Day: March 26, 2018

Influence, Creativity and Books

Every game designer brings all sorts of experiences into their game designs, subject matter and the philosophy of their games,  One of my earliest influences was being in the privileged position of having free access to the Ministry of Defence Whitehall Library during the later 1970s and early 80s.  This library contained a huge collection of books on all manner of military subjects, many obscure and therefore deeply interesting (to me at least).  Much of its collection was, sadly, sold off – the Admiralty Library part of the collection has moved to Portsmouth-  and the remaining books are now part of the Defence Academy Library now I believe.

In among this were copies of RAND Papers on wargaming, political-military game and related subjects.  Naturally, in those pre-internet days this was a gold mine of amazing material, not available to the general public, let alone to hobby gamers.  As we would say nowadays “It quite literally blew my mind!” 

Nowadays pretty much all of this is freely available on-line with only minimal searching – which is a brilliant opportunity for the new generation of game designers.

Access to this library, in conjunction with a group of enthusiastic fellow gamers, enabled me to experiment with ideas from the USA in ways not available to mainstream gamers then.  I was particularly lucky in having a group of wargamers that formed the core of Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group to try out these ideas and approaches.  And although at that time megagames had not yet become a thing – much of the thinking about multi-player, wargames or political / military games had its inception for myself and my circle of friends around that time.

Out of this came many game ideas – some examples of games arising directly out of the use of the MOD Whitehall Library being:

  • A multiplayer double-blind map wargame for a 12 players or so on the battle for Kharkov played around 1980.  By modern definitions, pretty much a proto-megagame.  (I think I still have the typewritten materials somewhere – briefings duplicated by using carbon paper!).
  • My WW2 brigade-level map based wargame rules STONK,
  • A map-based political / military game, using an obscure book called ‘Nightmare In Detroit’ describing the race riot in Detroit in 1967, that was first run for students at the Army Staff College Camberley at some point in the early 1980s.  The ideas behind this game subsequently evolved over the following decades into the core of the megagame ‘Urban Nightmare’. (note: Thanks to the internet I now have my own copy!)
  • My first serious operational megagame Operation Market Garden,
  • My attempts at gaming revolutionary warfare as a play-by-mail game – the ‘Vietasia game’ I run with Paddy Griffith and others as players – of which nothing now survives as far as I know.
  • My Civil Disorder Wargame, about rioting in city streets (the first version written about the time of the Brixton Riots in 1979).

The big ideas in all of these that were startling for me as a young (and opinionated) wargamer were:

  • Wargames do not have to be about toe-to-toe kinetic warfare between historical armies.
  • Toy soldiers are fun, but ultimately they are only representational markers.  The toys, counters, models you use are only useful to the extent that they are fit for the purpose of playing the game.  Interestingly, this led to many mainstream wargamers insisting that I was ‘anti-toy soldiers’ as if that was a thing! 🙂
  • It is possible to design a wargame about anything involving an adversarial situation.  It might not necessarily be a war, or a battle, or involve armies.
  • Maps are great!

So for me libraries have been an important formative experience influencing my creativity and an opportunity to seize ideas.  Of course now, I have access to pretty much any book, ever, via the internet.  But – there is something about wandering around vast rows of shelves containing tens of thousands of print books and having one’s eye caught by a surprising book title – or be drawn out of curiosity by a dusty ancient volume languishing on a top shelf.  Ideas that would never have come to you otherwise.  Sometimes it is nothing – but the impact of serendipity on my game designs has been significant.

So if you get the chance of visiting a major library – any library – then do so – before they all vanish into the mists of the internet!