I was thinking the other day while reading about famous American Presidents and the many horrid and brutally difficult choices they've had to make from their oddly shaped office, that in everyone's life there come moments that define us. Often we aren't aware of what they are until they've long since passed. Standing up to a school bully, standing up to a CEO bully, and calling out to a friend you've not seen for a few days at totally the wrong moment... things that define us and those around us. Some might seem inconsequential at the time, while others... well you feel their impact right away. So life has a way of turning these moments into life affirming, or devastating situations, while we blithely go about our business.
It's very rare that we get the opportunity that many of the great Presidents I've read about have, of knowing that our decisions are of monumental importance to ourselves and the lives of others. Nor that I would necessarily want to know, as I'm not so sure I could bear such a burden. We bumble along doing the best we can, making what we think are the best calls at the time. How easy it is to get things wrong and to wander about the path not taken then? Well very easy for some people, while others just accept the decision as taken and get on with it. But what of our hobby careers? What individual games have defined us? What games have defined who I am and how I approach the hobby nowadays? What games missed have defined us, and what game systems not played still haunt you?
Well as is the case with me when I get to thinking I normally end up in trouble. Could I define the wargamer I am today, by the games I've played and indeed the games I didn't play? Could I pick out ten examples and show where it all went so horribly wrong... or depending on your viewpoint, so gloriously right? Well it was a challenge, so I was bound to take it on now wasn't I? I'm a bit like Marty McFly, call me chicken and I'd jump out of a space shuttle with no parachute! These aren't necessarily the game I fondly remeber either, or indeed the games I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat over, asking what the hell went wrong and why did I roll so many 1's!!! As I say many of these games sort of passed me by at the time, their significance lost on me, it's only now after looking back that I'm aware of the influence on me as a gamer. So here goes, the ten games that defined me:
Battlecars - With my dad (1985)
Honestly it's not a surprise I've come back to this game yet again on my Blog. I wrote an article about it originally for the HoP Idol competition that I bowed out of. It's not really a wargame in the purest sense as it was actually a board game, but I'm going to skip over that for now because it involved painting miniatures. If you read the original article on the game I played you'll understand why it was so important to the formation of little Frontline Gamer. I'd been hankering after playing with toy soldiers for quite a bit, and hell as a young boy I quite liked toy cars too. So when I saw my fathers Battlecars game I was totally sold on the idea. It just seemed even better that it had dice and stuff.
My dad was less sold at first I remember. But eventually he relented. I don't really remember the game, I just have a vague impression of it happening. Thankfully my father didn't really go into too much detail and kept it lighthearted, as he might have scared me away for ever! I remember thinking 'so this is what toy cars are for!' genuinely I remember than thought very, very clearly. I remember thinking that many of the toys that I had been given before seemed a little lame and without purpose... but these cars had an actually game to play, and that was exciting. But, to totally seal the deal my father had another surprise up his sleeve for me. He gave me my first ever miniature, my first ever Battlecar... and the rest as they say is history.
Warhammer Fantasy - With my dad (1993)
The 8 year gap might seem a little odd to many of you, but I assure you this game was the next one I could think of as being really important to me personally. Sure there had been games in the intervening years. My father had introduced FASA's BattleTech to the household and I'd shown a slight interest... mainly because it involved giant fricking robots, but I'd not actually taken to it. There had also been abortive attempts by my father to ween me off of my fantasy (with a small 'F') obsession and into historical wargaming, and sure that all probably shaped me as well. But, importantly nothing like this game of fourth Edition Fantasy.
Up until this point I remember very clearly playing second fiddle to my father in wargames, and many of the boardgames he'd bring home to humiliate me and my siblings with. Sure like any father he went easy on me at times, but he firmly believed the only way to bring me up was to constantly kick my ass at things... sometimes quite literally, so I'd get better. Any victories I may have gained prior to this game were probably handed to me on a plate, sure my dad tried hiding it well, but I knew. This fateful game though with my High Elves and his Dwarfs was different, very different.
Not only did I out think him, I outplayed him, I out fought him and totally annihilated him and his puny beardy Dwarfs. I deliberately tempted him with a charge I knew he could make, but he had to give a go... and ran some Silver Helms in behind his immaculately arrayed battle-lines. It was mayhem and carnage... for the Dwarfs! I remember for the first time genuinely seeing stress on his face and concern. He genuinely threw everything he had at me, and I still kicked his ass. Score 1 for children everywhere... I enjoyed winning on my merits and it instilled in me the beginnings of a very competitive streak.
