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What Are Your 'Someday' Games?

The games that you should never have time to play, but dream of mastering.

Open Thread is where Waypoint staff talk about games and other things we find interesting. This is where you'll see us chat about games, music, movies, TV, and even sports, and welcome you to participate in the discussion.

Last week, the Washington Post surveyed the history and changing context of the Cold War strategy game Twilight Struggle—a game that the Post is quick to point out is or was arguably the “greatest board game ever made” according to BoardGameGeek’s user ratings. It’s an enjoyable story, even if parts of it are overly familiar by now (after all, Twilight has hardly been a secret among strategy audience for the past several years, and the excellent PC version pretty much made it accessible to anyone who was interested). But the part that got me smiling was this passage on the self-destruction of traditional wargaming:


Another notorious war game, the Campaign for North Africa, came with a 10-foot-long map and was said to take 1,500 hours to complete. Its level of detail was practically parodical, with a "macaroni rule" that forced the player representing Italy to reserve extra portions of water so troops could boil their pasta rations.

Now, I know that levels of that kind of granularity are almost always bad. The “macaroni rule” was itself a commentary on the spiraling complexity of wargame design of which Campaign for North Africa was at once a symptom and the apotheosis. Every wargamer has stories about some weird piece of rules arcana that some designer felt was crucial to creating an historically authentic tabletop game. One PC game designer told me about how his Advanced Squad Leader group was brought to its knees by a debate about an “underwater horse” and some ambiguity in the rulebook around the way cavalry movement rules interacted with depth 2 water river hexes. People would choose these hills, or shallows as the case may be, to die on.

'Gary Grigsby's War in the West' screenshot courtesy of Slitherine

To an extent that baroque design ethos is what triumphed in PC wargame design, and a lot of “serious” PC wargames are carrying on with the spirit and philosophy of those 1970s Ameritrash curios. Some have accomplished amazing things with a computer to do the heavy lifting, others have simply translated the dull fetishism of the worst wargames to the computer. Give me Unity of Command or Sid Meier’s Gettysburg any day over that nonsense.


But if I did have unlimited time and space… I think I’d prove myself a hypocrite and dig into that kind of bullshit for myself. This weekend, visiting my pal Bruce Geryk from the Three Moves Ahead podcast, he pulled a still shrink-wrapped copy of Home Before the Leaves Fall: The Marne Campaign 1914 from the section of his games library where it has sat undisturbed for almost twenty years. Despite its name, I think you’d see many springs before completing its grand campaign covering the first month of the First World War.

With 3000 counters and a map of the battlefields between Paris, Antwerp, and Cologne that’s so large you could use it as an area rug, it looks mind-bogglingly detailed and challenging. But just seeing the counters and staring at the contour lines around Metz and Verdun, I found myself flashing back to those long-ago summer vacations where I’d start playing Squad Leader scenarios against myself in an effort to recreate the Battle of Stalingrad on my desk.

If time and practicality were absolutely of no consideration, I would probably finally bring out the copy of Third Reich that a listener sent me a couple years ago, trick one of my friends into letting me teach it to them, and grind through World War 2 for a month of Sundays. We’d stand over my now requisitioned-for-service dining room table like adjutants in a WW2 command bunker, waiting to mark the orders that will blot out the skies with aircraft and send legions marching toward their rendezvous with history. Just as soon as we figure out movement rules.

What’s your “world enough and time” game? What’s the thing you are never going to play unless you find yourself with months or years of unencumbered free time… and that you know will probably turn out to be a bad idea?

Let me know in today's open thread!