Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Learn History Through Games


This week we were pointed to a site with a discussion which was inspired by Matthew Baldwin’s list of the 100 best games. One comment caught my eye and made me think: “…it’s hard enough getting adults to play a board game anyway, much less one with the unappealing and sounds – boring – as – all – (expletive deleted) title of ‘Age of Steam.’ .”

I would think that a man would be curious, at least, about a game centered around the age of steam. There are many museums dedicated to steam-powered machines and they attract a lot of visitors interested in the mechanics of these wonderful machines. Why doesn’t the name of the game conjure images of massive steam locomotives, their tracks being laid by the muscle and sweat of men instead of sounding “boring”?

I suppose, to the uninitiated, the titles of some of our favorite games aren’t as appealing as Sorry, The Game of Life, Clue, Connect Four, etc., etc., but to me they suggest a visit to another place or time—of course, I’m tainted. Many of our games are inspired by actual people, places, times or events so that we occasionally get a bit of a history lesson just by opening the box.

Wallenstein is a game which centers on the Thirty Years War. It comes with an historical booklet and each character’s card has a short biography for those who are interested in the background of the theme. But of course, war games are an obvious history lesson. I love to read the historical background for each of the scenarios in Memoir ’44.

Most games don’t come with a packaged history but you may be curious enough to do some research. Google “Stephsons Rocket” and you’ll find many sites with information on this innovative steam engine design. Perhaps you wonder how closely the game of Puerto Rico reflects the history of the island. There are several sites which can sharpen your historical knowledge. A search for “Tikal” will show you some wonderful photos and maps of the archaeological site. And I’m guessing that most of us know that Carcassonne is a real place, a fortified city in southern France.

Hansa was designed around the Hanseatic League, a group of merchant associations in the cities of Northern Germany and the Baltic. At one time there was a very nice article on BGG explaining how well the game mechanics reflected the actual history of the time but, sadly, I couldn’t find it.

I think we’re lucky to be able not only to sharpen our brains but broaden our knowledge through the games that we play. It’s a shame that some people are put off by something simply because they are ignorant of the subject matter.
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Last week I put in an order for Hacienda and Das Ende Des Triumvirats, both not in stock until (probably) after Christmas. That’s it! I’m not buying any more games this year!

That puts this year’s game acquisitions at 39. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it? So I’ve decided that I don’t want to hear or read about any great games that I don’t already own. No checking the new reviews on BGG, no reading of BoardGameNews, no checking the online retailers to see what’s new in stock and I refuse to listen to my internet friends discuss the pros and cons of games they like. Don’t tempt me, don’t inform me, don’t dangle that gaming-carrot in front of my face. (Side note from the daughter: “Yeah-that’ll happen!”)

While I’ll never be content to play the same 10 games over and over, I really do have enough games to satisfy even my love of variety. I have games easy enough to use when introducing someone new to gaming, I have light, fun games, I have many medium-weight games and a few heavier games. I should be set for whoever enters my door.

I’m sharing this early New Year’s resolution with all of you so you can join my daughter in saying, “Yeah, right” when you find out I’ve placed another order. Let’s see…I still haven’t broken down and bought Colovini’s Alexandros, I’d love to have the new version of Oltremare and that Hey! That’s My Fish might be a nice, quick play for Richard and me. Eep! I have to go call my psychiatrist now, Dr. Meepolous.
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Until next time remember, sometimes you just have to bow to the absurd.

Mary

10 comments:

ekted said...

Mary:

We are so in sync with our game likes and wants. I have Hacienda on the "maybe" list, but I think I'll leave it up to you whether I buy it or not.

I think I've bought around 60 games in 2005 (8 coming tomorrow). I don't see myself jumping on the wagon as long as there are more good games to own. Good luck though (exchanges knowing glances with your daughter). :)

sodaklady said...

Yeah, I *saw* that look and I know what you're thinking. Even my husband doesn't believe I can control myself for over 2 weeks. I think I could hold out longer if there were wagers involved. ;)

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, as these things go, it is a cheap and legal addiction.

39 games * $20 avg. = $780/year + storage & expenditure of familial goodwill

That is about equal to a latte every workday.

- Jonathan (if I have to choose an identity)

Melissa said...

Louis XIV is another game that has wonderful historical resonance and even includes historical notes on the cast of characters.

Every year I resolve not to buy any more games for a while. Then something happens - right now, adamspielt are offering the 6 nimmt booster with international orders. Clearly I *have* to order from them, don't I?

I give you a month. :)

Fraser said...

Ironically Stephensons Rocket made an appearance on the Doctor Who repeats on show here earlier this week.

We saw the original on display in the British Rail Museum back when Daughter the Elder was a baby. Their should *should* be full of train games, but alas probably is not.

Hilary said...

Yeah, between my wife and I we bought probably close to 75 games this year. A good portion of those are still unplayed...

But the beauty of that lies in the fact that each day I can pull a new game off the shelf and it's a whole new experience.

-puck4604

gamesgrandpa said...

Another nice blog, Mary.

I'll bet you'll be ordering right after Christmas.

I don't purchase nearly as many new games per year as most of the geeks I read about, but I cannot resist buying at least a few. What has helped me is the fact that I've actually stuck to my decision to purchase only games that can be played by at least 5 players, and preferably 6 or 7. That sets some automatic limits on choices (but I must admit to drooling over the descriptions of all those great 2-player and 4-player games that keep coming out). I've come very close to breaking my resolve.

Jasen said...

That's quite the resolve: "That’s it! I’m not buying any more games this year!" With only 3 weeks left in the year, I sure hope you can stick to the plan!

Hey! That's My Fish! isn't anything special. It's a quick, cute abstract that really doesn't offer much depth. But then again, you guys liked Fjords so you might enjoy this one too. Similar step by step procession as the 2nd phase of Fjords.

Somehow I've managed to curtail my game purchases to below 20 this year (Havoc, Power Grid, In the Shadow of the Emperor, Jambo, Yinsh, Mamma Mia, Polarity,
Shadows Over Camelot, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, Aladdin's Dragons to name but a few). I've been delaying and delaying a massive games order, waiting on some new releases that just haven't materialized (Fairy Tale, Reef Encounter, LOTR: the Confrontation Deluxe, Punct, Caylus). And now that they have been released (or are just about to be), I find I'm a little cash strapped with the new addition to the family. So my massive games order turns into a single game order: Caylus. If I'm lucky, I might find Punct under the Christmas tree or as a b-day present.

Maybe in a couple months I'll have a little more cash...maybe.

ekted said...

I just received my last game order of the year. Inside was a coupon for 5% off my next order. Expires: 12/31/05 Hahahah!

sodaklady said...

LOL. It's a good thing 5% isn't that big of an incentive. Now 10%... ;)