This will be a bit of a different post for me. Mostly, I’ve focused on entertainment media: movies, books, that sort of thing. Today, however, I’m going to give a brief overview of SF/F related games. This is mostly to serve as a base point from where I can discuss it further later. I’m not even going to open the can of worms that is computer games, not right now. I’ve been out of the ‘hardcore gamer’ catagory for years (assuming I even qualified for that league).
First off, what constitutes gaming? Generally, I’d say that there is some kind of rule set or book and there is some representation of the scenario. Really, that’s all you need. The rules can be as complex or as simple as you want. I’ve played with some seriously complex rule systems, ranging from Warhammer Fantasy to Ryfts. Rules are there to tell players what they can and can’t do, essentially, they create a level playing field where players and game masters (if any) all have a common reference point.
That common reference point is important. It prevents players from feeling they’ve been cheated, it also reigns in some of the ‘power gamer’ attitudes that you sometimes see. To be brief, a power gamer does whatever they can to succeed and ‘win’ (if there is a way to win).
What’s the purpose of gaming? Well, in some ways, it depends on the game system and, in some ways, it depends on the player. Players get fired up by different aspects of the gaming hobby. In role playing games, there are literally dozens of ‘types’ of gamers, and very few people fall into perfect cookie-cutter types. In war gaming, there are also multiple types of gamers… to include gamers who don’t really even like to play, just to model and paint their armies. As far as gaming systems, there are a variety, but they’re often grouped into War Games and RPGs. There is also Board Games and Collectable Card Games, but I’ll talk those another time. War gaming is typically focused on strategy and tactics, but there’s also story and characters. Role Playing Gaming is often focused on story, characters, and even tactics, character builds, and strategy. Feeling confused yet? It’s difficult to break down what people play for without breaking down the systems themselves.
Tabletop War Games
Tabletop War Gaming (sometimes called miniature war gaming) is a broad category that includes Flames of War, Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, Hordes, Battletech, Battlefleet Gothic and dozens, if not hundreds, of others. Most of these games orient around two (or more) players, each having a unit or force, who play against one another with the goal of defeating their opponent’s force and gaining victory. These games typically involve a variety of rules to simulate weapons, tactics, strategies, and so forth. Typically, a player will have an army list which contains the breakdown of their forces.
The point of tabletop war games is competitive… but it also can involve elements of teamwork, dependant upon the number of players. This type of gaming can simulate historical, science fiction, and fantasy settings. It can contain rules to represent ground, water, space, or almost any combination. Some games can be tied together to involve dozens of players and even integrate battles in space and on the ground. Generally there are markers or figurines for units and players take turns manuevering their forces and engaging in combat. Often the results are determined from dice rolls to give that element of chance.
What’s the point of all this? Well, to paraphrase Conan the Barbarian: “To crush your enemies, to drive them before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” These games are inherently competitive, as I said. However, the extent of that competition is often deceptive. Most people who play these games do so with friends, and it often becomes a social event. Sometimes these games will be tied into a campaign to tell a story… other times the games will take place in a tournament setting where everyone fights it out to be ‘the best.’ That said, not everyone participates for the same reasons. Some people fall in love with the models and they’ll spend days or even weeks assembling painting up one model. Others enjoy the story exclusively and seek to recreate those battles.
Roleplaying games (RPGs) are typically games where each player has a character that they control. This character may have a complex background and story or might just be “Human Fighter 1” Most RPGs have character stats that represent the character and show how good they are at the various tasks that the players might put them through. Most RPGs have a Game Master, or GM. The GM controls the scenario and puts together challenges for the player or players to work though. These challenges can range from puzzles and riddles, to hordes of enemy combatants, and even to diplomatic discussion.
RPGs often involve team work, as players work together to make sure their characters survive and acheive their goals. Oddly enough, the GM is not there to defeat the characters (though there are some who play in that fashion). The GM is there to guide the players through the adventures and to (hopefully) deliver to each player what they want to achieve. As with war gaming, players play for different reasons. Some want to live vicariously through their characters, others want to enjoy the story, and still others want to slaughter their way through millions of faceless opponents and prove their strengths.
Roleplaying Games include the infamous Dungeons and Dragons, Ryfts, Legend of the Five Rings, Alternity, D20 Modern, Call of Cthulu, Vampires, the Masquerade, and (again) dozens if not hundreds of others. Various game types represent or provide different settings, rule types, and levels of difficulty for players, along with different tools that a GM might use to challenge their players.
What’s the point of all this? Gaming provides an interactive mode of entertainment that provides a breadth of involvement into science fiction and fantasy, and is a huge component of interest in the same. Many well-established series often have spin-off games (Star Wars, Firefly, Lord of the Rings, and more). Gaming is also an exciting way to explore various worlds… and a fun way to spend time with friends.
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