Man o' War - With my best friend (1993)
Man o War is what many believe is Dreadfleets spiritual predecessor... that by the way total is bollocks, because I actually enjoyed playing Man o' War! Now the reason this particular game of Man o' War was so important to me is because it made me think about a game in a very different way than I'd thought about them before. It set what was already an inquisitive and analytical mind a flurry with questions. Many similarly one-sided games had gone before it, and many more would come to pass with my High Elf fleet easily dispatching my friends hapless Orc fleet. This game wasn't out of the ordinary and that's what made it extraordinary for me. I could have simple smiled and decided to bask in my own glory, safe in the knowledge that I was awesome... but I didn't.
My friend wasn't a bad gamer, he'd kicked my ass in other games and quite frankly you didn't want to venture into any dungeons without him at your side. He was a good gamer, and to the best of my knowledge via the grapevine, he still is. I could've been smug and just decided I was better than him at Man o' War and rubbed yet another emphatic victory in his face. However, the fact that it was such an emphatic victory led me to start questioning whether the games we had been playing up until this point had been fair at all. It didn't 'feel' right and I said so. We asked our local Games Workshop staff members what we wee doing wrong, we went through everything we could think of, and we'd played the game right. I was about to tell my friend one of us needed a new fleet when I was asked what our table looked like.
Now I've covered what happened in following games in an article on game balance, so I won't go over old ground again and bore you all. However, it's fair to say that this is the game that got me understanding that the guys who write these games aren't perfect, and neither are they or the rule systems they create infallible, and in many cases you have to work these things out for yourself. It was also the game that taught me many rulebooks actually omit much of what is required to play the game, and that games designers make far too many assumptions. They still bloody do, and it infuriates me, but after this game I was at least aware of these issues and was open to experimenting a bit more, and I've never taken any subsequent rulebook at face value... I'd become a cynic!
Warhammer 40k - With my best friend (1994)
You know what? I hadn't really thought about it before starting to write this article, but it was arguably this game of second Edition 40k that turned me off the game pretty much for good. I'll be honest, I've never been a massive fan of the whole Fantasy in space thing firstly. I deal with it because I like Elves, and so Eldar just about placate me. Rogue Trader had a 2000 AD feel to it and as a child of a nerd I understood parts of what it was referencing due to comic books lying around the house, but that wasn't necessarily the case with second Edition 40k, much of the 'fluff' began to change here. As such I never actually brought the boxed set myself. Instead I had 3 friends who brought the game and gave me the Orks and Gretchin contained within... I'm doing my unhappy face now.
So yes I ended up with quite the collection of static Goff Orcs with axes raised stoically, and single pose Gretchin with painfully pointy hats! My opponents were always Space Marines even back then, so perhaps people should lay off of that particular grumble about the current state of 40k... although to be fair they weren't all shiny silver! I played lots and lots of games with my Orcs and enjoyed precisely none of them. Nothing much seemed to happen except wasting lots of time and thing generally bogging down. I really, really struggle to remember if I ever finished a game of second edition, or whether we just called them. I'd decided I wanted to quit and give somebody my painted Orcs. However, my friends convinced me to try a different army... so true to form I got an Eldar army... with Warp Spiders of course!
I enjoyed painting the models, and I was really looking forward to playing the game round my friends house because his dad was a model rail enthusiast who made awesome scenery. We set up the table and away we went. After what seemed like 5 weeks later, OK I might be exaggerating for dramatic effect, but it felt like, we were still playing the sodding game with no conclusion in sight. I was so bored that halfway through a game I was clearly winning I extended my hand across the table and said I concede. My opponent said "but you're winning" or words to that effect, my response though I can remember perfectly clearly, "no I'm just losing time". I enjoyed my games of second edition 40k when it was two squads and a commander, and I didn't have to Block schedule a week in my diary to play a game.
I guess this is why I always preferred games of Necromunda to 40k, and also why I've never really ever devoted much of my gaming time to the worlds biggest wargaming franchise. Don't get me wrong I've painted armies and played every edition of the game, and I've actually grown quite fond of the fluff, but it's never been 'my game' and it never will be. I can trace all that back to this game I think, which not only bored me to death, but also confirmed I wasn't so keen on the whole fantasy in space feel of the game. I have also always had an issue with the scale of the game and where Games Workshop are taking it... the tanks look silly on the table next to 28mm soldiers, sorry they just do.
Titan Legions (2nd Edition Epic) - (1994)
I'm going to say the game I played was called Titan Legions, but I actually know there were two versions of second edition Epic that were released... but I remember my friend taking a huge Emperor titan, or whatever it was called. This game was important for me because all my friends loved the 40k universe, I didn't mind the game, but I didn't love it like they did. I liked fantasy and elves, hell if my parents had let me I'd have saved my pocket money up to get plastic surgery to give me pointy ears, if Dr Brainiac wouldn't frown at me it'd still be a life goal. As you can tell from seminal game number 4, me and 40k weren't the bestest of friends, so something had to give.
