Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Starting a Local Game Club

I Still Own This
When I was in junior high our school was visited by Scott Bizar, the owner of Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU). FGU published wargames and role playing games and Scott also owned the local game store, Waterloo Hobbies. Those first experiences playing games at school led to literally decades of hobby fun. I would spend hours at Waterloo over the next few years, taking breaks for pizza and Asteroids before going back and playing Car Wars, Villains and Vigilantes, and Star Fleet Battles. It's strange to think back now and realize how one person can have such a role in your life.

Never Played, I Will Always Regret that
I'm pretty content not to be such a formative influence myself, but it looks like I may be involved in a local game club in Pelham. The neighborhood game store has an interest in reaching out to the schools and I think I may be a part of the process, at least until it takes off and becomes self sufficient. Speaking professionally I think (obviously) that games are good for kids and I'm happy to have my office support gaming in the area. Speaking personally, I suppose I don't mind the idea that I might help some young gamer start a fun hobby, or just pass a few hours playing.

The next step is probably to come up with some good ideas for games. At the moment I'm thinking Castle Panic, Race for the Galaxy, Game of Thrones Boardgame, and Space Cadets. I imagine the game store people will form an even better list. We'll have to make sure the games are basically inoffensive but also exciting. One thing I do worry about is the stress of competition and winning and losing.  I spoke with the librarians in Bellows Falls, VT on the subject a few years ago and their game Yu-Gi-Oh players at Pandemonium (heh) Games in Boston a few years ago as well. Tempers can run high in passionate gamers!
club kids seemed pretty willing to police their own behaviour. At the same time, there was apparently a roiling brawl between tween

Assuming we can find appropriate games and prevent brawls I have high hopes that this club could be a lot of fun.

Keepin it Local- Derry Public Library

My town library has a nice selection of books and is pretty as can be. In addition, New Hampshire interlibrary loan makes the Derry Public Library functionally gigantic.

I started research at DPL with Sebastian Junger's book, War. This is certainly what the local pediatrician should be seen carrying around! Lurid title aside this is a great piece of reporting in which Junger spends time with stressed troops operating out in the middle of nowhere. They fight insurgents who can pick the time and location of every battle and then disappear into the countryside.  They struggle with ambushes, a hostile environment, an unfriendly alien local population, and what seems like an impossible mission objective. War was a very readable introduction to Vietnam, ironic because of course because the events and reporting took place in Afghanistan.

From Afghanistan I moved back a few decades to Michael Hess' Dispatches. This is Vietnam reporting that actually originated in Vietnam in the later 1960's. Junger writes crisp and factual accounts. In contrast Hess allows his experience and emotions to become part of his text. Dispatches in very readable and has a lot to say about the psychological price paid by the combatants. Hess has very clear biases (and so does Junger, just maybe not as overt) but they don't interfere with the value of the story being told. Why was Vietnam a different kind of war? Hess is a good person to turn to for an explanation.

Rounding out the round of public library work was Lt. General Hal Moore's We Were Soldiers Once, and Young. Then-Lt. Colonel Moore commanded an air cavalry unit in one of the first major American encounters of the war, the battle at Landing Zone X-Ray. The battle and subsequent encounters and ambushes were major learning experience for both the North Vietnamese and the Americans. It's not certain that the lessons learned were the Best ones, but the battle was highly influential on how the remainder of the war was conducted. Unlike Dispatches, We Were Soldiers... describes a pair of battles in great detail. The human component is absolutely present but the reader also gets a sense of how a battle might ebb and flow.

In hindsight the Derry Public Library really came through. I can't say these books were fun to read, but the history was valuable in general and certainly with regard to simulating the period in a game.

Let's Start the Reading- Time to Visit a Library

One thing I've discovered about the Vietnam War is that there is an amazing amount of information available. Further, many extensive archives of information can be accessed for free. The first stop for me was the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH). This site has extensive online resources including a huge number of Vietnam era publications. These range from interesting if I had three lifetimes to work with (Law in War Vietnam, 1964-1973) to more directly relevant titles like Seven Firefights in Vietnam and Mounted Combat in Vietnam. Many are written during the war or soon after it ended.

The information from the CMH is a great place to start. It's useful in it's own right and if you read between the lines you can get a sense of some ongoing controversies and struggles. For example, in the preface of Mounted Combat in Vietnam:

"After eight years of fighting over land on which tanks were once thought to be incapable of moving, in weather that was supposed to prohibit armored operations, and dealing with an elusive enemy against whom armored units were thought to be at a considerable disadvantage, armored forces emerged as powerful, flexible, and essential battle forces. In large measure they contributed to the success of the free world forces, not only in close combat, but in pacification and security operations as well."

No one serves the haters like a military writer.

One downside to the list of publications is that the selection seems haphazard. This is not the definitive site for research, but it's a good place to start.

The Vietnam Project

I was born in 1965. I can remember when President Nixon was re-elected, I can remember hippies and Charles Manson and having "acid rock" explained to me. And through it all I can remember when the Vietnam War was active and the day Saigon fell. The Second World War was my grandparent's war (and also the First, for my grandfather on the German side who saw action for the Kaiser). My father served in Korea. For me, Vietnam was the war. But unlike the previous conflicts the war in Vietnam was collectively swept under the American rug afterwards and remained there for more than a decade. With catastrophic consequences for many Americans.

Through all the years that I've been playing wargames I have yet to play a game set in the Vietnam theater. Now I'd like to fix that. I think the conflict has lessons that our leaders have forgotten- there are reports from Afghanistan that read chillingly like after action reports from 1967. Further, I think there are stories from that war that need to be told and remembered. Largely stories of ordinary Americans who were put in extraordinary circumstances and for the most part did their best. For their country, or their friends, or just because they wanted to do the right thing. That's not to say that terrible things weren't done as well. Doing terrible things is, in a sense, not hard during wartime. Stress and a weapon is a recipe for disaster. The stories I'm looking to tell through gaming are the ones where men and women went above and beyond. When they resisted the darkness that lies within all human beings and became something greater.