Tag Archives: games

The Worst Game Ever Played, Part Two- The Why NOT

You very well might regret this. But a promise is a promise.

Last week I laid out some of the reasons we play games so much (though likely not as much as we’d want). This train of thought left the station when I received a package from my best friend Bill Michaels.

{William Louis Michaels, truth be known. Born less than two weeks and closer than six miles away from me, to a family that my folks were already friends with. They SAY they did not consult on the first or middle name… seems kind of karmic to me. So sure, we’ve been best friends since ever.}

So Bill Michaels and I played these games in a box, with friends and without, maybe a dronkzillion hours, maybe more. We two were pretty well matched overall– he was more patient, I sometimes took a risk that worked. Remember back then, no PC games, no internet. You sent in money for a wargame and you waited 6-8 weeks, which is like four years in teenager time, and then you ripped it open and played until you couldn’t see whether it was still light out.

These were some of my fondest memories. Then three weeks ago, my best friend Bill Michaels sent me this in the mail. And now it’s quite possible our friendship is over.

Scrimmage: The Football Wargame (?)

The name of the game was Scrimmage. I have not been so profoundly disappointed and revolted since the last time I ate Brussels Sprouts. {My dad made me eat Brussels Sprouts because Grampy was still living with us and we didn’t want to make him feel bad. I ate them last, and then went to throw up immediately.}

But my best friend, all my friends together plus my dad couldn’t make me play Scrimmage again.

That’s how bad.

They Were Trying. (Very Trying)

I get the idea though. In the mid-70s two things in my life were taking off in popularity: professional football and simulation wargames. The former, perhaps you already know? All the guys at school followed their pro teams, but my high school wasn’t rich enough to field one. And the nerd-geek group (which included a couple athletic guys rolling dice with us, on the down-low) was just discovering these incredibly complex, involved wargames that you could send away for in the mail, or even subscribe to. People were starting to play these simulations of famous battles like Crecy, Borodino, Midway; or even replay entire wars or the course of an empire’s conquests. The scale could be that big; four hundred die-cut counters stacked up in rows, each turn might represent a year or fifty, the stakes were maybe the survival of the Roman Empire. We ate that stuff up with a spoon.

And someone got the idea that the nation’s fast-becoming-most-popular sport and this nice new niche hobby would be like chocolate and peanut butter. So they put them together.

And it was a disaster.

I KNOW You Didn’t Play It!

I told you that before, remember? So my challenge on this blog was to convince you that a game you never tried was in fact the worst one ever made. Let’s review those reasons and how Scrimmage so perfectly does not fit them.

Because You Might Win

Behold the rules. You cannot read them. Seriously, I forbid it.

Nobody wins in Scrimmage. I mean it. Bill Michaels and I tried  to play it twice, and he may have convinced someone else to try with him. We got nowhere, because the game-play in this simulation is beyond-words complicated and mushy. At the snap of the ball, all the offensive linemen try to lay a hit on the defender nearest them, you know. But Scrimmage made you parse out each Movement Point, the penalty for trying to turn when a defender is adjacent, etc. and so forth to drive you utterly mad. You rolled probably two or three times to determine if, in fact, your left tackle had made some kind of contact (two more rolls to figure out if the defender was, in fact, stunned by this and to what degree). And then the left guard tries to hit his guy, and so on down the line. Nothing, absolutely nothing happened automatically or could be skipped or collapsed into another step for the sake of time.

I am not kidding you, thirty die rolls and at least ten minutes before I could proceed to the part where the QB tries to hand off the ball to the RB.

Scrimmage turned 1970s high school boys crazy about football into 1970s high school girls, who not only had no idea who won, but almost universally did not care. Think about that- this game made high school boys not care about football.

Because You Are Getting Better

The incredible lack of enjoyment bled over into any hope for improvement here. We knew immediately, this was never going to be the next chess, or Risk, Diplomacy etc. So first off– how could you get any better without an enormous investment of time? And it was time-out-of-time for us because the scale was reversed. If you spend a half-hour moving pieces around and rolling dice, you want that one turn to represent the movement, risk and possible death of thousands of people over the course of a year, or maybe twenty. We spent a half hour of our young lives to simulate the first maybe seven seconds of a single play. You can’t improve when you start out so far behind; nobody can hope to get less-far behind.