I convinced a few people I knew that we should try out Epic because the scale was better for massed future warfare with tanks and stuff. Plus it had giant big robots, and giant big robots are cool right? Honestly I was surprised my none too subtle ruse worked... but they all loved Epic and this first game I played without any titans (my pocket money didn't stretch that far) was great even though my friends HUGE Titian (he was clearly compensating for something) totally obliterated everything in my bloody army. Put just simply, it worked, and worked well. The game flowed, there was too and fro and a natural ebb to the battle, although I was actually mainly floundering... but it was fun.
The next week I went and brought a couple of Eldar titans and we were sorted to go. The fact it was so easy to collect and paint the armies, and represent such huge scale battles in a reasonable amount of time, with lots of different layers and tactics meant that for at least 12 months Epic became our game of choice. Thankfully it saved my gaming hobby, at the time I didn't realise it. Because before Epic my friends were all going to be playing nothing but 40k and I detested the game, Epic was at least a good halfway house for us all, and that meant I was still rolling dice with my friends who I'd got into the hobby in the first place and not on the outside looking in.
BattleTech - With my dad (1995)
Feeding on from Epic and how awesome titans looked, my dad had been playing a game with some of his friends called BattleTech for a good many years. I'd admired the miniatures from afar, but had never played the game or indeed tried to understand the rules. Why? Well because when watching games of BattleTech while I was younger my eyes began to glaze over with the terminology used, and how complex it all sounded. But, my dad had left what I think was a 3055 supplement of some kind on the kitchen table along with some other rulebooks, and I was going on a school trip somewhere exceedingly boring to pretend to learn something or other, and the coach trip was going to be long so... I decided I needed some reading material.
By the time I'd got back home I'd worked out an army list and had made plans with two of my friends to sell my 40k Eldar army and my old Undead Fantasy army, all in the name of financing my new project, BattleTech. My dad was pleased! Two months later I was ready to have my ass handed to me on a plate by my father, which he duly obliged with by wiping the floor with me. But I learned loads of interesting stuff, and actually enjoyed playing a game with him again. BattleTech didn't become my 'go to game' at this point simply because my friends were into other games and I had to go where the crowd went...
But slowly and surely I was able to convert a few people over to the game one at a time. The appearance of an American kid in our circle of friends at school also aided me in this pursuit, as he was a geek who had brought much FASA product with him. I think it is fair to say that with both Epic and BattleTech the Games Pimp monicker was well on the way to being born! I worked hard to convince my friends there were other shows in town, and this part of my gaming character, this demoing games and evangelising about product still remains strong to this day, all thanks to the exploits I was able to achieve with BattleTech.
Confrontation - With a good friend, and erstwhile mortal enemy (2001)
This was an interesting game for me, it might actually have been 2002 or 2003 when I actually played the game as all these years seem to merge into one homogenised mess, in terms of games played. However, my first game of Confrontation actually did have a big influence on me, but not in the way many of you might think. I enjoyed it immensely, the friend was a French-Algerian and as such was keen for me to try French games, and I have to admit I did ever so love the miniatures Rackham produced for Confrontation. So I was willing to be 'converted' to its specific Gallic charms.
So why was the game important? Because it didn't actually convince me to stump up my cash and buy into the game. At the time I'd been slightly burned with wargaming having parted with my BattleTech collection, a mistake I still regret to this day, and I wasn't so sure it wasn't just another flash in the pan game. A game that nobody would play and that would stagnate like so many before it before the all conquering hegemony that was Games Workshop. So I made the mistake of passing it by, not because I didn't like the game, but because I didn't think it would be possible to get games in with gamers in the West Midlands. Trying to convince others to drop Warhammer and 40k at the time just wouldn't have happened I told myself, although years later I found out there had been a thriving community. Bugger!
I've regretted my choice ever since, because obviously Rackham eventually went the way of the dodo and took Confrontation with them. I feel like I've missed out on some awesome gaming and that's the most galling thing about it, that I'm a gamer who likes good games and I knew Confrontation was a damn good game. The whole Confrontation situation is what has convinced me to always give games a go, and to not let games pass me by. Sure I might not love them all but I'm certainly willing to give them all a fair crack of the whip now because I don't want to end up missing out on something truly awesome... of course Confrontation is rising 'Phoenix' like from the ashes, and it won't pass me by a second time!
