My Favourite Designer. Or Questions Steve Weeks forgot to ask part I

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There Will Be Games

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Steve Weeks interviewed me for the Ultimate Podcast a couple of weeks ago, which is of course a great honour, but limited time didn’t allow me to shoot all my bolts and frankly I find the following more interesting than my opinion on the Holloway case. So here’s a sight into what I didn’t get to say. 



So who’s your favourite game designer then?


My game designing hero is Jim Wallman, a friendly father from South London with a warped mind and the English sense of humour. He has a good grasp of (military) technology and history, of popular culture and of gaming. One of my fondest memories of him is sitting together on the ground in a wargames convention hall and trying to design a game on global crime networks. Although his designs are much more varied than just Ameritrash boardgames, I feel his emphasis on ‘historical’  feel (even in fantasy and sci-fi games), player interaction and fun make him significant and interesting to F:AT readers, and might open up strands of gaming you have never experienced.

Jim started out playing in the 1970s with the likes of miniature wargaming icons Paddy Griffith and Donald Featherstone, then in the early 80s became involved in Wargame Developments, an innovative English game design group. Their foremost inspirations were miniature wargames and Kriegsspiel and the games mostly assumed pretty good knowledge of the subject to play. The club was a fertile ground for aspiring game designers and has done a lot in the development of matrix games.

Jim was one of the founding members of Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group in South London, which over the years has dedicated itself to the design of new games. I find it a very inspiring club of people that are supportive and critical of game design and I’ve played some of the most fun games ever there.

The range of game formats and mechanisms Jim has used is just astounding and he really uses the form he thinks fits the theme and approach best. They range from WWII company actions and samurai skirmish to 18th century English colonels leading their regiments and large scale space battles. Jim has put most of his game designs online for everyone to benefit and has been glad to assist and discuss with aspiring game designers and players, like me.

His designs assume that players don´t try to bend the rules and play ´historically´, mostly assisted by umpires. Also he doesn´t believe in complex rules, because player interaction is more important to him. A lot of effort is taken to give perspective through player briefings. Of course, the use of umpires allows rules to be kept to covering only the most likely events, and let wizard wheezes and exceptions be handled separately. As a result, Jim hasn´t designed many board games as he finds the medium too restrictive, but I´ve got a fine example below.

In the early 80s Jim also started doing megagames and over the years has designed and organised dozens of them. After a couple of years he and a couple of friends/designers set up Megagame Makers. In 2005 the organised their ‘hundredth’ megagame, The Last War, with about 150 players and umpires fighting WWII from January 1942 to the bitter end in two days. Search out their archive of megagames and stand in awe of the number of games they actually put on over the years, especially if you consider what a shitload of work these games take to organise. I’ll go deeper into megagames in a later post.

And these are my favourite (non-mega)game designs of his:

Tank duel: a double blind tank dog fight. The teams are on opposite sides of a curtain with the terrain duplicated. They only see their own tank until the enemy gets into the line of sight. Both teams consist of commander, gunner, loader and driver (depending on tank type of course). The commander has to order each of the other crew members on direction, type of ammo use, firing etc etc. By keeping the pace of the game up it becomes extremely tense and fast, with most games done in under 15 minutes.

My worst session was against an experienced team that used an antitank gun. All the time I was wondering why they hardly gave any orders. Until they hit me while turning the corner.

Decapitation: a boardgame of the ‘Freedonian attempts’ to take out an ‘Evil Dictator’ before they invade his country to bring peace, democracy and prosperity. The Freedonians have intelligence teams on the ground and radio listening to pinpoint the dictator’s whereabouts, but the latter has a few stand ins to deceive them. Of course, bombing and cruise missiles can have collateral damage that will lower public support for the war. This game shows what is possible in designing and producing a game as it was ready before the Iraq war was over. The map is here. 

The Universe: the Universe is actually a living background to a whole range of games, including a strategic campaign Humanity will Prevail (running for over 10 years now), pirates (erm… independent traders), space marines and ships’ crew role playing campaigns, large space battles, and sports.

The major polities in the campaign have gained an eerie level of realness over the years as players have added their political styles and popular cultures. Political summits are hosted, battles fought, propaganda wars waged and elections rigged.

I sort of rule the government of the postcommunist Sirian Socialist Republic, an egalitarian bureaucracy that has greatly expanded its robot workforce to lessen the burden of human labour. When not in a meeting, the SSR leads the opposition to the Evil Empire of Sol, unless distracted by piracy, terrorism, natural disasters, alien invasions or out of control AIs.

Do have a look. And enjoy!



There Will Be Games
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