The games that define us

After some brilliant blog posts from Frontline Gamer and Fire broadside on the games that defined them I thought it would be interesting to look back at what games have had the biggest impact on my gaming life. My interests these days are mostly in board gaming but it wasn’t always that way.

Heroquest - 1989

The year is 1989 and a young boy has returned from a hard days colouring in at primary school to watch some Chip n Dale rescue rangers when this advert appears...

I wanted this game so much; it had monsters, fireballs and swords. What more could a young boy want? Suffice to say Father Christmas heard my pleas and on Christmas Day I was cutting goblins and orcs from sprues and furiously reading rules.

Unfortunately, none of my family would play the game with me. I managed to get a few of my friends to play but when it really hit home was the last day of school term. The last day of term in primary school was always games day. Everyone would bring in board games and toys and play. Well Heroquest was a huge hit; I and a group of 4 friends that played nothing else all day. We carried on playing and my love of the game carried over into secondary school which even made me a friend that is still one of my closest friends.

The real catalyst though was the throw away page at the back of the rule book and a choice encounter in a high street newsagents. On the back of the Heroquest rulebook there was the offer to obtain a free guide to painting citadel miniatures. All of a sudden I had a little book full of the skeletons and knights that I was expecting but then had orcs with machine guns and blokes in huge power armour. This was taken a step further when I went to newsagent and found a magazine with some extra rules for Space Crusade and Heroquest. This magazine was of course White Dwarf Issue 134 and this opened the world of Games Workshop to me.

Dungeons & Dragons Game - 1991

 Move forward a year or two and the game companies have seen an opportunity; Heroquest and Space Crusade where huge sellers so why not take a slice of that pie. Father Christmas brought two fantasy delights; Key for the Kingdom and Dungeons and Dragons. At first I just couldn’t get into D&D and neither could my friends. We thought it was going to be just like Heroquest but one player had to describe what was happening rather than use the board, it was more like a free-form Fighting Fantasy book. None of us really got it so we carried on playing Heroquest and Key to the Kingdom.

But I persevered; I saw a speck of awesomeness and tried to find more. I pushed my friends, I bought some pre-written adventures and eventually it clicked. Not only did it click but we carried on playing for 7 years until I left home to go to University. It should be pointed out that this was D&D and not AD&D 2nd edition. TSR made a cut down version and it’s this basic edition we played based around the almighty Rules Cyclopedia.

I often looked into AD&D, knowing that this was the more popular version but I couldn’t convince my players it was worth the move. It was my game and so I was the Dungeon Master and therefore spent hours converting many of the adventures in Dungeon magazine into the lower system. I loved the world creation aspect of the game, it allowed me to use my imagination to make settings, characters and events and it was this tapping into my imagination that puts D&D as one the biggest games in my life. I played AD&D in university and its sprawling rules and never ending expansion never felt as tight as standard D&D, the simpler rules gave more scope for fun and inventiveness in my opinion.

Space Marine 2nd Edition - 1992

My first step into the world of Game Workshop’s battle games was with the second edition of Space Marine, often referred to as Epic. I collected a little Eldar army and my friends would play often. Looking back there was a lot to love about this game, the huge scale of it and the balanced method of victory points. It’s also a game that flowed well; the turn structure was such that it never felt like the relentless onslaught of Warhammer games. In the end my lack of funds spoilt Epic for me. Troops were very affordable because Games Workshop released them in low priced plastic boxed sets. Vehicles, and most importantly titans, came in metal so where a lot more expensive. This meant that my huge Eldar army only included 3 metal models; a phantom titan and two prism cannons which couldn’t hold their own against a company of whirlwinds. This also made the game incredibly fiddly; tons of troops in epic scale can make for a slow game. On the plus side the small scale and lack of detail meant that this was the only game I owned a fully painted army for.

Warhammer 40000 2nd Edition - 1993

The following year GW released a new version of Warhammer. I played this but it never really clicked for me. I never owned a single Warhammer miniature, partly because of the cost and partly because a friend had an undead army that he hardly ever used. In contrast I bought Warhammer 40000 the week it came out. It was definitely the game I enjoyed to play the most, mostly against my friend’s Ultramarine army.