Because You Learn Something

Here’s where the game, pardon the pun, really fumbled. This wasn’t like an historical wargame, where you absorbed the rules and took the setup and take-down time on your back because you might see something about the factors that led to victory in ancient days. Those games taught us that (I know it wasn’t for everyone, but trust me)– we delighted in learning together that yeah, missile fire can be important but dude, you can’t leave those guys uncovered they have NO DEFENSE up close. You celebrated when the leader’s morale roll got ten thousand men to turn around and rally back. You enjoyed how your opponent rushed into the canyon where your artillery could really make him pay.

Because you weren’t insane enough to want to ACTUALLY do any of those things. We all WANTED to be generals of the armchair variety.

Leaves you feeling a little… flat?

But football we wanted to PLAY. And we could watch the real thing every weekend. We longed to be better at THAT; or failing that, we wanted to be more knowledgeable fans of the game. But what does turning your square-cut counter to the right facing in a six-sided hex teach you? Luck plays a part in a lot of games, but it’s no substitute for the gladiatorial quality of football. How does rolling a die actually blast open a hole for your QB to scramble upfield?

So this was a non-starter from the jump– nobody wanted to get better at moving football counters across a hex map, full stop.

Because Something Hilarious Could Happen

Dude, the magnetic  football game with the vibrating board was ten times more fun.

Make a quick list of “outrageous things in football”. {People who hate the sport, you’re all excused, save your snark for the next political rant on FB.} The rest of you, consider:

-Touchdown celebrations

The Scrimmage map doesn’t even have end-zones on it. The rules say there was a problem at the printer, and there an end. So when you score, you literally leave the field.

-Hard count or roughing the passer gives you a first down

There are no penalties in Scrimmage. No rules for them whatsoever. All the players behave themselves perfectly. As I think on it this was a dramatic flaw- you’re already rolling the die a billion times, why not have some kind of panic-roll to simulate a flag on the play? But that’s bailing the Titanic with a slotted spoon.

-Field Goal try whacks the upright

Again, no rules about Field Goals. In fact there is no kicking of any kind in the game. Did they miss the part about the foot, in FOOTBALL?

-Trick play results in score

This is one thing they DID allow for in the rules, and some of the counters have words on them like “Lat Pass Left”. Again, a flea-flicker would require at least thirty-five minutes and eighty-seven die rolls to run. Who’s tricked, your opponent? I’m thinking “no” on that one.

The game with the folded-paper triangle that you knocked with your fingers was a heart-attack thriller compared to Scrimmage. I have watched the Giants lose by thirty points and had more fun.

So, Thanks Bill Michaels FOR NOTHING!

Seriously, I really enjoyed thinking back about just how dreadfully bad this game was, and it all started when my best friend couldn’t even get a dollar for it at the local yard sale. So he decided to send it to me, probably the only other guy in the multiverse able to appreciate just what a white elephant it was. Priceless, in that sense.

Thanks Bill. Play on!

I have played games ever since. Role-played for decades, planting the seed for a writing vocation that’s counting down to a million words in print. I have designed simulations for my history classes about the Boston Massacre Trial, the war of ideas during the French Revolution, life and death in a small English village during the Bubonic Plague, Romans versus Christians in the early centuries AD, and many more. My high school and college friends bathed in games, and it’s become a big part of me. Another close friend just put me onto Hearthstone last week.

Always, always games.

And that one was the worst.


State of the Lands: Chess

It’s a whole world out there…

Here’s another installment of the series that compares life in the Lands of Hope to that in the Alleged Real World. This time I wanted to explore something I’d seen in a positive light (not like Gardening, which still makes my skin crawl); something I knew well and could share thoughts about.

I’ve seen striking similarities between the two worlds before, in my thirty-plus chess1years of chronicling the Lands. There are certain clues, especially in Judgement’s Tale, to make me suspect some kind of physical connection. But you could have knocked me over with a feather, when I saw that they played chess.

Almost exactly the same as we do.

Games People Play

My father, whose intellect I greatly revered, taught me chess when I was six years old. He beat me every SINGLE game, probably ten games a week, for eight years. I learned openings (from his massive, annotated book, the MCO if you’re a fan), chess2studied mid-game praxis, gambits, theory. This was the late 60s and early 70s; we followed the news about Fisher and Spassky (a man got paid $150,000 to win a match, unthinkable sum of money!). Who could have dreamed there would be talk of cheating, at a chess match?

