Where have all the "beginner's games" gone????

It happened again the other day.....   I saw one of Marco’s great video reviews and thought, “Say, that looks like a great game to hook someone on the hobby.” It’s something I’ve been looking for ever since I re-entered the hobby in 2001.  As a high school history teacher and advisor to the school’s “Game Club,” I’ve been on the lookout for that one game that would draw someone into the hobby. But at $60, this game isn’t one of them....

I’m afraid this is one of those “What this hobby really needs is...” blog posts...  Way back when...   Back in the day.... etc....  There was SPI and their Napoleon at Waterloo and assorted quads (and Metagaming’s little boxed efforts) all for less than $5.  Visually interesting (for the time) and with rules that were only four pages in length, these were ideal for the beginner. 

Of course, today there is additional pressure to serve up something even more visually interesting than the games of yore, as the game companies now have to compete with computers and “Euro-games.” What is needed is an interesting, colorful, $20 game with only four or five pages of easily understood rules. This game should play as well solo as one-on-one. A good model (I think) is Steve Jackson’s redux of Ogre/GEV which he sold for $15 in the 90’s. Is there anything out there that comes close to Jackson’s masterpiece?

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Comment by Robert Ryan on February 20, 2012 at 12:45am

War gamers are a rare breed so getting a class room of students to play and enjoy any hex based game would be quite an achievement. Gaming got me interested in military history and not the other way round. Good luck!

Comment by Dave Smith on December 20, 2011 at 1:06am

A.P.,. Must be nice....  We have yet to institute it in our our district (I've tried three times in the last four years), although with the new core standards maybe they'll allow us to offer it. Good luck with VPG on the teacher pack offer; I hope they can arrange something for people on a "teacher's budget." And best wishes and good luck with your students on the various exams this coming year.

I'd like to bring the discussion back to it's original focus: introductory games for hobby gamers (not just kids). Still open for suggestions....

Comment by John Welch on December 20, 2011 at 12:28am

:-)  Actually I teach at a high school outside Sacramento, California and we use a set of 10 games between the 8 teachers in the Social Studies Department - Levee is right on target for AP European history and fits nicely into the French Revolution standard for World Studies but yes, $250 even for 8 teachers and 320 students (like you I suspect we have class sizes of 40+) makes it tough.  I'm painfully aware of the blur of standards we are responsible for - it's funny, this is my 26th year in the classroom as well and have been Department Chair since 1994.

I presented at the California Conference on the Social Studies last March about using games to teach critical thinking - it was a full house and there is certainly a lot of interest in games in the classroom even though no one has a budget for it.  All you wrote is true and I'm working with VPG on a 'Teacher Pack' that would allow for a class set of games that would come in for around $50 - like all things, it will take some time.  The Event Cards would be in a powerpoint for example and permission to color copy the map and counters when they wear out is also under discussions.  Even cooler given our students love of electronic devices is that Levee is now in development to be translated to an app version.  I've also designed games on the Cold War and the English Civil War that I'm hoping will get into development next year.

I don't pretend to have found any magic, I just got tired of cursing the darkness of what passed for 'educational games' and wanted to try something that might work for the hobby and the classroom - and it was fun to get to design games again - I hadn't done so since I worked on Steel Panthers and Age of Rifles back in the 90's while finishing my master's degree.

Again, good luck to you in your search and the joys of teaching high school history in California :-)

Comment by Dave Smith on December 19, 2011 at 11:34pm

Well, John, I'm going to bet that you don't teach in a California public school...   We're 47th in the nation in spending per pupil. Hence, no classroom budget; esp. not $240+ to buy games (for Levee...)for a one or two day lesson ($24 ea. x 9 games plus tax and shipping). Secondly, while I can appreciate your design, I don't think your lesson plans would pass muster in my district in re: California Soc. Sci. Standards...  I'd like to see your assessment rubric for this lesson; that would help. In the old days, I could do something like this in class, but much has changed in the past 26 years since I started teaching history.  I'm also concern about the durability of the product and have great reservations regarding the physical quality of VPG games (see prior comments). If you spend more than $200, you want it to last more than one year. If VPG wants to sell to California schools, they're going to have to do it on a different tack.  IF VPG is interested, I'd be happy to make suggestions (hell, I'll even waive my fee, ;-) ); they can contact me at my professional e-mail address: dsmith@cuhsd.org

Sadly, the French Revolution is only one of 78 major topics/events we must teach in our brief 152 day window prior to the California Assessment Exam (Boxer Rebellion being just a brief mention) , and it is not heavily featured on the exam. More time is spent on 20th c. topics, like the world wars and genocide.

