There is no mistaking that the tabletop gaming arena is getting crowded with competitors. While there have always been a number of companies who have made models it seems increasingly that these companies are now striking out into the gaming market by producing rule sets, Freebooter and Wyrd are just a few that spring to mind.
While this may mean that as gamers we have plenty of choice it also means that we have a lot of games clamouring for our attention. We don’t all have the limitless wealth that the our friendly Sherrif may think we do, so buying into every single game that comes our way isn’t feasible, although for some of us, we do try. Long-suffering wives see their beloved homes turned into galleries of metal and plastic in various stages of construction and painting, while us menfolk surreptitiously try to hide our latest purchase in among the forest of toy soldiers that is almost impossible to catalogue without an expert’s eye.
Some of the decision-making for what we play is based around aesthetics but nowadays we are also seeing innovation in the mechanics of the games, moving away from dice to cards or using cards to represent models and their stats rather than lots of chod crammed into a bulging rulebook. While choosing games to play is a deeply personal choice surely there are going to be some offerings and one game has the potential to not be as good as another. Some rules are clunky and difficult, some leave room for ambiguity due to poor language, others are the efforts of extensive writing and play testing and are a joy to behold. How do we know which games are which when we are making our decisions and how do we know what we will enjoy and be able to coerce invite our friends to play with us.
If we were to do a comparison between the offerings out there today we’d end up with a rather large post, there are certainly a large number of games I can think of available to joe public. A direct comparison between them isn’t always going to be possible either, while you could probably get away with comparing War of the Ring, 40k and Warhammer Fantasy as they are all games based upon army scale conflicts. Adding in Warmachine, Malifaux, Hell Dorado etc… would be unfair as they are skirmish games and therefore play differently. However, whether skirmish or army the one thing that I think unites games is that they should be fun. If you spend the majority of your gaming time poring over the rules then you probably aren’t having much fun, but if the core mechanics are easy to learn then you can get on with playing and things are much more enjoyable. Again this is a deeply personal view on things, I love games like Malifaux and Warmachine where you have a few models to play with and unit cards on the table in front of you give you everything you need to play and provide a quick reference to speed things up. Malifaux’s rules are wonderfully short, once you have the turn sequence and the concept of duels sorted then you can play, the trick to the game is combining the models in your crew, all the abilities and special rules are on the model’s cards and you spend more time with those than having your nose stuck in the rulebook.
Warhammer relies on you remembering a lot more, the rules are longer and more prescriptive, you can make yourself little notes so that you remember all the magic items bulging the pockets of your heroes and the numerous special rules that your army has. War of the Ring handily condenses a lot of the rules that we see in Warhammer and looks completely different. Warmachine has a whole host of options for you to use within the rules and you need to remember those, but the core mechanics are simple but rely on you unlocking the combinations in your army to maximum effect, I suppose it is a little like Magic: The Gathering in tabletop form.
But what makes a game fun? As this is a hobby we aren’t doing this for the work and effort required to assemble and paint an army, we are doing it to relax, to get away for a while in another world that allows us to (temporarily) forget our jobs and other responsibilities. While it is possible to take each element of our lives to extremes I’d like to think that some alone time is something we all do while not neglecting our family, employment or other areas of our lives. Anyway, enough of the heavy stuff.
What makes a game fun is surely an opinion rather than anything we can probably define. While I find both Uncharted Seas and Firestorm Armada to be fun, I prefer the spaceships, they are more “fun” as a game. I know others prefer US or even the 6 Inch Move blog nemesis Full Thrust, which is why this is interesting to me as gamers have vastly different tastes.
I think that on the whole Warmachine is more fun that Warhammer, however I enjoy both games sufficiently that I invest in both (although I haven’t played Warmachine in a while). I like Warhammer because of the sweeping battles and it plumbs different areas of my brain to the skirmish games I play. I love Malifaux because the mechanics are so different from a dice game and things can be far more brutal if Fate is with you, it’s a very different play experience to any of the other skirmish games I like as well as being totally different from army sized games. Warmachine is fun because you can use magic robots to headbutt each other into the ground and chuck stuff across the table. Each of the games that I choose to play are fun for different reasons and that is why gaming is such an interesting hobby. To my wife they are just toy soldiers or whatever, but to me, they provide different experiences that I can enjoy with my friends and I think this final point is the key.
Gaming is at its heart a social hobby, while you can play with yourself (pun intended) the hobby takes on a whole new and more satisfying dimension when these experiences are shared with friends. While sometimes we will whine about the dice deserting us, or a sub-par unit choice, or that cheesy magic item combo etc… each time I spend time with my good buddies thrashing out some fantasy conflict between zombie hookers and metaphorical personifications of axioms or whatever I have memories of fun times spent quaffing liberal quantities of Dr Pepper and sharing the highs and lows with a bunch of people who add something to my mortal experiences.
So, what makes games fun for me? I’d have to say it’s the people I play with, for me there couldn’t be a better bunch of nerds to share my time with!