The day I honestly beat Dad, he suggested I come along to play in tournaments. Imagine the scene: thirty or forty pairs of players at long cafeteria tables, sitting still in a dense haze of cigarette smoke and the only sound that of three dozen ticking timer-clocks. I sometimes took ten minutes to make a single move– but not often, I was too impatient to play well. My opponents, the ones who beat me, took fifteen. I sometimes felt my concentration on the board was a beam of solid chessclockenergy; the table seemed lighter, the smell of the smoke was natural. I did not hunger on the weekend of a chess tournament. I mean, I ate enormous sandwiches plus as much candy and soda as I wanted. Yet I would lose seven pounds in two days, from the sheer nervous energy.

For me, the idea of thinking hard, seeing a situation well, being logical, tapping into my soul’s reason– those were all synonymous with learning and playing chess. I suppose it did not surprise me as much, then, to see that other thinking folks also played such games. But not Shogi, as they do in Japan, or Go from China, or Jetan, the variant of chess they play on John Carter’s Mars, or any variation of Draughts, or hop-board as they do in Donaldson’s Mirrors of Mordant. The Children of Hope play honest-to-God chess.

Chess in the Lands

chess3The game in its basic form came over with Conar in the Second Age. During the Third Age, other heroes added rules which spread widely (some familiar, others not). Wizards and leaders in the northern lands play often, and sometimes settle the right to judge a case between competing magistrates. In the southern empire it’s even more widely played, even at country fairs and annual tournaments: all noble children must at least know how to move the pieces or they risk embarrassment.

The differences are very minor– pawns are warriors, bishops are preachers, castling is called investing (a move invented by either Ekhotelh or Aballe). The rule allowing warriors to capture when passed, evidently, was contributed by the Hopelord of Elves Ma-Eldar, governing the chosen moment. Khoirah, before he became the Traitor, innovated a seldom-used rule allowing a warrior reaching the eighth rank to become something other than a queen.

One key rule shows you how the Lands are different from the Alleged Real World.

chesskingKing’s Immunity

A rarely-invoked rule allows a player once a game to declare that his king has special protection for a limited time, in just the same way that heroes lend aid to devotees who pray to them in battle. Once invoked, the player’s king can neither be placed in check nor captured for that turn, including his opponent’s move. In this way, the king can even capture a heavily-protected piece, provided he has a space to escape to on the following turn. I’ve only seen a few games where the rule has been invoked, usually by the weaker player trying to stave off defeat. But it makes a total hash of the usual method of predicting the next moves. I’ve never seen it, but supposedly if two kings become adjacent because one has declared immunity, the other can do the same and capture him! What a mess. But that’s the life they’re living in the Lands– devotion to one’s hero has this very real consequence, even for those who have never prayed for aid.

But… Cheating, Seriously?

Um, what could Bobby need to touch wayyy over there?
Um, what could Bobby need to touch wayyy over there?

If you weren’t alive during the Fisher-Spassky match, it would be an education for you to read up. Most people believe that Fisher was “crazy like a fox”, acting the spoiled brat amateur but really running a serious psychological assault on his Soviet opponent (remember, no one outside the USSR had won the world championship since WW II). Fisher complained about the TV cameras, about noise from the audience, he claimed the white squares were a sixteenth of an inch larger than the black ones… imagine trying to concentrate on the moves when someone has put THAT idea in your head. He brought tins of sardines to the board to eat (you know, holding each one up over his head to drop them in his mouth!). He refused to show up, he gave his opponent a two-game lead, then won three of the next four. The Soviets accused Fisher of using electronic devices, or smearing poison on Spassky’s chair. You thought chess wasn’t a contact sport? Fisher beat Spassky up; a strappado would have been more merciful.

Point is– chess is about pure thought, and reason, logic. WHO are you cheating? chessmirrorBut we live with this whole sub-culture about seeking an edge, because there’s a huge difference between honor and reputation isn’t there? Plenty of folks would rather win than improve their mind: but of course even figuring out how to cheat is a way of sharpening your thoughts! Just not in a healthy direction. In the Lands of Hope, there’s no chess community, no opening books, no reports of tournaments, no great reputation to be won by winning. Players who win achieve honor, and I’m pleased to see that complaints of cheating are rare. That’s the way I remember the sport, hours of honest competition and plenty of players who had better minds than I did. But also some days when I played way over my head. Or maybe a hero helped me…

Still… there’s something very attractive (and funny) about the idea of cheating at unerhandedchesschess. I’ll never forget this quick and hilarious read, and I recommend it– to players in either world!

I went on, to wargames and strategy classics and eventually to the one with figurines and dice. But chess remains the place where my mind was its sharpest, with honor still out there to be won.