Warmachine - With a work colleague and sometime friend / mortal enemy (2004)
This was my French-Algerian friend yet again. He was a terrible influence on me at this time during my wargaming 'career'. I'd been keen to try Warmachine out as I'd seen a few of the minaitures and I quite like the look of the Warjacks, and I was beginning to feel like Games Workshop just weren't doing enough to keep me engaged in the hobby. So when I traveled down to Milton Keynes of all places to visit my 'terrible influence' to play some games of Warhammer I was very surprised to see some Warjacks on his painting table.
It was all part of a cunning ploy... because it just so happened he had a second force called Cygnar to hand, and would I like to give the game a go? Why yes I would! I left Milton Keynes with his starter army of Cygnar stuff and my wallet ever so slightly lighter. Was it the best game I've ever played? No it wasn't, but it showed promise and above all else it had been fun trying something a bit different. As they say a change is as good as a holiday, obviously they don't work at a travel agents. The mechanics were a little bit different to Games Workshop rules, but familiar enough for me to know bringing others into the game wouldn't be too hard... or so I thought.
Once again my gaming was heading a little bit further away from the good ship Workshop. I never really got massively into MKI Warmachine and Hordes, because it was never really massively popular round these parts. But, that initial game I had played (and won convincingly I might add) started me on the road to completely leaving Games Workshop behind me. I could now see that other companies were able to produce products that were at the very least a match for Games Workshop offerings, and that others would buy into. Warmachine was important to me as a hobbyist and gamer because it kept the passion alive long enough for something else to stoke its flames completely, for that reason alone it was a vitally important game I played that day.
Infinity the Game - With a secret agent sent to bankrupt me!!! (2008)
Again the terrible French-Algerian influence on me is to blame for this one as well. We all know the French are terrible flirts and I should have known better, but... I'd played bits and pieces of Infinity a year before I think, and while I thought the miniatures were good and some of the rules showed promise it wasn't the finished product for me. On another trip south to the utilitarian delights of Milton Keynes I was convinced that maybe, just maybe Infinity might actually have legs after all. We were meant to just give it a quick blast and move on to playing Warmachine or Warhammer or something, I forget what now... my warjacks or Dwarfs never came out of their case that day!
So to call it one game is probably not quite right. We probably played about five or six games in total as I recall it and never once did we not want to take a break and play something different. The first game however was the one that grabbed me, it was exciting, it was dramatic, it was highly tactical and more importantly it was just really good fun. Plus I kept rolling criticals, something that till this day I'm still blessed with. It was this game that sold me on Infinity as a product, and as a game it still remains my own personal focus within the hobby. So am I glad I gave Infinity another blast? Yes I am, I'd have missed out on so many critical hits over the years it doesn't bear thinking about.
Warhammer Fantasy - In Birmingham Games Workshop (2010)
The game that killed a 20 year plus, on off love affair. So what happened? I won, resoundingly so. I kicked ass, I abused the new system that was not 5 days old after launch of eighth iteration. I left my opponent clueless as to how I'd masterminded such a cunning victory... the secret is that it wasn't really all that cunning. It involved lots of big blocks of Dwarfs with guns and crossbows, 'clever' use of pre-measuring and a feck load of dispel runes etc... so why did this game I won as a resounding victory with my Dwarfs, against the (not so) massed ranks of Skaven turn me off the game, that for so long had been my bestest wargaming buddy? Simply put it was as boring as hell to play!!!
It didn't challenge me, it didn't engage me, and I spent half the game wanting to pack up go home and eBay all my miniatures. It was as dull as ditch water, and probably tasted twice as foul. It was predictable and I could tell that my abuse of some of the early loopholes that were being exploited by others had led to a horribly stale game... and I could only see the field getting worse as others learned the tricks that were so blatantly obvious even a lobotomised gibbon could work them out! I was done. I'd had more than enough. Sure I played a few more games here and there, but mainly just to confirm my initial thoughts, eighth edition wasn't for me. It might be for you, but for me it's like watching paint dry. Oh and no, rolling lots of dice at spells isn't my idea of tactics either. Horrid game, and those responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
So there they are, the ten games that defined me as a gamer. Could you guys do the same? Go back through your gaming history and pick out the games that made your the grizzled veteran that you are today! If you feel so inclined write an article about it and post a link here in the comments section, it'd be interesting to see what has shaped many of you as gamers. Surprisingly after sitting down to tackle the challenge of picking them myself, they really sprang to mind quite quickly. That wasn't what I was expecting. I thought some of the competitive games that I'd had, especially while I was at university, and kicking ass with various games might have snuck in, but while it was almost certainly an important period of my gaming career there wasn't any one game that sprang to mind. My BattleTech games sort of merged into one, and my Blood Bowl games just became one big long list of victories. This is the list of games sticks out for me, because they honestly caused me to stop and think about what I was doing within the hobby, and where I wanted to go with it. these are the games that shaped me. Peace out!