Why I Play – Part 2: Escalating Escalation
After my introduction to Basic D&D, the next two games to pave my hobby-path were TSR’s Dungeon!, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. Dungeon! showed me that it was possible to capture a bit of that RPG spark in a more traditional board game setting, and, in 1986, T.M.N.T proved to me that there was more to RPGs than just wizards, warriors, magic and dragons.
BUT more importantly, It was also during the mid ‘80s that I discovered Ian Livingstone’s and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy series and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series of RPG books. These two series created a solo gaming experience nearly as good as a cooperative or competitive one; these were RPG-like games that I could experience at any time, even late at night, safely under the covers in bed, armed only with my Lightsaber flashlight! These advance Choose Your Own Adventure books took over my life and imagination for many years. One time I discovered an error in one of the books, one of the choices had a misprint on which section you were supposed to turn to. I wrote to Livingston and Jackson detailing my discovery, and they wrote back, along with a box containing dozens of free books! This is still one of my favorite memories.
HOWEVER an even bigger change came in 1989, when I switched to a new High School, and met a whole new group of people into all kinds of games. This was a watershed year. It was through these new friends that I was introduced to RoboRally, Steve Jackson’s Illuminati (and subsequently Robert Anton Wilson), Awful Green Things from Outer Space, Champions, Ninjas and Superspies, and many others. We spent hours during lunch at school and at a local community center on the weekends playing all manner of imaginative games, exploring the theater of the mind, rolling dice, and creating adventures.
AND THEN (this is the final escalation, I swear!) I was introduced to Games Workshop through two incredible board games: Talisman: the Magical Quest Game, and Space Hulk. Next to D&D, these two games stand as the most important in my life.
Talisman: the Magical Quest Game.
I know its super hip and trendy to hate on Talisman now (and Games Workshop in general for that matter). Yes there are better games with better tactics, strategy and difficult choices to be made. But remember, that’s not why I play games! I play games to create stories, and Talisman is nothing but a story-creating machine; everything about the game facilitates an emergent narrative. It’s all about taking your hero and roaming the land, killing monsters, getting loot, and surviving all kinds of (mis)adventure. The game is simply overflowing with beautiful art and fluffy flavor text – there isn’t a game producer around that creates better lore and flavor text than Games Workshop. I played dozens of games of Talisman with my Odyssey of the Mind team in high school, and continue to enjoy the game today (although with a multitude of house rules, which I might touch upon in a later article).
And finally (not really) there was Space Hulk.
Being a child of ‘80s meant that the Alien franchise was a pretty huge deal. And here it was – a board game that simulated almost perfectly the best parts of Aliens. But Space Hulk actually made it even better and more evocative, by incorporating the bafflingly-complex and seemingly-ancient lore from Warhammer 40K. GW injected the marines-fight-aliens genre with a backdrop of political intrigue and religious warfare. These weren’t just space marines; they were Inquisitors, exploring the universe to bring the might and power of the great Emperor to the uninitiated! These weren’t just aliens; they were cultists performing all manner of chaotic and inhumane gene-slicing experiments!
And like all things with GW, once you start it’s hard to stop. Weekends were spent playing Warhammer 40K, Talisman, Space Hulk, Heroquest, and Warhammer Quest. Soon I was spending every dollar I could get on models and armies, paint and tools. This was my foray into what we now call the Lifestyle Game, a hobby that encompasses much more than simply sitting around a table and playing the game; these games require you to reach deep into your soul (bank account) and spend an (unhealthy?) amount of time (to be fair, as far as hobbies go, gaming is actually on the more affordable side, and entirely healthy so long as you ditch the soda and chips)!
And that brings us to this blog, and the first post – an unboxing of an almost-new copy of the original Warhammer Quest I recently purchased. A lot of time passed between my introduction to Games Workshop and now – nearly 30 years. I’ve been in to and out of the hobby a few times in those three or so decades, and only now decided to write about it.