of the newer, more contemporary titles. This is not to suggest that all of these early games were great, and all of the newer ones are dross; far from it. For example, I would be the first to admit that the graphics of most of these older titles are a little drab — if not downright primitive, or worse — by today’s standards; and, viewed purely as simulations, many of the newer game designs have arguably attempted to do a more thorough and accurate job of modeling history. Nonetheless, it has been my experience that, despite their greater “eye appeal” and their often richly-textured design platforms, surprisingly few of the newer titles really manage to generate the same kind of intense, competitive excitement that regularly occurs whenever older games are fought out between a pair of savvy classics players. Thus, just making some of these older titles available through Vassal, Zun Tzu, or Cyberboard, I believe, exposes a whole new generation of players to what are still great games. In addition, online gaming makes it much more likely that newer entrants into the hobby will be able to find matches with more experienced opponents. This can be a great opportunity, when properly used, for both players to benefit: one by teaching, and the other by learning the nuances of an unfamiliar game. Call me old-fashioned, but, I think that this is an excellent way for aging gamers (like myself and my friends) to help renew the hobby.
WBC 2008 Afrika Korps tournament players enjoy the game, competition, and cammaraderie. Photo courtesy BPA.
The upshot of this is that, along with a few, still-popular gaming conventions, online play has really helped to preserve and expand the hobby. Nowadays, players can go to websites that specialize in any number of different types of wargames: from traditional boardgames, to fast-playing Euro-games, to the rapidly expanding collection of card-driven games. This means that, for the vast majority of players, the great bane of gaming’s “golden years” — finding and staying in touch with like-minded opponents — is pretty much a thing of the past. Wargaming is, and probably always will be, a niche hobby; nonetheless, it is a niche hobby that, despite competition from all sides, has still managed to survive and prosper. Given the many temptations of modern life, that, in itself, is no small accomplishment.
Finally, for those players who, for one reason or another, have been slow to explore the many gaming options currently available online, I have included a short list of links to some of my favorite wargaming sites. Most of these websites are currently listed in the Map and Counters sidebar, but they are presented here, along with a brief site description, to help readers choose those online destinations that might personally be of the most interest. There are, of course, a great many other excellent internet destinations besides the few appearing on this list; however, these recommended links all lead to sites that, I personally believe, are well worth visiting by anyone who is just beginning to explore the almost limitless possibilities of online gaming. So, with that said, here are just a few sites that I think are both safe and well worth a visit.
Probably the site that I visit more frequently than any other, Boardgamegeek.com is a source of information on almost any game you can think of, and on virtually every aspect of gaming, from game components to auctions, to player commentary. Think of it as a huge “virtual” game store.
The host site for the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) or “DonCon” (in honor of Don Greenwood) to its longtime devotees; lots of info on past, present, and future conventions and convention events; also has links to a large number of BPA sponsored PBeM tournaments.
The host site for the annual Consimworld conventions (Consimworld 2010 recently ended) held in Arizona, every year; also an excellent destination for players who want to chat online with other gamers.
This is one of the two premiere sources for online game platforms; not surprisingly, new titles are being added all the time.
Along with Boardgamegeek, this site is an excellent source of information on almost every commercial wargame ever published. If Boardgamegeek is a “game store,” this site is more like a “library.”
As a commercial, “pay if you play” gaming destination, this site offers both free (SPI’s, NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO) and subscription (almost anything else) online gaming for a steadily expanding number of popular wargame titles.
This is the other of the two premiere sources for internet gaming platforms; and like Cyberboard, new titles are regularly being added to the menu of available online games. Think of it and Cyberboard as two different versions of “Kindle,” but for wargames instead of books.
Last, but certainly not least, warhorsesim.com is one of my favorite internet destinations both for online gaming and as a source for randomly-generated die rolls. In addition, this site also offers a number of other “player friendly” services, such as an “opponents wanted” bulletin board and an online message board for players and watchers to post log entries on games in progress. In fact, my previously-mentioned AFRIKA KORPS PBeM finals match with Bert Schoose is currently running as a turn-by-turn game log at warhorsesim.com.
Posted by JCB III at 8:13 PM
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