Dave Smith

Comment by John Welch on December 19, 2011 at 7:44pm

Hello Dave - I'm a fellow high school history teacher and some-time game designer for VPG.  I've used my designs Levee en Masse and Keep Up the Fire! with my students in both my AP European and Military History classes.  I know the physical components are not what many gamers want but since 90% of my students have never played a table top game before, they don't notice the difference :-)  There are also standards-based lesson plans available for free on the VPG website.  The games were designed for solitaire play but I use them with teams of four students (there are pictures on the game pages on BGG).  I'm sure the novelty of getting to play a 'game' in class (the critical thinking and discovery learning goes on almost without them knowing) and the idea that their teacher designed them has led several to seek out other opportunities to enjoy board gaming.

VPG has gone through the process of getting a vendor tax ID number so they can now accept school district purchase orders for multiple purchases and offers discounts to teachers that put in multiple orders.  This makes games like Levee and Keep Up the Fire! less than $20.

I wish you the very best in your search for titles to use with your students - one things for sure, when they connect with gaming it's a great thing to see.

Comment by Dave Smith on December 19, 2011 at 7:19pm

Roger - I don't know if a lot of people would take the time to download and print out games, but that would be great. Of course, there are already several sites on the net where people are pirating and selling PnP AH, VG and SPI games.  Personally, I'd love an option such as that; I own several PnP games and enjoy building (or "pimping out") games. No doubt, the fact that I enjoy miniature wargames contributes something to the desire to build and not just play.

Wayne - I imagine that with the small print runs today, it might be difficult.  But then again, take a look at some of the games GMT produces in C3i.  I admit to punching out and playing the Battle for Moscow (old GDW intro game) that came (I think) in the last issue. Not just for nostalgic reasons, but because it's still a cool little game, and in the case of C3i, nicely (professionally) produced.

Comment by Roger Morley on December 19, 2011 at 3:09pm

Don't get me wrong, i do agree with you Dave, there is a big lack of simpler wargames at a reasonable price. if anything, it could attract a new generation of gamers, as the games would certainly be affordable, and these days price is important.

I think DG really missed out on a prize opportunity when they took on the rights to the bulk of SPI stuff. There does seem to be a good demand for the old style SPI games, and what they should have done is offered the original games as DTP download, using original artwork and counters and just updating the rules with any errata. They could have offered these for $5 a download, and they would have made a mint. I know some of their games had bland counters and maps, but for me that is unimportant, as long as the relevant information is easily read and understood.

I would not have had a problem printing out a game and making my own counters. Shame really...I could have spent a fortune!

Comment by Wayne Rotella on December 19, 2011 at 2:25pm

Dave, I am with you brother. The "simple" games seem to come with novellas for rules now. I miss the old incremental learning that Avalon Hill used to do (i.e. Longest Day, Tac Air). You could learn the basics, get adjusted, and then go into the advanced rules.

As to affordability, I just think that production costs have gone up too high to ever see a $20, sexy, smart, and simple game. I personally love what Legion Games is doing with their counters, think that Conflict of Heroes is one of the most attractive games I have ever owned, and I like what Multiman is doing with ASL and their new maps in lieu of the boards (which I personally favor...but again cost prohibitive).

What the hobby needs is Bill Gates or Mark Cuban to come off the computer high horse and do some "charity" work and give us that good looking starter game that is reasonably priced.

I too am a teacher and see such great value in critical thinking skills that these games can give our students.

Comment by Roger Morley on December 19, 2011 at 2:57am

I have to admit, I have never had any issues with the quality coming from Victory Point Games, so maybe you were just a little bit unlucky. I have not bought any DG games so I cannot comment on them.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the wargaming hobby is not cheap, as you are looking at $40 plus for anything substantial, and the more you pay, the better the quality, apparently.

Comment by Paul Lipps on December 18, 2011 at 11:53pm

Well that's a shame you have had bad luck with VPG, as they have a lot of gems for $15. Good luck in your search Dave, and Happy Holidays to you!

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