It’s the point when I got the most captivated by a single system. I was painting miniatures, reading up fluff, creating scenery and carefully planning my next purchase. Just like D&D before it tapped into a part of my imagination Even during my teenage years I could see the flaws in 40k and looking back I do wonder how I put up with them. I’d gone off playing Warhammer Fantasy with my friends because it turned into a wizard battle, where rank and file troops meant nothing and with the new 40k being based on the same system the same problems crept in. My major issue was that an army had to have a minimum of 25% troop choices. This basically meant that every player did exactly that 25% points of troops and the rest made from heroes and vehicles. It never made any sense to me. I could never face against an army that could field terminators and devastators as their basic troops, when I was left with Eldar guardians equipped with lasguns. Also take into account that since I played Eldar who could only field a high level psyker or a giant flaming monster as their commander (this is before the invention of autarchs), this lead to an arms race as my opponent tried to field an equally high level psykers or a hero capable of going toe to toes with an Avatar.

When I look back I do wonder what drew me more to 40k than epic. I loved to play epic but I never made any extra scenery, just a few hills and then the tower blocks that came with the Space Marine boxed set. But I think it was the scale of the miniatures that drew me to 40k. It was the creativity that was involved and not just the game itself.

The Call of Cthulhu – 1995

This was a game that I wanted to play so bad I convinced a friend to buy. Some of my 40k playing school friends where going bonkers over a horror themed role playing game. They brought me in one of the rulebooks to look at and I was immediately fixated by the horrific monsters inside. I desperately wanted to play this. The problem was I was the dungeon master, I’d been running D&D campaigns for 5 years straight and I wanted someone else to run a game. One of my friends stood up to the plate and ran a few Call of Cthulhu games. We died, a lot. We played a modern era setting rather than the traditional 1920’s setting. Even though we were now armed with automatic weapons it made no odds, the indescribable horrors still murdered us or sent us mad.

I enjoyed the skill system in Call of Cthulhu, it all made sense and put a lot of effort into taking it away from a combat game. Even though I was obsessed with this game I don’t think I read any Lovecraft until around 5 years later but I do remember it effecting my taste in movies (I wouldn’t have watched Necronomicon or In the Mouth of Madness otherwise).

Vampire the Masquerade - 1997

At the point that I went to University my gaming preference was RPGs so I decided to join the university RPG guild. The first game I played and the one that lasted all of my first year was Vampire; the masquerade. Vampire’s setting now seems rather passé but at the time it was fresh. Based mainly in Los Angeles, vampires are controlling the world and playing their internal games of Machiavellian politics. We played a biker gang drawn into a vampire power struggle. All games are about the players and I have to take my hat off (if I wore one) to the ‘storyteller’ of our vampire game he held everything together and made it fun and exciting.

One of the great things about Vampire was that it really encouraged you to actually roleplaying. Every character had Nature and Demeanour characteristics and you playing your demeanour correctly allowed you to regain will power. My character was a curmudgeon and would gain willpower by being pessimistic and then proven right! It came to fruition where I told the rest of the group we shouldn’t leave the city or we’ll get massacred by werewolves, we did!

Vampire’s big issue was its combat. The mechanisms worked and helped differentiate characters but it was so clunky and took so damn long. When you’re dealing with supernatural beings who can act at superhuman speed and regenerate it can makes for a long and messy affair. It was not unusual for a single ‘fight’ to last half an hour of real time and many approached the hour mark. The combat also got very lopsided when celerity (the super speed skill) came into effect as one player would have several actions a round whereas normal speed characters would be left with a lot of downtime. One upshot was that combat did feel brutal; to put it into context my biker mechanic character lost an arm in the first night of playing!

