Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Gaming History

The news of Gary Gygax's passing saddened me although I never knew him personally. His game has influenced my life (and many other gamers) in countless ways. I had many good times playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends during my adolescent years and beyond. Reminiscing about AD&D prompted me to think about my formative years in gaming and I decided to go ahead and summarize my experiences here. Ah the nostalgia...

I was always interested in games and sports. I thrived on competition and always wanted to "be the best" at whatever activity I was doing. My grandfather did play me in Checkers, my brother taught me chess, and we played a few card games as a family during vacations. However, I mostly played games with my friends.

The first non-traditional boardgame that I remember playing was TSR's Dungeon! I still have a copy of it in my closet. This was a dungeon-crawl boardgame and my first D&D type experience. I remember looking at some maps my brother was drawing (he was 10 yrs older) and being interested in the game he was playing. I learned later that this was Dungeons & Dragons. I first started playing D&D when I was about 8 yrs old and I played the Keep on the Borderlands B2 module with the old D&D rules. I had no idea what I was doing except learning how to roll dice to fight monsters, but I got started and the experience evolved into something quite different.

I would later learn the rules for Advanced D&D (AD&D) and inherited the original hardback rulebooks from my brother as he didn't stay interested. I learned about playing a role playing game and how it was very different from any boardgame. First of all, there was no board! The game was created and played like a movie/play/story with the players "acting" as the lead characters while the Dungeon Master (DM) would design the plot and play the roles of all the characters in the game including the villains and monsters the players encounter. The DM was the author/director/referee and his goal was to make the game experience fun for the players. It was such a revolutionary concept to think that people could play a game without winners/losers and just enjoy it for the experience of playing. AD&D would be a fixture for Role playing games (RPGs) for decades and it appealed to me on many levels -- Fantasy themes, combat, good vs evil, imagination, creativity, and rolling lots of cool looking dice!

While I was still 10-11 yrs old, I picked up another role playing game called Champions. I was already a comic book reader (mostly Marvel comics Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, etc) and Champions was a RPG that allowed players to create their own superheroes and have comic book style adventures. The greatest design element in Champions was the character creation process. In AD&D you created a character primarily by rolling dice for various attributes like Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence and these attributes defined how inherently capable he/she was at being a Fighter, Thief, or Wizard. Champions gave you the capability to design your characters abilities and powers and make them the values that you wanted! If you wanted to build a character with Superman or Spiderman's powers then you can. You were only limited by your creativity. The game also had a built-in balancing mechanism where you had to pay for your powers with points and any points over a threshold (usually 100pts) had to be paid for with Disadvantages (Kryptonite, Aunt May, etc). So I could build a 200 pt hero but then he would need 100 pts in disadvantages while a 150 pt hero might not be as a capable but he wouldn't have as many "issues" with only 50pts in disadvantages. I have no idea how many characters I made in Champions but there were a whole lot more created then ever adventured in the game because the process was great fun on it's own. Champions and AD&D also taught me a lot of math calculations including fractions, rounding, formulas and probability (the first bell curve I saw was in one of the AD&D books).

I played many RPGs in Chicago and then when I moved to Atlanta I started playing many games with friends and my cousin who lived in Alabama. These games included: Risk, Grand Imperialism, Knights of Camelot, All the King's Men, The James Bond RPG, Marvel Superheroes RPG, SPI War of the Ring, Gamma World, Saga, Viking Gods, Gladiator, Wizards, Talisman, Dungeonquest, Chainsaw Warrior, Bowl Bound, Paydirt, Block Mania, Blood Bowl, Chaos Marauders, Fellowship of the Ring, Kingmaker, Axis and Allies, and Fortress America. Most of these were themed around Fantasy or Role playing games or created by companies in those markets TSR and Games Workshop along with the famous Milton Bradley big box series like Axis and Allies.

Then a tactical game called Battletech came out and I was hooked on a new boardgame. Battletech allowed players to play a combat simulation game where you control your 20-100 ton Mech's which are giant armored robotic looking vehicles armed with lasers, missiles, machine guns, and other weaponry. The sci-fi game produced by FASA had a great back story and it was fun to "blow up" the opponents by destroying armor in various locations and either causing it to overheat, hitting the ammo and igniting a chain reaction, or even blowing up the "head" where the pilot controls the Mech. Teams of Mechs could form Lances (4 Mechs) or Companies (3 Lances). The structure allowed for Battalions (3 Companies) but those battles were resolved with Mass combat rules. The game incorporated Fighters and Dropships too along with Infantry and Tanks which allowed you to simulate invading a planet or running an imbalanced forces scenario. This game was addictive and I can remember playing Mechwarrior (RPG addition to Battletech) for many all-night gaming sessions.

Battletech and Role Playing games along with Axis and Allies were played in High School and even at College. I can still fondly remember some of the battles and adventures that we had during that time. After college, I got married and started working in corporate America in Nashville. Gaming was pushed aside for awhile except for traditional games Monopoly, Scrabble, etc that I played with my wife.

Back in college a friend of mine introduced me to a card game where you played a spell caster and the cards were the spells you used to duel against your opponent. It looked okay but I was too busy and financially strapped to start on a new game. Well, in Nashville I met a co-worker's husband who introduced this game to me again and I became hooked on Magic the Gathering. My lovely wife unknowingly bought me a Starter pack from the 4th Edition because she saw how much I was interested without realizing how "interested" I really was... This game was another great evolutionary design in gaming. Yes, I know that it is a marketing and huge money pit but the game itself is pure genius. The idea that you can take a group of cards and build your own deck by combining elements from the cards together into a consistent and cohesive design is incredible and very, very, VERY, addictive. I invested more dollars than I care to admit into this game but I absolutely loved it. I played this game for several years in the late 90's and into the next century. Then played it some after moving back to Atlanta before I made the next change in gaming.

I remember reading about a game based on the Lord of the Rings but one where players worked together in a cooperative game (this was around 2000 or 2001). It was designed by some German by the name of Reiner Knizia and being a Lord of the Rings fan I was keenly interested. I bought the game along with both expansions and learned about a site with similar "German" games called Boardgamegeek. I also found out about an Atlanta group that met at a hobby store and run by Ward Batty. One Sunday night, I made my way over to the store and played Paris Paris and Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers there. It was great to meet other people with similar interests and most importantly I got a contact for a boardgame group that met in Acworth. This would be the group that I joined and even though the founder has since moved to Texas, we have continued to meet and play boardgames. I've been playing with this group for 5+ years now and I have played more games than I knew existed. I am blessed that both of my children have a real interest in games and a wife who has become quite the gamer herself (even if she won't play RPGs or wargames).

Thanks Mr. Gygax for an incredible eye-opening experience that brought me into the wonderful world of gaming.
Rest in Peace.