This is the second installment in this mini-series. I already discussed a little about the social aspect of my gaming life, and you can take a peek at that here.
Honestly, I never thought I would find myself in this position. Growing up, hobbies were always something that I did strictly for pleasure, an activity to enjoy that was relaxing, fun, and that wasn’t homework/chores. I used to read a ton of books/ comics, play computer games, build and paint Airfix kits, had an ungodly amount of Lego and Star Wars toys, and then on top of that, played some board games, but mainly tabletop miniatures games. All of those things were, and still are, very fun.
As I’ve become older, my tastes and approaches to at least some of these pastimes has changed, and none more so than Board Gaming. I love gaming, but one of the most surprising developments in my gaming career is my recently(ish) developed love of games that teach me something. I don’t mean just teaching a new rules set, I mean teaching a new skill, a new way of thinking, or even teaching me cold, hard history.
If you’ve read any part of this website, it’ll come as no surprise to you that I love wargames. There’s something about pitting yourself against someone in a tactical, or strategic setting and seeing what happens. The cerebral nature of this kind of game is exhilarating, and will actually be the topic of the next post in this series. But more than anything, I have learned to love the learning aspect. Eating my way through a 52 page rulebook is at times grueling, but publishers are doing a fantastic job these days of including designer notes and historical background for the games that makes reading that book much more enjoyable and allows me to get engaged in the theme.
There’s nothing more rewarding than reading the details and thought processes that went into a game’s design, and how those relate to the actual circumstances under which the conflict was conducted. GMT’s COIN series, Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun, and The States of Siege series from Victory Point Games are a handful of examples that have great explanations and historical background contained in the box to help you learn, and also help you to play the game well.
Playing games like Settlers of Catan, or Dominion is just fine, and a great a way to enjoy spending some time with friends, but the more I play games, the more I want to make the time as enriching as possible. Being from the UK, the Pacific Theatre of WWII was basically never taught in school, our roll there was so minimal, and poorly managed in the early stages of the conflict, that I guess the powers that be decided it was better to just gloss over that. I went into Empire of the Sun with the most rudimentary knowledge of how things played out. Now, having played it a good number of times, as well as other games like South Pacific, Silent Victory, Churchill, and B-29 Superfortress, amongst others, I’ve sparked a huge interest in that part of the war. The operations cards in EotS shed light on what each battle, each combat was supposed to try and do. Silent Victory and B-29 shed light into the day to day operations of the too-oft-forgotten servicemen below the water and above the land. Churchill sheds light on the geo-political struggle between the Allied powers over the post-war landscape of the Pacific. There’s just so much richness contained in the card text, the playbooks and designer notes that both bring the game a new level of life, and also an appreciation of the constraints the commanders were put under.
And that’s just one example, of one part, of one conflict. There’s so many more.
Wargames aside, recently VPG put out a game called High Treason! The Trial of Louis Riel, a man I knew nothing about. The cards contained so much historical detail that by the end of the game I felt like I had read most of the case files and could have stood in that courtroom myself. This made what was frankly an un-relatable topic engaging on a level I previously would have balked at.
Even Euro Games, like Marco Polo, or Five Points: Gangs of New York have their own stories to tell, they might not be on quite that intricate, textbook level plane that wargame simulations find themselves on, but seeing how cutthroat the politicking is in Five Points, shed’s a bit of light on how volatile the 1850s and 1860s were in America.
There’s always room in my board game collection for my favourites like Battlestar Galactica, or Blood Rage, which have nothing factual in them, but the more I play games, the more wargames I play, the more satisfaction that I derive from them. Not only do I get to play an awesome game, I get to fill my mind with knowledge, or at least different perspectives on what I already knew.
So, educational games? Do you like to get a serving of culture and history with your games, or is it more of a relaxation and unwinding activity for you? There’s a place for both poles and every point in between in my gaming life, but I just wanted to shed a little light on how rewarding your gaming experience can be on a whole new level.