Avalon Hill Game company's title Stalingrad is a game I have always found to be well... comfortable. Like a pair of old shoes, or a favorite shirt that simply helps you relax when slipping them on. From set up to teardown of this old classic I always find myself engaged, thoughtful, and yes calm. Not an easy feat considering the hectic state of the world these days or the title's theme. It is for this reason above many others that Stalingrad has hit my table time and time again over the last 30 years.
Every board game enthusiast has at least one game which they hold dear to their heart. A title which, upon spying the box on their shelf or even an image on the internet conjures up fond memories of sessions or opponents. For me the power and poetry of these recollections is very important, for they bring grace, and a small measure of happiness to an otherwise mundane and dark world. And though, with age, the faces of friends long since past have begun to fade, the good spirit remains waiting but for a trigger to be released.
One of my all-time favorite cooperative board games to play with my guild mates is Zombicide by Guillotine Games. We have run through countless sessions, all of which were entertaining, tense, but most of all fun. Seriously who could not enjoy the dark sociopathic vision of a roller skating waitress named Wanda, gliding up to a pack of zombies and hacking them to bits with a chainsaw? A bit ridiculous to be sure but that is just the kind of thing that happens in this game more often than not. The popularity of this title with our group brings it back to the table time and time again. Hell Zombicide was in all three of our top five lists of 2013, number one on mine.
So it is no surprise that one of the expansions for Zombicide, named; Toxic City Mall, made its way into my collection through a Kickstarter campaign.
As a Child of the Seventies, I know I should be more enthusiastic as concerns the entire Star Wars franchise. The original films, which I did see in theaters, had a definite and lasting impact upon my generation. Yet, somehow, I was unable to immerse myself in that fantasy sci-fi world when it came to board games, pulp novels, and definitely not the “dolls” mass produced as “Action figures”. (Dolls are for little girls’ period!) The Franchise needs no further elaboration in that the billions of dollars it has produced since 1977 should be evidence enough of its power and popularity. Until recently, outside of the movies themselves, anything with a Star Wars theme received an “Eh, so what?” from me and I moved on.
However, that was before our friend Mike introduced us to a neat little miniatures game called Star Wars: X-Wing.
Queen of the Celts is the third installment of Avalanche Press' tactical war games set in the Roman Period aptly named Rome at War. This version focuses on the invasion and subjugation of Britain by the empire. What caught my attention with this rather small game was two things; 1st the price I paid for it on Ebay, a paltry $6.00 US, and second the tragic tale of Boudicca Queen of the Iceni tribe, which has long been of interest to me.
Revolutions and conflicts which are inspired by a desire for freedom from tyranny, spiced up with a bit of revenge hold a special place in my heart thus, I knew I had to pick this game up.
I have not made a Christmas list since I was a child, for a myriad of reasons. However, this past year I began to embrace my "inner child" by starting to rebuild my game collection. Long ago, I had many wonderful titles from which to pick and play at leisure, but over the years those boxed childhood memories disappeared. I have spent countless hours searching the Internet, for some of the old favorites and this work has paid off handsomely as I have acquired no less than eight titles long out of print.
But, looking at my shelf the other night, I realized that for all the games I now own, most would not be enjoyed by the majority of today's "gamers", as they are slow, methodical and long to play. So I decided that it was time to flesh out my collection with a variety of newer games and compiled a list for Santa i.e. my wife, in the hopes that on Christmas morning my eyes will be dazzled by a new and shiny title we can all play next game day.
I recently bought a copy of Blitzkrieg (circa 1965) on EBay simply to add it to my growing collection of board games. Having played this game but once way back in 1977 the purchase was not stimulated by any nostalgic devotion to this old classic. For, by the time my childhood friend Glen and I sat down with a borrowed copy, we had already become veterans of the war gaming genre. We had fought across the deserts of North Africa, smashed the British lines at Waterloo, and pushed Alexander the Great back at the battle of Gaugamela.
Neither one of us had much hope that Blitzkrieg, a fictional representation of warfare between two countries (Great Blue and Big Red), would stir us to greatness once again. In that, we were correct, for the lack of historical backdrop quieted my inspiration and I was forced into a mechanical situation in which I did not feel invested in the outcome. Without the chance to change history, my imagination was dulled, my drive quieted. So I bought this title simply because it is one you have to own if you are an old Grognard like me.
Recently I was in a game shop with a couple of friends, Valerie and Mike, and found myself feeling really old. While having a conversation with a rather large fellow about a miniature war game he liked to play I asked him if he had ever tried any Avalon Hill games. Much to my surprise he had no idea what I was talking about, and when he said and I quote: "was that after Mech warrior?" I felt like I was going to cry. How could anyone not know about such great games as Afrika Korps, Squad Leader, or Panzer Blitz? But there before me stood a mountain of passive ignorance, sporting a look that spoke of quiet amusement as I tried to explain what strategic war games used to be before he was glint in his mother's eye.
When I was a wee boy, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventy, I was introduced to a game based upon a series of children's books called, Uncle Wiggily. To be completely honest I cannot recall fully all the various rules of the game itself, but what I do remember is that it was rather simple. The idea was to get old Uncle Wiggily through the magic forest to his home or, some other safe spot, were he could relax and have tea? Anyway, I played this on the living room floor of our small house with my Ma, brother, and sister. The bright hues of the plastic game pieces fascinated me, especially the dark green one which I always had to have. The cartoon images on the board made for an open and pleasing setting for young minds to absorb.
It is rare for me to read through rule books and manuals for games, as my attention span is generally like that of a cat, easily distracted by quick, rapid movement...oooh look a bird. That is why I leave it to others to explain the rules and mechanics of all the various games we play, well that and it allows me to mix drinks instead.
Al Butler and Mike McKenney are not professional review experts by any stretch, but they do know what they like in a game.