Magic: The Gathering - 1999

While waiting for our DM to set up our AD&D game one of the players brought along a little ‘filler’ game called Magic. Now I know a lot of people like to hate on magic, especially the collectible card game format, but coming from a world where beating your opponent meant buying £20’s worth of lead from Nottingham, spending a few pounds on a couple of booster packs seemed like a bargain. I never went overboard and tried to build great working decks on a budget, a concept that was aided by my local game store at the time trading in individual cards and practically giving away commons. I’ve played a few games of magic recently and I enjoy the Duels of The Planeswalker games, I still think this game holds up. The mechanics are so straightforward and there is such variety in the cards available that it’s a game I’m always happy to play.

The wilderness - 2001

After leaving university my gaming life effectively ended. I moved to a new town to start a new job. I met a lot of like-minded people but they weren’t gaming people. I tried joining a local RPG club but didn’t really get on with anyone there, it’s not that they weren’t nice people, it’s just nothing clicked. I began to feel that maybe I was getting too old and that this kind of hobby was for teenage boys. I’d often speak to someone who would say they used to play Warhammer as a teenager but ‘grew out of it’ and started to hide my interest in the more geeky stuff because I felt embarrassed by it. I look back at it now and realise that I was daft to thing so but at the time it seemed right.

Carcassonne - 2011

My return to gaming was through a bit of an abstruse route. To celebrate its 5 year anniversary in 2007 Xbox live offered all of its subscribers a free copy of the Carcassonne Xbox game. I like free stuff so took advantage of it and played a few games both against the computer and with my Xbox owning friends. It stayed there as a little game I dipped into now and then. Then my girlfriend moved in. I don’t think she’ll mind if I out her as a bit of a geek and one day she went through my Xbox live games and fell in love with Carcassonne. All of a sudden I was playing this game every other day. I did a bit of research into the game one day and came across the fact that it was based on a physical board game. This led me to several website full of games but the real spark was when looking for somewhere to buy Carcassonne expansion I found a game shop in my local town. Every single geek fibre in my body that had lain dormant for so long sprang into life as I stared longingly at all the beautiful games. Carcassonne is one of the true greats of gaming but it’s the knock on effect that it had that made it so influential.

Being a board game, Carcassonne helped with something it’d been struggling with over the last few years. Getting a friend to even look at D&D or Warhammer without a snort of derision was difficult but that reluctance seems to break down when presented with a board game.

Arkham Horror – 2011

So I’m in my friendly local game shop, in awe at the games. It’s the first time I’ve been in a game shop in over 10 years. I’m there because I’m looking for Carcassonne expansion when I see a big black and green box that has the word ‘Arkham’. At first I think it’s a batman game, oh no it’s better than that: it’s a Cthulhu game! This was my first big gaming purchase and a game I love to bits. I know it’s difficult, I know its mean; I know it takes hours but it’s my kind of game. Just like Carcassonne before it, the board game nature of Arkham Horror means that I’ve got more opportunity to play it then I ever would a game of Call of Cthulhu.

So here we have nine games that have had the biggest effect on my gaming life and define me as a gamer. I’m not saying these are the best games I’ve played, what I am saying are these are the nine games that have had the biggest impact on me. There are so many great games missing off this list Space Crusade, Blood Bowl, Necromunda, Man o War, Werewolf, Talisman and Neuroshima Hex to name but a few. But these games, although sometime better than the nine I’ve listed, haven’t had the same impact on me. One thing has become clear to me while making this list; the games have had more to do with other people than with me. Gaming is social and without players you don’t have games.

So what games define you? If you look back at your gaming experiences what are the games that have had the biggest influence on your life? Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
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  1. Excellent post! Except for D&D I've played each and every one of these games a fair number of times. We played Heroquest and Space Crusade almost several times a week during one particular summer. Haha!

    It's really interesting reading about other peoples "gaming path". Glad you decided to share. :)

    1. Thanks Martin. Sometimes I wonder if I was the only person who played D&D basic but if I had to narrow this list down to 2 games it would be D&D and 40k.

  2. It's really cool how this idea has gone viral. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks for coming up with the concept and starting this trend off. I really enjoyed looking back at these games.

    2. That's what I'm here for. :)